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

25 December 2011

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!


Shout with JOY to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing praise to your name.

Psalm 66:1-4

23 December 2011

Rejoice

At the beginning of December I wrote our annual Christmas letter. I always put a Bible verse at the top of said letter - and somehow I seem to rotate between Isaiah 9:6,7 and Luke 2:11. This year however I used

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4

And it got me thinking about joy once again. The joy in this verse isn't dependent upon personal circumstances. It's not about those moments when things are going right and it's easy to smile. Joy in this verse is ever present and lies deep in my soul because irrespective of what is happening in my life, whether my circumstances give rise to smiles or tears, excitement or fear - and I described moments that took in all of these emotions in this year's Christmas letter, such was the year - I always know that God sent His one and only Son to earth a baby, to die a man on a cross and be raised to eternal life. And because of that, no matter what is happening in my life right now - the good and the bad - I live with the blessed hope of eternal life with Him. That brings a deep joy that is always there, irrespective of my day to day circumstances.

I looked up some other verses that use the word "joy" and they are breathtaking, when understood in this light.

Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”
Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.
You have filled my heart with greater JOY
than when their grain and new wine abound.
I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety.
Psalm 4:6-8

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will REJOICE in the LORD,
I will be JOYFUL in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3:17-18

Though you have not seen him, you love him;
and even though you do not see him now,
you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious JOY,
for you are receiving the goal of your faith,
the salvation of your souls.
1Peter 1:8,9

There are many more to be found like this. And this joy is the joy of Christmas. Every year there will be those who delight in Christmas and those for whom it is an intensely sad time. Those who are well prepared, those who are ill prepared and those who lack the means to be prepared at all. Those who have much to celebrate from the year gone by and those whose lives have been turned upside down as the year unfolded.

But deep at the core of Christmas is the truth of John 3:16 - that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. It is right to feel immense happiness or deep grief at this time of the year - if that is the path your year has taken. But then there is this joy, that operates independently of our lives, because it comes as a gift from God in the form a baby born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.  

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

22 December 2011

Saying thanks

Blogosphere has a lot to say about Christmas (this blog included!) - but there is one little idea that I have seen only in one spot.  A simple idea, easy to do, perfect in every way.  I noticed it after Christmas last year - a photo and one sentence tucked away in a larger post.  Here.  Amanda's family spend a little bit of time thanking God for all the good things He gives them before they open their presents. 

Given a bit of warning, everyone has time to think of something they're thankful to God for - and what a great moment for an adult to give thanks to God for sending His Son to earth a baby, to die a man on a cross and be raised to eternal life that we too might have eternal life with Him.  And if done annually, what a rich thing to see how these prayers of thanksgiving develop.

Thanks Amanda.  This is a gift.

13 December 2011

A Christmas question

Here's a question for all those Sunday School teachers and/or observant parents out there. 

What sorts of activities have you done with the children at church on Christmas morning in the past?

I spend most of December teaching my way through the Christmas story and doing associated activities with our Sunday School children.  By Christmas Day they are very familiar with the Christmas story.  Additionally when the children get to church on Christmas morning they are either exhausted because they were too excited to get to sleep the night before or because they started their day at 5am and they want to get home to play with the presents they opened at 5am or want to get home to open the presents they weren't allowed to open until after church and they have also potentially had too much sugar for one day already by 9am.

So, fellow Sunday School teachers (or observant parents who have noticed what the Sunday School teachers are doing) - do you have any suggestions for Christmas morning children's activities?

Last year I made these decorations with the children.  They took some home and gave some out to various members of the congregation.

Any ideas?

10 December 2011

The garden miracle

Peeking out from this photo is a small miracle.


It's an agapanthus in flower.  Which may not seem all that miraculous to you.  In fact lots of people don't even like agapanthus plants and some relegate them to the category of weeds.

But I have a soft spot for them.  They remind me of Adelaide - a city close to my heart - where they abound.  They remind me of Christmas.  I love their colour.

The thing is, I have had four attempts in four different gardens at growing them but have never managed to have one flower.  But our current garden obviously has the right soil. 

And behold, a flower!

08 December 2011

All wrapped up...

...and ready to go!


Christmas Craft

And here's an easy Christmas craft idea.

Take the front off an old Christmas card
or off one of the daggy ones in the packet that you're never going to send to anyone.


Punch a hole in each corner. 


Fold the card in half horizontally...


...and vertically.


Then make diagonal folds from the horizontal and vertical midpoints.



Put a few festive lollies in the middle (and you could also write a Bible verse or Christmas message in the white diamond because at some stage these decorations will be opened in order to retrieve the lollies)...


...and then bring the four corners together, threading curling ribbon through the holes.


Pull it all together, tie a knot at the top, make a loop and there you have it...
a simple craft Christmas decoration to hang on your Christmas tree.




I made these with my Scripture classes today as an end-of-year, farewell fun activity.  That is, with the classes that weren't bumped for the cross country event.  Hoping to catch up the last class next week before school ends.



07 December 2011

Sand Art Brownies

These are called Sand Art Brownies.


I received one as a gift several years ago.  I'm not sure where the idea originated from but I just googled it and got a gazillion search results.  So I'm adding this post to the collection and apologise for not acknowledging the original source.

For one jar you need...
2/3 teaspoon of salt
1 and 1/4 cups of plain flour divided into two equal portions
1/3 cup of cocoa
2/3 cup of brown sugar
2/3 cup of white sugar
1/4 cup of milk choc chips
1/4 cup of white choc chips
1/2 cup of walnuts or pecans

Layer the ingredients in the jar as follows...
Salt
Half the flour
Cocoa
Half the flour
Brown sugar
White sugar
Milk choc chips
White choc chips
Walnuts and pecans

(The observant ones will notice that I didn't quite follow the layering instructions.  I lost concentration early on in the process and then had to improvise down the track!)

Seal the jars.  Wrap with clear cellophane and a bright, Christmas-y ribbon.  Attach a label that says...

Sand Art Brownies
1.  Preheat oven to 180 degrees
2.  Prepare a slice tray
3. Pour the contents of the jar into a bowl and mix well.  As an optional extra add chopped glace cherries.
4.  Add one teaspoon of vanilla, half a cup of vegetable oil and three eggs.  Stir until just combined.
5.  Pour mix into the prepared tin and bake at 180 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

We made these as presents for teachers this year.

05 December 2011

Getting heads, hearts and hands ready for Christmas # 2

[Much of the content of this post is a re-post from a couple of years ago, with a few additions.]


So, bearing in mind the principles of out-celebrating the secular world, praying about our activities and creating gospel-laden traditions, what are some practical things to do to steer children (and grown ups) towards the real meaning Christmas when we are surrounded by secular commercialism?
But before you read on, here is 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!

* 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 Christmas pudding when you have your family feast.

* 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.

* 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 amongst the decorations.

* Have an advent calendar. These are good for including daily readings, activities, treats or just simply counting down the days until Jesus' birthday 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, think about maing or providing an advent calendar for that child and then 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 came up with this idea. They gave our oldest son 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!

*  Stuck for Advent Readings?  There are lots to be found on the internet.  Or get a copy of the "Jesus Story Book Bible."  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 children - one a day - during the month of December leading up to Christmas.

* Tap into the great Christmas CDs and DVDs that are available. Have Christmas carols playing in your house and car.  Colin Buchanan has a great CD/DVD called "The King of Christmas" for kids.

* Presents...
Consider church first, presents second.
Chat about why we have presents - remembering Jesus birthday and reflecting the gifts the wise men brought.
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 outwards and thinking about what else is important at Christmas rather than just being greedy for gifts.
Pause to say a prayer of thanksgiving before the unwrapping begins.

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

These are a few ideas I've seen, heard, collected and/or done.  There are many more.  Have fun doing what you can in the midst of all that is December.

04 December 2011

Getting heads, hearts and hands ready for Christmas # 1

[Much of the content of this post is a re-post from a couple of years ago,
with a few additions.]


It's December and once again I'm thinking about how prepare myself and my family for Christmas.  We are surrounded by secular commercialism and tradition.  I am more than happy to give gifts and decorate our house.  It's all part of having fun as a family and making memories together.  And at this time of the year the calendar fills with all sorts of opportunities to celebrate - Christmas, the end of the year and at least where I live, the arrival of summer.
So in the midst of all of this, how do I make sure that my head and heart are filled with Jesus and God's goodness and my hands are busy serving Him, rather than being distracted by all that is going on around me?  And how do we encourage our children to do the same?
Here are three things that I try to think about as I seek to put Jesus' birthday at the centre of all that is December.

1. Pray

Before we do anything it is good to pray - pray that our heads and hearts will be in the Right spot and that our children will truly grasp what Christmas is all about and embrace the gospel. This could be a special prayer project for December.  (Or better still, a project for November.  But it's too late for that this year!)  And it's good to pray about each of our specific endeavours we are trying, as time and energy allows, to steer our children towards the real meaning of Christmas as we plan them and put them into action.

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

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

To that end, I try to be wise in choosing which invitations to functions to accept during December. 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. Not to mention the "we must catch up before Christmas" phenomenon.  I pick and choose around all of these social opportunities, trying carefully not to offend when I sometimes have to say, "Hey, December is pretty busy for us.  But January is really quiet.  Can we catch up then?" 

The bottom line is I want to save my energy - and the energy of my family - to make the best use of this gospel-laden month. Maybe I miss out on a few fun opportunities - but December is a really good month to accept invitations thoughtfully and intentionally.

3. 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 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.

Tomorrow, some practicalities.

01 December 2011

Status Report: December



Eating:  Maltesers.  It says it's a jumbo share pack.  I won't eat ALL of them while I am sitting here.  But I doubt very much if I'll be sharing what's left! 

Drinking:  A glass of cold water with eight iceblocks in it, one of which is a lemon iceblock.  Would have been nice with a few mint leaves floating in it, but the mint is dead.

Reading from the Bible:  Romans.  The reading plan has crashed.  That is a post to follow.

Also reading:  Nothing.  Should be reading Come Thou Long Expected Jesus but I gave my copy away last week because there was someone who just had to have a copy of it.

Waiting:  For the order of books to arrive, including a small stash of Come Thou Long Expected Jesus books.  When that arrives I will be reading it again, and also sending a copy to Em.

Wanting to say THANKS:  To all the kind people who have been ordering books from The Book Depository through my blog.  I'm nearly up to £20 in commission.  Very excited and grateful.  Thank you.

Feeling like things are essentially in hand:  For Christmas.  The shopping is underway - including some done online this year.  I haven't really done that before but it has become a bit of a necessity this time around.  The fruit mince is bottled and brewing up ready for mince pies.  The family Christmas letter is underway, the Christmas card list is written (somewhat culled this year) and the cards are here and waiting...

However:  The Christmas cards don't seem to be writing themselves.  My week is generally quite full so I am not sure when I thought I was going to write them.  There is some time on the horizon dedicated to the task but as happens most years, some people will be receiving Happy New Year cards rather than Merry Christmas cards.

Glad:  There are nine more days of school.  Glad that the boys will be at school for nine more days giving me a few pockets of time to get some things done that will be hard to do when they are at home...like buy them a Christmas present.  And glad that in nine more school days they will be home,  we can hang around in our pyjamas a bit longer in the mornings and operate at a slower pace for a while.

Thankful:  For the opportunity to teach Scripture in our local primary school.  I have taught the three senior classes this year.  Today we covered the real meaning of Christmas and next week we will do a craft activity.  Craft for 80 children.  Am I crazy???  Some years I get to this point and think, "It's been good but I am glad there is only one more lesson to go for the year."  This year I feel a bit sad that it has come to an end.  I've had some of these children for three years and now they are off to high school.  Praying that my words and actions - these little seeds sown - will spring to Life in the hearts of these children.

Thinking:  This is probably my last Status Report.  It's been great fun but the opportunity of short summaries in status reports makes it too easy to not post in greater detail on some of these issues during the month.  It's making me lazy. 

Hoping:  You are able to spend some time in the hurley burley of December to think hard and be filled with joy at God's goodness in sending His Son Jesus to earth as we approach Christmas.



10 November 2011

Think and Grow Rich

I was reading the Bible while travelling on public transport this week.  Some major catch up reading in Jeremiah, as it turned out.  The person who sat next to me was also reading.  His book was called Think and Grow Rich

His book was about growing in personal riches in a thoughtful way.  So was mine.  I thought his book, at least from the title, was a bit sad and without lasting hope.  I hope he was doing some reading over my shoulder.

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him. 
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear whe the heat comes;
its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit. 
Jeremiah 17:7.8

01 November 2011

Status Report: November


Aghast!  Is it really November?

Eating:  Nothing.  But ate chicken poached in masterstock with rice and veg for dinner.  Delicious.  This has hit high rotation on the menu in our house this year.

Drinking:  Tea.  Of course.

Reading from the Bible:  Jeremiah, the early 100s Psalms and Romans

Reconsidering: my earlier plan for next year of changing from this Bible reading plan, which I've been using for the last couple of years, to the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan.  It seems the M'Cheyne plan is best read at two different times of the day - either two of the chapters with your family and two on your own, or two in the morning and two in the evening.  Sometimes I read my Bible twice in a day.  Mostly I read in one sitting.  Realistically that's how it's going to continue.  And I think spreading myself across four sections of the Bible in one sitting is just going to get too bitsy.  So I think I'll stick with the plan of the last couple of years.  Which has been great.

Reading: Knowing God by JI Packer.  Fantastic.  Will blog about it when I have finished it.  But speaking of Bible reading, my eyes were on stalks when I read this bit from Knowing God in his chapter on wisdom:

Again, it is to be feared that many today who profess to be Christ's never learn wisdom, through a failure to attend sufficiently to God's written word...William Gouge, the Puritan, read fifteen chapters regularly each day.  T.C. Hammond used to read right through the Bible once a quarter. 

Wow!

Delighted: to have received a letter back from Diana Lynn Severance.  I wrote to thank her for writing this book and tried to express how moving and deeply encouraging I found it.  Was glad to find that I had drawn out all the themes she was endeavouring to convey - which was encouraging for both of us.  Have I mentioned how good this book is? 

Over: my irritation.  It is a well known fact that you will hear me exclaim, in too loud a voice, "That's outrageous!" when I catch my first glimpse of Christmas paraphenalia in the shops.  This year's little outburst was heard by those standing anywhere nearby in our local KMart on 28th September.  And really, because of my eccentric behaviour, it has just become funny.  But when I walked into our local shopping centre about ten days ago and saw that they had put up their Christmas trees, lights and decorations in all the malls I was just plain irritated.  For about a week.  I'm OK with it now.  It's November.  It's now remotely close to Christmas.  But it wasn't in October.  Just saying.  And will stop now.

Excited: to be flying in a plane NEXT WEEK!  It's been at least four years since I've been on a plane.  Going on a three day trip interstate to spend some precious time with precious friends, deepening the reservoir of memories we already own together, and sharing in some good times of prayer (and probably quite some tea and coffee), before they head off to do development work overseas for a year or more.  I suddenly realised that I may not see them for a very long time and decided I just had to cross the border, albeit very briefly.

Thankful: to my lovely little family for letting me go.

Realising: that I only have five more Scripture lessons with my three classes at our local school for this year.  Feeling glad that I wished there were more lessons left and not counting down the lessons until they are done.  And wishing that I had more lessons left.

Thinking: about evangelism quite a lot at the moment.  There is a post brewing there.  About finding the freedom to relax into evangelism, about...  Well, I'll write that post some time.

Also thinking: that it's time to finish this update.

13 October 2011

Knowing God Vs Knowing about God

I've been wondering what to read next.  I'm going to work through Come Thou Long Expected Jesus again during Advent but wanted something to fill in the weeks between now and December.  So I went to my husband's bookshelves and settled upon Growing in Christ by JI Packer.  I started in on the introduction to read that Packer himself described Growing in Christ as the companion volume to the classic Knowing God.  And I read no further. 

It is time to read Knowing God.  It's one of those books on everyone's list of top ten MUST READS.  I've tried to read it in the past without success.  Now is the time.  I'm three chapters in and it is brilliant! 

Here's a bit I read a couple of days ago.

One can know a great deal about God without much knowledge of him.  I am sure that many of us have never really grasped this.  We find in ourselves a deep interest in theology (which is, of course, a most fascinating and intriguing subject - in the seventeenth century it was every gentleman's hobby.)  We read books of theological exposition and apologetics.  We dip into Christian history, and study the Christian creed.  We learn to find our way around in the Scriptures.  Others appreciate our interest in these things, and we find ourselves asked to give our opinion in public on this and that Christian question, to lead study groups, to give papers, to write articles, and generally to  accept responsibility, informal if not formal, for acting as teachers and arbiters of orthodoxy in our own Christian circle.  Our friends tell us how much they value our contribution, and this spurs us to further explorations of God's truth, so that we may be equal to the demands made upon us.

All very fine - yet interest in theology, and knowledge about God, and the capacity to think clearly and talk well on Christian themes, is not at all the same thing as knowing him.  We may know as much about God as Calvin knew - indeed, if we study his works diligently, sooner or later we shall - and yet all the time (unlike Calvin, I may say) we may hardly know God at all. 
                                                                   
Knowing God by JI Packer.  Chapter 2 page 26

These words were ringing in my ears all the day after I read them.  And I woke up the next morning still thinking about them and feeling slightly ill.  Deeply convicted, I've prayed and I've pressed on.  And I've been challenged and convicted, and yet nurtured and fed.  All in three chapters.

Knowing God along with Come Thou Long Expected Jesus will see the year finished well.  Thereafter I hope to go back and read beyond the introduction of Growing in Christ and then tackle John Owen's Communion with God, thanks to Jean's recommendation. It's been good advice to read short and well - a few short minutes, say fifteen, every day from well chosen titles - which can see you through a handful of good books each year and greatly enriched as a result.  Thanks Jean Williams and John Piper for the good encouragement.

06 October 2011

A better prayer

When friends have babies I often pray that the newborn would never know a day in their life when they don't know that God is their loving Father in heaven.  I have prayed that prayer many times.  And not only for newborns.  I continue to pray this for various children, including our own boys and our godchildren.

I have been reflecting on how I became a Christian lately.  And I have heard my husband talk about his journey as a Christian a couple of times during the last week as well.  We share quite similar stories.  At one level there was a defining moment for me.  It was 13th August 1987, about 4pm, sitting by the river.  Ironically I skipped a lecture, the only lecture I EVER skipped at university*, to sit by the river to talk to God and give my life to Him.  I remember it as clear as day.

Yet despite this very particular moment, I have always know God as my Father in heaven.  I cannot remember a time when I did not acknowledge and love God.  My parents didn't go to church but they did send my sister and I to Sunday School each week.  And God in His providence always surrounded me with people who loved Him, even after the days of Sunday School - teachers, friends - there was always someone there asking a hard question, keeping me thinking, encouraging me along and as I now know, praying for me.  As a child my relationship with God was vibrant.  In my teenage years that relationship lost some of its vibrancy.  But I never lost a sense of God.  It was more a case of Him being in heaven and me being here in my life on earth.  Distance...but I never turned away.

And as I have heard my husband say twice in the last week of his story, while I can pinpoint an exact moment when I put myself under God's authority, it is actually hard to discount the nearly twenty preceding years when God continued to be very real and it was only my (I now understand) sinful pride that kept me from fully apprehending what it means to be a child of God.  I still had a relationship with God and He was very much at work in my life, even if I didn't fully grasp it.

I realised this week that during my first 20 years I lived the very prayer I pray for newborns.  There has never been a day in my life that I didn't know that God is my loving Father in heaven.  And for that I am deeply thankful.  But it took 20 years, a handful of faithful people who prayed for me and kept badgering me and also a series of events that gradually eroded my confidence in the things in which I had previously placed my security to understand that that God is my loving Father in heaven and Jesus is my friend, Lord and Saviour.  And I need both, not just the first.

So this week I am praying a better prayer for our boys and for our godchildren and for the various other children who are often found in my prayers, that they would never know a day when they don't know that God is their loving Father in heaven and that Jesus is their friend, Lord and Saviour.  This seems to be a better prayer.


* I went on in that particular unit to fail a mid-semester test - the only assessment I ever failed at university - and barely scraped a pass for the subject - the only subject I ever came close to failing.  Ah, Sociology of Education.  It should have been so interesting...

03 October 2011

Status Report: October


Eating...nothing.  But looking forward to corned beef with bechamel sauce and veg for tonight's dinner.

Feeling hungry...because the corned beef smells delicious!

Drinking...water.  Just did an hour or two of weeding and now I'm a bit thirsty!

Reading...Isaiah, the 80s Psalms and Acts from the Bible.

Also reading...The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  A friend gave me a copy for my birthday WAY back in January.  I tried to read it during the summer but just couldn't get on with it at the time.  I think I had just finished with the Nancy Guthrie books at that point and nothing was going to be satisfactory after that.  But I am LOVING it now.  It's on at the movies.  If I get to see it that will be a bonus but I'm enjoying the written version immensely.

Between Feminine Threads and The Help I also read Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope.  I was given a copy of it at exactly the same time Wendy reviewed it here and having been so thoroughly captivated by Feminine Threads, I knew from experience (ie. from my summer experience with The Help!) to follow that experience with something a bit lighter.  I've read Trollope before, including The Rector's Wife!  She spins a good story - always an enjoyable read if you just want to enjoy the story and don't want to have to concentrate too hard - and she is a master of characterisation.   

Listening...to John Piper's sermon "Holding Fast to the Word of God in 2010" once again.  I've listened to it a couple of times in the last month, more for the joy of listening to Piper read all of Philippians out aloud at the beginning.  But the sermon that follows, on the importance of daily Bible reading, is wonderful too.

Wondering...if it is time to put an audio version of the Bible onto my MP3 player?  I'm a visual learner.  I usually don't find just listening to the Bible all that satisfactory.  But having pulled out the John Piper sermon (above) to hear him reading out  Philippians, I am wondering if I'm entering a new phase?

Interested in...some new sermons to download. I have been enjoying John Piper and Tim Keller this year. Has anyone listened to anything really great lately that they can recommend?

Enjoying...the view outside my kitchen window.


Also enoying...the school holidays.  Term three was very busy at lots of levels so it is nice to slow down for a while.  And making a mental note to self to never start a month by saying, "This month should be fairly pedestrian."  We managed a week of pedestrian at the beginning of September before we found ourselves transported from the footpath to the freeway.

Looking forward...to celebrating three birthdays in the family this week.  There would have been a fourth but he and his family find themselves celebrating his birthday in Paris this year.  The rest of us will enjoy a delicious lunch and a browse at the Book Caffe. 

Thanking God...for His goodness and remarkable care of us this last month in so many ways.  Also thanking Him for the adults who genuinely love our boys, not because they have to by association, but because they really do love them in their own right.  And speaking of those boys, so very thankful to God that they are growing up to be such interesting, wonderful young men.

Looking at the time...and realising it is time to hit PUBLISH so that I can make my bechamel sauce and prepare some vegies. 

18 September 2011

Proverbs 24:3,4

By wisdom a house is built,
and through understanding it is established;
through knowledge its rooms are filled

with rare and beautiful treasures.




13 September 2011

Long haul prayers

When praying for someone long-term, such as a family member, get into the habit of praying for small victories in the form of today's spiritual influence on them. This will prevent vain repetition, as well as get specific and will help you develop eyes to see the answers to these small victories.

This was recently written by Josh Etter on the Desiring God blog here.  

When I first read it I thought this suggestion was REALLY helpful.  I find praying for people/issues over the long term difficult.  I don't think it's a matter of not trusting God to answer those prayers.  It's just plain hard work, it becomes tedious at times and then it drops into the realm of the autopilot. This advice breathes new life into long haul prayers.

Then as I reflected on the advice I began to wonder whether it was a case of modern management practices taking over the things of faith once again.  You know...set a goal, break it down into its component parts, tackle it one small step at a time until the goal has been reached.  This is a helpful model in so many settings.  But is it relevant here - when praying for the big issues over a long period of time...for someone's salvation or for their ongoing health and wellbeing, for the life of one's church or for ongoing gospel opportunities within our communities?

And then I remembered...

Give us today our daily bread.
Matthew 6:11
and
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:34

As a Christian I am exhorted to live one day at a time under God.  Yes, I need to keep my eyes fixed on the end of the race.  But for today I only need grace for today.  And yes, I need to keep my unsaved friend or relative's long term need for a saving knowledge of Jesus in my prayers but they too need specific grace to see God at work in their lives in a way that is specific to today.

So yes, I am very encouraged by this suggestion.  And the added benefit of cultivating gratitude can only help to keep us spurred on in the hard but good work of praying over the long haul.

Pastoral Care

Cathy recently wrote a brilliant post about pastoral care.  Here is a large chunk of what she had to say.

Pastoral care is rejoicing with the joyful and sharing the sorrow of the sad. It's about bearing each others' burdens, while maturing to bear our own. It's helping each other change, in these waiting days, into the likeness of Jesus. This doesn't only happen in a crisis. A lot of good pastoral care will be prevention (training in godliness), and fortifying each other for future suffering.

A lot of hardship, grief and suffering outlasts a brief crisis. Real, long term relationships are what we need.

So perhaps it is helpful to think about pastoral care as all the stuff we all do to help each other persevere and mature, in long term relationships. It's not only what leaders and paid staff of a church do for everyone else, in the crises.

The end of pastoral care is the Day when we see Jesus. The goal of pastoral care is to have people get to that day, loving and trusting Jesus. It's about encouraging each other while it is still called Today, until that day, lest we drift in the meantime.

It's not our job to rescue people and take the mess away (Jesus ultimately does that). Our job is to help them endure through it, leaning on Jesus. Part of that encouragement will be alleviating crises with meals, visits and some solutions. But our care for people in a crisis won't be particularly effective if there is no shared "family" life before and after the crisis.

I really love the distinction Cathy has made between immediate crisis care and the long term pastoral care of helping one another to grow in our maturity in Christ so that we deal with our crises with increasing, God honouring maturity.  I think I am less melodramatic and self-absorbed than I was, say, ten years ago, when a crisis comes upon me.  And I hope and pray that in ten years time I can say the same thing, that I will be less melodramatic and self-absorbed than I am now.  There will always be a place for sensitive practical help for those in tough times.  I know I have been the recipient of many acts of kind and loving care.  But we serve one another well by continually pointing each other to the bigger picture so that we might be better prepared for adversity and then face it when it comes in ways that glorify God.

08 September 2011

Feminine Threads - a great book for women and men



I finished reading Feminine Threads:Women in the Tapestry of Christian History by Diana Lynn Severance on Tuesday afternoon.  On Tuesday evening I wrote a letter to Dr Severance to thank her for writing this outstanding book.

Feminine Threads is a church history book.  And there are lots of good reasons to read church history.  If you are a church history novice then this would be a good place to start.  It is a slim volume (just over 300 pages) and it provides a good survey of the history of the Christian church.  There is enough detail to get a sense of the major events and flavours of the various periods of the church, starting with the New Testament era and finishing in current times.  The book was published earlier this year so it's right up to date.

What sets this church history survey apart is that it's told through the stories of the women of the times.  Some of them are the mothers, sisters and wives of famous men in church history.  Others are (or have become) famous in their own right - for reasons ranging from being born a queen through to the powerful testimony of lives well lived despite (or maybe because of) humble beginnings.  

Interestingly, as I turned the pages of this book I observed that many of the women's stories were quite similar.  Don't think for a minute though that this book is repetitive and boring.  What changes is the political, social, economic, theological, geographical and cultural landscape.  And of course each story has its unique blend of personality, relationships and opportunities.  But what is deeply comforting is the repetition of women responding to their enormously varied circumstances with godliness, faithfulness, abiding trust in and dependence upon Him and seeking to bring Him all honour and glory.

It is this that makes Feminine Threads a profoundly encouraging book for women.  I found myself convicted ever more deeply to be praying for those in my midst and I feel warmly encouraged to press on with the humble activities that fill my week, walking in the footsteps of those who have, by faith, gone before me. 

And what's in this book for men?  The opportunity to more fully apprehend God's good plans for women as set out in the Bible and to see that in action time and again through history in order to encourage and build up the women in your own lives who are seeking to live in ways that please and honour God. 

And of course men and women alike get a good dose of church history along the way, which is always edifying. 

Millions of women in following Christ have followed the New Testament pattern of Christian women - lifting up the needs of others in prayer, mentoring other Christians, supporting church leaders, showing hospitality, fellow-labouring as missionaries, supporthing their husbands in Christian work, instructing other women, evangelising and sharing the Word with others, teaching children, and helping those in need and distress. These Christian women were from the poor and rich, from every class of society, and from every continent of the globe. They were not perfect, but they have obtained a good testimony through faith in the One who gave His life a ransom to redeem them for God. They are the feminine threads in the rich tapestry of Christian history

That is the final paragraph of Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History by Diana Lynn Severance. It summarises the content and essence of this clearly, eloquently and beautifully written book. I can't commend it to you highly enough.  Put it on your Christmas list.  At the top.

03 September 2011

Status Report: September



Eating...nothing.  Dinner was not so long ago.  And very nice it was.  Pan fried salmon with vegies and in a rare moment for this household, a dessert of apple and apricot crumble.

Drinking...a cup of tea.  What else?  Only the second for the day.  This one is french earl grey. 

Remembering...a picnic with friends years ago at a botanic park nearby that showcases tulips at this time of the year.  The brief for that picnic - we passed around a picnic recipe book and had to choose something from it as our contribution for lunch.  I made a berry crumble.  Ridiculous picnic food really.  It was dubbed the Merry Berry Crumble.  And thereafter I was dubbed Merry Berry for a while.  That was a special day.  I was remembering that picnic today because I took the boys to see the tulips this afternoon. And these days we only live 10 minutes away. 

About to start reading...Proverbs, the 60s Psalms and John.  Almost finished Job and I think I understand it a little better than last year.  Job truly fears the Lord - and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  It seems important to bear this in mind in order to understand what is going on and explains in part why this book falls into the category of wisdom literature.  However I have barely plumbed the depths of it.  There is much more to understand.  In other Bible reading news, I am happy to have caught up on the reading plan.  I was well behind this time last month.

Still reading......"Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History" by Diana Lynn Severance. I have about 100 pages to go.  It's fantastic.  Stay tuned.

Chuffed...to have collected £2.84 in commission from The Book Depository.  Except they don't send the credit until it reaches £40 so this could take a little while! 

Thankful...for God's blessing of dear family and friends. We were well loved in all sorts of touching and practical ways and were prayed for abundantly during August. Thank you God. Thank you dear ones.

Listening...to a bit of Bruckner.  Mainly his 4th and 7th symphonies, after hearing the latter in a wonderful performance last weekend.  I went with a dear friend who bought me a ticket (and one for herself) to the concert of my choice for my birthday way back in January.  We had fantastic seats and it was really splendid.   Nice to catch up with other friends unexpectedly during the interval as well. 

Excavating...the garden beds from the weeds!  The photo shows last weekend's work, which filled the green wheelie bin.  Blink and suddenly the garden is filled with weeds.  How did that happen?  It did cross my mind that I should have taken a "before" shot but then you can probably tell from the sidelines what it looked like before.  I was so pleased to discover that the plants hadn't been choked to death were alive and well and that there were plenty of earthworms burrowing around.   There are four agapanthus plants in amongst that lot.  Given their good health I am hopeful of flowers this summer, which will be the first time in four attempts at four different houses to get an agapanthus to the stage of flowering.  I know some of you out there think I have a green thumb.  Don't be deceived! 

Needing...to get off the computer and finish preparing my Sunday School lesson for tomorrow evening. 

Copying...Rebecca again.  The Status Report is a fun thing to do.  Sadly there hasn't been much blogging between this status report and the last one.  Not many original thoughts running around my head at the moment.  But life is good.

27 August 2011

This is what I meant to say

There has been a thought pattern developing here, here, and here.  But what follows, copied with permission (really...I emailed and asked and they kindly said yes) from here (HT: Rebecca) says it all - wonderfully, clearly and plainly. I'm probably not quite old enough to say it quite like this.  So in this instance it is good to borrow some wise words from someone with a bit more credibility than me. This really says it all.

Preparing to Be an Amazing Old Man or Woman
by Jim Elliff

Like it or not, if you continue to live, you’ll get old. As you look around at all those ancient people in the grocery store, the golf course, the retirement village and the nursing home, don’t be smug—you’ll be there soon enough. It will do you well to prepare to make those years the best they can be for the glory of God.
It’s not uncommon for God to use older people. Take Caleb who fought giants as an octogenarian. Or Moses, who led a cantankerous people up to the promised land at 120. Remember Anna, the widow, who served God with prayers at the temple in Jerusalem. God delights in doing this, because it makes clear that the power for living and doing the will of God isn’t found in mere human capacity, but in God Himself. Is it possible that God could use you even more in your latter years than in the earlier ones? There is nothing to say otherwise, as far as God is concerned.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Learn the Bible as well as possible while you can read and think well. When you come to the latter years, you are supposed to be wise. Now, please tell me, how can you be wise without thinking God’s thoughts? Impossible. Get them now. And be rigorous about it. Most older believers will tell you that it is those passages of Scripture that they memorized or studied deeply that have stuck with them in the hard times. You should have as much in your mental pouch for difficult days as possible. Do it now.
2. Clear your conscience. Don’t harbor unresolved issues that will create worrisome trouble for you both now and later. You can tell the people who have done that, whether they are young or old. Cain is an illustration. His hidden sin caused his countenance to fall and led to awful consequences. If you are a believer, carrying unresolved sin is a burden unfit for you. Call the family in and admit your failures, repay what was stolen, ask forgiveness for your attitudes and actions, settle accounts with your associates, your family, your church. Christ has forgiven you of your sins if you are His, now you must forgive, make restitution if appropriate, and ask for the forgiveness of others. If you don’t do so, you will need to examine if you are a believer at all. Jesus said, “If you do not forgive others, neither will the Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt. 6:15).
3. Put love first. Believers are loving people on their way to an inheritance of love. Show it. Jesus and the authors of the New Testament all testify to the supreme place of love in the life of true believers. It is the mark of maturity, the royal law, the perfect bond of unity. It is above all, and is the law of Christ. The older I get the more I realize that everything can be summarized in the word “love.” Loving God and loving others is the will of God for you. You should be better at it as you get older. It’s your full time occupation, and it might be all you can do later. But you must begin demonstrating more of that love now. Aren’t you glad God didn’t only love in His thoughts. No, He “demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Love is to be lived. You wear it as well as feel it. Be the most loving person you could possibly be, beginning right now.
4. Be a giver. There is little so joyful and helpful as giving. It is just like God who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16). Here is a little clue: giving is satisfying in ways that hoarders never will experience. I once knew a woman who could not let you leave her house without giving you something. Once, looking all around for something to put in our hands, she was only able to find a can opener. But we prized it because it came from a heart of love. Who would not want to be around people like her. But she was the real recipient, enjoying God’s favor. Be open-handed with your time, money, and things. You will never get rid of all that junk you own unless you get started giving now.
5. Don’t quit serving. One of the most often heard phrases in the church is “I feel I ought to let the younger people do it.” Though I sympathize with the need to employ all of our people in the ministries of the church, the idea of marginalizing older people just when they get more time to serve Christ and His church is poorly thought through. It is true that older people might find it wise to shift their focus or to take a different role in their service to the people of God, but that is a very different thing than quitting. Be gracious when the leaders suggest that you step down from a ministry, but don’t take it personally. They are doing the best they can to figure out how to use people the right way. Don’t become bitter about it. Do something else that is fitting your stage in life and do it with all your heart. Be an example of gracious service to God. God’s people don’t retire, but they do take different assignments.
6. Be an example of faithfulness. Loyalty to church and to friends is in short supply these days. You can rectify that. Be as faithful to the gatherings and activities of the church as is physically possible. If you cannot drive, don’t feel badly about asking someone to pick you up. You can help cover their gasoline, or you can take them out to eat at times to show your gratefulness. Be there even in the evening when most old folks sink into their easy chairs. What better place is there to be than in the fellowship of other believers? It will cheer your spirits, when slouching in the recliner will depress you. Teach the younger ones that they should pay any price to be with other believers.
Well, there is a start at being a great old person. I hope you will do this and more. If you’ve been grinding to a standstill in your love for others and your service for God, it’s not too late to repent and to get with it. 

21 August 2011

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

During the course of our lives there are certain days that will claim extra and special preparation.  I remember one Christmas Eve, I think I was about 14 at the time, when I voluntarily cleaned my bedroom and went so far as to collect jasmine from the garden and place it in a vase on my freshly excavated chest of drawers so that I would wake up on Christmas morning in a room that was beautiful in every way.

That's just one Christmas.  Most Christmases get special attention - practical and spiritual.  Easter too.  There were special preparations leading up to our wedding day and also for the days our sons were born - practical preparations so that these days would go well but spiritual preparations too, hoping that what we said and did on these occasions would maybe whisper the gospel into someone's listening, searching ear.

But what about the day of our death?  A bit hard to prepare for in lots of ways.  Death may come suddenly and unexpectedly.  Or it may come at the end of a long, slow illness or at the end of the gradual process of aging, leaving us too debilitated and tired by the time we get there to do much about it.

But what is death?  For the Christian it is the day we fall safely into the arms of Jesus.  That last breath drawn marks the beginning of glorious, eternal life with our Father in heaven. 

I have recently finished reading O Love That Will Not Let Me Go, the fourth book edited by Nancy Guthrie in a series of collected readings on a given subject.  This one is on the subject of death and bears the subtitle Facing Death with Courageous Confidence in God.  And like the others, it's wonderful. 

It isn't easy reading in lots of ways.  The various writers don't make light of the physical reality and pain of death which makes this book very confronting.  Nor do they make light of the sadness and tragedy of death.  Jesus himself wept when his friend Lazarus died - weeping not just for the loss of his friend but also over death itself, that His Father's perfect creation had become so stained and sullied by sin as to be marred by the ugliness of death. 

For the one who dies loving Jesus, death has lost its sting.  Because when the last breath of life is drawn, the Christian passes away from this life into eternal life with Jesus.  And while this book has plenty to say about the pain of death, it has more to say about the wondrous glory of what lies beyond it. 

But back to the issue of preparing for the day of one's death - because this book is not just about dying well.  It's about living well because therein lies the preparation for death. It is best summarised by the second last paragraph of the book, penned by Richard Sibbes:

Therefore, if we desire to end our days in joy and comfort, let us now lay the foundation of a comfortable death.  To die well is not a thing of that light moment as some imagine:  it is no easy matter.  But to die well is a matter of every day.  Let us daily do some good that may help us at the time of our death.  Every day by repentance pull out the sting of some sin, that so when death comes, we may have nothing to do but to die.

(From "God Reserves the Best for the Last" by Richard Sibbes (page 158) in O Love That Will Not Let Me Go edited by Nancy Guthrie.)

As I said, this book is confronting in many ways.  But it is also rich with comfort, encouragement and hope.  As for all the books in this series, it is definitely worth reading.  And reading it would be time well spent.

03 August 2011

Status Report: August


Drinking...a cup of tea. I was recently introduced to black tea with mint. It's delicious. But the weather was too awful to head outdoors for mint leaves today so this is just the usual English Breakfast with a dash of milk.  I've actually reduced the amount of tea I drink lately...and feeling much better for it too.

Thinking...it has been a long time since I posted anything.

Watching...Masterchef and have absolutely loved following the progress of a dear friend's sister competing on it.  But I will be SO glad when Sunday's finale is screened, the tv can be turned off (for a very long time) and the evenings can be reclaimed.  And to the young member of this family who asked if we were going to watch "The Renovators" next, the answer is no.

Figuring...there may be a link between the "Thinking" and the Watching"...

Falling behind...in my daily Bible reading.  (This however is not linked to the "Watching.")  About a week behind at the moment.  Hoping to have caught up by the end of the month.  Currently in Chronicles, the 20s Psalms and Mark.  And loving our current sermon and Bible study series on Deuteronomy.

Wondering...if anyone has used the M'Cheyne Bible reading plan and if so, what you thought of it?  I'm wondering if I will give it a go for next year. 

Reading..."Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History" by Diana Lynn Severance.  I'm fairly sure I'll be mentioning this one again.

Spurred on...by a post I read about looking to God in prayer for grace for the immediate now and not being concerned with or distracted by the list of things that need to be done by the end of this week or next week.  I can seek His grace for the end of the week things at the end of the week.  It's trying to live out Matthew 6:34. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Anticipating...writing a post on an excellent book I read during the holidays.  Soon.  Maybe after Sunday!!!

Also anticipating...tackling the room in our house dubbed "the horrible stuff room."  It was the room where we lobbed all the difficult to place stuff when we first moved here three and a half years ago.  It has been added to since then, but rarely subtracted from.  I have had the bright idea of giving that room 15 minutes of my attention each week and seeing where I am with it by the end of the year.  Fifteen minutes a week surely won't do me in...

Copying...Rebecca and trying to decide if I will do a status report every month.