Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas closure

My musings and I will be on holidays for a month now. Christmas, school holidays, time with family and general fun means no time for blogging.

I hope you all have a lovely Christ-centred Christmas, that you can remember 2010 with thanks, and that you look forward to 2011.

See you in late-January.

Married for God - Conclusion

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Conclusion: The Greatest Invitation

In Ash’s conclusion, you can hear his heart for the lost and for them to respond to the gospel of grace. Using the same imagery of marriage that the bible uses, he exhorts us to desire to be part of the greatest marriage of all time:
…the story of a marriage which includes within itself the whole history and future of the human race. It is the story of God, the Lover, the Bridegroom, the Husband, and his people the Beloved, his Bride, and in the end his Wife… All of the people of God in the new heaven and new earth are the bride of Jesus Christ. That is to say, he loves them passionately, and they love him with an answering love. (p166-7)
What a great note to finish on – looking forward to the end of time, eyes fixed on our heavenly marriage, not our earthly one.

As we come to a close, it’s worth pondering who this book is for. Ash clearly wants it to be used by single people considering (or not) marriage, engaged couples preparing for marriage and married couples as they work on their marriage. Think about how you might use it in your ministry:
  • together as you consider your own marriage
  • as a resource for already married couples to raise their eyes as to the purpose of their relationship
  • for engaged couples, to give them a solid grounding in God’s view of marriage and the importance of the relationship
  • for people wanting to think ‘theologically’ about marriage
  • for young people, to ensure they have a God-centred view of marriage as they approach their relationships and life choices.
I still see the need for ‘how-to’ marriage books – how to communicate, how to respect one another, the nature of commitment, etc. However, this books fills a great void in the marriage books I have read to date – God’s purpose for our marriage and how we serve him though it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Friend Bear

Preschooler Books:
My Friend Bear, Jez Alborough

This is the third in a series of books about Eddy, his teddy Freddy, a very large bear and his teddy.

In the first Where's My Teddy?, Eddy find the bear's giant size teddy and the bear finds Eddy's Freddy. Confusion follows until they find the right bear again.

In the second It's the Bear?, Eddy's out with his mum and worried about the bear that lives in the woods. The bear arrives, eats their food and terrifies Eddy in the process.

Both of these books are fun and it's good that there is some tension in each - will the bear eat Eddy? Will all be OK?

However, I think the best of the three is this one - My Friend Bear. Eddy and the bear, who are both lonely, meet in the woods, overcome their fear of each other and become friends:
The bear lifted Eddy up for a hug,
hairy and beary, safe and snug.

"Take care," he said. "Look after Freddy!"
Well come back soon," whispered Eddy.

Then off they walked,
with a smile and a wave
Back to a house,
and back to a cave.
Do you think that they're lonely?
Not any more...

That's what having friends is for.
The illustrations are bold and full of expression. The rhyme is delightful and easy to read. And the stories are lovely. I would recommend getting all three books. You could use them to show how some things that seem scary really aren't, but you'll also enjoy them just because they are such fun.

Married for God - Chapter 8

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Chapter 8: What is the heart of marriage?

Up till now, we have been asking the ‘why?’ question – what is the point of sex and marriage. However, now it is time to look at the heart of marriage: faithfulness.

Our God loves us with a faithful, steadfast love:
Faithful steadfast love is the heart of marriage, for faithful steadfast love is the heart of the universe. The faithful steadfast passionate Lover God calls men and women to show faithful steadfast passionate love in their marriages. (p145)
This is a great chapter – it gets to the core of marriage and what is really important.
  • Marriage is a ‘one-flesh’ union joined by God. It creates a new family unit. We must not tear apart what God has joined together. The husband or wife must not put themselves before the marriage – their career, comfort or personal fulfilment. Others also must not come between a marriage – and this includes over-involved parents and employers who want more than their ‘pound of flesh’.
  • Marriage is a covenant to which God is a witness. God is present when promises are made and he holds us accountable to keep those promises.
  • Marriage faithfulness excludes all rivals for life. He then follows this with reasons why adultery is very serious. It’s sobering reading: adultery is turning away from a promise, it is secretive and dishonest, it destroys the adulterer, it damages society and it hurts children. I think Lesley Ramsay added a very astute extra point when she reviewed this book– it devastates the marriage partner. Anyone who has seen the consequences of adultery first hand cannot help but agree with all of these with great sadness in their heart.
  • Faithfulness in marriage is modelled on the faithfulness of God. God’s faithfulness to his people has remained strong throughout their continued rebellion and faithlessness. He is forgiving, and in showing his forgiveness for us, he has modelled true costly forgiveness that we also will need in our marriages.
  • Faithfulness in marriage comes from the faithfulness of God – God is faithful and pours his grace and faithfulness into me, if I come to him and trust him. It is only through his grace that we can live this way.
What you and I need most of all is to know the steadfast faithful love of the God who has never broken a promise yet. He kept every promise he has ever made when he sent his son Jesus Christ to die in our place. He is utterly faithful and trustworthy. If we will turn afresh to him and come to him in trusting obedience, we can rest our security in his mercy. And on that basis, building on that security, we will be well placed to show faithfulness in marriage, to offer forgiveness when hurt and to welcome back with tenderness even when things are at their most painful. (p162)

Do you realise that it is faithfulness that is at the core of marriage?

Do you talk about the commitment to faithfulness in marriage preparation with couples?

Do you warn couples of the dreadful consequences (yet still sometimes tempting lure) of adultery? And then give them practical ways to flee such temptation?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Secret River and The Lieutenant

Two reviews for the price of one today. However both are by the same author, and are part of a loose trilogy, so it makes some sense!

The Secret River, Kate Grenville

Thanks to Jean's recommendation, I had this one on my planned reading list a few months ago, and like Jean I loved the descriptions of London and Sydney in the early 1800s. I really enjoy reading about that time in history - 1st fleet, long sea voyages, convicts and I love imagining what Sydney Cove would have been like in its early days of settlement.

William Thornhill, from the poverty and theft of London, is transported (with his wife Sal and their children) to the colony of New South Wales. However, within years he is a free man and claims land for himself on the Hawkesbury River. Their relationship with the native Aboriginal people is tenuous and eventually he must choose whether they are friend or foe.

It's a fascinating account of what life would have been like, and the choices one had to make.

The Lieutenant, Kate Grenville

Having so enjoyed The Secret River, a quick online search revealed she has written quite a few novels, and The Lieutenant was the next obvious choice as it was based around the same time and also in the colony of New South Wales.

This is a much gentler story. Daniel Rooke, a soldier and astronomer with a brilliant mind, arrives on the First Fleet and establishes himself away from the main settlement. He forms a close friendship with the local Aboriginal people, particularly a young girl names Tagaran and she begins to teach him her language.

However, as expected, tensions loom between the new settlers and the local people, and Rooke must choose whether to follow King and Country or his own moral compass.

Apparently this novel is quite closely based on William Dawes and his notes from these times.

Two good books with good insights into our early history.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Little Yellow Digger

Preschooler Books:
The Little Yellow Digger, Betty & Alan Gilderdale

This is a fantastic books for boys, especially when they go through that phase of being obsessed with diggers and tractors. (although my girls love this book too).

The little yellow digger gets stuck in the mud, the next digger sent to help it gets stuck, as does a bigger digger and a bigger bigger digger.
Now in the next door garden,
slowly sinking in the ground,
was the little yellow digger
with its wheels spinning round,
and a digger on its side
in the half-dug drain,
with the bigger red digger
(which had ropes and a chain)
and the bigger bigger digger
all shining in the rain.

They were sunk down deep
with the bright red truck.
Deep down in the mud...
and all of them STUCK!
It's a fun story, with lovely rhyme, great illustrations and is enjoyable to read aloud.

Married for God - Chapter 7

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Chapter 7: Is it better to stay single?

Up until now, Ash’s motto has been ‘sex in the service of God’. Here he flips the coin and asks, what about ‘no-sex in the service of God’? Where does singleness fit in. Why this is obviously a book on marriage, I was pleased to see that he included this chapter, and it’s a very helpful one.

Should those of us who are single consider remaining single in order to serve God?
There is really only one thing that absolutely needs to be said: the whole duty and calling of every human being who has ever lived is to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. ..The only question is how we are going to love and serve God. And this is where marriage does make quite a difference. (p126)

He goes on to make 4 points:
  1. Sex makes no difference to our relationship with God. It’s important to emphasise this in a society which thinks sex matters a lot.
  2. We find our identity and experience love within the family of God. Marriage is not God’s answer to loneliness, but rather a relationship with God and other Christians.
  3. Some will endure not being married for the kingdom of God. The fact remains that singleness for many people comes at a real cost.
  4. Getting married makes life a lot more complicated. Marriage can make us anxious – it adds many more of life’s worries into our lives.
The rest of the chapter discusses some of the issues raised in 1 Corinthians 7. There is a very helpful section on the ‘gift of singleness, in which he concludes that the gift of marriage or singleness is defined by that state itself:
I know which ‘gift’ I have by a very simple test: if I am married I have the gift of marriage; if I am not married, I have the gift of being unmarried. My circumstances are God’s gracious gift to me; and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such. (p132)
This gift may change over time. All of us start life with the gift of singleness, many but not all will have the gift of marriage and some point, and many will again end their lives with the gift of singleness.

Ash concludes by asking “Can I serve God better unmarried?’ He says no: neither better nor worse, but certainly differently. Those who marry will have to work out what it means to serve God while also putting energy into a faithful marriage and the raising (God willing) of children. Those who do not marry may grieve the loss of such relationships, but also be able to serve God more wholeheartedly, or in different ways.
So long as your proposed husband or wife shares your faith, if you are a Christian, and so long as he or she is willing to marry you, you are free to marry. You will not be closer to God if you do, and you will be no closer to God if you don’t. You will not necessarily serve God better if you do, and will not serve God better if you don’t, but you will most certainly serve God differently. (p140)

Friday, December 3, 2010

People of the book

People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks

Following The Book Thief, I turned to People of the Book - which unbenowst to me turned out to have similar themes - people who love books and Judaism.

The Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish prayer book, has recently been discovered in war-torn Sarajevo. A Sydney-based rare book conservator, Hanna Heath, is asked to restore the manuscript. What she finds leads her to uncover details of its 500 year history, crossing from Sarajevo, to Vienna in 1894, the dark years of the Spanish Inquisition, and Seville in 1480.

The story switches between the present to the past, slowly giving details about the manuscript over time. At the same time you are drawn in to the life of Hanna and how it has affected her. While the book is fiction, it is based on some facts known about the actual Sarajevo Haggadah, which was recovered after the Bosnian War.

There are many fans of Brooks' writing out there, and this one meets those expectations. She has also written March (from the view of the father in Little Women) and Year of Wonders (about the outbreak of plague in a village in England in 1666). She must do huge amounts of research for her writing, for you really feel like she has understood the times and then is able to convey it to the reader.

They all make great reading. If you appreciate history and how it can all fit together, chances are you will enjoy this one.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Everyone's got a bottom

Everyone's got a bottom, Tess Rowley and Jodi Edwards
(produced by Family Planning Queensland)

Here is a children's book that is excellent, well written and helpful - yet you wish it never had to be made.

This story about Ben, his brother and sister introduces the idea of self-protection and personal safety in a positive and clear way.

It introduces the family and how they have fun together. Then it talks about how kids learn to look after themselves - brush their teeth, etc. It moves onto to explain that they learn to look after our own bodies, giving proper names for private parts (helpfully explaining the differences between girls and boys). It explains the idea of privacy well, and the idea of rules about bodies:
Mum and Dad have given us a rule about touching. Nobody can touch our bodies including our private parts without good reason.

If someone bigger or older than me wants to touch or see my private parts or show me theirs, that is not ok. I think that is rude.

It might be a person that I know and like. It is still not ok...
What I really liked was that it said that we don't need to keep secrets about bodies "Secrets can be about surprises and presents. We can talk about our bodies feeling safe and feeling hurt."

Throughout the book on most pages it has the same refrain:
From our head to our toes,
We can say what goes.
My kids were chanting this by the end of the first reading, so the idea at least caught on.

You will probably find it hard to read it to your kids. It is well worth doing, but it raises so many ideas in your mind that you may find it tough (especially if you have a personal history of abuse).

However, it's a resource that is needed and for many families it will be a helpful way to start conversations with their children about their personal safety, as well as possibly adopting this family's house rules for your own. It matched almost everything I have wanted to explain to my kids, but did in a much better way (much more positive and much less scary) than anything I would have come up with.

One note though - if you have it in your house, do not leave it around for children to read on their own - the back page has detailed instructions for parents/caregivers, much of which could be alarming for a child to read. This is definitely a book to keep high on a shelf and then read with them and talk about.

Married for God - Chapter 6

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Chapter 6: What’s the point of the marriage institution?

In this chapter Ash explains his third point (listed on page 30) – Marriage as a safeguard against public chaos.

When I first read this point at the beginning of the book, I had no idea what he was getting at. Now I understand, and I really appreciated the chapter. It clarified thinking on marriage I knew I believed, but had never managed to put into words myself.

Firstly, he addresses sex, and the fact that sex is to be surrounded by the marriage boundary. This means that sex is for within marriage, and only within marriage.
to love another person enough for sex means to love them enough to have publicly committed yourself to them for life in marriage. Short of that commitment, however passionately you may say you love them, actually you don’t love them enough for sex. (p101)
What a great statement! One we should be sharing with dating couples, and those who are sorely tempted together before they are committed in marriage. He goes on to discuss the dangers of sex outside marriage.

Ash defines marriage as: The voluntary public union of one man and one woman from different families.

In explaining this, he made some helpful points:
  • marriage is a voluntary union – it must be consensual, which includes consenting to what is part of a marriage – sexual union, the potential blessing of children, and a commitment to the marriage until one partner dies.
  • marriage is a public union – a public declaration of commitment and intent
  • marriage begins with public consent not consummation
  • marriage is defined by public consent not private emotion

He then talks about why marriage is better than cohabitation:
  • marriage is unambiguous
  • marriage is a union of families; cohabitation is free-floating
  • marriage provides protection for the vulnerable at the start
  • marriage offers some home of justice to those wronged when it ends
  • marriage strengthen private intentions with public promises
Obviously, I come from a viewpoint that marriage is better by far, but this actually gave me logical and clear reasons for my opinion – I finished the chapter thinking “why would anyone want to cohabit, rather than marry?”

Have you ever thought of the benefits outlined here of marriage, both to the marriage partners and to society at large?
How would you express these reasons for marriage to a youth group? How about to a de-facto couple in your church?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christmas part 2 - and a giveaway!

Sometimes preparing anything of your own is just too much at Christmas time. If that's you - think about doing an order from the Good Book Company. They have a number of products that you could use for your family:

1. Advent Calendar Packs* - I bought these to review earlier in the year and they look really good. There is an A3 advent calendar, which contains a picture and bible verse. Each day corresponds with a daily reading/activity in a little booklet which is provided. There are three versions:

- Countdown to the Coming of the King
- The Real Christmas Tree
- Christmas Opened Up

2. Beginning with God at Christmas - I have been doing Beginning with God Book 1 with my 3-year old and we love it. If an advent calendar full of bible readings etc is too old your kids - this could be a winner.

3. XTB: Christmas Unpacked - An activity book for 7-10 year olds in the lead up to Christmas.

*I have one of each Advent Calendar Pack to giveaway. So if it's all too hard this year, and you'd like some help - email me and go in the draw for me for me to post you a pack (with your address and if you have a preference for which of the three). In order for it to arrive by Wednesday 1st (hopefully!) - it's limited to Australian readers. Entries close noon Monday 29th.

My only request is that you let me know how it went, so I can review it properly for next year!!

Update - all packs have been won - congrats to Christine, Jenny and Emily.

My references to the Good Book Company in this post are all to the Australian store - but they also have a UK and US store.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak

This is one of those amazing books I referred to yesterday.

Sometimes when you read a book, you are so taken by it that need a break from reading all together - just to think about it a little more. This is one of those books.

The Book Thief is narrated by Death - who is very busy, as it is wartime:
In all honesty (and I know I'm complaining excessively now), I was still getting over Stalin, in Russia. The so-called second revolution - the murder of his own people.
Then came Hitler.
They say war is death's best friend, but I must offer you a different point of view on that one. To me, war is like the new boss who expects the impossible. He stands over your shoulder repeating one thing, incessantly. 'Get it done, get it done'. So you work harder, You get the job done, The boss, however, does not thank you. He asks for more. (p331)
However, even with all the work Death has during the war, he is distracted by a girl he meets three times over the course of her life. The book thief, otherwise known as Liesel Meminger, is fostered to a couple in Germany in the 1940s. She develops a love of books, at a time of Nazi book burnings and racial intolerance. Even more dangerously, her foster family hide a Jew in their basement.

It's a powerful book, eloquently written and I found it quite devastating - both the story and the way it was written.

Highly recommended reading.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


What things on earth fill your life with joy and have the power to change you - at least for a little while?

For some, it's music - the enjoyment of a composition of brilliance.

For others, it might be an artwork that touches them.

For others (and sometimes me) - it's creation - the amazing array of the world and it's natural beauty.

But, above all, for me - it's the written word. I am amazed at what well written words can do.

God's word trumps them all. Yet there are some incredibly talented human authors too. I have read some great books over these holidays, I'll share them with you over coming weeks.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Does Christmas sneak up on you each year?

(This is an edited repost from last year - because Christmas has indeed snuck up on me!)

In one week, we will be putting up the tree and starting our advent material. Some longer term readers may recall what we have done in previous years (see Advent posts if you would like to know).

We want to teach the kids that Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, and to use every chance we have to do so. We have found that 25 readings/activities in December have been a great way to teach about Jesus as well as making it exciting to do so.
  • This year's readings (like last year) are focusing on the events around the birth of Jesus. We have 25 readings mainly from Luke and Matthew's gospels, so we can really spend time thinking about when Jesus was born and what it means for us today. Each day there is a bible reading, some questions to think about, a special verse and some optional extras - something to draw, a song to listen to, a craft to do, etc.
  • We still use the boxes - they are a big hit and have now become a family tradition
  • In each box there is a verse for each of our 3 children. The verse in full is written out for Mr 7, then a simplified version for Miss 5 which she should be able to remember bits of, and the same for Miss 3.

  • They will also get a special treat each day in the box, which will be a selection of little trinkets I got from Koorong (bouncy balls, erasers, stickers, etc), bubbles, Christmas decorations, craft or some candy/chocolate. I do this to make it FUN. We want Christmas to be fun and learning about Jesus to be fun too.

If you are interested, you have a week to do it. I am happy to share my material with anyone, just send me an email.

Now I am looking forward to December 1!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Married for God - Chapter 5

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Chapter 5: God’s pattern for the marriage relationship

How ought husband and wife relate to each other?
the Bible’s answer is simple, politically incorrect, and deeply beautiful: the wife ought to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ, and the husband ought to love his wife as Christ loves the church. (p83)
He states clearly that while many today are uncomfortable with this teaching:
We need not be defensive. This is a beautiful pattern. It undermines equally the oppression of male chauvinism and the false dawn of aggressive secular feminism…This is how God has made the world, with men and women made equally in his image, and entrusted equally with the joyful honour of governing his good world. Equal, but different. (p84)
He also emphasised that this is not culturally specific (and therefore avoidable). Rather, “this is the pattern for every age and all cultures. This is God’s shape for marriage and we need to understand it” (p86)

His explanations of the key passages (Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3: 18-19 & 1 Peter 3:1-7) are very helpful and I recommend you read them yourself, rather than have me attempt to summarise them.

However, his summaries of what this pattern may look like bear repeating:
At the heart of this pattern is the husband who consciously reminds himself again and again that he is called to be like Christ going to the cross in his marriage: to lead by serving and loving and caring whatever the cost to himself…

At the heart of this pattern also is the wife who consciously reminds herself that she is to cultivate the gentle and quiet spirit of dignified honourable submission, serving alongside her husband with equal dignity, using her gifts to the full, but nevertheless encouraging him to take his place of Christlike headship in their marriage. (p95)

How does headship and submission work out in your own marriage?
In which ways do you struggle with it?
How do you discuss headship and submission with engaged couples?

Ash points out 4 distortions of this pattern, two from husbands behaving badly and two from wives behaving badly:
  1. The tyrannical husband – this is not a Christlike leader, but rather a bully.
  2. The bossy wife – she wants to lead rather than encourage her husband to do so
  3. The mousy wife – who surrenders her dignity as the man’s equal partner
  4. The abdicator husband – who avoids the cost of cross-shaped leadership. Ash suspects most men need to repent of this.

(You might also find it helpful to switch across to Lesley Ramsay’s post on this chapter in the Equip Book Club, she includes a very helpful table from Wayne Grudem)

Do you tend towards any of these distortions in your own marriage? How might you try to change your patterns of relating?

Ash finishes by wondering how our marriages might just point people to God:
I think that men and women may say to themselves as they watch a Christian marriage: ‘I have never seen God. Sometimes I wonder, when I look at the world, if God is good, or if there is a God. But if he can make a man and woman love one another like this; if he can make the husband show costly faithfulness through sickness as well as health; if he can give him the resources to love when frankly there is nothing in it for him; well, then he must be a good God. And if he can give this wife grace to submit so beautifully, with such an attractive spirit under terrible trials, then again he must be a good God.’ (p96)
Wouldn’t that be a wonderful witness.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Married for God - Chapter 4

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Chapter 4: What is the point of sex & intimacy?

To understand the point of sex in a marriage, Ash thinks we need to be wary of 2 extremes.

1. Don’t have too high a view of sex. Then it really is “sex in the service of us”. The relationship becomes all about you and me and our fulfilment, it is what makes us whole and complete as a person.

This is a view espoused by society at large, and certainly forced upon us by the media. However, as Christians, we are often more likely to fall to the other end of extremes:

2. Don’t have too low a view of sex.
Christians tend to focus on the epidemic of sexual activity outside marriage, but I suspect we ought to devote at least equal attention to the epidemic of sexual inactivity within marriages… It is important to remember not only that the Bible forbids sex outside marriage, but that it commends sex within marriage (p71)
He goes on to say, while the expressions on intimate love may change with ages and stages of life:
At every age, the principle remains, that in marriage each owes his or her body to the other, to give the other all the love and intimacy of which they are capable. There will be times when this is sheer delight on both sides. But there will be times when, for one of you, this will be more of a costly giving, when, for whatever reason, you have little or no desire for sex. At these times especially it is important to remember that on your wedding day you committed yourself sexually to your wife or husband for life. Make space for it as marriage goes on; nurture it and nourish it in love. (p72)
Do you tend to have too high or too low a view of sex?

Is sex a priority in your marriage? Why or why not?

Ash goes on to talk about sex from an aspect I had not considered before:

The intimacy in our marriages should overflow in blessing to others.

He uses two ways to explains this:
  • God's love for his bride Israel overflows into blessing for the world
  • Marriages overflows into fruitfulness. Using the imagery in the Song of Songs and the garden, Ash claims that the springtime of love described, gives way to an autumn of fruitfulness. He also says that the love of the King for his bride, overflows into blessing for the people of the kingdom.
I must say I struggled with these descriptions a little. Not that I disagree with them per se, I just wasn’t entirely convinced of the reading of the texts. I would love to know what others thought about this section.

His conclusions to this section were:
Consider how your faithful love for another, fed and nourished through the delights of bodily intimacy, can overflow outwards to bring love and faithfulness to a needy world. Think about how, in partnership with one another, helping one another, your love can provide a centre of stable security; so that this safe home will be a refuge into which others can be welcomed. (p76).
We did. Our little group of 3 sat together and tried to figure out the link, because we couldn’t. How does sex in marriage lead to blessing to others? How does satisfying sex lead to welcoming strangers and being hospitable? The only way we could figure it out was by contentment. If you are satisfied with your sex life, are you likely to be more satisfied with each other and then more willing to be open and welcoming?

Do any readers out there have any ideas? How does a solid commitment to sex in marriage lead you to have an outward focused marriage that blesses others?

In the end, as Ash concludes, we need to have a proper view of sex:
When sex is put it its proper place, nether too important nor neglected, then it will thrive as it was designed to flourish, as sex in the service of God. (p77)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Gruffalo

Preschooler Books:
The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler

This is the book that dads and grandads love to read to children. A mouse wanders through the wood and is almost eaten by a fox, an owl and a snake. His quick thinking creates a scary creature - the gruffalo - the idea of which scares them all away:
"He has terrible tusks and terrible claws,
And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws."
"Where are you meeting him?"
"Here by these rocks,
And his favourite food is roasted fox."
Soon a real gruffalo turns up, yet the mouse manages to outwit him also.
"Well, Gruffalo," said the mouse, "you see?
Everyone is afraid of me!
But now my tummy's beginning to rumble.
My favourite food is - gruffalo crumble!"

"Gruffalo crumble!" The Gruffalo said,
And quick as the wind he turned and fled.
It's clever, the rhyme is charming, the story is engaging with a little element of fear (depending on how you read it!), and the illustrations are great.

(There is also a sequel - The Gruffalo's Child, which is my opinion is good, but not as good as the orginal)

Married for God - Chapter 3

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Chapter 3: What is the point of having children?

Ash sets out over the next few chapters to expand on the Christian reasons for marriage, which he outlined in Chapter 2:
  1. Children rather than barrenness: sex is in order to have children, and children are a good thing.
  2. Faithfulness rather than selfishness: sex is for faithful intimacy, and intimate relationship is a good thing.
  3. Order rather than chaos: marriage guards sexual desires from destroying society, so that society does not descend into social chaos. (p30)
If asked for the reasons for marriage, would you come up with these?

In short, children are a blessing, not a curse. They are a gift from God and we need to be always open to having children. Ash suggests that if you do not want children, or if you view them as a curse, you should not get married.

Do you talk with engaged couples about whether they want to have children, and why?
Of course, a child may be an inconvenient blessing. A child will usually be an expensive blessing. A child may and often will be a blessing that takes us outside of our comfort zones and into the arms of grace. A child is usually a blessing that will be accompanied by sleepless nights and many tears. But he or she is a blessing and we must not forget this. (p57)
I found this statement really helpful, it wasn’t all “yes kids are wonderful, of course you should have children”. It was an acceptance of the realities of life with children, but still an insistence with they are a blessing. We often think this ourselves – yes, they are wonderful, yes, we are so glad we have them; but it’s really hard work at times.

In addition, we don’t just have children because they fulfil our desires or because it is expected of us, we do it with the intention of raising them to serve God.

Ash goes on to discuss three issues relating to children:

1. Is it right to deliberately not have children?

He says, categorically, no. Children are a blessing from God, and therefore a lifestyle choice not to have them (or open to having them) is not an option for Christian couples.

What do you think about this?

2. What if we cannot have children?

For those of us who cannot have children, we should grieve that loss, and the real pain that it brings:
The pain of childlessness is a unique pain… There is no date on which a couple become childless, no funeral anniversary on which to focus grief, no photograph or memory of the son or daughter who never was. (p58)
Fruitful service for a couple does not depend on having children. There are many ways loving service can be worked out in a marriage.

Do you talk about this possibility with engaged couples? Do you speak about “if you have children”, rather than “when you have children”? If this is your grief, how is your marriage serving God in other ways?

3. What about contraception?

This was a very brief segment, which I felt needed more. However, what he said was helpful:
The important thing with contraception is that it should be part of a lifetime together which is fundamentally turned towards the blessing of children, rather than turned against (p61).
Have you thought about the contraceptive methods you use and how they work? If you counsel engaged couples, do you talk about contraception with them?

We have just started doing this, I have prepared some information outlining the issues regarding contraception and we give it to couples when we first meet after they become engaged. We do not make suggestions as to what methods people use, but are raising issues that they might be unaware of. If you are interested in reading a little more about contraception, have a look at posts that Nicole and I have done previously on this topic (including the comments!)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Married for God - Chapter 2

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Chapter 2 – Married for a purpose

In this chapter, Ash seeks to answer the question “why did God make humans male and female?”

Going back to Genesis 1, Ash comes up with 4 reasons:
  1. We are made in the image of God. We have a unique dignity that plants and animals do not have.
  2. We are entrusted with a unique privilege. We are to fill the earth.
  3. We are created male and female. We are to use this to care for God’s world.
  4. We are to rejoice in our creator – thankful dependence on God and cheerful obedience to his command.

He sums up these 4 with this motto: marriage is sex in the service of God. He is clear to point out that ‘sex’ is shorthand for “the marriage relationship in all its fullness: in intimacy, friendship, partnership, fun and faithfulness”. (p33)

Do you agree with his motto that marriage is “sex in the service of God”?

He thinks that this is misunderstood in 2 ways, both which are self-centred. Marriage either becomes “sex for the fulfilment of me” or “sex in the service of us”. Marriage is not to meet my needs, or to assuage my loneliness, rather marriage is for serving God.
we were not made to gaze forever into the eyes of another human being and find in him or her all we need… We need to replace this selfish model of marriage with one in which we work wide by side in God’s ‘garden’ (that is, God’s world), rather than gaze for ever into each other’s eyes. (p42-3)
How easily does your marriage revert to “sex in the service of us”?
How do you try to prevent it?
It is too easy for Christians to think of marriage as a discipleship-free zone. So that outside of marriage we talk about sacrifices, taking up our cross and so on. But inside marriage we just talk about how to communicate better, how to be more intimate, how to have better sex, how to be happy. (p40)

Do you fall into this trap in your own marriage? How can you encourage one another to godliness rather than self-fulfilment?

How might you encourage couples to model their marriage on serving God, rather than each other?

Ash finishes the chapter stating that, because of the fall, we must always remember that God does not just want more people on earth, but he wants people transformed by the gospel who have been saved by his grace. The service of God must include as a priority proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

How does your marriage help to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

I'm not sure that I know anyone that didn't grow up reading this book! A classic since published in 1969, it has sold over 30 million copies.*

It teaches the days of the week, counting to 5, types of food and the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly - and it's fun because you can poke your fingers through the pages! We can all recite it from memory in our house.

I love books that you remember reading as a child, that remain just as popular when you want to read them to your own children.

One recommendation - get the board book, perfect for baby and toddler hands.

* Source - Wikipedia.

Married for God - Chapter 1

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Chapter 1 – A word about baggage and grace

I found it fascinating that he started the book here. Upon reflection, it made perfect sense – we have to understand & accept the grace of God, and his forgiveness, in dealing with our sexual pasts before we can think clearly about God’s plan for marriage. However, it’s a hard chapter to start with, and I suspect, personally challenging for many readers (especially engaged couples). To turn the page and see in bold writing, The bible speaks to those whose sexual pasts are spoiled (p21) – was certainly getting right to the point!

Unless you are a committed Christian, I suspect starting at this point would get a lot of readers offside. Now he is clear he is writing this book for Christians. But even, so, I wondered if it might have been helpful to at least discuss why sexual sin is a problem and why it affects so much of one’s self. As we talked in our group about why sexual sin seems to be so hard to move on from, we came up with this:
  • Sexual intimacy is so personal and intimate
  • In Christian circles, there is a stigma attached to sexual sin, more so than most other areas of sin
  • We tend to be more open about struggles in other areas, but not about sexual struggles
  • If it’s willing intimacy, there has been a deliberate decision to sin at each time
  • If it’s unwilling intimacy, there are also issues of abuse of trust and betrayal
  • Amongst many (Christians and almost all non-Christians) – there is a denial of it even being sinful, or a deliberate attempt to justify behaviour (‘it felt good’, ‘we are in love’, etc)

He makes it clear that all struggle in this area, from some degree or another:
Personally, we have our own histories of sexual experience or inexperience; of hopes fulfilled or deferred; of longing or aversions; of fulfilment or frustration; of fears, anxieties, delight, regrets. What we have done or not done, how we have been treated or mistreated by others; all these things shape what we believe. (p20)

The three things he talks about are:
  • The bible speaks to those who sexual pasts are spoiled (eg. the church at Corinth)
  • Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and restoration to those with spoiled sexual pasts (eg. John 8:11)
  • God’s grace enables us to live lives of purity (1 Cor 6:9-11)

As I re-read this chapter, I wonder if the reaction one has to it, is a good indicator of one’s heart about their own sinfulness in this area. If one reads it, thankful and rejoicing that they are forgiven and that God offers grace, even in this area – they have acknowledged their sin and are aware of its danger. However, if one reads it and is outraged or offended, perhaps they do not truly believe they have sinned. This could have important implications for pre-marriage counselling, or our own ability to move beyond & deal with our own past.

One final interesting discussion we had was this: do we need to stop assuming (if indeed we do assume) sexual purity (or virginity) in young Christians? Research suggests that more teenagers are having sex at a younger age, with 14-16 year-olds regularly involved in sexual activity. As we minister to a generation of youth and young adults, who have had minimal Christian input and are living in a highly sexualised culture – do we need to be more open and honest about the bible’s teaching on sexual purity, and about the risks to physical, emotional & spiritual health that result from sex outside of marriage? Have you thought about this and what have you done?

Some things to think about:
  1. Did it also surprise you that this was the topic of the first chapter?
  2. How hard is it to trust in God’s grace when thinking about sexual sin? Why?
  3. Do you need to be reminded of God’s grace in dealing with your or your husband’s sexual past?
  4. How could you include dealing with this in the marriage-preparation that you do with engaged couples?
  5. How do you address the issues of sex, sexual sin and purity to the youth and young adults that you minister to?

On Wednesday: Chapter 2 – Married for a purpose

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Uncommon Reader

The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett

Thanks to Meredith's lovely review, I put this one on my 'to read' list and spent an enjoyable few hours on a day off reading it. It's a lovely short read, unlike the larger books I usually prefer - which makes it a good choice when you have a day to yourself and a few cups of tea on hand.

One day the Queen stumbles across a mobile lending library on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Out of courtesy she borrows a book, which begins her discovery of the joy of the written word and a love of reading. Over time, her duties start to suffer and she manages to read while travelling to and from (and even while doing) numerous public events. Her aides become increasingly concerned and try to stymie her at various points.

Bennett has woven in references to many other writers and books, and whether or not you have read them all, anyone who reads generally will appreciate them. I also loved his writing, he has a very dry wit and it's lovely to read someone who uses humour cleverly and keeps it understated.

Well worth a read when you have a few hours to spare.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Married for God

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Married for God, Christopher Ash

Ash introduces Married for God explaining that he has not written a standard marriage book – which he terms as those which help you to get what you want out of marriage. Instead he says:
This book won’t help you with that sort of thing, because this book is about God more that it is about you and me. In some ways it would be easier to write a book of common-sense wisdom and practical advice about sex and marriage, glossing it with a Christian veneer. Instead, I want to start, continue and finish with God firmly at the centre. He is our Maker and he will be our Judge. We need to listen to him. (p14)

Ash states his goal is not to deal with the How? or What? questions of marriage – but rather Why?
If we get our aims clear, then we shall see why marriage has to be what it is, and we will be well placed to see how to build strong marriage. (p15)

So, his opening claim is that:
We ought to want what God wants in marriage. Or, to put it another way, God’s ‘Why?’ matters more than my ‘Why?’ (p15-6, emphasis in original)

When we ask what God wants, we are asking what is best for us. What is best for us is not what we want, but what God wants. (p17)
Ash asks that as we start reading, we repent of our previous attitude – what we want out of marriage, to seeking His will and goals for marriage.

So, what do you think?
Have your thought about what God wants from your marriage?
What His goal for it is?
Are you willing to investigate and find out?

Join us as we read about it together!

Next Monday: Chapter 1 – a word about baggage and grace.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Goodnight Moon

Preschooler Books:
Goodnight Moon
, Margaret Wise Brown

This lovely bedtime story, first published in 1947, was given to us as a gift when Mr 0 was born. It quickly became a favourite and was read almost every night before bedtime for close to 6 months.

It follows a bedtime ritual saying goodnight to things, in rhyme:
Goodnight room
Goodnight moon
Goodnight light and the red balloon...
It's very simple, but kids love it. There are details in the illustrations that you keep noticing over time, the time on the clock changes, the mouse & other items move around the room, the room slowly gets darker as night progresses.

This became our bedtime ritual for our kids when they were babies - a bible story, prayer, then Goodnight Moon. The lilting rhyme was the perfect tone to get ready for bed. Sometimes when they woke in the middle of the night, we would read it again, just to calm them down and reestablish the going to bed routine.

An oldy, but a goody.

Children's books

I have realised of late that we are leaving a stage behind us - the baby and toddler stage. And, while for me personally, there are some great joys in leaving such a stage behind (no nappies, no day sleeps, everyone can now speak and tell you what they would like, etc...).

However, there are some real sadnesses in leaving such a stage behind. For me, one of them will be the books that we have loved over this time. The books that have been lovingly read by all 3 kids over the last 7+ years. The books that are falling apart. The books that I have repaired just to keep them going a little longer. The books that I give to others as presents. The books that I want to keep reading. The books I want to pass on to others because I cannot bear to throw them away.

So, I thought I'd start a series of baby, toddler and preschooler books. Some may recall last year I did a series on our favourite children's authors. I probably won't double up too much with those, but we'll see, I may not be able to help it!

I will try post this series on Mondays.

Married for God

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Our next book series will be on Married for God, by Christopher Ash.

This book looks at marriage and how we should view it – from God’s perspective. I have read it this year with the same group of ministry wives who read Going the Distance with me last year, and we have enjoyed thinking about marriage from a slightly different perspective than usual.

As we review it here on in tandem, we will obviously be thinking about marriage in general, but also:
  • any particular application to ministry marriage, and
  • helpful things to consider when we speak to others about marriage (something many of us do in ministry, either in pre-marriage discussions or post-marriage pastoral care)
If you would like to join in our discussion here on in tandem, grab yourself a copy.

On Wednesday we’ll kick off with the introduction and a few general comments, before we dive into chapter 1 next Monday.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Stand in awe of God

Stand in awe of God

Did that feel like a lot? I suspect it did, it took all month to get through it! And I have not covered everything.

There is so much about God that we can stand in awe of.

Our God is worthy of our awe – he is truly awesome.

And because we know he is awesome, our awesome God, we will want to worship him with honour, glory and praise.

Let’s keep in our minds a very big picture of God.
  • Our God who is in heaven while we are on earth, our God who we can stand in awe of.
  • Our God who loved us so much that he created us & saved us and who wants us to call him Father.

We have a truly awesome God. Stand in awe.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stand in awe of God – he is our Father

He is our Father

God is all of these things – creator, redeemer, powerful, loving, judge – yet he is also personally involved in our lives. He is our heavenly father who loves us and cares for us. He knows you
  • he knows your personality – he made you that way
  • he knows your body – he created it
  • he knows your struggles – he helps you cope with them

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, (2 Cor 1:3)

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. (Phil 4:20)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stand in awe of God – he is trustworthy

He is trustworthy
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7b)

"Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the LORD, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." (Isisah 25:9)

Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:4)

But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13)

Support Networks – conclusion

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Support Networks – conclusion

I hope you have been encouraged to value the support networks you are a part of. Or, perhaps you have been convinced again of the value of supporting one another in a life of ministry.

If you have read all this and still don’t know what to do – perhaps consider making the first move yourself. If you want a support network, set one up – you may be surprised just how keen others are.

Some ministry contexts are extremely isolating and it seems like there is no-one to turn to. If you feel like that, do pray that God will provide you with the support you crave, and that he will sustain you in the meantime.

And in all things, no matter how wonderfully supported you are, or how lonely you feel in ministry, can I encourage you to look to our heavenly Father, the God of all comfort, for your true support.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stand in awe of God – he is faithful

He is faithful
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. (Deut 7:9)

For the word of the LORD is right and true;
he is faithful in all he does. (Ps 33:4)

I will sing of the LORD's great love forever;
with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself. (Ps 89:1-2)

... let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:22-23)

Support Networks – for your family

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Support Networks – for your family

We have spent the last few weeks thinking about the support networks available to us as ministry wives.

For a moment, let’s also think about two other kinds of support networks which we can encourage.

1. Support networks for our husbands

Our husbands often have the some opportunities for support that we do. There are groups they can join, co-workers they can meet with, etc. However, in all the work that has to get done sometimes establishing and maintaining such networks can fall by the wayside. Let’s encourage our husbands to use the support around them, or to seek out another network. Let’s ensure they have the time to do so. I have been delighted when my husband has decided to meet with another man in ministry, just to pray, encourage and keep one another accountable (not to plan and organise!). I am happy for him to be late home that day, because I know there are great benefits to such support for him.

2. Support networks for our children

Some ideas may be:
  • Remember regular fellowship is a support network for your kids (Sunday school, youth group, etc). They need ‘normal fellowship’ with other non-ministry kids just like we need normal fellowship with non-ministry wives.
  • Be open to your kids getting fed in a church that is not yours. One ‘ministry-kid’ (now grown & a ministry-wife herself) said to me how much she appreciated her parents letting her go to a youth group at another church because there were no other kids at her church. She says “Retrospectively, I can appreciate that it wouldn't have been an easy thing to do, but I'm very thankful that they did it.”
  • If you are part of a staff team spend time with whole families, and let all the children get to know each other. On our staff team, the kids love seeing each other as much as the grown-ups do. This also provides opportunities for mentoring and modelling among children and youth. My kids like spending time with the babies and toddlers and they look up to the 10-15 year-olds, who in turn look after them and look up to the 18-22 year olds.
  • Consider a ‘pen-friend’ network. A friend who is taking a young child on the mission field is considering setting up pen-friends so that they remain in touch with other children. In these days of facebook and online blogs, it’s very easy to post video messages and send emails to one another.
  • Keep in touch with other friends in ministry. A lot of our friends from college still all meet together each year, both at a mission conference and at a weekend away. Every year those children see each other, are taught the bible together and have lots of fun together. They have known each other for 10 years and as long as their parents make the events a priority, they will continue to grow up together. What an incredible blessing. These kids will always know lots of people in full-time ministry and lots of other kids like them.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stand in awe of God – he is merciful

He is merciful
For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath. (Deut 4:31)

Yet he was merciful;
he forgave their iniquities
and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger
and did not stir up his full wrath. (Ps 78:38)

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him (Dan 9:9)

Support Networks – what do you do together?

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives

Support Networks – what do you do together?

We have looked at reasons to be part of a support network (1, 2, & 3) and we have looked at the various types of support networks you might be involved in (including personal, groups, formal, online).

There is one more thing to consider: What should you do when you meet together?

Here are some thoughts (which apply more to the personal and group networks)

1. Pray. Share prayer points certainly, but also make sure you actually pray for each other. This should probably be the main part of time together.

2. Read God’s word. This could be a large or small part of your time together, but it should be included. Some groups might choose to work through parts of the bible together, working out what it means and how it applies to them – just like a bible study. Other groups might have a reading together or just a few verses to ponder.

3. Model and mentor, encourage and be accountable (these were the reasons to have a support network). Let’s make sure when we meet together we actually do these things, rather than just have a chat.

4. Work through issues together that are unique to ministry wives. This may be the only forum you have to talk about what it means to be a ministry wife – use it for that purpose. Look at parts of the pastoral epistles together, read books together and talk about how all these things are practically worked out for you.

5. Spend time together socially. If you really want a support network to work, make time to also become friends. Go out for coffee, get together with the families, go away together.

6. Care practically for each other. Help when they are sick, provide meals, offer babysitting, remember birthdays. Become their Christian family.

If you are a new group, it may feel awkward trying to get going. You could start by reading an article or book together to break the ice.

There are a couple of things to beware of when meeting together:

1. Gossip. We have more knowledge about people that almost anyone else in the church. We must not ever abuse that power by sharing information about other people or betraying confidences inappropriately.

2. Whingeing or bitterness. While we should be supporting one another through the hard times, we must not let our times together become sessions of complaint. If you find that you are always complaining about the elders, the parish council, or your housing – be prepared to ban those topics with each other unless you can speak with more respect.

What are some things we can do to help an existing network function better?
  • Be honest with each other. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Once one person opens up, others are likely to follow.
  • Spend time focusing on thankfulness (this will work as an antidote to whingeing or bitterness, mentioned above).
  • Share answers to prayer with each other (unless you have a fantastic memory, you will want to record prayer points so you can remember your own and follow others up).
  • Be open to new people joining your group. You don’t want to be closed but welcoming. Let them know they are welcome and you are happy to have them there. It’s hard to arrive as the new person into a well established group.
  • Be wise with what you share & sensitive with how you share it. If you are part of a group whose husbands are on the same team, you would not talk about the frustrations your husband has with others on the team.
As we have said previously, we want to encourage each other and keep each other accountable, modelling godliness as we meet together.