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

31 December 2012

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner


When I read the last words of Crossing to Safety my second reaction was to think, "Thank goodness that's over!"  That came after my first response which was to allow a few little tears to trickle down my cheek.  (That moment was interrupted by finding a seven year old's face about 10 centimetres from my face requesting crackers for afternoon tea.)  Why the second response, when I was moved to tears in the first instance?  Relief that after four (albeit glorious) days I could get myself to bed before midnight and the family stood a chance of a) getting some eye contact from me after four fairly remote days and b) something better than crackers for afternoon tea.

Crossing to Safety was written in 1987 by American author Wallace Stegner.  It is the story of the lives of two couples - Sid and Charity Lang and Larry and Sally Morgan - who met for the first time during the Depression.  Sid and Larry both have their first jobs in the English Department of the University of Wisconsin.  Their wives are both pregnant.  A lifelong friendship is born.  The book, told from the point of view of an aging Larry Morgan, charts the progress of friendship, life, love and loyalty. 

Written about a different era, and yet it was very evocative of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  Of Gilead I said,

"And it is a wonderfully written novel. It moved along so slowly, and yet it was a page turner. It was oh so gentle, but not light weight by any stretch of the imagination. Full of peace, compassion, deep love, honour, loyalty and lived out, deeply understood theology.  Beautiful holiday reading!"

Apart from the "lived out, deeply understood theology" bit, that description fits this book perfectly.  Crossing to Safety is not written from a Christian world view so when it takes in the subject of dying I found it achingly sad to read very good writing about dying and death, but death without hope.  So there is that to it.  But as far as great reads go, this is a wonderful, wonderful book and if you are a Gilead fan, then I feel fairly sure you will love this too for its pace, poise and richness.

Thank you so very much to Karen whose review first introduced me to this book.  Unlike Karen, who seems to have excellent self-control and makes very good use of her local library, I actually bought this one and put it away for Boxing Day.  It was all I could do to not take a sneak peak during December.  (I did end up reading the introduction and the first chapter before Christmas...)  And in the spirit of lack of self-control, I was going to a summer reading round up at the end of the holidays, but I couldn't wait until then with this book.  If you are in need of a good summer read (or a good winter read for that matter) then this might be one for you.  As for me, my summer reading plan has just changed directions.  I am off to find Gilead for a re-read now.  (I bought that one too!)  But I might fix afternoon tea first.

30 December 2012

Wrapping up 2012

I love this time of year in blogosphere when people look back on the year gone and look forward to the year ahead.  So, 2012 in this neck of the woods.

Stuff I said I'd do...

Reading glasses...Done.  Life changing.  Really. 

Cooking...Adding to the repetoire of weekly meals. 
Epic fail.  Man, mid week meals around here are Oh. So. Boring. 
However...
I could possibly write a recipe book called One Hundred Two Ways with IKEA Meatballs. 
The brief but somewhat intense foray into Tupperware this year means that my hamburgers are so much better and I should mention that for one who is not big on gadgets, I cannot live without the Smooth Chopper.
The boys have learned to eat and appreciate soup this year.
I got a new carbon steel wok for Christmas.  My other wok gave up the ghost (due to my inattention) after fifteen years of good and faithful service.  Looking forward to seasoning this new one and getting it into use.
And the mince pies this Christmas were delicious.

Approach Bible reading differently...This was good.  Really good.  It was excellent to zone in on the prophets (and I only scratched the surface but enough to help me get by for the moment) and then it was quite something to try and race through the whole Bible in chronological order in six months.  I didn't make it through but not to worry.  The thing about the 2012 approach though was that I didn't get near the New Testament in my own personal reading (althrough I did read bits of it in Bible study groups and at church) until half way through November.  I love the Old Testament dearly but I did miss some of my good New Testament friends...so I will doing things a bit differently in the new year.

Add basil and mint to the pot of time on the kitchen windowsill...I got the mint and the basil.  It sat alongside my thyme and a little plant with pink flowers.  The thyme didn't like the pot it was in, never really grew and eventually passed away.  The basil couldn't grow fast enough for my consumption and I ended up a) stripping the plant until it wouldn't grow anymore and b) still needed to buy bunches of the stuff anyway to supplement my measly crop.  The mint however did what it needed to do...and provides me with the odd leaf here and there for drinks, salads and mint sauce.  So the thyme and the basil have gone - and will be purchased by the bunch as needed - and the mint grows alongside the pink flowering plant and another interesting, multicoloured thing.  And that is enough on the kitchen windowsill.

Pray for my friends...Done.  Well, still going really.  What a joy to have a specific prayer project, praying for friends all year. In God's grace they did famously on Kiribati and within their sphere, made a real difference there.  And they managed to get back home just in time for Christmas, despite Hurricane Evan's attempts to keep in them in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for a bit longer.

Reading...

Reading has been a highlight of year. Especially after getting my new reading glasses. Reading has given me rest, joy, things to think about and good things to share.

Favourite book?  That is hard call. I look at my reading list for 2012 and they were all good.  But if I had to narrow it down, Knowing God was an important book to read and wonderful. I will be reading it again - along with 18 Words. And Moby Duck was sensational and life changing.   Where other campaigns have failed, this book has single handedly made me take a serious look at my use of plastics, take my own shopping bags to the grocery store every sing time, tell those kind folks at Subway that I don't need my wrapped roll in a plastic bag that will be dispensed with 10 seconds later, reduced my usage of clingwrap and so on. 

The blog...

Most read post this year - was Infusing Christmas with Christ for Kids - the Jesus Storybook Bible, a post about how the Jesus Storybook Bible could be used as a series of Advent readings that I wrote in November 2009, thanks to some generous linkage by a couple of bloggers whose reach is vast. 

Most read post that I wrote this year - Making the Transition from Children's Ministry to Church.  It's an issue that will never go away, and ultimately it is in God's hands, thankfully.  But good to think about these things. 

My favourite post for the year - One to One Bible Reading - I love this little book that describes the very thing that makes my heart beat...getting people reading their Bibles and furthermore, getting them to love reading their Bibles.

Remember this quote?

Imagine if all Christians, as a normal part of their discipleship, were caught up in a web of regular Bible reading - not only digging into the Word privately, but reading it with their children before bed, with their spouse over breakfast, with a non-Christian colleague at work once a week over lunch, with a new Christian for follow-up once a fortnight for mutual encouragement, and with a mature Christian friend once a month for mutual encouragement.
It would be a chaotic web of personal relationships, prayer and Bible reading - more of a movement than a program - but at another level it would be profoundly simple and within reach of all.

It's an exciting thought!

(It's from from The Trellis and the Vine (page 57) by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall (Matthias Media) and quoted in One to One Bible Reading (page 12) by David Helm.)

New visitors at the blog - I don't really know how many people read this blog but there has been an interesting development in the stats that Blogger provides. It turns out that most of the Key to the Door readers are from Australia, which makes perfect sense. Second in line is the U.S. and I can account for that. Fourth is Chile and surprisingly, I can account for the Chileans too. (Hi guys!!) And fifth is the U.K. But in third place - and only since this year and it happened all of a sudden - is Russia. I'm not sure how you found me, but to those of you in Russia, a warm HELLO and WELCOME.

And life itself...

And of course there many other good and noteworthy things, some of which made it to the blog and others that didn't... seeing Stuart Townend perform and also singing lots of his songs in church, taking in three symphony performances, a holiday housesitting for friends who live much closer to the beach than we do while they went elsewhere on holiday, friends moving near us and then delivering meals to us at times when they knew we were stretched, agapanthus and rose success in the garden (although I understand now why you prune your roses in July and not in September if you want to enjoy your blooms for longer than two weeks before the hot weather sets in) and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel...  All of which makes me wonder about reprising the status reports to catch glimpses of the small but special stuff along the way.  What do you think?  (And if I do, any fellow bloggers out there want to come along for the ride and make it a feature of our blogs month by month?)


And there were the struggles that come with any year too.  The nights of little sleep and much prayer.  The days of being stretched.   The sorrows, irritations and struggles.  Interestingly, instead of tacking "Happy New Year" onto the end of the "Merry Christmas" bit as I wrote my Christmas cards this year, I found myself saying, "And may you know all the through the year ahead how much God has already blessed us through His Son Jesus Christ."  We always hope the year ahead will be happy - but we know that that every year will have its ups and its downs.   But we have been blessed right out of our socks already before we even start because of Jesus.  No matter what happened, 2012 was a year of great blessing.   And happily, 2013 will be the same.

26 December 2012

One last Christmas idea (to store up for next year) and a request

One of the fun things I did on Christmas day was to run some activities for the kids who came to church in the morning.  I've done this for a few years - but lest you think me very virtuous, let me tell you I have had an extremely checkered past in this department.  There was the year I planned fabulous activities and only two kids turned up to church.  The following year I didn't plan anything (thinking I would just play with the two kids) and loads of children came.  There was the year of making Christmas cards (boring...already done that at school and by Christmas day it is too late) and the year I was so tired that all I could muster up were a few colouring in sheets (the less said about that one the better).  Last year we did a simple craft activity which went down very well.

Running the kids' activities on Christmas day is always a bit hit and miss.  You never know how many kids will be there.  And you never know what shape the kids will be in.  Some years they arrive full of beans.  Some years they arrive spent from nights of excitement-induced lack of sleep, an early start and possibly crazed from too much sugar already and it is only 9am!  There are the kids who have already opened their presents (and very possibly would rather be at home playing with them) and the kids who are impatient for church to finish because they are yet to get near their Christmas tree.  So many variables.

A few weeks ago I made the conscious decision to give some enerygy to this part of Christmas day this year.  We played party games.

Game # 1 - the treasure hunt
I pulled out the stable from the old Vegie Tales nativity set from a gift bag and asked the children what it was.  Then I sent them off to find all the characters, having hidden them all around the hall before church.  Once all the pieces were found the children set up the scene, telling me the story along the way.

Game # 2 - the guessing game

I'd taken six decorations from our tree and put them in a bag.  The children took turns to put their hand in the bag and guess what one of the decorations was by touch.  As they guessed them we pulled them out one by one and had a Christmas related discussion.  The decorations included a star, two angels (because one visited Mary but a host of them visited the shepherds), a bell, a tree and a stocking (the last three giving rise to good chats about traditions, church and giving.)

Game # 3 - pass the parcel

This was especially good for the children who hadn't yet opened anything that morning.  We sat in a circle and rolled a dice, passing the parcel around the number of people as shown on the dice.  Underneath each layer there was a question to answer or an instruction to carry out (by the child who had done the unwrapping and sometimes others chipped in as well, which was nice.)  The layers went as follows...

Layer 1 - What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
Layer 2 - What is your favourite Christmas song?
Layer 3 - What is your favourite Christmas food?
Layer 4 - This layer had a small prize with the instruction, "Because it is nice to give presents at Christmas time, give this prize to someone else in the group" (leading to a discussion about giving as well as receiving.)
Layer 5 - Tell us a short version of the Christmas story.  Make sure you include Gabriel and Mary, the journey to Bethlehem, Jesus born in the stable, shepherds and angels and wise men and the star.  Or give this task to someone else to do. 
Layer 6 - Give the parcel to the person who told the Christmas story and tell them they are allowed to open the next layer.
Final Layer - there were two small bags of chocolate coins at this point and a note that said, "Well done for telling us the Christmas story.  Here is prize for you to take home and one to share with everyone now."  And then we shared out the chocolates amongst the group.

This done, there were just a few minutes left - long enough to play three quick running around games - and then the parents were out to fetch their kids and take them onto the rest of their Christmas day events.  It was a great morning.  The kids were engaged and I think they all had a good time.

So here is the question.  If you organised something for kids at church on Christmas day (or if you have kids and they had something organised for them) could you please please please share what you/they did with me in the comments?  Because I am sure I will doing this gig another time and I'm always on the lookout for new ideas.

24 December 2012

Merry Christmas

 
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees!
Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

 

21 December 2012

The gift of gifts

Despite all good intentions, sometimes it is hard to hold onto what it is that we celebrate at Christmas time.  I was going to post this beautiful prayer for Christmas Day but as I read it over again and prayed it for myself last night and again today, it occurred to me that it's probably of more use to share it now, in these last days before Christmas.  If you are finding it difficult, for whatever reason - and there are many - to pause before the manger just now, then I hope this prayer will help you to get your heart back in the Right Place, as it has done for me.

O Source of all good,
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
  thine own dear Son, begotten not created,
  my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute,
  his self-emptying incomprehensible,
  his infinity of love beyond the heart's grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders:
  he came below to raise me above,
  was born like me that I might become like him.
Herein is love:
  when I cannot rise to him he draws near on wings of grace,
  to raise me to himself.
Herein is power;
  when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart
  he united them in indissoluble unity,
  the uncreated and the created.
Herein is wisdom;
  when I was undone,
  with no will to return to him,
  and no intellect to devise recovery,
  he came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost,
  as man to die to my death,
  to shed satisfying blood on my behalf,
  to work out a perfect righteousness for me.
O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds,
  and enlarge my mind;
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
  and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
  my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose,
  my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat,
  to look with them upon my Redeemer's face,
  and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the newborn child to my heart,
  embrace him with undying faith,
  exulting that he is mine and I am his.
In him thou hast given me so much
  that heaven can give no more.

Amen


(From  The Valley of Vision page 28- a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions edited by Arthur Bennett.)
 

06 December 2012

Three ways into the Christmas story

If you are in the business of having to do a kids' Christmas talk this year maybe one of these might help...three of the ways I have told the Christmas story in Scripture this year. 
 
# 1...Jesus is the best gift of all.
 
For this rendition I put a nativity set into a gift box or gift bag.  Then it is a matter of telling the story and pulling the bits and pieces out of the bag as they come up in the story, starting with Mary being visited by the angel, and building up the scene as you go. 

When I do this I usually use this nativity scene - a very plastic (non-breakable) Veggie Tales set.  The kids at school, who aren't familiar with Veggie Tales, are very amused that all the characters are vegies and it is enough to hold even the big kids through the telling of a familiar story.

(I remember being aghast when my husband brought this set home, having purchased it for next to nothing from the markdown shelf at a certain Christian bookstore.  Ironically it is the nativity set that our boys played with the most when they were young and I use it all the time now as a teaching resource at this time time of the year.  So to my husband...apologies for that look of absolute horror when you walked in the door with this little purchase.)
 
At the end of the story you ask why the nativity scene was in a gift box and explain that God gave us the best gift of all in sending Jesus to earth a baby to die on a cross a man so that we might be forgiven for all our sins.  Jesus is the best gift of all.
 
 
# 2...The "So you think you know the Christmas story" super quiz
 
This is great for bigger kids who really think they know it all.  You ask the following six questions and get the children to write down their answers.
 
 
1.  When Mary first heard that she was going to be the mother of God's Son, she heard the news from an angel.  What was the angel's name? (Gabriel)
2.  When it came time for Jesus to be born Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem.  Why did they have to go there? (To take part in the census.)
3.  Was Jesus born in a manger or put in a manger after he was born? (Put in the manger...born in the stable.)
4.  After he was born Jesus had two lots of visitors - some shepherds and some wise men.  Who came first or did they come at the same time? (Shepherds first, wise men second.)
5.  How did the shepherds and the wise men know that Jesus had been born?  How did God announce the news? (Angels for the shepherds and the star for the wise men.)
6.  When the wise men visited they brought presents.  What were the presents?  And by the way, how many wise men were there? (Gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And we don't know how many wise men.  The Bible just says "the wise men".  There were three gifts but there may not have been three wise men.)

You then provide the answers by telling the story, revealing the answers as you go, dispelling a few myths generated by carols and Christmas cards along the way.   (There is also the issue of the age of Jesus when he was visited by the wise men.  Head down that path if you want to take in the Herod story during your session because there is a bit of mythbusting to be done there too.)
 
 
#3...Christmas (and in fact the whole story of the Bible depending how far you want to take it) through the lense of the wise men's gifts.
 
 
 
Start by asking what sorts of presents babies and small children receive.  Then put the wise men in their context (ah, that would mean a quick retell of the story!!) and head on into your main discussion - about the highly unusual gifts Jesus received from the wise men. 
 
Gold is a precious metal - the metal of kings - pointing to the fact that Jesus is the King of kings.
Frankincense is the incense used by the high priest, pointing to Jesus as the great High Priest. 
Myrrh is embalming oil, used only for royalty, pointing to his important death. 
Through the themes of King, Priest and Jesus' death you can take the story as far, wide and deep as time and the age of your audience will allow. 


 
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 
Luke 2:10,11

27 November 2012

Advent, with a little help from my friends


This weekend - whether you start on Saturday being the first day in December or Sunday being the first Sunday in Advent - marks the beginning of the great countdown to Christmas.  Each year we mark the days and prepare our hearts for Christmas using an Advent calendar.  Our boys are blessed with beautiful godparents - and their godmother gave them an Advent calendar when our eldest was born and each year she supplies us with material to put in the pockets of the calendar.

But first things first.  Do you have an Advent calendar?  If not, it isn't too late.  You could buy one.  Or you could make one.  The lovely Ally at harrysdesk has set up a page of ADVENT INSPIRATION here.  So many beautiful ideas.  And it doesn't have to be all that complicated.  You can go a long way quickly with 24 envelopes or 24 takeaway noodle boxes or 24 plastic cups. 

And then, what to put inside it?  Lollies, chocolates, coins (real or chocolate) and so on.  And then the good stuff.

For young children you can use the first 24 stories in The Jesus Story Book Bible to great effect.
Very generously, Wendy at Musings has kindly made two sets of Advent readings available here - one covering the birth Jesus and another covering Genesis to Jesus, great for young and old alike.

And below, a series of verses that provide an overview of the whole Bible.  These come with warm thanks to our boys' godmother.  This is the material she has prepared for our calendar this year.  And she has generously allowed me to share it here on my blog.  This series of short readings would be good for older children who have made their way through their children's Bibles plenty of times and have a good knowledge of the big picture of the Bible.  And it is great for adults too.  They are short readings that should inspire some deep discussion about God and why Christmas and Easter (because you can't have one without the other) had to happen.  She hasn't included any part of the actual Christmas story in her choice of verses which will seem strange to some, but kids have a pretty good grasp of the Christmas story - and there is a fair chance they will be hearing it in its entirety during December.  I think it's going to be amazingly powerful to reach Christmas Eve with Jesus' resurrection from the dead and the great commission.  We will head into Christmas Day fired up and with so many Good Reasons to celebrate.

So click on the links above, cut and paste to your heart's content below and get inspired for Advent. 

 
 

Our readings for 2012

1.  In the Beginning
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
(Gen 1: 1)

2.  Sin....
When the woman (Eve) saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband (Adam), who was with her, and he ate it.
(Gen 3: 6)

3.  Noah’s Ark
The Lord then said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. .. and the rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights.
(Gen 7: 1 & 12)

4.  The Lord Promises Abram to make him into a Great Nation
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”... “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them... so shall your offspring be.”
(Gen12: 1 & 15: 5)

5.  Sarah Becomes Pregnant
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in her old age, at the very time God
had promised. Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him
(Gen 21: 1 – 2)

6.  Jacob and Esau
Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren.  The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.  The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?"  So the she went and enquired of the Lord. 
The Lord said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated, one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."
(Genesis 25:21-23)

7.  Jacob Wrestles with God
Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’
(Gen 32: 28)

The coming Messiah- Jesus - would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (mentioned in the New Testament in Matthew 1 & Luke 3)

8.  Joseph reveals himself to his Brothers
Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with
yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sentme ahead of you. For two
years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be ploughing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.’
(Gen 45: 4 – 7)

9.  Moses and the Burning Bush
Then the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush... Then God said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob... I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave
drivers... so I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey..’
(Exodus 3: 2 & 6 – 8)

10.  The Exodus
When Pharoah let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country... so God led the people around by the desert road towards the Red Sea... By day the Lord went ahead of the Israelites in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light
(Exodus 13: 17 – 18 & 21)

11.  Moses at Mount Sinai
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my
covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.’
(Exodus 19: 3 -5)

12.  Joshua Leads the Israelites to the Promised Land
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son Nun, Moses' assistant, "Moses my servant is dead.  Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them -  to the Israelite.  I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses...I will never leave you nor forsake you."
(Joshua 1:1-5)

13.  The Appointment of Judges
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs. The anger of the Lord burned against Israel... But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer...judges.’
(Judges 3: 7 – 11)


14.  Samuel Anoints David as King
The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over
Israel?.. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king... and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.’
(1 Samuel 16: 1 & 13).

It was prophesied that Jesus would be from the line of David in Isaiah 9:7 and 2 Samuel 7: 12 -13.

15.  Solomon Builds the Temple
When Solomon had finished building the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and he had achieved all he had desired to do, the Lord appeared to him a second time..."I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated the temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there forever.  My eyes and my heart will always be there.
(1 Kings 9:1-3)

16.  Prophecy that Jesus would be born of a Virgin Woman
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (which means God with us).’
(Isaiah 7: 14)

17.  Prophecy of the Coming King Jesus
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
(Isaiah 9: 6 – 7)

18.  The Baptism of Jesus
When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was
opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
(Luke 3: 21 – 22)

19.  Jesus has Authority over Evil Spirits
Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of
God!’
‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’
The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
(Mark 1: 23 – 26)

20.  Jesus has Power over Nature
Then Jesus got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him... he replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’
(Matthew 8: 23 – 27)

21.  Jesus has Power over Death
While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. ‘Your
daughter is dead,’... Jesus said to Jairus, ‘Don’t be afraid, just believe, and she will be healed.’
When Jesus arrived he said, ‘Stop wailing, she is not dead but asleep.’
They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, ‘My child,
get up!’ Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.
(Luke 8:49 – 55)

22.  Prophesied that Jesus would be Despised and Crucified
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering... Surely he took
up our infirmities (our failings) and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions (our wrong doing), he was crushed for our iniquities (failings); the punishment that brought us peace was upon him; and by his wounds we are healed... For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’
(Isaiah 53: 3 – 12)

23.  God’s Saving Grace
For 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to
save the world through him.
(John 3: 16 – 17).

24.  Jesus' Resurrection from the Dead
The angel said to the woman, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.
...Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
(Matthew 28:5-7 & 18-20)


18 November 2012

How is your Bible reading going?

I have put all the "How to read ALL of the Bible" posts together in the one spot.  Just click HERE.

And below is a small quote from Jon Bloom from the Desiring God blog about the goodness of good books - especially the Best Book.

Lord… You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)

Christians are word people. We’re really into words because the Founder of Christianity is the Word (John 1:1). He came to earth to deliver a message in words. Those of us who have believed his words recognize them as the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). And we seek to speak these words to others so they too can have eternal life. We call these words the gospel.

Christians are also book people. We’re really into books because our Founder left us a book, a collection of the words he determined are most important for us to know and remember.

This means we’re not into books merely because they’re good for us — as in a good book is health food for the brain, though that’s true. We’re into books because words mean the difference between life and death. If books contain the right words, people may live — forever!

13 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 12 - And finally...


That is how to make basic sense of the Bible - how to navigate through all of its 66 books - and so ends this series.  Now there is nothing for it but to get busy and get reading your Bible.  All of it. 

I have found it helpful to use a reading plan to guide my reading and so once again I share the link to a whole series of really good Bible reading plans, any of which will help you to be systematic in your approach.  Drop me a line in the comments if you would like some help to choose a plan.

My only advice is this.  Don't wait until the 1st of January to get started.  Don't worry about all of those little dates on the side of the reading plans.  Ignore them.  Just put a tick next to the readings as you do them and disregard the dates.  We all know that starting on the 1st of January will only end in tears - be it two weeks or two months down the track.  And if you wait until the 1st of January, that will be a good six weeks before you can get underway.  How could you possibly want to wait??

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure
and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
 
Psalm 19:7-14

12 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 11 - The contents page and the New Testament

The New Testament is easily divided up.


Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the story of Jesus.

Acts tells the story of what happened in the thirty or so years after Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection.

Following that is a series of letters (or epistles). Romans right through to Philemon were written by Paul. We don't know who wrote Hebrews. And then James (the brother of Jesus) wrote James, Peter (the disciple) wrote 1 and 2 Peter, John (the disciple) wrote 1, 2 and 3 John and Jude (younger brother of Jesus and James) wrote Jude. The letters are written to churches and to individuals. All serve to explain the significance of Jesus and how to live as one who loves God in light of Jesus, awaiting his return.

Revelation is written by John - a record of the visions God gave him to assure all Christians that Jesus will come again and at that time, all will be made perfect under God for those who love Him.

09 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 10 - The contents page and the Old Testament

So how do all those events unfold across the 66 books of the Bible?

You can divide the books of the Old Testament into three main sections - the history books, wisdom literature and the books of the prophets.


The history books tell the story from the beginning of creation up to that point of 400 years of silence.

Genesis starts with the creation story and then covers the stories of Adam and Eve through to Jacob and his sons.

Exodus through to Deuteronomy is the gathering of the Israelite nation and their preparation to head into the Promised Land - their own land where they can live as His people. 

Joshua is the story of the Israelites entering the Promised Land but failing to take it over completely.

Judges describes the time when the Israelites live in the Promised Land, bearing the consequences of not having effectively conquered the other nations before settling there. This is the book with the cycles of sinning, calling out to God, getting a leader to guide them out of the difficulties, all going well for the period of the life of the leader and then falling into sin again.

Samuel, Kings and Chronicles is the history of Israel as they live under the rule of human kings and ultimately find themselves banished from the Promised Land to Assyria (Northern Kingdom) and into the territories of the Babylonian Empire (Southern Kingdom.)

Nehemiah marks the period when they return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple...a small pocket of the Promised Land.  And that marks the end of the history of the Old Testament.

(Ruth slots in amongst the time of the Judges, Ezra slots in alongside Nehemiah and the story of Esther unfolds as the Israelites live in exile in the Babylonian Empire.)

The wisdom literature books, mostly written in poetic form, are Job, the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. These were written in a particular time and place but are timeless in their content - offering insight, response and perspective on what life is like (with all its ups and downs) lived under God.

The books of the prophets are interwoven throughout the period of the kings (1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles), full of warnings to turn away from foreign gods to follow the true and living God. They are full of life and hope for those who heed the warnings and full of terrible judgment and complete despair for those who don't.

08 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 9 - What this is and what it isn't

From The King, the Snake and the Promise
 
What I have presented in posts two through seven of this series is a very broad outline of the key events of the Bible.  I have left out all sorts of detail.  This is just a skeleton. You have to read God's words in the Bible to give it flesh and muscle and to make its heart beat – to see God’s majestic plan for creation, to see the relentless examples and impact of sin, to see God's endless grace and mercy found on every page towards sinful humanity, to see why Jesus had to come to die on a cross and be raised to life again and to see what that all means for all eternity. THAT is the story of the Bible. And it’s told through all the separate stories of individuals and communities through the pages and chapters and books of the Bible...which is why it is important to read all of it.  It all matters.

I have always tried to read all of the Bible.  In the early days I would be fed by the stories I recognised from childhood, the other bits I could make sense of and understand and then through the long sections that had me flummoxed, the occasional verse that would jump out at me in God's good providence.  About ten years down the track I did an “Introduction to the Bible” course.  I had been sitting under good teaching in good churches during those preceding ten years and reading through the Bible all that time but somehow the big picture had eluded me.  When I did that introductory course it was like the  proverbial scales falling off my eyes.  I remember saying to various people, “Where have I been these last ten years?  What have I actually been doing?  How did I get this far without knowing all of this?” 

Once I knew the big picture, the next few years of reads through were about watching that big picture unfold and beginning to learn the detail - whose myriad parts came together to form the magnificent whole.  Then for a few years, with the big picture essentially under my belt, I was noticing the theme of God’s sovereignty in all of my reading.  A few more years on and I started to notice the theme of God’s mercy in all my reading.  Every page of the Bible, even some of the most terrible bits, is filled with the mercy of God.  At the moment I find the attributes of godly, faithful people coming to my notice - people whose decisions, words, reactions and responses take my breath away. 

These posts have not been about showing how God’s mercy and sovereignty, grace and justice is revealed in every single page.  Those wonderful discoveries are made by reading the Bible.  Rather, these posts are about explaining the big picture – about providing a few landmarks along the way – to give it some order and make this big and complicated book easier to navigate.  With every prayerful pass of the Bible there is more to see and learn - and God will provide for you and bless you everytime and at each stage.

Three posts to go.  Next – a guide to the contents page.

07 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 8 - The New Testament

Following the 400 years of silence the story recommences, as told in the New Testament. Now the very helpful diagram doesn't go into the New Testament but the story becomes a little easier to follow at this point.

God knows that His people - people now scattered over many countries following the exiles and four hundred years of trade, travel and expansion - need to be rescued from their sin that continues to fracture the relationship between God and humanity.  God sends a Saviour - His Son Jesus Christ - to die on the cross taking the punishment for all sin for all time. And so the New Testament starts with the story of that Saviour - with the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Jesus' saving work on the cross is for all who love God. Following Jesus' return to heaven there is a glimpse into the lives of the early Christians and a look at the establishment of the early Christian church.

And throughout Jesus' time on earth, he promises that He'll come again. The Bible finishes with a peek at what things will be like on that day when Jesus comes again - both glorious and terrible - glorious for those who call on Jesus as their Saviour and terrible for those who do not.

06 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 7 - some extra help for the period of the kings

In my experience the most difficult section of the Bible to navigate is the period of the kings - the time of the Northern and Southern kingdoms.  This part of biblical history also takes in the prophets...so the events of the last seventeen books of the Old Testament are interwoven into this part of the history.  However without a good roadmap it is all very, very hard to navigate. 

For at least fifteen or so years I have had two pieces of paper slotted into my Bible at the beginning of this section.  They are the trusty diagram (from Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32, published by Paternoster Press in 1982) that we have been following...


...and this table...



... a chronology of the kings that I found in the New Bible Commentary (3rd Edition), page 322, published by IVP in 1970.   This table is a lifesaver.  1 and 2 Kings flips back and forth between the Northern and Southern kingdom and it can be very hard to remember (if you have a memory like mine) which kingdom and which king is being discussed at any one time.  A quick check on the trusty table when you read a new king's name and you are set on the right track and reading in the correct context.

The other difficulty with this neck of the woods is the prophets who, apart from Elijah and Elisha, are all clumped together at the end of the Old Testament rather than being woven into the story as it happens. Click HERE for is a post I wrote with a short summary of the prophets with navigation guides to help place as many of them as we can in their correct context.

Knowing which kingdom, king and prophet you are reading at which particular time and place in history makes all the difference in this part of the Bible.  It's a really exciting part of the Bible - but it's extremely bewildering without some landmarks and guide posts along the way. 

05 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 6 - The Southern Kingdom

The Southern Kingdom (or Judah) also has a succession of kings (nineteen) and one (very bad) queen. Now God has promised King David (from the tribe of Judah) that someone from his line will always be on the throne of Judah.  Consequently all of the kings of the Southern Kingdom are from the family line of David.  Some love and honour God and others fall away to serve other gods. The pendulum swings back and forth for nearly 400 years. During the reigns of the bad kings God sends prophets including ISAIAH, MICAH and JEREMIAH.

Unfortunately there are more bad kings than good and again the warnings of the prophets go unheeded - and things deteriorate. Eventually God sends the Babylonians into the Southern Kingdom to take over. The FIRST DEPORTATION TO BABYLON IN 597BC sees the key leaders of the community taken in captivity to Babylon. During the SECOND DEPORTATION TO BABYLON IN 586BC all but a very few poor people (who are left to keep the wild animals and tumbleweeds from taking over the land) are deported and spread all throughout the vast Babylonian Empire. God continues to speak to His people through the prophets, even in exile, such as through EZEKIEL.

The Israelites are still holding onto God's promise that someone from the line of David will always remain on the throne.  In 538BC there is an EDICT OF RETURN. A small contingent of Israelites with NEHEMIAH the governor and EZRA the prophet/priest return to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, starting with the city wall. Most of the Israelites stay put, having done as God instructed and made themselves a comfortable life and home in Babylon. The small contingent that returns is encouraged along in their endeavours by the prophets HAGGAI, ZECHERIAH and MALACHI. The rebuilding and repatriation project goes ahead but they are unable to return things to their former glorious state - as built up during the reigns of David and Solomon.

That marks the end of the main events of the Old Testament.  What follows is a period of about 400 years when God remains silent. There are no more prophets and no further key developments in the history of His people during that time.

This diagram is from Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32. (Published by Paternoster Press in 1982)

02 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 5 - the Northern Kingdom

The Northern Kingdom (or Israel) which commenced under the rule of Jereboam, is led by a succession of kings, twenty in all, spanning four different dynasties, none of whom love, follow or serve God. They serve other gods and lead the people far away from Him. Through the reign of these kings God sends prophets including ELIJAH, AMOS and HOSEA, warning them to turn away from their wickedness and turn back to Him or they will meet their destruction. They do not heed the warning, God reduces the size of the Northern Kingdom through a succession of lost battles and in 722BC the Assyrian army comes in, takes over the land and the people are sent into EXILE IN ASSYRIA. The Northern Kingdom/Israel is no more.


This diagram is from Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32. (Published by Paternoster Press in 1982)

01 November 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 4 - Samuel, Kings and Chronicles

Eventually the Israelites look around at the nations that surround them, led not by God but by human kings, and they want a human king too. God warns them through the prophet Samuel (a prophet is messenger from God) that to live with God as their king is a much better way to go. But they insist on having a human king so God gives them over to their desire and presents them with King Saul. Saul (not to be confused with the Saul who becomes known as Paul in the New Testament) doesn't keep his eyes and heart fixed on God and has a troubled time of it.

Following Saul is King DAVID (of David and Goliath fame) - a man after God's own heart. A lot of David's reign is spent in battle, securing the Israelite borders as should have been done when they first entered thePromised Land but despite the many battles that mark this period, it is a time when the Israelites, under David whose rule is under God, seem to be heading in the right direction.

David is succeeded by his son King Solomon - the wise king who did well to a point but fell into all the pitfalls God warned of in relation to human kings - amassing an army with many horses and chariots and also amassing enormous wealth (relying on his own power and might) and amassing a huge collection of foreign wives and concubines (who with their foreign gods lead Solomon astray.)

After Solomon there is a SCHISM. Solomon is succeeded by his son Reheboam however Solomon's advisor Jereboam, thinking he can do a better job of it, also has a tilt for the throne. In the end Reheboam becomes the king of two of the tribes/areas of Israel - Judah and Benjamin - and Jereboam becomes king of the remaining ten tribes/areas.

Reheboam's territory of two tribes now becomes known in the Bible as the SOUTHERN KINGDOM or JUDAH.

Jereboam's territory of ten tribes becomes known as the NORTHERN KINGDOM or ISRAEL.

It is really important to get these titles straight. Judah was one of Jacob's sons and now it is the name of the combined land of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Israel was Jacob's new name, then the name of the nation of all of his descendants and after the schism, the territory of the ten remaining tribes other than Judah and Benjamin.

This diagram is from Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32. (Published by Paternoster Press in 1982)

31 October 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 3 - Exodus to Judges

Time passes and Jacob/Israel's descendants become numerous. They are a nation of people, divided up into the 12 tribes of Israel - ten of the tribes named after each of Jacob's sons except for Levi (whose line becomes the priests of Israel, serving amongst all of the tribes) and Joseph (whose two sons Ephraim and Manasseh born to him in Egypt are named as the heads of the remaining two tribes) all living in slavery in Egypt. God uses MOSES to rescue the Israelites from Egypt in order to settle them into the Promised Land. They travel through the Red Sea and then wait on the edge of the Promised Land as God gives them the Ten Commandments and many other laws - laws not to save them because God has already rescued them out of slavery, but laws that will help them to live as God's people.

However the Israelites don't put their trust in God.  They disobey Him and grumble against Him. So they are sent to wander in the desert for forty years until there is a new generation ready to enter the Promised Land under God’s leading. After forty years in the desert God again explains His laws through Moses - that is, how to live as God's people in their new land - and then they are ready to enter the Promised Land.

The Israelites enter the Promised Land and their first job is to take it over. They have been told how far their territory will extend and where the borders will lie.  They have been instructed to take it over completely.  And God promises to be with them every step of the way. However they fail to take it over as instructed, leaving pockets of unconquered land - and within it, communities who follow other gods who lead the Israelites astray.

They live for many years in the Promised Land but it isn't as it should have been. At times they follow God and live under His rule. But then they fall away, get into all sorts of trouble and finally call out to God for His help. He sends someone to lead them out of their bad situation and they live in peace under God for the length of the life of the sent leader. Following the death of the leader they fall away again and so the cycle goes on and on and on, ever worsening with each cycle.

This diagram is from Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32. (Published by Paternoster Press in 1982)

30 October 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 2 - Genesis

 
The Bible begins right at the beginning. God created the world and created human beings, in His image, to be in relationship with Him and with one another. What follows after the creation account are the stories of God at work in and through the lives of particular individuals. This starts with Adam and Eve - and within only three chapters of the Bible sin has entered God's perfect creation through Adam and Eve’s disobedience and as a result the relationship between humanity and God is fractured. Following Adam and Eve are the stories of their sons Cain and Abel, and then Noah, ABRAHAM and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau and finally Jacob's family, particularly Joseph.

Towards the end of Jacob’s life, he and his direct descendants - seventy in all - find themselves living in Egypt, with his second youngest son Joseph second in command to Pharaoh, all having left the land of Canaan which is severely ravaged by famine. God tells Jacob he will no longer be called Jacob but be known as Israel.

This diagram is from Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32. (Published by Paternoster Press in 1982)

29 October 2012

How to read ALL of the Bible # 1 - the basics

If you have been reading this blog for a while you will know that I think reading the Bible – and reading all of it - is important. Some of it is pretty hard going but it is all good.  And if you keep pressing on, turning the pages over and over (but you do have to read the words as you go, just in case you were tempted to skip a few pages, chapters or books without reading them) year by year, eventually it all starts to make some sense. You start seeing the links between the books, understanding where a random book fits in with the larger picture, recognising names and recalling the events that shape the unfolding history. Every part of the Bible is important. But it can be hard work.

A couple of keys to reading all of the Bible without becoming discouraged are to know the basics of how the Bible hangs together – and much of it can be understood using this simple and handy diagram...



This diagram is from Gospel and Kingdom: A Christian Interpretation of the Old Testament by Graeme Goldsworthy, page 32. (Published by Paternoster Press in 1982)

...and secondly, knowing how that story fits in with the table of contents at the beginning of the Bible. 


But first up, the absolute basics.

The Bible isn't one book but a library of 66 books. There are 39 books in the Old Testament - starting with the creation of the world and moving through the history of the people of Israel (and the gentile nations that surround them) right through to about four hundred years before Jesus was born. 

The New Testament has 27 books - covering the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the history of the early church, assurance that Jesus will return again and lots of guidance on how to live our lives in light of the life and work of Jesus Christ as we await his return.

The 66 books cover a range of genres - history, poetry, letters (called epistles), apocolyptic writings (eek!), lists, narrative, genealogies (press on through these...they DO become quite interesting once you become familiar with them) and so on - and each section needs to be read in light of its genre.  Within the 66 books there are lots and lots of stories that all combine to tell a single, beautiful story of redemption through God’s sovereignty, faithfulness, love and grace.

So, moving onto all those individual stories and how they hold together.

28 October 2012

Good to go

From The King, the Snake and the Promise
 
My series on how to read ALL of the Bible is good to go.  Thanking my husband for his handy work with the scanner.  Stay tuned.

14 October 2012

Twenty minutes

 

Letter writing it seems is a dying artform.  Lots of people say, "Oh no!  I don't write letters anymore.  I just send emails."  True at one level.  I can type much faster than I can write with pen and paper these days.  But it isn't true at another level, because how many of us actually correspond with others via email?  I send lots of emails - but they are mostly short, usually on one subject, written with the aim of getting something done.  I think I am keeping up with those who are beyond my immediate vicinity.  But actually, I'm not.  Because I rarely write a letter these days.  I think I have had two bursts of letter writing this year.  And I don't seem to get around to writing emails that would count as correspondence all that often.

This year, with my friends in Kiribati, I have been trying to keep in touch regularly.  Telephone calls haven't really been an option, although there have a been one or two lovely phone conversations.  I have written them two or three letters - and they do get there but it takes about three weeks.  Which is good, really.  But mostly I have been emailing.

Sometimes I hit a busy patch (or so I perceive it to be) and I don't email for a while.  But in recent months I have decided that I'm sure my friends would rather get a short email that not hear from us at all. It's the keeping in touch that counts. 

And so one day, in the midst of a busy patch, I had twenty minutes exactly.  I can't remember what it was that was happening on the otherside of the twenty minutes...time to collect the children from school, time to start preparations for tea...no matter.  I had twenty minutes.  Not the sort of twenty minutes that might be useful for a quick job inside utilising one or other packet of cleaning wipes or twenty minutes that could be gainfully employed with a quick stint of weeding the garden.  It was the sort of twenty minutes that would be spent quickly roaming around facebook and google reader.  But instead of taking a wander through the hallowed halls of the internet I opened up an email and started to write. 

As it turns out, you can write quite a lot in twenty minutes.  And so I have continued to do this.  Because as it also turns out, there are quite a lot of twenty minute slots to be found in the week if you look hard enough and want to find them.  If I am tired I write less because I make typing errors along the way.  If I have slept well I write more.  So I grab those twenty minute time slots and instead of frittering them away, I have been using them to write to my friends in Kiribati.  (Or occasionally to someone else...sorry if it wasn't to you.  I do owe a few people a twenty minute email.)  

And a week or two ago I even went above and beyond and used a couple of twenty minute slots to write short letters.  Yes.  Pen and paper. 

Do you have someone whose day would be made by receiving an email or a short letter?  Twenty minutes is surprisingly easy to grab at some stage in the week.  Then it is a bit like an exam.  When the clock says, "Your time starts now," you just have to get busy and start writing.  Have a go.  It will make someone smile and be such an encouragement to them.

11 October 2012

Gone to his (or her) reward

"She's gone to her reward."

It's a phrase I hear my mum use quite frequently.  It's a euphemism she uses when someone has died. I've never really paused to considered what those words actually mean.  But yesterday (many thanks to Susie at 7mouths2feed for the link) I watched a short video about Shannon McFarlane Sproul - daughter of RC Sproul Jnr and granddaughter of RC Sproul - born with a profound disability and who passed away last week aged 15.

About three and half minutes into the 12 minute video (made prior to her death - I couldn't find the year it was made), Shannon's dad, through tears says, "The hardship for me is everyday knowing that it is extremely likely that Shannon will go on to her reward before we will."  This is a source of real and deep human grief for this father.  But in saying that she will go to her reward, he is not being euphemistic.  Through the tears of his grief there is immense hope in his eyes.  His daughter will (and last week did) go to her reward.  She is free with her Father in heaven for all eternity.  Free of her disability and free in His loving presence for ever.  

Going to one's reward - it is the point, our goal, our hope and also our deep comfort when those we love go to their reward.  It's a powerful and beautiful phrase.

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write:
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labour,
for their deeds will follow them.”
Revelation 14:13

If you can spare the twelve minutes it will take, it will be time well spent to watch this very moving video clip.  It is such a privilege to see a family living out in complete their faith and trust in a God who is sovereign over all of the details of their lives, even the difficult details.

RC Sproul starts by saying, "I like to explain it [specifically his response to the birth and life of his disabled granddaughter but generally in terms of how we ought to respond when trials and suffering come] like this.  That anything that happens in this world God knows.  And He knows before it happens.  And he has the power to stop it.  In so far as He has made that decision to let it happen, He has ordained it to be so."

Then his son, Shannon's father, says, "Now God says, 'Here's this challenge.  Do you really believe that this is from my hand?' "

This is trusting in God's sovereignty in action.  I have always always had an abiding trust in God's sovereignty but I haven't had my convictions tested to such a degree.  I am thankful for the opportunity to watch this video and see others live out this conviction and I am humbled by their example.