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 March 2009

In Pursuit of Gratitude - (5) The recipients of gratitude and what to do when it all just seems too hard


Gratitude travels in two directions - horizontally and vertically.

The horizontal expression of gratitude occurs amongst ourselves. It happens when we say thankyou to someone for a kindness shown to us, when we write a letter of thanks, when we see that someone is congratulated or acknowledged for a job well done. We are a blessing to one another when we express gratitude. Being thankful to one another is a good habit to form.

The vertical expression of thanks is when we say thankyou to God - for all the blessings of this life both tangible and intangible. If forming the habit of horizontal gratitude is a good thing, then forming the habit of vertical gratitude is even better.

But what are we to do if life is tough? How can we have an attitude of thanksgiving and experience the contentment that accompanies it when everything seems to be going wrong? Well, I heard a most wonderful explanation of what to do in this situation at a Christian Women's Conference a few years ago by Greta Gaut.*

She used the analogy of riding on a rollercoaster. She explained that we have our rollercoaster trolley wheels running on parallel tracks. The wheels on the left hand side travel along your classic rollercoaster track. It goes up and down. It twists and turns. Sometimes gently, sometimes wildly. This is the stuff of day to day and year to year life. Sometimes it's smooth (even boring!), sometimes it's exhilirating and sometimes it is gut-wrenchingly awful.

At the same time the wheels on the right hand side travel along a perfectly smooth track. This track represents the constancy of the hope of eternal life with God through the work of Jesus Christ. No matter happens in our day to day lives, for those who believe that Jesus is their Lord and Saviour, there is the hope, peace and constancy found in the prospect of eternal life with God. And therefore, even if there seems little to be thankful for in day to day life - the stuff of the left hand track - there is always the constancy of the right hand track for which to be grateful. Immensely grateful.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" It's that verse from my sidebar again. It doesn't mean that I have to be artificially happy if my life's circumstances are not good at the time. But no matter what happens, I can always rejoice in the Lord because of the hope I have in Him now and into the future for all eternity. Then, even in times of turmoil, I will know the peace of God which transcends all understanding. And for that I can be grateful.

And in the meantime, the correctives listed in the previous post help me not to get sucked into the vortex of unnecessary or unwarranted grizzling and misery.

* If you click on the link at Greta's name you will find her three magnificent talks on Philippians - and you may even find some others worth putting on your iPod as well!!

25 March 2009

In Pursuit of Gratitude - (4) Complaining (or rather, not complaining)

As these musings on gratitude start drawing to a conclusion (in the next post or two), I thought I would spend a little bit of time thinking about complaining.

So up front it needs to be said that complaining quells gratitude. Now I know I am prone to complaining and that is one of the reasons I have been doing some work on this topic of gratitude - because I need to hear it myself.

So I was greatly convicted when I read these words a couple of years ago:

* Never allow yourself to complain about anything – not even the weather.
* Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or some place else.
* Never compare your lot with another's.
* Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
* Never dwell on tomorrow – remember that tomorrow is God's, not ours.

Now there is a challenge!!

These words - a prescription for contentment - are not from someone who lives in comfortable circumstances like me. They are the words of a woman who served with her husband while raising their children as a missionary with the pygmies in Africa. She was there for fifty two years. She lived in basic, difficult conditions in the heat of the African bush. She recorded these words in a journal, discovered by her daughter. I think of them often – especially when I catch myself midway through a whinge.

I find this prescription challenging. But I find it encouraging too - in helping me to put aside my attitude of complaining in order to pursue an attitude of thankfulness that brings contentment. Be encouraged.

Finally, brothers and sisters, 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 4:4-8

23 March 2009

In Pursuit of Gratitude - (3) A Tale of Two Cities


The last school I taught in was built in the early 1900's. It was a classic. When I first arrived at that school in 1995 our electricity consumption was basically lights, heating in winter, overhead fans in summer, a computer in a few lucky classrooms and one in the front office, one photocopier (which was used a lot!) and a microwave and dishwasher in the staffroom. No-one seemed to use the overhead projectors all that much.

About five years later we set up a computer lab with 25 networked computers, every classroom was issued with two computers and thanks to the generous parent body, the entire school was air conditioned. And we got a second photocopier. After that, every time we used the microwave it tripped the entire system (which included shutting down all those computers in unceremonious fashion) and each time the school blacked out. Later that year the school was rewired at great expense because the system couldn't cope.

Three summers ago we had rolling black outs in our city on some of the hottest days as a measure to conserve some energy. The demand for electricity that summer was just too great and the system couldn't cope.

And it is not all that surprising. Our levels of power consumption have escalated enormously over the last decade. The primary school I worked in is one example. What happens in our house is another. We now have two computers that are often both in use. The telephone we now have is plugged into mains electricity to run the answering machine. To turn on the TV we now also turn on the DVD player and the set top box. And we now have air conditioning. That is just a sample and that is just one house on one street in one suburb.

I remember the outrage at these blackouts which lasted for about 40 minutes a time from memory. Many people were utterly indignant. The outrage hit the newspapers. It was truly outrageous. The attitude, that is. Not the fact of the blackouts or the mild inconvenience they caused. *

At that time I remember receiving an email from a friend who was working in the city of a west African country. At the time of our rolling blackouts she was praising God. In her neck of the woods she only got one hour of electricity per day. And that hour could be at any time of day or night. She was praising God because that precious hour seemed to be settling into a predictable part of the day, making it possible to utilise it to maximum benefit due to being prepared and awake for it.

In my first post on gratitude I suggested that one manifestation of ingratitude is a constant demanding of one's perceived rights. This comes in many forms – demanding continuous, 100% reliable electricity. Perfect roads. Instant access to excellent health care with a 100% guarantee of a good outcome. Not having to queue up at the bank or any where else.

I am going out on a limb here. But I want to make a point. Compared with my friend in Africa we have it good. (I speak from the vantage point of living in a capital city of Australia.) We have it really good. And if only our culture promoted regarding all the good things we have as blessings rather than rights I think there would be a greater level of contentment and much less outrage. So I say, in the pursuit of gratitude, let's save the outrage for the things that are truly outrageous (because yes, there is a time and a place for outrage) and work hard at being thankful for the riches we enjoy.

* May I say that don't wish to be insensitive here. I am certain that these power cuts did create some situations of great tragedy and I don't want to be dismissive of that fact. I am generalising because for the most part, it was just a mild inconvenience and a bit hotter when the electric fans and air conditioners were out of action.

19 March 2009

In Pursuit of Gratitude - (2) Gratitude and Contentment

For some, being grateful comes easily - in all seasons. For others it can be hard work, a neglected discipline or only pursued when times are good. But what exactly is gratitude?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it this way:

The quality or condition of being grateful or thankful; the appreciation of and inclination to return kindness.

It seems a good thing to pursue. And it brings benefits - because contentment and gratitude are good friends. If we are truly, sincerely thankful about something then we will experience a measure of contentment because of it. The more we can find to be thankful for, the greater our experience of contentment.

So, for the record, what then is contentment? The OED says,

Pleasure, delight, gratification, a source of satisfaction or pleasure. The fact, condition or quality of being contented; tranquil happiness.

Well, that sounds OK to me. Definitely worth striving for!!

The relationship between gratitude and contentment can be found in the Bible. Take another look (because you have already read it at least once it in my sidebar!) at this small passage from Philippians.

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 everything, 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.

Notice that thanksgiving is flanked by joy and peace. And we are instructed to be thankful even in the anxious moments - thankful for the situations we find ourselves in, thankful that God is sovereign over them, thankful that we are able to pray about these (and all) things and thankful above all else that despite what might be occurring in our day to day lives, we have the assurance in the bigger picture of eternal peace with God because of His work through Jesus.

As I have said before, I have not always been good at this. In fact I have had times when I was downright discontent, grizzling my way through life and finding nothing for which to be grateful. I imagine I am not alone. But developing an attitude of gratefulness is definitely worth pursuing because it does bring contentment – and of course the recipient of your gratitude will be blessed and encouraged too.

17 March 2009

In Pursuit of Gratitude - (1) The Pop Quiz


Last year I received an email quiz from a friend – 50 or so questions about yourself. You fill in the answers, return the completed quiz to the sender so that they can find how you're doing and then you forward it to as many friends as bravery allows. It's called "Getting to Know your Friends", it's good fun and last year some of the responses from others were quite illuminating. (Actually a different friend sent me the 2009 edition today!!)

There were lots of light hearted questions like:

Pearls or Diamonds? PEARLS
What was the last movie you saw at the cinema? (Well, at the time of last year's quiz it was the last HARRY POTTER movie but since then, for your information…MADAGASCAR 2)

And then there were deeper questions too, such as:

Name a quality in people you dislike?

My answer? INGRATITUDE.

Ingratitude expresses itself in all sorts of ways.

* Grumbling, grizzling, groaning, complaining and whinging.
* Remaining silent when an articulation of gratitude is due.
* A constant demanding of one's perceived rights. (That one may need fleshing out…but I will get to that down the track.)
* And even if there is no outward expression of it, there are always those feelings of bitterness and/or discontent.

Gratitude and contentment are good friends. So I am going in pursuit of gratitude. Why? Because we have so much for which to be thankful. And living with an attitude of contentment and gratitude is far better than ingratitude and misery.

Stay tuned.

13 March 2009

Unfortunately Meredith...

Unfortunately, Meredith's Swedish debut quickly turned into something of a nightmare.



Curious?

What you do is type Unfortunately and your name in quotation marks and Google it. Here is the pick of over ten pages of possibilities for Unfortunately Meredith.

Unfortunately, Meredith didn’t finish this race due to a snow machine running into her team during the race (she is fine but one of her dogs faces surgery tomorrow for a fractured foot.)

Unfortunately, Meredith’s grandmother passed away, and all the plans had to be changed.

Unfortunately, Meredith's dog wasn't a pit bull or large breed animal.

Unfortunately, Meredith is dead, and nobody can do anything for her anymore.

Unfortunately, Meredith's marina doesn't cater to flyfishers, at least not yet.

Unfortunately, Meredith comes across as boring, selfish, and rude, especially during a dinner scene where she “accidentally” offends Thad and Patrick

Unfortunately, Meredith did not report standard deviations, so these differences could not be tested for significance.

Unfortunately Meredith was not cautious enough, and the terrible tragedy is just that.

Unfortunately, Meredith was not a good worker and took to drinking.

Unfortunately, Meredith has a lot of searching to do in order to make her life better.

Unfortunately, Meredith’s list of suspects is as short as the time Jayce may have to live.

Unfortunately, Meredith is on vacation for a few more days, so the report sits in her inbox until she returns and is able to catch up on her email.

Unfortunately, Meredith’s post doesn’t really make its rounds in photo circles.

Unfortunately, Meredith has had a series of problems obtaining, installing and updating Adobe.

 
Unfortunately, Meredith is quite wrong for this assignment.

Fortunately for the writer of this blog, I am not a character from "Grey's Anatomy" nor do I have Meredith as my surname, which accounts for most of these amusing/troubling possibilities. And for the record, I have never been to Sweden.

12 March 2009

Navigating around Kings and Chronicles - Tip Four


The fourth, final and most practical tip for navigating around 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles is to have a roadmap with you as you read. I've read several novels where I was grateful that the author included an appendix with family tree type information at the end. "The Lord of the Rings" by JRR Tolkien and "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez are two that spring to mind immediately. I seem to recall spending as much time referring to the tables at the back of these books as I did in the actual text of the novel!

Given that the books of Kings and Chronicles are somewhat tricky to navigate, a roadmap or two makes reading these books much more productive and enjoyable so I have two photocopies tucked in my Bible which I pull out every time I get to this part of the Bible - and they are an enormous help in navigating my way through this material.

Now at this point I must confess that I am one of those people who cannot read maps very well. Once when walking around a foreign city I actually had the map upside down (can you believe that??), walked myself right off the map and became terribly lost. So when I am driving to a new suburb I study the street directory at home and then write myself a list of directions to follow.

It goes without saying then that of the two photocopies I refer to when reading this section of the Bible, one is a roadmap through and through but the other is more like a list of directions.


The roadmap, entitled Outline of Old Testament History, is from Graeme Goldsworthy's very helpful book "Gospel and Kingdom" published by The Paternoster Press. Through lines and labels, this very helpful diagram shows the splitting of the nation into two, exiles, returns and key prophets associated with these times…a basic structure to guide you through this section of the Bible.

The list is from the "New Bible Commentary" (companion volume to the indispensable "New Bible Dictionary") published by IVP. Found at the beginning of the notes for 1 and 2 Kings is a Chronology of 1 and 2 Kings. It is a list of all the kings of Judah set out alongside all the kings of Israel complete with the years they each reigned – and also a third column of key rulers and events in neighbouring nations. For one who LOVES lists, this is very useful.

For me, these two tools are indispensible when tackling this part of the Bible. I wish I had known about them 15 years ago!!!

And that brings to an end this little series. I hope it is of some help if you are planning on reading this section of the Bible at some stage.

10 March 2009

Give me neither Poverty nor Riches

I have been thinking about wealth lately.

Maybe because I am in the throes of deciding whether or not I will return to some capacity of paid work once the boys are both in school in a couple of years time - and at this point returning to work seems unlikely as there is plenty to do in an unpaid capacity around here. So I have been thinking about family finances a lot.

And maybe wealth has been in my thoughts as I reflect on (and start to observe in others) the effects of the economic downturn.

And maybe I just can't get this news item out of my head - the announcement that Sol Trujillo was finishing up as CEO of Telstra and then it said, "He's a person whose current wage increase is something like $13.4 million, a 14 per cent increase over last year..." Well, I just can't fathom someone earning so much that their 14% pay increase amounts to $13.4 million!!! What can anyone do with all that money?

On the weekend I was reading Psalm 49. It is a hard Psalm about the ultimate cost of storing up treasures on earth. It finishes like this:

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich,
when the splendor of his house increases;
for he will take nothing with him when he dies,
his splendor will not descend with him.
Though while he lived he counted himself blessed-
and men praise you when you prosper-
he will join the generation of his fathers,
who will never see the light of life.
A man who has riches without understanding
is like the beasts that perish.

Even though I can hardly get my head around Sol Trujillo's salary, I felt a desperate sadness for him and for people like him all over the globe, building their personal empires here on earth, empires which will ultimately amount to nothing. It is desperately sad.

But then my thoughts turned to a scripture lesson I taught last year. The lesson book said,

"Do you think you are a rich person in this world? Answer these questions in your head to see if you are one of the rich people that Jesus talks about:
  • Do you attend a school for your education?
  • Do you have more than one tap in the house you live in?
  • Do you live in a home with two or more rooms?
If you answered 'yes' to these three questions then you are richer than 90% of the people in this world."

Now I don't know where they got their 90% statistic from, but even if 60% is more accurate, it is a reminder that even if I don't go back to paid employment some time in the future, my family and I are rich. Which is making me take another look at Psalm 49, because compared with much of the world I am wealthy. And the nicely feathered nest that I call my home is my own little empire. Is my attitude towards my own wealth right?

Proverbs 30:7-9
Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die;
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty or riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise I may have too much and disown you
And say, "Who is the LORD?"
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonour the name of my God.

06 March 2009

Navigating around Kings and Chronicles - Tip Three

The third tip for navigating around 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles, and this applies particularly to Chronicles, is to be patient with the genealogies and other such lists. Genealogies are lists of family lines and they can be quite challenging (tedious actually –but did I say that?) to read, especially with all those unfamiliar names and 1 Chronicles in particular is full of them. Indeed the first twelve chapters is almost wall to wall genealogy.

I have been encouraged to be patient and persevere with the genealogies here and in other parts of the Bible by various ministers for three reasons…

1. As you keep reading the genealogies over the years you start to recognise the names. The family lines fall into place and you begin to see how things fit together. The jigsaw comes together in a very satisfying manner.

2. There are occasional little nuggets embedded within the lists as the author unexpectedly breaks the pattern of narration and if you were to skip over the genealogies, you would miss out on them - and they are often very illuminating.

3. And the third reason? Well, I remember making some flippant comment once, wondering how our minister at the time was going to extract any devotional juice for his sermon from the main reading that Sunday which was pure genealogy. And I was sweetly but rightly rebuked (by his wife) that God put it in the Bible so actually it must be important. God has a purpose.

I recently finished reading 1 Chronicles in my quiet time and as previously said, I found the first twelve chapters tough going. (If you look here you will see that even Dr John Piper finds certain parts of the Bible tough to read!!) But after taking four days to get through this section, I had to stop and think, "What can I say thankyou to God for in all of this?"

And it came to me that all these names are lists of people through whom God has been at work in history – some people with God-honouring intent and some with evil intent – as He worked out His purposes, culminating in the birth of Jesus. And that pattern of God's purposes prevailing despite the vagaries of humanity has continued on through all of church history since Christ's 33 years on earth. How patient God is with us.

So I was able to thank God for His patience and also for the baton of truth that has been handed down from generation to generation over a very, very long time. When we have cause to wonder where God might be in the details of our individual lives, it is so good to be reminded of God at work in the bigger picture. This is the benefit of persevering with genealogies and indeed with complicated histories – and I hope it is an encouragement to persevere with navigating through this particular part of the Bible.

04 March 2009

Hope

I have been reading through Hebrews this week. Yesterday I read,

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:19a)

An anchor for the soul. That is deeply comforting.

As I read this I reflected again on the plight of many Victorian communities dealing with the bushfires and their aftermath, on others in Queensland dealing with the floods, on many around the globe dealing with uncertain economic times, on people I know who are having a hard time at the moment for all sorts of different reasons.

But we have an anchor for our souls – something to hold us sure and steady through the storms. It is hope - the hope we have of eternal life with God through Jesus Christ, amidst the fleeting things of this life both good and bad.

This morning I read,

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:35,36)

The will of God is to hold onto the hope of eternal life found in Christ.

This morning as I dropped R off at school I heard a dad talking to the class teacher about how he lost his job last week – another casualty of the economic downturn. He sounded upbeat but I know his family will be doing it tough. How I longed to tell him about the anchor for the soul and about persevering in having confidence in that hope.

Tomorrow, God willing, I will be into that famous chapter of Hebrews – chapter 11 – which commences,

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1,2)

My life is good at the moment. I am keenly aware that in some of the bad times I have travelled through, I did not persevere through them in peace, with my soul anchored by the hope we have in eternal life. I did badly. But I pray that the next time things get tough I will do better at persevering in the hope we have.

 For today I am thankful to be reminded of this beautiful truth and pray that I will be like a squirrel collecting nuts for the winter, storing this truth up against the tough times that will come.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

03 March 2009

Navigating around Kings and Chronicles - Tip Two


The second tip for navigating around 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles is to know the difference between Kings and Chronicles. On first appearances, they seem to be pretty similar and one might wonder about the repetition.

The author of 1 & 2 Kings is unknown, but it has probably been penned by a prophet in Babylon around about 550BC during the exile. It is written from the perspective that God is the Lord of history. So when nations and their leaders look to Him and obey His laws, peace and prosperity follow however political and economic disaster overtakes Israel and Judah as a direct consequence of turning away from God. 1 & 2 Kings is a warts and all account of history. It does not shy away from describing the kings and their actions as wicked and documents some pretty dreadful moments in each nation's history.

The author of 1 & 2 Chronicles is also unknown, but it seems it was written for the party who returned under Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem. This party needed a link to the past, needed to re-establish right patterns of worship and needed to be reminded of the past - lest history repeat itself. Chronicles is written from the perspective of true worship and true kingship – and so after the division the kingdoms, the author has chosen only to document the line of David (the Southern Kingdom or Judah), which is the line of rule sanctioned by God.

So although both are historical and pastoral, reading Kings through an historical lens and Chronicles through slightly more pastoral glasses (even though it too is history) adds an extra layer of understanding as you navigate through these books of the Bible.
(Thanks to "The Lion Handbook to the Bible", Lion Publishing 1983, for input with this post! It is a trusty little reference book to have on your shelf so if you don't have one, put it on your birthday list.)

01 March 2009

A Prayer of Thanksgiving


Here is a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving taken from the 1978 edition of An Australian Prayer Book.  Enjoy…and if you like, pray.

Most merciful Father,
we humbly thank you
for all your gifts so freely bestowed on us.
For life and health and safety,
for power to work and leisure to rest
and for all that is beautiful in creation and in the lives of humanity,
we praise and glorify your holy name.
But, above all, we thank you
for your spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus our Lord,
for the means of grace,
and for the hope of glory.
Fill our hearts with all joy and peace in believing;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen