Saturday, May 30, 2009

Get off-line!

I have just read two fascinating posts: one by John Piper and one by Josh Harris, both about using Twitter using church services. John Piper writes:

Josh Harris has done us a good service. He explains why many of us think it's a bad idea to "tweet" while participating in corporate worship. That is, we think you should use Twitter before and after corporate worship to say what you take in and take out. But when you are in corporate worship, Worship! There is a difference between communion with God and commenting on communion with God.

Don't tweet while having sex. Don't tweet while praying with the dying. Don't tweet when your wife is telling you about the kids. There's a season for everything. Multitasking only makes sense when none of the tasks requires heart-engaged, loving attention...

To be honest, it stuns me that these issues even need to be raised. No-one could convince me that being online in a church service, either to Twitter or to Facebook, could possibly help in their ability to sit under the word of God and concentrate.

However, I have been amazed by the number of people I know on Facebook (yes, admission here - I am on Facebook, but not on Twitter) who seem to update their status as they go into church, as they come out of church, and sometimes I suspect in church. And guess what - some of them are ministers!!

Part of me wants to say - who cares really? How much attention to you really pay to people's status updates? Especially from people who are only online 'friends'.

Surely it has to be our priority to encourage the people of God who are with us in person, rather than those out there on-line. Let's have relationships with real people in real time!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

How do you read the bible?

How do you read the bible?
Do you have a system?
Do you read along with another guide?
Do you just open it randomly and read whatever you find?
Do you only read familiar passages?
Or, if you were really being honest, perhaps do you just not read it at all?

I suspect all of us struggle at times to find a way that works for us to read our bibles. And while we want to read God's word and grow in our knowledge and love of him, other things take precedence. Not only that, but even when we find the time combined with the ability to think clearly, we can feel like we are just 'going through the motions'. A kind of 'yes, tick the box' - I have read my bible today, although I couldn't tell you much about what I read and I didn't bother thinking about how it applied to me. Sound familiar?

I think what I have come to realise in recent years is that (like every aspect of growth in the Christian life) this too is a journey. Sometimes I long to sit down and dwell in God's word and other times, quite frankly, I would prefer to do almost anything else.

So, what do we do then when it's all a bit of a struggle?

I suggest two things: 1) Just do it. & 2) Mix it up.

1. Just do it.

Really. Get on with it. Find 10 mins & sit down with the bible open. If you have no idea what to read, start with a Gospel - at least then you will be reading the words of Jesus. There have been many times over the years where I have not wanted to read my bible - it may have been due to tiredness, busyness, feelings of depression, feeling distant from God, feeling like I just didn't care. But in the end, sitting down with God's word was something I tried to force myself to do. Sometimes I was just 'ticking the box', and other times a verse would leap out piercing straight to my heart.

And, by not giving up - we are forming a habit. A habit that says - no matter what, no matter how I feel, I want to let God's word speak to me and change me.


2. Mix it up

There are a lot of resources out there that help us read our bibles and understand them better. Sometimes, it's a hard slog reading through parts of the bible (eg. Isaiah or Ezekiel), especially when we don't really know what they are talking about. However, we still want to read these books and not ignore them because they are a bit scary!

So, here are some resources that appeal to different people:

1. Don Carson's For the Love of God, vols 1 & 2. This excellent guide follows the M'Cheyne bible reading plan over the course of 2 calendar years. Carson has listed the 4 readings for the day and he makes comments on one of them in detail. Its advantage is that it gets you reading through the bible (all in one year) and adds insightful comments for further thought. You can see a sample page here. And really, anything that Don Carson writes is worth giving a go!


2. The Daily Reading Bible (14 vols), published by Matthias Media. These are collated readings and notes from The Briefing magazine Bible Briefs. There are 60 days of reading, designed to cover 3 months. These are short snippets, which start you thinking. Each reading is included (so you only need the book not a bible as well). Then there are 3 questions, something to ponder and a suggestion for prayer. I have done these on and off over the years, and at times they have been very helpful. However, they vary in quality (all are authored by different people) and I find that they are too short. Also, I don't really want to encourage people not to use their own bibles - for then you can't easily look up cross-references, etc. You can see a sample of them here. Don't let my hesitations put you off though, they may be perfect for you!

3. Something new we have recently come across is John Stott's Through the Bible, Through the Year. Stott, another highly respected Christian author has put together this resource, taking one through the Christian calender. He has divided it into three 4-month blocks. The first (Sept-Dec) covers the Old Testament (the Life of Israel), the second (Jan-April) is an overview of the Gospels (the life of Christ) and the third (May-Aug) is from Acts to Revelation (Life in the Spirit). I can't comment on this one in detail yet, as I am only up to week 2 myself. What I can say so far is that I like the idea, and Stott's insights are always worth reading. However, there is often one one verse that the comments are based on. So this is certainly worth reading, but probably also combined with some other larger chunks of scripture. You can see the whole book online here.

4. Various commentaries. If you decide you want to tackle a book of the bible, but don't really know much about it, ask around and see if someone (your minister perhaps?) can recommend a good commentary on that book. Look for a short one, one based on an English version (not the Greek or Hebrew) and one whose style you can easily read.

What are some other bible reading tools or guides you recommend?


HOWEVER, all of these are just tools - nothing beats reading the bible yourself and trying to figure out what it means. Sure, use resources that are available, but last not first - do the work yourself first. So, get your hands on:
  • a wide margin bible - this is the best bible I own, there is heaps of space for me to write comments in it;
  • a travel bible - my normal bible is too big and heavy to throw in a bag or take away on holidays, so I also have a little bible that fits into my handbag;
  • lots of bookmarks - to put in where ever you are reading - privately (if you follow M'Cheyne's reading guide you need 4!), to follow along with church sermon readings at home & what you are doing in bible study;
  • pencils, highlighters, whatever you want to write in your bible. It took me a long time to be comfortable writing in my bible (it felt too holy to write in!). In fact, I still refuse to mark any normal book I read, but now my bible is scribbled all over.
And aim to read more of the bible itself than someone's notes about it.


Which leads to me to what I am doing at the moment, for those that care!
  • I want to cover some larger amounts of scripture - so I have just reprinted the M'Cheyne reading guide and am going to try to work through it. I just started it again today, so got going at May 28. It's amazing when you do this how often the readings are related to each other.
  • I am also reading Stott's Through the Bible, Through the Year at the same time. This helps me to think in a bit more depth about a small passage or verse.
So, if you know me and see me around - ask me how I am going with it!



Photos from stock.xchng

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

East West 101

Feel like a good few nights in front of the TV? Try East West 101.

This excellent series (of only 6 episodes) was shown on SBS last year. It is the story of Detective Zane Malik (Don Hany), a Muslim police officer in Sydney and his superior officer Ray Crowley (William McInnes). It has some great story lines, with sensitivity and awareness given to issues facing the Muslim community and the stress on cross-cultural relationships in Australia.

It is definitely one of the better police shows I have seen in recent years. Get it out of your local library and enjoy a few nights in!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Briefing - May

I have just finished reading this month's e-Briefing, and highly recommend it to you.

The topic this month is Purity in the Age of Porn and it contains a number of helpful articles.

In Sexual Immorality: Some Thoughts from Corinth Gordon Cheng talks about how the first and final solution to dealing with sexual sin is the death and resurrection of Jesus. We cannot jump in first with ways and tips to help each other, but must first come to grips with what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and how that must shape all of how we live.

In The naked truth about porn, James Warren talks through the realities of life today, where TV, the movies and most predominately the internet, ensure that porn of all types has a AAA rating "Available, Affordable, Anonymous". James evens attempts a helpful definition of porn "explicit material designed to promote sexual desire outside God's design".

James discusses 3 reasons why porn actually is bitter, because it reinforces three distortions of the life that God wants for us. It distorts sex, distorts relationships and distorts ourselves.

He goes on to suggest 4 ways we can deal better with these issues:

1. We need to be mindful of diversity - some people have no issues with porn, others dabble in it and others are addicted to it. We have to understand that it is a problem for some, but not all - and therefore we must be aware of it, and never dismiss it out of hand

2. We need to be honest - we need to be opposed to all porn and have 'absolutely no porn' as our goal. Those who struggle in this way need to be honest with some trusted friends who will help to keep them accountable.

3. We need to be supportive - help those who struggle, for those who do struggle in this area "face a long, hard and lonely path with little support. The discipline required is immense, and the process is humiliating".

4. We need to speak up publicly. Christians are in danger of saying too little on this topic, "yet we have immensely valuable things to say about sex to our society. By not speaking up, we end up capitulating to and condoning the world's agenda."

A helpful article in many many ways.


In Making Singleness Better, Tim Adeney talks about how to love and serve single people in our churches. As you can see from the title, I have linked to the full article which is available online. The most insightful quote that I found from this article is:
Paul was not married, but neither was he lonely. I think he would see this epidemic of loneliness as a major moral failure of the church to be the church, and, perhaps, more particularly, a moral failure of families to treat those not in their family as family. The church is a family, and we are to treat those in the church as family—not by lowering the standard with which we treat our family, but by raising the standard with which we treat others.
He goes on to give suggestions about how our families could operate better to include single people, and how are churches could also do a better job within their own structure and design.
He also encourages singles to take advantage of the freedoms of being single, but also to be careful about it - to ensure they are embedded in a community.


Gordon Cheng also reviews Walking with Gay Friends, by Alex Tylee. He says:
Tylee's book is short and readable. It is particularly useful for readers who are Christians or readers who are open to hearing that there is hope of rescue from homosexual sin. The style is friendly and familiar, and manages to avoid the twin evils of being preachy and patronizing. There is a reading list at the end, which includes Christopher Keane's What Some of You Were. I recommend both books as readable, biblically challenging and pastorally compassionate treatments of homosexuality.
A book I now will try to read.


And finally, Simon Roberts in Avoiding the traps of an online world, takes on the issues of sexual immorality online and how to manage them wisely. He gives some very helpful practical tips on how to use computer software to protect you and your family and to help keep ourselves accountable. Some of these are filter software and others are programs that report on your internet usage to another person.

As part of this, he makes two very helpful points:
1. "We should not expect to find a technological solution to a theological problem" . We must actually try to become more Christlike in everything.
2. However, like in any area of sin, help is available and we should use whatever help we can that works for us.

***

This is one issue that is certainly worth having.


My understanding of the eBriefing copyright requirements is that I can send anyone a copy of it, as long as it is not more than 2 issues per year. So, if you would like a copy - let me know via a comment, and I will email it to you.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The passage of time

We have reached a few new stages here - all on the same night.

Firstly, we have officially left baby-land. We have packed up the cot and change table and passed them on to a new home. As we were packing it up, I suddenly realised - it's the end of an era. For more than 6 years that cot has been in our house, and has enabled all 3 children to sleep. We loved the cot and each child has also loved it. It was a generous present from their grandparents (the other generous present from the other grandparents - the pram - went a few months ago).

So, perhaps you will indulge me in following a photographic journey of the cot:

Mr 6 days.

Mr 23 months

Miss 6 days
(note - NOT in our cot, but a borrowed one, because Mr 2 loved his so much we had not managed to move him yet!)

Miss 4 months (in the cot!)


Miss 12 months (with characteristic finger sucking already well-established!)

Miss 2 weeks old

Miss 2 helping to pack it up.

I presume I am not the only mother who likes to take photos of their children asleep?!


***

And, on the very same night - Mr 6 lost his first tooth! What stage does that enter us into? Gap-tooth land? Anyway - it seemed momentous at the time!

Atheism

Thanks to a friend linking it on facebook, I stumbled across this editorial in the LA times by Charlotte Allen: Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining:
I can't stand atheists -- but it's not because they don't believe in God. It's because they're crashing bores...

What atheists don't seem to realize is that even for believers, faith is never easy in this world of injustice, pain and delusion. Even for believers, God exists just beyond the scrim of the senses. So, atheists, how about losing the tired sarcasm and boring self-pity and engaging believers seriously?
An interesting read.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Minister's Wives

We have a little tradition here at our church - the 'Preacher's Wives' (as we call ourselves) go away together each year. It's an event we all look forward to. We leave our husbands and children for 2 nights and go away, usually to a beach house, for a time of encouragement and refreshment.

It's only one of the ways we support each another, as we also meet fortnightly throughout the year to pray together. When I arrived here, this group of women had been meeting together for years, as well as going away together annually. It was a wonderful group to arrive into. Here were women also married to men in ministry, all seeking to live godly lives and all keen to encourage one another through joyous and sad times.

Five years later, this group has become one of my main support networks. I look forward to our fortnightly times of prayer, and I really look forward to our times away. Not only because for me they really are a break, a time with adults only at the beach for 3 days - but because these women are a constant encouragement to me.

We are a diverse bunch - we currently number 11 women and we are spread over 8 congregations at 3 centres. We age from under 30 to nearing 50, we have children ranging from 'in utero' to university age. We serve in different ways: some teach publicly, some lead bible studies, some lead singing or play music, some encourage other women and meet with them privately, some have wonderful hospitality. We look after our households in different ways: some work, others do not; some love to cook, others prefer take-away; some love craft, others can't stand it. But all of us love our husbands, love our ministries and are united by the gospel.

This year, we watched the DVDs of the Equip Ministry Wives Conference from 2008. There were 2 talks from Phillip Jensen on 'Being a wife' and 'Being a ministry wife', and a talk from Carmelina Read on 'How to discourage your husband in ministry' (later turned into a Briefing Article, which can be read here).

We watched each talk as a group and then talked about each in depth. And here I share some of the points I liked/learnt:

Talk 1 - Being a wife

- He centred his talk around Prov 12:4 "a wife of noble character is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones"

- The idea that we are made for our husbands by God, and that there is nothing more glorious than a man (on this earth) than his wife - she is the crowning pleasure of his existence. Which is a privilege!

- Most men do not need many friends, a good wife is all they need. This helped me to think through how G views me. He doesn't have many other close friends (although there are some), but primarily he wants to spend his time with me. Which I love and which I do not have to worry about - I am enough for him.

- He finished with a comment, that many minister's wives know and probably fear - "all minister's wives halve or double their husband's ministries". What I felt when I looked around at our little group was encouraged - all of these women enhance their husband's ministries - all in different ways - but they do all enhance them.


Talk 2 - Being a ministry wife

He had an interesting section on work vs. career vs. calling, with the following definitions:
- work - the job you do to get paid, so that you may live
- career - finding your satisfaction in your work, seeking your own development, which can be very self-focused
- calling - the thing you would do even if you were not paid to do it (this can include sportsmen (ie you would play golf even if no one paid you), artists, authors, musicians - money or advancement is not the motivation, but rather the joy of what you do.
- He made the point that those have jobs are often happy, those who have a calling are often very happy, and those who follow careers are often unhappy. It was an interesting point, which I think does contain some truth. If you look for your self worth from your job, no job is likely to ever be good enough for very long, however I wonder if the lines here are a bit too clearly drawn.

However, following from that, he asked - what then is your calling? He suggested that as a minister's wife we have two callings:
1. to be a wife (because we are married)
2. to be in ministry (because we are Christian) - I wonder then whether this definition of 2 callings may therefore apply to all Christian wives, not specifically minister's wives?

Another helpful point was that we are wives before we are minister's wives. We married a man, not a minister. If he was not a minister, we would still be his wife. Therefore, if you are a minister's wife, how do you describe yourself? "The Minister's wife" or "His name's wife"? I must say I don't tend to describe myself as the minister's wife, but I find it is helpful for people to understand how I fit into the picture at church pretty quickly, more to save them saying something they might regret, or making them feel embarrassed!

Then he had a few points about being the Minister's Helper. Here are some of them:

1. Do not complain about being in Christian ministry - for our lives are much easier. Our work is our church and our workplace is our home. We are not divided between his work, her work, home and church - other live in 2 or more worlds, we live in 1. And I know this to be true, I watch my friends, who struggle with his job taking long hours, her trying to run the home, and perhaps another job, and them also trying to be committed their church in their small amounts of available time - and I know that my life is easier.

2. Remember that we have more ability to exercise our gifts in ministry than almost any other woman in the congregation. It is a privileged position.

3. Related to that, is that we need to be thankful for the privilege of the position we hold. Our husbands are paid to read the bible, pray with others and preach the word. We are taken care of by others, and we must be teaching contentment to our children.

4. We need to work at being dignified. (1 Tim 3:11) - we must aim to be constant, reliable, honest, not slanderers and sober-minded. A high calling, but one that all Christians should be aiming for.

5. He also had some helpful guidelines for giving sermon feedback. As we discussed this amongst us, we realised again how different our husbands are and how they respond to feedback differently.

As you can probably tell from the amount of my notes, I really enjoyed this talk and it gave me lots to think about.

Talk 3 - How to discourage your husband in ministry

This humorous talk by Carmelina Read brilliantly captured some of the many things we all do as wives which discourage rather than encourage our husbands. I linked to the Briefing article above, and suggest you read it directly, although I actually think the talk was better. Obviously the things she was talking about especially near the end were deadly serious, and she dealt with them very well and sensitively.

***

Of course that is not all we did - we went for walks on the beach, ate lovely food, watched DVDs, quilted, made cards, chatted, shared, and avoided the mice that were sharing the house with us. And we even had facials on the way down there!


All in all, a time of great encouragement together. If you are a minister's wife and do not have such a support network - can I encourage you to find one? It is a great blessing to us all.


All of us (minus 1)


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mother's Day

I wonder what Mother's Day means to you. It may cover a large range of emotions, perhaps:

Joy & thankfulness
- for your mother, and your relationship with her
- for your own children, and your relationship with them
- for the encouragement it is to see you mother or children continuing on in the faith and growing stronger

Sadness
- at the distance that separates you from your mother or your children
- because you are estranged from your mother or your children, and you long to repair the rift
- because you watch them make choices that you disagree with, and wonder how to support them

Grief
- at the loss of your mother
- at the loss of your child
- at the loss of the chance to become a mother

Tiredness
- because of the day-to-day realities of being a mum
- because of the need for you to care for your elderly mother

We all experience these emotions at different times, but Mother's Day is one of those days that can bring them out a little more.

***

Girltalk blog has also been picking up these themes in the last few days:
Her children rise up and call her blessed. Proverbs 31:28

Do you have a hard time picturing this ever happening to you? Oh sure, your kids “rise up”--all the time! Your baby may “rise up” and call (very loudly) at 1:00 am and 2:30 am and 5:00 am. Your toddler might “rise up” with temper tantrums or endless calls to meet his needs. Your school-age child might “rise up” and call you to take her to this activity and help her with that book report. Your teenager may “rise up” in anger at your decisions and call you “strict” or “unfair.”

It may be very hard to imagine your children ever rising up to obey you, rising up to ask for your advice, rising up to thank you, rising up to follow your example, rising up to serve you, rising up to call you blessed.

Carolyn encourages mums to continue on, for you will reap if you continue, read the rest here - in a A Weary Mother's Day.

***
And also in A Sad Mother's Day, Carolyn writes about the grief that can be present on Mother's Day.
For you, weariness is merely the byproduct of numbing sadness. You don’t even want to think about Mother’s Day. A day that reminds everyone else of what they have, reminds you of what you’ve lost—as if you needed another reminder.

Maybe your child has rebelled and doesn’t want anything to do with your family. Or maybe you’ve lost a child through death.

I wish I knew the right words to say to you. If I could sit with you today, I would want you to know how inadequate I feel to comfort you. I know that no words of mine can dull the pain. But after I had grieved with you awhile I would remind you of the comfort of the cross.
****

Whatever your emotions on Mother's Day, I hope you have a chance to stop and:
- give thanks for those women who have mothered you and cared for you
- to pray for yourself as you mother and care for the children around you

And to my Mum - I thank God for you.



***
A late addition from another blog The Pipers - talking about the grief on Mother's Day after losing a child, both the post and the comments are especially poignant.

Photos from stock.xchng

Friday, May 8, 2009

Parenting ... at other blogs

I have been unable to blog much lately - there is too much going on in my 'real' life!

However, I have been reading a few other blogs, which I have found helpful. If any of you are parenting teenagers, or approaching those years, you may be interested in looking at the recent series by Carolyn Mahaney on girltalk - mothering teens. There are nuggets of wisdom there which are relevant for parenting at all stages.

Following on from that, she also included some more thoughts on mothering rebellious teens. One especially helpful post was A Mother's Conversation which give 7 reminders of how to have those challenging conversations with your children and do so in a godly way.


More things to think about...!
Photo from stock.xchng

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sermon Illustration

Husband  is preaching tonight at church, and needed some visual aids to assist in the illustration of a point. As he has done so previously, he used our children as the props.  Miss 4 was a surpringly willing assistant.

I know some ministers purposefully do not use their family in illustrations. We have decided that we are OK with him doing so, as long as it is something they will be not be embarrassed about at a later date (as all sermons end up online as mp3 files these days!).

No prizes for guessing tonight's passage...