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

28 June 2012

Dispelling a rumour and crossing over to the dark side

There is a bit of a rumour going around that I'm a tea snob.  It's been circulating for years.  And I may or may not have contributed to it with...

...the oft regaled tales of the tea making ritual in my family home - warm the pot AND the cups (certainly no teabags there), take the pot TO the kettle otherwise the water won't be at maximum boiling point, DON'T stir the tea while it is brewing, milk first and tea second...

...insisting in days of old when friends said, "Let's go out for a coffee," on saying, "Yes, let's go out for a cup of tea," until several just got used to saying, "Let's go out for a cup of tea" even though most of them would be drinking coffee...

...continuing to say, when friends drop over, "Would you like a cup of tea?" and then remembering to offer coffee a bit further down the track. (I wonder how many people drink tea at our house purely out of politeness)...

...a year of putting funny little quotes about tea on Facebook as I worked my way through a quote-a-day-about-tea calendar a year or two ago...

But the truth is, I'm no tea snob.  It doesn't have to be teapot tea.  Teabag tea is fine.  OK.  Got that little one cleared up.  But there's more.

You see, I need to say that I recently crossed over to the dark side.  No, I haven't become a coffee drinker.   (Insert personal message here to my two dear tea drinking friends who have recently discovered coffee - I still love you, even if in one case I am still speechless!)

I crossed to an even darker place than that.

I now drink decaffeinated tea.  Decaffeinated. Teabag. Tea.

I used to wonder at the whole decaf thing.  If you are going to drink tea it may as well have the caffeine in it.  (And how do they decaffeinate it anyway??)  But I don't actually drink tea for the caffeine hit.  I drink tea to have a warm drink.  And alas, whereas once if I didn't fall asleep within three minutes of hitting the pillow I thought I had insomnia, in recent months sleep has been somewhat elusive.  So I decided to drink decaf tea during the evening to see if that made a difference.  And having got used to it, I find myself drinking it most of the time now when I'm at home. 

My sleep is good again.  The tea in its decaf rendering is fine.  And I'm not a tea snob.  Although I still prefer to drink it from a reasonably fine cup or mug.  Chunky cups just won't do.  That's all.


27 June 2012

Best ever cheats' minestrone soup

It's a cheat because it only takes 30 minutes to make.  Best ever because it is the best ever.  I cook lots of this every winter.  Thought I should share it with you.

You will need:

Olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 or 2 teaspoons of crushed garlic
2 or 3 carrots, sliced
2 or 3 stalks of celery, sliced
1 red capsicum chopped
1/2 cauliflower, broken into small florets
700gm bottle of tomato passata
A big handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
250gm of dried pasta (shells or macaroni)
4 to 6 cups of chicken stock
440gm tin of drained red kidney beans
Salt and pepper
Fresh parmesan cheese

1.  Heat the oil in a pot and saute the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes until soft.
2.  Throw in the carrots, celery, capsicum and cauli and saute for a couple of minutes to start the cooking process.
3.  Add the passata (a big tin of crushed tomatoes works as well), stock, basil and pasta and simmer until the pasta and veg are tender - about fifteen minutes.
4.  Add the kidney beans in the last five minutes - just long enough to heat them up really.  Season with salt and pepper as needed - will depend upon the stock.
5.  Seve with parmesan cheese and a bit more fresh basil.  No one will ever know it only took half an hour.

How many serves?  I figure that each cup of stock, along with all the other good things, equates to one adult serving.  This recipe doubles easily if you need a larger volume of soup and have a big cooking pot.

If you need to say that this recipe isn't vegetarian (does chicken stock help it to cross that line?) then frying some bacon or salami with the onion and garlic works well, adds nice saltiness and will cover that base.

And it freezes well.

24 June 2012

Mid year Bible reading reboot

If you need to reboot your Bible reading here are a few ideas.  If you use take this Bible reading plan (my old friend) you could...

1.  Start from 1st January (on 1st July - and it is OK to do this...really it is) and use this plan to get you through the lion's share of Old Testament history, all of the Psalms and all of the New Testament.
2.  Start from 1st July and use this plan to get you through the tail end of Old Testament history and all of the wisdom literature and prophets, the Psalms and the New Testament.

Options one and two have you reading three or four chapters a day.

3.  Use either half (January to June or July to December) to get through one part of the Bible if working in three sections is too difficult.  Maybe Psalms or New Testament.
4.  Go here for other reading plans to start from the beginning or from the middle.

Having finished my tour of the prophets for now, I have decided to embark upon a slightly ambitious project of doing a read through of the Bible in chronological order.  Ambitious because I am going to try to get through it in six months which means double readings each day.  Ambitious because the second half of the year contains those particularly busy months of November and December.  And if I don't make it then that will be OK.  But I'm going to try. 

HEALTH WARNING:  If you are new to Bible reading or in a floundering patch, don't be overwhelmed by my overambitiousness.  Anyone who has read this blog for more than three minutes will know that I think reading the Bible is pretty important and pretty wonderful but I have floundered too.  Pick what works.  But pick something because it is a valuable and wonderful use of your time.

And if you don't need to reboot, then as you were.  Press on.  What are you reading at the moment and how do you plan your reading?

12 June 2012

18 Words

When I first started reading 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know by JI Packer, you might remember that I came across this quote at the beginning of the introduction...

Keys open doors; keywords open minds, and through minds hearts. This book takes keywords from the Bible - terms, we may truly say, from God's own vocabulary - and spells out in a particular way some of the main thoughts linked with them. The goal is understanding, faith and wisdom.

18 Words covers some pretty lofty topics...

Revelation
Scripture
The Lord
The World
Sin
The Devil
Grace
The Mediator
Reconciliation
Faith
Justification
Regeneration
Election
Holiness and Sanctification
Mortification
Fellowship
Death

This list screams the word DOCTRINE (or THEOLOGY).  Until recent times I would have run a mile from a book like this.  I'm a practical person - I like the concrete rather than the conceptual.  The closest I have ever come to having a nervous breakdown was when I was preparing to sit the exam for the doctrine unit in the Moore College correspondence course.  So why would I or you or anyone read a book like this?
--------------------------------------------------

1.  It is written in the same lovely style as Knowing God.  JI Packer writes so very well - clearly, cleanly and with an amazing economy of words.  But it certainly isn't stuffy or academic.  There are plenty of delightful moments like this one at the beginning of the chapter on holiness and sanctification...

The two English nouns in our title represent a single word-group in both Hebrew and Greek.  In English, we have no adjective from the verb 'sanctify', nor any verb from the adjective 'holy.' This, perhaps is not a very great tragedy; if the words 'sanct' and 'holify' existed, they would sound so ugly that nobody would want to use them...

2.  The chapters are short - an average of ten pages each, some shorter, some longer.  I always find short chapters a comfort when I am having to really concentrate.  Seems to make it more achievable.  And each chapter stands alone.

3.  These are important biblical themes.  And some of them are not easy to grasp.  But Packer provides a clear explanation with lots of examples and Bible references.  Granted they are summaries - Packer describes them as sketches - but they are a good start if you are grappling with (or want to grapple with) any of these topics.

4.  It isn't theology for theology's sake.  Packer is wonderfully pastoral.  This is a book of knowledge.  But it is abundantly clear that he doesn't want this knowledge to stick around in our heads only.  Chapter by chapter, he wants the knowledge to drop into our hearts and hands.  You can tell this just by reading the dedication...
 
For
Ruth, Naomi and Martin
with their father's prayers
that they will make their own
all that I have written here.
 
This is a book of applied theology.
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I enjoyed each of the chapters.  The one on "the mediator" was very interesting.  That chapter opens with these words...

The mediator is a familiar figure in modern industrial and international negotiations.  The pattern of events that calls for his services is increasingly common.  Things get tense; both sides feel there is no common ground for continuing the discussion; then one walks out - and at once a mediator has to be found to go to and fro between the estranged negotiators trying to bring them together again.  The mediator is thus...the man inthe middle.  He has links with both sides; he sympathises with both, and both trust him.  He serves the cause of justice, peace and goodwill.  His job is to represent each side to the other and find a basis for restoring their friendship.

The mediator Packer talks about is Jesus.  I know in my head that Jesus is our mediator but I don't think I'd thought about this in such stark terms before.  So that was interesting. 

The chapter on election was brilliant - a fairly long and measured introduction cutting through all the fear, arguments and misconceptions that abound around this topic, followed by the clearest and most uplifting, humbling explanation of election that I have ever read.  Packer tackled the chapter on the devil quite differently - straight in with both gloves on.  His writing was direct and frank.

This is a great book.  I am planning on reading it a few times - once a year for a few years to come (and you can check my reading list as the years unfold to see if I do and hold me accountable to this) - until some of these trickier subjects sit clearly and comfortably with me...and I don't feel like I have to run away from all things theological and scary!

Says JI Packer at the end of his introduction to 18 Words...

I hope that the following sketches of biblical themes (they are no more) will subserve the Spirit's double purpose of constantly leading us to love and adore the Christ of the Scriptures, and to amend our lives by their light. 

I think he achieves his aims.  This is a really good book.

10 June 2012

Packed up and ready to go

How many Christians live their lives packed up and ready to go?  There is no mystery about it; common sense should tell us.  Be wholly committed to Christ's service  every day.  Don't touch sin with a barge-pole.  Keep short accounts with God.  Think of each hour as God's gift to you, to make the most and best of.  Plan your life, budgeting for seventy years (Ps. 90:10), and understanding that if your time proves shorter that will not be unfair deprivation but rapid promotion.  Never let the good, or the not-so-good, crowd out the best, and cheerfully forgo what is not the best for the sake of what is.  Live in the present; gratefully enjoy its pleasures and work through its pains with God, knowing that both the pleasures and the pains are steps on the journey home.  Open all your life to the Lord Jesus and spend time consciously in His company, basking in and responding to His love.  Say to yourself often that every day is one day nearer.  Remember that, as George Whitefield said, man is immortal till his work is done (though God alone defines the work), and get on with what you know to be God's task for you here and now. 

Said Paul: 'The time has come for me to be gone.  I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kep the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me, but all those who have longed for his Appearing.' (2 Timothy 4:6-8, JB)

Urged Peter: ' For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love...make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' (2 Peter 1:5-7, 10-11, NIV)

That's the way.

The very last page of 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know from the chapter called "Death" by my new friend JI Packer.  So very encouraging. 

06 June 2012

The world according to God

In his chapter on "The World" in 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know, JI Packer considers the different ways we might regard the world - physical, geographical, racial, anthropological, sociological, cultural...and even personal (think "welcome to my world.")  And then there is the biblical view. 

The biblical idea of the world covers approximately the same area of meaning as our secular notions does.  It likewise denotes this earth with its cosmic environment, and men upon it, or sometimes mankind alone.  There are words both in Hebrew and Greek translated "world" in the English Bible, which mean simply "the habitable (or inhabited) earth."  Yet the standpoint from which the Bible speaks of "the world" is quite different from ours.  For in the Bible "world" is a theological word - a word, that is , which is defined in terms of God.  "The world" is always, and emphatically God's world - the order of things which He made, which He owns, and which He rules, despite all His creatures' efforts to cast off His sway.  The reference-point of the biblical idea of the word therefore, is not man, but God.  What we have to do now is to learn to think of the world God-centredly, as the Bible presents it - not always as it appears to human inspection, but as God sees it, and thinks of it.  For the thoughts of God about it are the measure of what it really is.

From 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know  by JI Packer chapter four, page 55-56.

A helpful reminder that the world doesn't revolve around us.

03 June 2012

My everyday prayer from The Valley of Vision

O Thou Most High,
Creator of the ends of the earth,
Governor of the universe,
Judge of all men,
Head of the church,
Saviour of sinners;
           thy greatness is unsearchable,
           thy goodness infinite,
           thy compassions unfailing,
           thy providence boundless,
           thy mercies ever new.
We bless thee for the words of salvation.
How important, suitable, encouraging are the doctrines, promises, and invitations of the gospel of peace!
We are lost: but in it thou hast presented to us a full, free and eternal salvation;
           weak: but here we learn that help is found in One that is mighty,
           poor: but in him we discover unsearchable riches,
           blind: but we find he has treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
We thank thee for thy unspeakable gift.
Thy Son is our only refuge, foundation, hope, confidence;
We depend upon his death,
          rest in his righteousness,
          desire to bear his image;
May his glory fill our minds,
          his love reign in our affections,
          his cross inflame us with ardour.
Let us as Christians fill our various situations in life,
           escape the snares to which they expose us,
           discharge the duties that arrives from our circumstances,
           enjoy with moderation their advantages,
           improve with diligence their usefulness,
And may every place and company we are in be benefitted by us.
Amen


This is a prayer from The Valley of Vision.  I have blogged an excerpt from it once before but this is it in its entirety.  It's from the prayers at the back of the book - a series of set prayers for morning and evening.  This one is the prayer for the sixth morning of the week. 

But it is the prayer that I find myself praying almost every day, not just on the sixth morning of the week.  It provides me with a picture of the True God.  It shows me the true me.  It shows me what God has done for me in Jesus.  And it shows what is good for me to do, day by day, in light of all of these things.  Hour by hour, what I need to recall in this equation changes - and I find different parts of this prayer coming to mind, as circumstances warrant.

The other prayers for the rest of the week, morning and evening, are excellent too.  But for months now, this one has been my everyday prayer.