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 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 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. 

10 October 2012

Teaching kids about God - fun with minties and marshmallows

Teaching kids about God.  Photo by Cathy
Sometimes, if the term challenge is getting a bit tired or the class is getting a bit tired - and take it from me, children in their final year of primary school start getting a bit on the tired side about half way through term three - it is a good idea to throw in a bit of one-off fun just to wake everyone up and get them all back on board again. 

So one lesson last term I took in a big bowl of minties to my Scripture classes. 

Activity one - everyone got a mintie with strict instructions not to open it or eat it.  The kids had to balance their mintie on their head while I started the lesson.  If it fell off their head they were out of the game and it was a competition to see who could balance it for the longest.  When it had gone on for too long I got the final contenders standing, turning circles and doing star jumps until we had a winner. Everyone still had to keep their mintie wrapped and on the top of their desk.  All the winner got was the glory, which is a lesson in itself for some kids.

Activity two - reading the Bible passage for the day.  Three children came out the front to read.  Each child had to read two verses of the six verse passage while balancing a mintie on their head.  Then three more children had to read the same passage (two verses each) while balancing two minties on their head.  As the passage was about being kind to one another, they got to keep one mintie and give the other away to a friend.  Then three more children had to read the passage (two verses each) with an unwrapped mintie poised between their teeth.  Without dribbling.  Easy way to get the children to hear the passage three times without getting bored, although the third reading was less clear than the first two renderings... 

Activity three - two children up the front (a boy and a girl or one from each side of the classroom for a bit of competition) seeing how many times they could throw their mintie up in the air, clap and catch it in the space of 39 seconds (because there are 39 books in the Old Testament.)  This was helpful for giving the kids a break midway through the discussion about the passage.

Activity four - at the end of the lesson, as the grand reward, eat the mintie and do the old tearing the mintie wrapper competition to see who can get the longest strip.  In only a minute because time is short in a 30 minute lesson.

No book work done that lesson.  But lots of Bible reading and discussion.  And the children remembered the content of the lesson the following week.

Warning:  Minties are very chewy lollies.  I wouldn't use them in classes with young children who have mouths full of wobbly teeth.  And always get permission from the classroom teacher before doling out vast quantities of lollies. 

At about the same time my Sunday School class was also getting a bit tired so I brought along a big bag of marshmallows.  Marshmallows, because I have a couple of young children with lots of wobbly teeth in their mouths.  We spent some time practising memory verses with marshmallows balanced on our tongues.  You could do the "fluffy bunny" game by seeing how many marshmallows you can fit inside your cheeks and still speak/recite your memory verse but this seems such a scurrilous waste of marshmallows to me.

Then a little later on we switched out all the lights in the hall (evening a.k.a. 5pm church) and roasted marshmallows on satay sticks over tea light candles.  While we were sitting around our "campfire" we chatted about what we'd been learning during the term, about what it is like to be a Christian, about prayer and lots of other good things.  We reconnected as a group and it has been so much better ever since.

Moral of the story - sometimes you just have to pull out something out of the ordinary to shift things back to where they work best.  And it can take a surprisingly simple gesture to do so.

07 October 2012

Teaching kids about God - another timed challenge

Teaching kids about God.

Photo by Cathy

Back here I presented a few timed challenges I have used in Scripture and Sunday School lessons.  The point of them is to inject some quick fun into a lesson - good for building relationships and for breaking up the teaching time so that kids can keep their concentration.

During third term I used this one for the first time...

...a ball tied to a cup with a piece of elastic.  This particular ball (if you can call it that) lights up on impact just to make it a little bit more fun.  The idea of the challenge is to count how many times you can catch the ball in the cup in a specified length of time.  In our case, we used the old 27 seconds (because that's how many books there are in the New Testament) and the record was an astonishing 18. 

I gave lots of reasons for using funny little challenges during teaching times with kids here.  Another reason is that something like this doesn't require a lot of equipment, which is especially excellent for Scripture teachers who are lugging of box of tricks from one classroom to another, trying to run 30 minute lessons with no turn around between classes.  In these instances it is very good to keep things simple.

WARNING:  Three of the classrooms I teach in had interactive whiteboards installed during the term.  It is important to position any participant of this activity well clear of low hanging data projectors (or ceiling fans or displays of artwork strung across the classroom).  Taking out the classroom data projector is very bad PR for a Scripture teacher.

05 October 2012

A Grief Sanctified # 4

To what exercises of mind and heart (attitudes and actions) should the bereavement experience lead us?  Said the Puritans characteristically, these three:

1.  The exercise of thanksgiving for all that we valued and enjoyed in the person we have lost and, in the case of a believer, for the happiness to which we know he or she has now been promoted.

2.  The exercise of submission to God, as we resign to him the loved one he has taken from us, confess to him that we had no claim on the continuance of that loved one's earthly life, and consciously put ourselves in his hands for whatever future experiences he has in mind for us.

3.  The exercise of patience, which is a compound of endurance and hope, as we live through our bereavement on a daily basis.

Richard [Baxter], in his sadness at losing Margaret, transparently models all three in the Breviate.  Lewis, mourning the loss of Joy, does the same in A Grief Observed.

From the section "The Sanctifying of Grief" from A Grief Sanctified by JI Packer, pages 188-189.

04 October 2012

A Grief Sanctified # 3

Of what truths particularly should the bereavement experience remind us?  Said the Puritans characteristically, the three that follow:

1. The reality of God's sovereignty - that we, like everyone else, are always in his hands, and neither bereavement nor anything else occurs apart from his overruling will.

2.  The reality of our own mortality - that we, like everyone else, are not in this world on a permanent basis and must sooner or later leave it for another mode of existence under other conditions.

3.  The reality of heaven and hell - that we leave this owrld for one or the other, and that we should use the time God gives us here to unsure that as saved sinners we shall go to heaven, rather than as unsaved sinners go to hell.

From the section "The Sanctifying of Grief" from A Grief Sanctified by JI Packer, page 188.

03 October 2012

A Grief Sanctified # 2

All life, said the Puritans, must be managed in such a way that it is sanctified; that is, all activities must be performed, and all experiences received and responded to, in a way that honours God, benefits others as far as possible, and helps us forward in our knowledge and enjoyment of God here as we travel home to the glory of heaven hereafter.  Of the experiences to be sanctified, some are pleasant and some are painful.  The Puritan labels for the latter are "afflictions" and "crosses"; and bereavement, with the grief it brings, is one such.

How may an experience be sanctified?  By relating it to the truth of the gospel, so that we understand it in biblical and evangelical terms; by letting it remind us of truths we might otherwise forget, or not take seriously; and by disciplining our hearts to accept it in an appropriate way - with gratitude or self-humbling or whatever.

From the section "The Sanctifying of Grief" from A Grief Sanctified by JI Packer, pages 187-188.

01 October 2012

A Grief Sanctified by JI Packer

I've just finished reading A Grief Sanctified by JI Packer.  It includes Richard Baxter's breviate - think A Grief Observed by CS Lewis but written 1681 - written soon after his wife Margaret died.  Richard Baxter reflects on Margaret's life and deep faith, her gift to him as his wife, her suffering and her death and then his own grief. 

JI Packer has taken Baxter's breviate and included it in the book A Grief Sanctified, with a few editorial changes and explanations. Either side of the breviate itself, Packer has drawn some of his own conclusions on the Puritan experience of life, marriage, death, suffering and grief. 

It's a fine read, with some sober reflections on the sometimes shallow nature of our modern take on life, marriage and death.  Which is not to say that the Puritan experience of life (and death) is where our stereotypical thoughts might possibly take us. You know, dressed in black and all very serious and upright.  Far from it.  Here were two people who loved one another to bits, loved life, loved God and lived lives full of joy, despite all sorts of attendant difficulties. Margaret and Richard Baxter understood sanctification - and they enjoyed some of the immediate benefits of it in their lives.

Over the next few days I am going to post a quote in three sections - JI Packer's summary of the puritan experience of the sanctification of grief.  That is, how the Puritans managed their grief with a view to bringing God all honour and glory, even the darkest of moments - a view that Packer endorses.