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 2013

The last week of the year

25th December - a full, busy, glorious day.  It started early and finished late. 

26th December - an empty, quiet, glorious day.  It started late and finished early.  Most of the interim was spent on the sofa interrupted only by needing to get up for another cup of tea.  Also by, "Are we going to eat anything today?" at about 11:30am when most of the new Lego sets were dealt with.

(Note to self: MUST make the boys clean their rooms before Christmas day next year.  Too hard to absorb new things into old, messy bedrooms on Boxing Day.  Consequently, stuff strewn all over the place.  No matter, the sofa is clear.)

Came the full circle with Jane Austen.  I got her complete works last Christmas and read them all, as you know, through the year.  This year I got The Jane Austen Book Club for Christmas - my Boxing Day read.  A bit disappointing - less about the novels and more about the tangled lives of the book club members.  But there was a great appendix with various quotes from Jane Austen's contemporaries through to modern day commentators with their thoughts on Jane (may I call her by her first name?) and her writing.  Some good and some not so good.

Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.
Mark Twain.  Not a fan, it seems. 

I imagined being a famous writer would be like being like Jane Austen. Being able to sit at home in the parsonage and your books would be very famous and occasionally you would correspond with the Prince of Wales' secretary.
J K Rowling.  A fellow introvert.

27th December - the mind involuntarily turns to 2014 and starts making resolutions.  Not by my planning.  It just happens and I can't seem to stop it.  The mind is amazing.  Head filling not with plans so much as personal goals.  No actual planning for the year ahead.  Still needing long stretches of time on the sofa, including an afternoon nap.

28th December - liking the personal goals that are forming in my mind.  Beginning to worry that I have no energy or inclination to make actual plans for the year ahead.  Have I crashed?  Another afternoon nap on the sofa.

29th December - Sunday - a great time at church.  Greatly encouraged by the saints.  Small thoughts of the year ahead begin to form and fill me with joy.  Plans, not just personal goals.  Even so, loving the idea of trading one dramatic resolution for 10,000 little ones.  This is so right.

30th December - suddenly it feels like summer holidays with the commencement of two weeks of swimming lessons for the boys.  We fall into the pattern of going to the pool in the morning and hanging at home in the afternoon.  Fall asleep on the sofa in the afternoon.  Again.  But wake up in time to make this...


...a Christmas pudding ice cream cake thing-o, in time for dinner with dear friends.  Christmas lingers a little longer.

31st December - swimming lessons this morning again. 

Been mucking around on the computer this afternoon.  Three status updates on my Facebook page (too many for one afternoon), two more for a Facebook group I'm in, answered four messages and am about to publish my second blog post for the afternoon as well.  Beginning to feel like I should have had a nap on the sofa.  The kids are watching Despicable Me so I could lay on the sofa and watch it with them and see if I make it to the end of the movie.  For all this posting and blogging, no sight of a post documenting plans and goals for the year ahead.  But enjoying reading others as they begin to appear.  I quite like this time of year in blogosphere. 

Maybe I will get to mine tomorrow. Or the day after.  Or some other time after that.  Definitely sliding into the summer holidays. 


Bible reading for the year ahead


How did your Bible reading go in 2013? I know of five dear ones who have been having a tilt at using a reading plan to get through the Bible in a year this year and I have been praying for each of you.  Whether you made it to the end or not, my prayer now is that it has been a wonderful journey no matter how far you got and that you are spurred on to press on.

Probably you already have 2014 sorted, but if not...

If you started in on a plan but stumbled and fell, here are three wonderful options...

1. Start again.
2. Pick up from where you left off.  This has the advantage that you will not be tied to calendar dates and that might take the legalism out of the exercise if that is a danger for you.  And it gives you the space to slow down or speed up as time, need and want allows.
3. Choose a new plan and start afresh.

If you are looking for a new plan or a first time plan here is THE place to go.  My three favourites are...

The Daily Reading Bible Plan - which takes you through the Psalms and New Testament twice and the rest of the Old Testament once.  Three readings a day.

The Chronological Bible Reading Plan - affectionately known as the CBRP, which takes you through the Bible in Chronological order - three to four chapters a day.

Every Day in the Word - four short  readings that take you through the Psalms twice in the year and Proverbs, the rest of the Old Testament (from front to back) and the New Testament once.

Each of these takes me about ten to fifteen minutes per day if I don't stop to linger.

If taking on the whole Bible seems too much, then I would suggest using either the first or third plan and just reading the New Testament and maybe the Psalms readings each day.  The Daily Reading Plan will take you through those readings twice in the year.  Everyday in the Year will take you through the New Testament once and the Psalms twice.  This would be a great start to forming a life long, life giving habit.

Please let me know if you are going to use a reading plan.  I would love to pray for you. And please pray for me too.  Don't think for a minute that I have this all sown up.  I love reading the Bible. Yes, yes, yes.  But that doesn't mean it isn't a battle at times. 

Oh, and how did I go in2013?  I used the Every Day in the Word plan this year and kept pretty well on track until September or October, which is a bit of a record for me.  I spent the last part of the year falling behind and catching up again, finishing yesterday. 

This year I am back to the Daily Reading Bible Plan.  I have been encouraging (some would say nagging) friends at church to read along with me this year and I think a few are going to join in.  It will be great to spur one another on in this.  And next year (yes...I already know what I am doing in 2015, God willing) I hope to do the same plan but starting at the beginning of the year in the middle of the plan - at the beginning of the New Testament and Psalms and in the middle of the Old Testament - because it will be time again to give the poor old Prophets the fresh end of the year and my attention.  They were a little short changed this year...

Happy reading.  Happy New Year.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,  and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 
Colossians 1:9-12

25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Joy to the world, the Lord is come. 
Let earth receive her King.
 

24 December 2013

Quietly getting ready


 

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.

23 December 2013

Greetings in the digital age - the Christmas edition

The Christmas cards are done.  Late this year.  And that was after I had culled the list.  The overseas ones were sent ten days out from Christmas.  The interstate ones went out with a week to spare.  The ones in and out of my own city were dropped in the post box yesterday.  On the 22nd December.  With a muttered apology to the poor postal workers who have to sort and maybe even deliver my mail this close to Christmas.  I'm appalled at myself.

There was considerable inertia to get the Christmas mail done this year.  Deb found the same.  On her post I put it down the to the recent full moon.  But the real reason for me was West Wing.  I am at the business end of the boxed set.  It's been a big six or eight months. And one evening early in December I was so tired after a busy day that I couldn't think of Christmas mail so I put on an episode.  That may or may not have led to one or two episodes more.  That certainly led to a late night.  So that by the next night I was so tired from my late night that there was nothing for it but to collapse on the sofa and watch West Wing...

Nothing like the pressure of a deadline (and that awful episode where Arnold Vinick's hand is broken from too many hand shakes) to break a bad habit and get you moving.  And I do like to write the annual Christmas letter.  If nothing else, in the absence of keeping a journal, it serves as my own little reminder of our year.  I've kept every one I've written since that year I dared to cross to the dark side of the photocopied Christmas letter.  That would be 1995.

I've said (ad nauseum, some might say) that we don't write letters anymore because we have email.  But then we don't actually correspond by email either.  And email has been overtaken by the shorter, sharper and snappier Facebook...and possibly by other means electronic that I don't even know about. 

I reflected here about the change in how we tackle greetings in the digital age when someone has passed away.  And it would seem that in one short year lots has changed about how we send Christmas greetings too. 

Last year we received lots of Christmas cards and as for previous years, many photocopied Christmas letters that I would place in a special box on the coffee table to read and enjoy during quiet moments.  And last year there were quite a few letters that arrived electronically, most of which I printed out to put in the box as well.

This year we have received lots of cards.  Most of them are from people who live within a five kilometre radius of our home.  Most of them hand delivered.  We attend a church with people who delight in swapping cards with one another so the last couple of Sundays have been fun.  There were quite a few received from friends at the end of the school year as well.  Then a few cards have come in the mail.   But the letters.  As of today the count is two in post and two attached to emails. 

That said, Facebook is becoming a fun place to hang about, so please don't hear me complaining about a lack of Christmas mail.  It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in that electronic neck of the woods.  And I get it.  The inertia was enormous this year.  I find myself wondering if this year is it.  There will always be a collection of souls who will receive a card from us, for any number of reasons.  But I am wondering whether next year I go essentially electronic.  My letter writing self would consider this to be crossing over to the really dark bit of the dark side of Christmas greetings.  But things have moved along really quickly in the digital world this year - a lot of it good  - and I feel I am moving along with it.  I guess another year will tell.

Or maybe it really was just the full moon, after all.

12 December 2013

Longing and waiting

I look one way and I see my kids counting down the days to Christmas.  The Advent calendar is a constant reminder.  There's daily excitement.  What will today's pocket hold?  But really, they long with eager anticipation for THE day.  The day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Great joy.

I look the other way and I see my friend whose mum is dying.  I am anxious with every beep of my phone that heralds the next text message.  Will this be the one?  They long for her to be out of pain and to be at Home with Jesus.  And yet they long for a few more days.  It's so, so hard.  I watch from the sidelines and I long for the time when Jesus will come again and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

I look back many years now and remember when my own dad was dying over Christmas.  I remember praying that he would live.  And then praying that he would die, to bring an end to his suffering.  And then as he lay there neither improving or declining, I remember praying that I would learn to wait in patience for God's perfect timing.  And perfect it was, as a few days before he went Home to be with Jesus he gave us the small but sure indication that this was indeed where he was heading.  God's perfect timing was perfect comfort.

I look one way, the other, then back and now forward.  It makes the shape of the cross.  Christ.  Christmas.  Longing with the excited anticipation of a child.  Longing with a heavy heart that is, even so, sustained by the sure hope of a new creation.  Learning to wait patiently and to trust that Jesus will come again in God's perfect timing, when all who love Him have been found.

Longing and waiting.  Advent.

Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:14

05 December 2013

How's your Advent?

During the last week I have had an enormous amount of traffic to a post I wrote in 2009 - the one about how you can use the Jesus Storybook Bible as an Advent calendar.  Over 2000 visitors to that one post.  In a week.  (Hello visitors!)  That is quite a lot more than the usual ten dear ones (hello you guys) who drop by occasionally.

Anyway, in case you missed it...if you go HERE you will find all the hard work for getting the Jesus Storybook Bible up and running as an Advent calendar done and ready to print off for free.  It's probably too late for this year but go and print off a copy ready for another year - or to give away.  This is an amazing resource.

In other news, I have just about finished all the Christmas shopping I am going to do this year.  Good news.   However the Christmas letter writing muse seems to have upped and left the house.  And given it's 5th December...that's bad news. 

01 December 2013

Summer update

Giving up: on monthly status reports.  I read a few of them all at once a while ago and you know, they are a bit repetitive.   So I'm having a go at the quarterly approach at the beginning of each new season instead.

Reading: the last month of my Bible reading plan for the year and also Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus edited by Nancy Guthrie.  I read Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus in 2010 and LOVED it.  I didn't read much of it in 2011 because I kept giving my copy away to someone, buying a new one and giving that one away and so on, all the way to Christmas.  I'm not sure what happened in 2012, but I didn't read it.  This year is the year.

Recently discovered:  that I like beetroot dip.  And carrot cake.  Not together though.

Eating: carrot cake.

Have had: the perfect diary to keep track of life for the last two years.

Panicked: when the place that sets up each November to sell calendars and diaries for the year ahead didn't have the perfect diary.  There was one there but it has an intolerable cover and intolerable pictures scattered through it.  Couldn't overlook the artwork for the sake of a perfect system.  It does after all have to be my constant companion for a whole year.

Went to: extraordinary lengths  to get a perfect diary for next year.  That is, after a quick a look around at a few shops, ordered one off the Internet.  What is the perfect diary, you ask?  It is an A5 diary with a week to the page on the left and a lined page on the right for notes and the weekly TO DO list.  Perfection.  And the one I chose is cornflower blue.  Very happy.

Bought: a new CD last month.  Third Day's Christmas Offerings.  I couldn't get enough of their rendition of O Holy Night last Christmas.  Loving it. 

Resources for Advent:  Besides the above mentioned...

For smalls, The Jesus Storybook Bible which acts like an Advent calendar.

For adults and for bigger kids who can manage a grown up version of the Bible, there are a great set of Jesse tree readings (bit like an Advent calendar in tree form) in the appendix of Disciplines of a Godly Family by Kent and Barbara Hughes.  I've seen a few versions of Jesse tree readings and some of them have REALLY LONG readings.  The Hughes' set is very short-concentration-span friendly.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss is a fun reminder against greed.  I borrow it from the library most years.  I've never got around to buying one.  Maybe that though is part of the message of the book.

If you are looking for an excellent Christmas tract, the Christmas WordWatch published by Matthias Media is the one for you.  Say the good people at Matthias Media,
"In this 'mini-dictionary', word guru Kel Richards puts us straight on the origin and meaning of some common Christmas words and traditions, and tells us things about Christmas we may never have known. As he does so, Kel cleverly communicates important Gospel truths in a gentle way." 
I'm giving a copy of this to each of my upper primary Scripture kids at the end of the school year.

Making a big effort: to be joyful.  Last year as the notes kept coming home from school with more and more things to do to mark the end of the year, I found myself rolling my eyes a bit.  I later remembered that a) I don't let my kids roll their eyes at me and b) I don't ever recall my parents rolling their eyes at all the things they had to take us to at the end of the year...or any other part of the year for that matter.  So practicing joy and enthusiasm...and it does have a flow on effect. We are all having a happier time of it this year. 

Inspired: by Deb's Christmas tree to finish this update with a Christmas tree quiz.  Please join in by answering in the comments section.

1. When do you put up your Christmas tree?
2.  Colour co-ordinated or mix-and-match?
3.  If you have kids, do you decorate the tree yourself, let the kids decorate it or let the kids decorate it and then fix it up when they go to bed?
4.  When do the presents go under the tree?  As they are wrapped/received or not until Christmas Eve?

09 November 2013

Done

Hooray!
 

And it was delicious.

Life in the digital age

I was in a shopping centre recently and needed a map of the place.  I went to the main entrance where, once upon a time, there was a stand with a large map, and there you could collect a brochure with a map to take with you around the shops.  So I got to the big map but there were no small maps to be had.  Just something that looked like this.


Apparently if your smart phone chats with the smart looking design, you get a map on your phone. 

The trouble is, I have one of these.


I wanted a map, not an App.  No map for me that day.

There has been a lot of proverbial ink spilt over the good and the bad of the digital age.  And there was a lot I could have said...about the pros and cons of text messages and Facebook, about how I can see the benefits of eReaders but still prefer a book myself, about my decision to not leave a digital footprint of my children on the Internet (or at least, only leave a very small and hopefully fairly imperceptible one) and wondering in time whether they'll regard that as a good decision or not. 

Instead I decided to make this a lighthearted effort about how, on first spec, our household is really in the digital dinosaur age, despite the fact that I have a blog and organise my life via text message.   

But a funny thing happened on the way to this post.  If there is anything true about life in the digital age, it's that things move quickly.  At the beginning of the week I had started in on a post about what it is like to live in the age of digital dinosaurs - hence my opening gambit with the map anecdote.

In thinking about all of this, I was discussing with my beloved about how at some stage (in the next year or so) we might need to get ourselves an iPad (you know, thrust ourselves into the current century) to find out how they work, to get on top of this whole App thing and generally stay slightly ahead of the game with the kids.

Said conversation took place, as co-incidence would have it, in the same week that the tax return came in.  And behold, it is the end the week and we have an iPad on order, set to arrive any moment now.  So having just rewritten the post for this writing prompt, all I need to do now is get that iPad, find some small child who will tell me how to turn it on, download Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja and I will be set.  How could I have ever imagined I was living with the dinosaurs?

04 November 2013

Two books about prayer

I have heard said that if you want to learn about prayer you should read a book about God, rather than a book about prayer.  So true.  Knowing the One to whom we pray is a great encouragement to pray.  But there are times when a specific boost comes in handy.  I've been in need of such a boost so I pulled the two books on prayer that have been waiting quietly in the wings and had a read.

A Praying Life by Paul Miller is good meeting point between a book about God and a book about prayer.  Paul Miller loves God.   And he loves praying.  He prays all the time.  About the big and the small.  He has complete trust that God hears and answers his prayers.  Paul Miller gets "pray without ceasing."

This book is an exhortation to pray.  Like Wendy said, this book makes you want to pray.   And like Jean said, you don't have to wait until you have things all sorted out to come before God because He wants you to come messy.

When Jesus describes the intimacy he wants with us, he talks about joining us for dinner. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)

A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship.  It's intimate and hints at eternity.  We don't think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with.  Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God.

Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God.

I didn't agree with absolutely everything he had to say.  And personally I found it a bit too anecdotal - which is funny because used to love books with lots of stories woven into them...  But even so I would have no hesitation in sharing this book with others.  Miller takes the mystery out of prayer (but not the wonder of it) and provides warm encouragement to get on with it, without fear.  If you have stopped praying or never really got started, if you are stuck in a rut or want to up the ante, this book will spur you on. 

The second book I read is called Praying by JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom.  I've had this one for six years, mostly unread, having had several attempts at starting it.  Others seem to have had that experience with this book as well.    Which I think has much to do with JI Packer's style of writing.  It's deep and dense.  You have to read it slowly.  In fact I read a review of this book that started, "This book is SO good that I had to take six months to read it."

This book is not a quick fix book.  If you need a quick prayer-pick-me-up then this isn't the book for you.  The authors say as much at the beginning - that "non-practitioners" of prayer will be quickly left behind.  But if you want to take deeper look into the subject of prayer - and the One to whom we pray - then this is a great volume.

I didn't get the best out of this book.  I mostly read it late at night and the chapters are long - however the chapters are divided into shorter sections.  A better way to read it, as the reviewer said, would be to take your time.  A bit like Knowing God.  The next time I read it - and I will read it again so I can't say better than that - I will read it not chapter at a time, but smaller section at a time and go through it slowly, slowly over a longer period of time.  There is a great set of study questions at the end of the book as well - and taking it more slowly, I would do the studies as well, which include sections on understanding what has been said, studying the Bible and deep praying - not just a quick prayer tacked on at the end for sake of completeness. 

It's certainly not the easiest book I've read all year, but it's a worthwhile read.  And there are lots of quotes from the puritans and from CS Lewis, so that may spark an interest for at least one fellow blogger.

01 November 2013

Status Report: November

Drinking: Chai.  Made from a teabag.  Twinings Chai.  It's not bad actually. 

Eating:  Maltesers.

Feeling: tired.

Reading: Praying: Finding our Way Through Duty to Delight by JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom.  But you knew that.

Wondering: if anyone nearby has a copy of Heading Home by Naomi Reed that I could borrow.

Suffering: from killer hay fever.  I read in the news a couple of weeks ago that this year's hay fever season has come late and hard in our neck of the woods.  I concur on both counts.  One of my favourite parts of the day currently is when I wake up and get to take my next antihistamine.

Watching: way, way, WAY too much West Wing and wondering if you feel as sad when you get to the end of it all a second time as you do when you finish it the first time.

Thinking: I need to plan to bake one of these this month.  It was one of my things to do this year.  And I am running out of year.  How hard can it be, really?

Anticipating: the next two months, sometimes with joy and sometimes with slight panic.

Praying: for joy, not panic.

Singing: and/or listening to this beautiful song a lot at the moment.  And remembering the special times of singing it with friends on special occasions at church in times past.



Deciding: that this will be my last monthly status report.  I will be back next month (what???) but with a more seasonal approach to status reports.

31 October 2013

Longing for Jesus

Heavenly Father,
Please help me to long for heaven -
not for the prospect of being in the new creation where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain,
not for the prospect of being with all the saints who have died in the Lord for all eternity,
nor for the prospect of resting from my labours.
While these are a beautiful part of the glorious prospect of heaven,
please Lord,
help me to long for heaven
so that I might see Jesus.
Please help me, that this would be my chief longing.
Amen.

30 October 2013

It's not rocket science, but I thought it was interesting

So, we have the ten commandments.  The first four are about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Then the following six are about loving one another.  God first, and then the people.

Notice then, the Lord's prayer.

This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:9-13
 
God first, and then the people.
Interesting.
 
And then in terms of the people JI Packer (I'm pretty sure at this particular point it is JI Packer speaking and not Carolyn Nystrom) says,
 
In asking God to meet observed needs, the second half of the Lord's prayer stands as a model.  Here we pray for daily provision ("Give us each day our daily bread" - we need it), for daily pardon ("Forgive our sins" - we need that) and for daily protection ("Deliver us from evil" - we need that too, more than we know.)
 
Provision.
Pardon.
Protection.
Nifty.
 
And the plurals us and our are key words, which show that we are meant to make this prayer for other Christians besides ourselves.
 
Quotes from Praying by JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom pages 155-156

29 October 2013

The blank cheque of prayer

In their book Praying, JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom quote three passages from John.

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
John 14:13,14

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.
John 15:16

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
John 16:23

Does God really give us a blank cheque? 

What is the message here?  Is Jesus giving his first disciples (and us with them) a blank cheque?  An invitation to write in whatever amount, so to speak, for whatever we want or think we want - and God will make it happen?... The thought from the text is that we should ask God for things that the Lord Jesus will also ask for on our behalf.  We are to make requests to the Father that the Lord Jesus will back.  Jesus will associate himself with us in our requests when our requests match what he wants for us.  That is the meaning of asking hi his name.  Jesus looks forward to his disciples asking for things that can only become a reality with his help and by his power, and that will make for his glory when they do.  That is what it means to ask according to God's will, the will of the Father which the Son knows and does.

From Praying by JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom p. 154 (The underlining is my emphasis.)

Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to my selfish gain. 
Psalm 119:36

23 October 2013

Doing some reading on prayer at the moment



Good praying is at once both duty and delight, but often we must begin where prayer is primarily duty. As we grow in the knowledge of prayer and in the practice of praying, however, God will sanctify our efforts and delight will come upon us.

From Praying by JI Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, page 10.



 

22 October 2013

Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley

I was speaking to a friend about church history books the other day, having recently finished Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley.  She commented that she's never really wanted to read a church history survey because they seem like a litany of bad, sad and sorry situations.  And in a sense she is right.  There is a lot that is grim about church history.  And yet, in every bad and sad situation we find a man or a woman of faith who stands firmly, courageously, faithfully and steadfastly for what is Right.  That is, we see God at work in and through His people.  It is the unfolding of the unstoppable gospel. 

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
Acts 5:38, 39

And so the there is a lot that is inspiring in church history.

This particular rendering of church history is a great read.  Shelley is a man who clearly loves God and his writing is very pastoral.  He spends plenty of time explaining the contemporary significance of church history.  This is extraordinarily helpful, making this book so much more than a list of dates, names, places and events.

Being just a single volume, he skips through events reasonably quickly.  The upside is that he doesn't get bogged down, ever.  The downside is that at times, it may be just a little bit sketchy in parts for church history novices.  However his writing is clear.  And in my view he presents the clearest explanation I've read of the last six hundred years, where things do get quite complicated.  I understand the events of these times - and therefore what is happening in our own era of church history - so much better now.  Thank you Dr. Shelley. 

The chapters are short (yay!) and there are good tables, maps and diagrams.  This is a worthwhile read, at so many levels.

Other church history books...
The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzales
Feminine Threads by Diana Lynn Severance

And here are five good reasons to read a church history book.  Everyone should read at least one in their life time.

20 October 2013

Thankful for those who serve us in unbelievably kind ways

My 8 year old went on
this one.  Crazy.
Every year, at about this time, our suburb plays host to an annual show - like a mini-version of the royal show.  There's a side show alley with dodgem cars, laughing clowns and enough rides to keep small and big kids happy, show bags, log chopping, animals on display, all sorts of exhibits, fast food, fairy floss and fireworks at the end of the day.  And it happens a block away from our house - so parking isn't a problem.  (Although sometimes it can be hard to get OUT of our driveway...)

The show committee outsources various roles - set up, pack up, clean up and lots more besides - to community groups, which is great for the community.  For the last four or five years our church has been fortunate enough to score the cleaning gig.  That is, we get to keep the tables clean and the rubbish under control in the food alley and we clean the toilets right around the showgrounds.  (And yes, to put your mind at rest, we do run separate rosters for the tables and the toilets...)

Fortunate?  Yes.

We love to do these jobs, grotty as they are, because doing this sort of work together is a bonding experience.    More so, it gives us an opportunity to serve the community.  We try to do the work joyfully and properly.  It's a great gospel opportunity. 

And I am personally glad to do this work.  Until this year I have been on the table cleaning roster.  Sometimes I've received a warm comment of appreciation.  Most people just ignore us and get on with their eating and having their fun.  Lots of people leave their dead chips, hamburger mess, soggy serviettes and other rubbish on the tables, even though there are rubbish bins just three steps away.  Once someone saw me cleaning the table next door, swept all of their rubbish from the table onto the ground and said to his buddies, "That's OK...she'll pick it up.  It's her job." 

This year I was on the toilet cleaning roster.  We keep on the go.  Each block of toilets is probably cleaned once every half hour or so...so they don't ever get too bad.  But cleaning high use public toilets is never going to be all that much fun. 

I am glad to do these jobs at the show.  I am glad because I only have to do them for a few hours once a year.  But every year it reminds me that there are wonderful people in our community who do awful jobs like this every single day.  They do grotty work and are ignored at best, more often though treated poorly.  This weekend I have been reminded to be grateful, show gratitude whenever the opportunity arises and live considerately.  There are people in our community who serve us in unbelievably kind ways.

09 October 2013

Why am I a Christian?

Why am I a Christian?

I realised late in my teenage years that I couldn't put my confidence in the things of this world.  People let us down and work, achievements, wealth, experiences, possessions, even our health won't always meet our needs or be 100% reliable and trustworthy.

If I have learned anything from the Bible it's that my greatest need though, far beyond anything else I have mentioned, is to be in right relationship with God and that I can put my complete trust in Him in all of life's circumstances, now and into the future. 

Do you ever feel let down by the things of this world?

Just Start Talking

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1Peter 3:15


But it is a rare day that someone does actually ask the question, "Can you tell me about the hope you have?"  Even so I've been encouraged recently to think that this doesn't need to be a rare event.  Some of us at church have just done a three week course called Just Start Talking and it's a gem.  It's about how to just start talking - about Jesus.

Just Start Talking is full of reminders and encouragements...
That it is God's work to save people. 
That we just need to be people who are, not people who do - that is, we're not about doing anything special or particular but simply living out our lives as children of God.
That it can be scary to talk about Jesus - but we don't need to have a theological degree under our belts before we do.  We just need to talk about our own experience of living life as one of God's children. 

And there's good equipping...
Ideas on how to introduce our faith into all sorts of conversations.
Ideas on how to encourage conversation rather than kill it.
Ideas on how to build in an opportunity to meet again to continue on the conversation.

Just Start Talking is very much about sharing Jesus within the context of relationships in a way that honours and brings life to those relationships.

One of the exercises across the weeks is to write your own story without any jargon in about 100 words.  The Just Start Talking schema is to say why you are a Christian, give a brief explanation and then finish with a question.  It's not about writing down your whole story and finishing it off with a summary of the key points of the gospel.  That would be a monologue - a very long one in some cases - met with yawning, eye rolling and maybe the end of the friendship. 

You can't say much in 100 words at all.  But that's the point.  It's meant to be the beginning of a conversation.  It's about a minute's worth.  Finishing with a question opens up the conversation.  Or it may be that something you have said - because you can't go into much detail at all in 100 words - triggers a question.  You know, something like, "What did you mean by...?"

There is much to love about this course.  It's fun (Colin Buchanan is one of the presenters on the DVD), it's not at all scary (I did it with a couple of quite timid people who are completely pumped), it can be done in three weeks and it's immensely encouraging.  Just Start Talking is an encouragement to live a life that reflects a relationship with God, to pray for those who don't know Him and to just start talking about the things that are so very important. 

And the thing that encouraged me the most was the idea that if I become known as someone who tries to introduce Jesus into my conversations on a regular basis then at some stage someone probably will  ask the question..."Can you tell me the reason for the hope that you have?"

02 October 2013

Status Report: October

Reading:  the last bits of Isaiah and the Pauline epistles, the 70s Psalms and Proverbs 24 in my Bible reading.  At the beginning of September I was falling badly behind on my reading plan (which may or may not have something to do with Ms Austen...) so I gave September over to double and sometimes triple readings and got myself caught up again.  That included reading Job in fairly large chunks.  I have to say that for the first time in my life I started to get Job.  Maybe it was because I have been thinking a lot about the godly response to suffering in recent years.  Whatever it was, this year instead of enduring this part of the Bible I was completely swept away by Job and his godly response to his suffering at least.  Not sure I have nailed his friends yet.  Maybe next year. 

Also reading: Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley.  I was up to "The Age of the Christian Roman Empire" - roughly 300 to 600AD.  But this last week I have zoomed to the last three centuries in order to brush up on the rise and fall and rise and fall and so on of evangelicalism, liberalism and fundamentalism in order to help a friend with Church History assignment.  This is a great book.  No doubt I shall tell you all about it in time to come.

Came upon: Isaiah 57:1 once again a couple of days ago.
"The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart;
devout men are taken away, and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil."
So often we don't understand this.  It is a thought worth pondering awhile.

Weeding: my garden.  It rained and rained and rained and rained some more for most of September.  And I dare not complain (although I have just a tiny bit) because we need the rain.  But it did make for zippo opportunities for gardening because it was either raining or too wet from the rain.  But the sun came out over the last couple of days and so I got to work on this...

 
The good thing about it getting to this appalling state is that weeds this large are easily pulled out.  Three or four hours work and it was done.  If you look along the back near the fence there are five standard roses.  There between the two roses on the left is a five foot thistle.  Quite impressive really.  It all looks so much better now but I'll post the "after" photo once the roses are out.  That is, provided I keep the weeds down...
 
Looking forward: to taking our kids to the Royal Show for the first time in their lives later this week.  I haven't been since I was a teenager.  Fun fun fun.
 
Also looking forward: to a trip to the symphony next week with a dear friend. 
MENDELSSOHN A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture
BERLIOZ Les nuits d’été [Summer Nights]
BEETHOVEN Symphony No.6 Pastoral
Very excited.
 
Stepping down: from a committee I have served on for the last ten years later this month.  I have a few bits and pieces that need finishing up but that will taper off some time into next year.  I don't leave this committee lightly or easily but current life circumstances have made it a necessity.
 
Thankful: to all who do their Book Depository shopping via this blog.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Through the commissions I have received I've nearly saved enough to buy the women I read and study the Bible with during the week a Jerry Bridges book for Christmas...but shhhhh...don't tell them...  Keep buying those books.
 
Enjoying: a bit of conversation with fellow bloggers via email lately.  Nice to chat a bit deeper than comments on a blog post allows.
 
Signing off: because it is time to head out with the boys and a couple of their friends for today's school holiday adventure.  Have a good day everyone.
 


20 September 2013

Greetings in the digital age


I've been interested to watch the progress of birthday greetings these last ten years.  Cards and phone calls gave way to text messages which gave way to the Facebook greeting.  Not exclusively.  I am talking in trends.  All different and all good in their way.

Last week I had cause to think about a different form of greeting and how the digital age has brought about change - how we communicate our sympathy when someone has died.  Brought to mind because last week a dear saint of long, faithful and loving ministry went Home to be with Lord.  We heard about his death via a beautiful message that his son left on Facebook.  What followed were more than 150 comments of condolence and remembrance.   And it was an absolute blessing to read through the comments - to see so many others blessed in the same way we had been by this dear man and his equally dear wife, to be reminded of some of the little but wonderful things (and thanks here to my friend who mentioned the twinkling eyes...you are so right) and to realise the great reach of this man's pastoral ministry. 

There was one comment that caught my attention, and I was struck by the gentle irony of reading it on Facebook.  It was a comment about one of the hallmarks of this couple's ministry - the gift of short and specific handwritten letters.  Letters of thanks for hospitality, letters of sympathy, letters of specific encouragement, letters to say they had prayed for the letter recipient. Short letters that don't take long to write. Letters that take about as long to write as it takes to find the current TO DO list and put "Write a letter to..." on it.  They were in the practice of writing short notes and were equipped with a stack of A5 white paper, pens, envelopes and stamps on their desks so that they were ready to go. I think they must have written thousands of letters. I know we received several and we don't even live in the same state.  I remember them talking to us about letter writing at one stage and taking note, because, well, they were speaking to a letter writer and their words struck a chord.

Please don't hear me bagging Facebook.  Last week it was used for great good.  It was such a blessing to read through all those comments, to remember all those good things and to have so much for which to thank God.  In the past these sorts of comments would have been consigned to the private and personal card or letter of sympathy, seen only by the bereaved.   Now in this digital age we get to share in the blessing of one another's sympathies and remembrances.  It made me wonder if this is the new sympathy card of the digital age.

I too left my comment.  And then I got my A5 paper out and wrote two letters - one to his widow and one to his son and wife.  Because Facebook is good.  But there was more to say.  And there is always something special about holding a letter written out of love and gratitude in your hands.

Feel free to call me old fashioned.  I don't mind.  And I am guessing the one who wrote the comment about letter writing also penned a note.  Probably on white A5 paper.

(HT: Alastair at Paradoxically Speaking.  I had written and deleted this post twice in the last week but then, when I left an entire post as a comment to this post, I realised it was something that wanted to be written here too.)

10 September 2013

09 September 2013

Agapanth-oops

Once, long long ago last summer
 
 
And then there was the before...
 
 
And then there was after...  

 
...the whippersnippering.  Oops...
Just as well there is nothing like a hard prune to encourage growth.

05 September 2013

A hunger for God's Word

I'm continuing to think over the idea of giving the planning and implementation of personal Bible reading the same priority and attention that we give to making sure we eat our meals each day.
 
Which reminded me of a sermon I heard on Psalm 81 a long time ago.  Part of the psalm says,
 
I am the LORD your God,
who brought you out of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
Psalm 81:10
 
Fill their mouths with what?  Manna?  No, reading around those verses, it's about filling them with God's words and God's ways.
 
Want to see how wide a baby bird, starving and thoroughly dependent upon its parents, opens its mouth to have it filled?  Take a look at this absolutely gorgeous video - it's three and a half minutes and when I do the maths, I may or may not have spent more than an hour of my life watching it since it was first shared with me a while ago - and be filled with wonder.
 
 
That is desperate hunger - and exactly the image the psalmist is trying to convey.
 
Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.  Psalm 119:18

01 September 2013

Status Report: September

Reading: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Not reading: Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley.  Not because I don't like it.  It turns out that contrary to what I said last month, I can't in fact have two books on the go at once.  Certainly not when one of them is fiction and the other non-fiction.  And although Northanger Abbey was not my favourite, I am really enjoying this jaunt through the Austens and now can't put this big tome down until they are all finished.  So Persuasion it is, followed by her short epistolary novel Lady Susan.  And then I will go back to the church history book.

Amassing: a rather large reading list to follow Ms Austen and Mr Shelley.

Loving: this little book.


Which is full of lovely pictures like this...


Pages and pages of detailed "secret garden" ink drawings filled with hidden ladybirds and hearts and other loveliness ready to be coloured in.  I bought it during August.  I won't be able to use it for Scripture classes because photocopying it will breach copyright, so in lots of ways I am completely unsure why I purchased it. But it is such a nice book, printed on really good quality paper.  Actually, it is the same sort of paper that my Austen tome is printed on...  Perhaps say no more.

Stocked up:  on IKEA meatballs again.  Phew.  The supply was running a little low there for a while.

Never imagined: I would be the type of mum to have five different sorts of cereal open and on the go at once. 

Undecided: whether or not to post a Prompted to Write topic later today or tomorrow.  I've been throwing a couple of ideas around for a week or two but neither are really grabbing me.

Glad: to be honest, that August is done and dusted.  It has felt a lot like trekking through the mud this month.  When I was full time in the classroom I'd often fall into a slump come August - the end of the grey winter months, a long way from the shiny start of the year, a long way until the victorious end, the month leading up to the athletics carnival (agh).  I don't know how relevant all of that is away from the school setting or whether I am just being Pavlovian, but it's been feeling pretty schlumpy around here. 

Glad then: to welcome September and Spring. 

Needing therefore: to get into the yard and excavate the plants from the winter weeds in order to fully enjoy the new season. I've been planning to get into the excavation project a bit lately but when there is a window of energy and opportunity it seems to start raining.  We need the rain.  But I need my weeds to be dry (or at least dry-ish) before I will go trudging through them. 

What a mess!

Somewhere in there are my beloved agapanthus plants...

Better go: and do some gardening.

26 August 2013

The year that term three week seven came early

That certain week that happens every year when the shine of being the oldest kids in the school wears off, suddenly a handful of them are taller than their teachers, their compasses are pointed towards high school (for better or for worse depending on whether the prospect fills you with excitement or fear - but both manifest poorly) and they go off the boil...it happened.  In the fourth week of term.  Three weeks early to my way of thinking. 

So what's a Scripture teacher to do?  Four things.

Firstly, thank God for the two and nearly a half terms of great teaching time before it all got hard.  Secondly pray for the children and their class teachers - both need prayer at this point.  Thirdly, pull out that intensely complicated geometric colouring in sheet that has been waiting in the wings all year just for this moment. 


I chose something like this...but FAR more complicated.

The kids went off the boil two weeks ago.  Not good.  Especially as I wasn't expecting it that particular day.  So last week I pulled out my colouring pages. 

"You colour this while I tell you today's story...and no two adjoining spaces are to be the same colour."

Met with shock and horror. 

"That's right.  But if you trust me on this one and do it in this kind of detail the pictures will look absolutely amazing when you are done.  And by the way, there is no rush.  Unlike so many other things I do when I am in your classroom, this isn't a race."

Last week went supremely well and I figure I have secured two or three more lessons of peace because all of the classes were told, in front of their classroom teachers, that the pictures were only allowed out of their trays for Scripture classes.

After that there are the last few lessons in the book - how the Bible fits together, the Ten Commandments and a lesson on prayer - all of which I LOVE teaching.  And then the Christmas lessons which are all sorts of fun.  I think we should be OK for the year.

And then the fourth thing for a Scripture teacher to do?  Keep praying that the gospel seeds that are being sown in classrooms here and elsewhere will at some point take root, grow and flourish.  This is good work.

25 August 2013

Finding the height, depth, length and breadth of God's Word

My blogging buddy Amy put this quote from Spurgeon on Facebook this weekend.

The more you read the Bible, and the more you meditate upon it, the more you will be astonished with it. He who is but a casual reader of the Bible, does not know the height, the depth, the length and breadth of the mighty meanings contained in its pages. There are certain times when I discover a new vein of thought, and I put my hand to my head and say in astonishment, "Oh, it is wonderful. I never saw this before in the Scriptures." You will find the Scriptures enlarge as you enter them; the more you study them the less you will appear to know of them, for they widen out as we approach them.

Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon "Christ our Passover"


Thanks Amy.  A great encouragement.

15 August 2013

Treat your time in the Bible like you treat your meal plan.

Yesterday there was a great post on the Desiring God site called Five Back-to-School Basics.  You may have missed it because

1.  maybe you don't live in the northern hemisphere, and
2.  so you aren't going back to school at the moment, or
3.  maybe you're just not at school at all. 

Perhaps I would have missed it too except that I, lover of lists and with a small hint from the title of the post, keenly observed the five point list.  And so I read it. 

The five points are:-

1. Thinking may be the most critical thing you ever do.
2. The most important book you'll read this fall is your Bible.
3. Someone younger than you needs you.
4.  Comparison in the classroom can be the birthplace of pride.
5.  Only the gospel saves anyone, even A-students.

They are great principles and they extend far, far beyond the reach of students in the classroom.

I especially liked point number two (but you already knew that) and most especially this part (emphasis is mine)...

Because of all the assigned pages, you’ll be tempted to sideline your Bible reading until the next test has passed, the next paper is done, or the next break is here. Instead, treat your time in the Bible like you treat your meal plan.


Your time soaking in Scripture will be the most fruitful and shaping time of your education. Nothing can replace the wealth you will find there, and nothing will prepare you better for life, family, vocation, or even your next class.

It is so easy to put off time in God's Word.  I know.  I really, REALLY know.  But I am amazingly diligent with my meal planning.  We eat every day.  What a great aim to be so hungry for God's Word that it receives the same priority as meal planning.

Read the whole post here.  It doesn't matter if you aren't going back to school this August.  The principles still apply.

12 August 2013

The grand gesture of encouragement

You may have noticed that I have been thinking about the nature of encouragement lately. 

Last Friday evening we found ourselves with a bit of a situation on our hands.  Not overly serious in the end, but it added a layer of emotion and the need for even greater feats of juggling to an already complicated and oversubscribed weekend. 

Just before my head hit the pillow at the late end of that day I received a text message from a sweet, sweet friend who had become aware of said situation.  She simply said that she, her husband and her mother had prayed for this situation and then she wished us good night.

Perfect timing.  At the end of a long day.  Just prior to sleep before the beginning of what was looking like a near impossible day ahead.  And not with the promise to pray, but passing on the message that the prayer had already been prayed.  Perfect, perfect encouragement.

Stumped as to how to encourage someone?  Too time poor to cook meals for someone or write a carefully worded note?  Too resource poor to provide someone with a few days break away?  Too skills-poor to fix that person's garden, finish their home renovation gone wrong or make their car work again?

Sometimes an act of encouragement might seem very small - but it might end up being the grandest of all gestures.  That short text with the prayer behind it spurred me on all weekend.  And thanks be to God the situation is by and large resolved.

08 August 2013

Some more comfort


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.   If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7