Wednesday, September 17, 2014

in fear, for his glory

This post is, oh, only about 3 months out of date. But hey, a lot has happened since I wrote it. Anyhow, here it is.

In a month or two I will be giving my first conference talk.

I feel a bit like Paul, if you will allow me to rip a verse out of context: "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling" (1 Cor 2:3).

Except in my case the fear and trembling come from less godly motivations. I want to succeed. I want this event to succeed. I want to impress people. I want them to like, respect, admire me. I could go on - I'm a type A person! My ambitions are boundless! - but I'd embarrass myself (like I already haven't) and you, too.

My gut clenches; my mind hazes over. People say, "You'll be great!" - my mother, who's not at all one-sided, plus a few faithful friends who have far more respect for me than I deserve - and all I can think is, "Now there's further to fall!". I remind myself that it's a small conference among friends; but it doesn't really help.

There's just one thing that helps. It's one of my favourite Bible passages, Philippians 2:1-11. It keeps coming into my head, driven by the Spirit. When I feel the fear welling up, I repeat to myself (and yes, this is pretty much the 1984 version of the NIV, 'cos my brain is stuck there):
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit ...
Selfish ambition. Vain conceit. Sums up the worst of my motivations quite nicely.

And the alternative:
...but in humility consider others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but to the interests of others. You attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.

Putting others' interests above my own. Valuing them more than myself. Doing this for their sake, not mine.

And then the model, Jesus Christ:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being found in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name ...
This isn't about me. It never was. It's about me laying down my life for the sake of others. And if, in the process, I get cold toes and a wriggly tummy, well, that's a small price to pay.

I just pray I can forget myself and serve others for the sake of Christ. Not for my own glory, but for his:
... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)
For his glory.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

grace-shaped womanhood: my talk on Titus 2

Well, I've done it! My very first conference talk. And I had a lot of fun too. :)

My talk was on Titus 2, and it was at our inaugural T2 Women's Conference. You can listen to it here, along with Belinda Grant's talk from Titus 3:

T2 Women.

Just click on the link under "age into a sage".

Monday, September 8, 2014

this is life now

The days are long and hard. It is not easy to be pulled out of your ordinary life - your work, your ministry, your taken-for-granted health - and put in the middle of every day, all day sickness, on top of the many demands of daily life, sadness, and fear for the future. There is so much loss and so many changes to adjust to, for all of us.

Yet there are also blessings. This beautiful Spring weather. The sunshine. Our love for each other. Those who care and pray for us. God's incredibly comforting word. The knowledge that our Father is in control and he is good. And Jesus, who has walked this path before us and for us.

Thank you for your prayers, friends. Please keep praying for hope and healing.

And if you want regular updates, you can find them at Pray for Steve

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

what's been happening

Hi all! You may remember I told you that Steve was sick during our bi-annual holiday. He continued to get worse after we got home. We found out two weeks ago that he has a rare cancer of the duodenum (upper small bowel).

Three weeks ago, he was admitted to hospital, and since then life has been a surreal procession of tests, waiting for results, and processing the kind of news no one wants to hear. Each piece of news was worse than the last – mass? lymphoma? adenocarcinoma? – until the day we got the good news that the scan showed no visible secondaries.

We grieved together, prayed together, wrote our wills, and told our children.

There have been many hard days: the days when we anxiously waited for results, the days we grieved the bad news, the days we began to think about what that will mean, the days I sat and watched Steve in pain and vomiting endlessly, and now, the slow days of recovery after surgery.

But the hardest day, for me, was the day of Steve’s operation.

The surgeons had no idea what they could do until they opened him up. They thought they would need to do a “whipple” – major surgery involving removal of part of the pancreas and stomach and complicated re-plumbing of the bowel. They feared they would have to do a bypass, leaving the tumour intact and rejoining the bowel around it.

I have never prayed so long and so hard in my life (I am ashamed to say that, but it’s true). I lay in bed – I had no energy to do anything else – and stared out at the rain, and prayed and prayed and prayed.

The surgeon rang at 1.24 pm with the news: they were able to do a duodectomy (removal of part of the duodenum) instead of the larger whipple. They removed the tumour successfully. There were no visible secondaries. I gave my children (all sick at home) a thumbs-up, and we gave thanks to God.

Now Steve is recovering from major surgery, which means nausea and weakness and mental disorientation and pain. I’ve spent most of the last three weeks by his bedside. My mother is looking after our kids, who are coping well – except for Andy, our eight-year-old, who misses his mum.

Already there has been loneliness (it is hard when the person you usually depend for comfort is so sick, at the very time when you need comfort most) and grief and fear. There have been times when I haven’t even wanted to talk to God, and other times when it has been hard to believe he loves us. I am living in the Psalms, and clinging to him as well as I can. Truly I can say that God is my refuge. “I sing in the shelter of his wings” (Psalm 63:7).

We await pathology and oncology and all the ongoing uncertainty that goes with a cancer diagnosis. Soon, we will begin to hear more about statistics and prognoses. I am praying for another 25 years with Steve. I am praying we will trust God whatever he wills for us. It is God who numbers our days, not statistics and prognoses. We are in his loving hands.

I feel afloat on an ocean of prayer. We are surrounded by people who support and help us. I have set up a Facebook page where I post daily prayer points. If you would like to pray with and for us, you can "like" this page: Pray for Steve.

Friday, August 1, 2014

memory of fallen times

To know that
evil is mortal,
that it dies with this earth,
and will fade like a smudge
into brief
memory of fallen times
– if remembered at all,

one must
first feel fast-bound
in strangler-roots,

which takes time,
and strength of all kinds,
harm, and the death of hopes.

Then one must see evil everywhere,
and understand its power,
and fetch,
and stench;
how it sits like a toad
in a stone
inside the soul,
inside the bone.

fall down
of terror, and fear,
and sadness,
bored out for all
who look unblinking into such things.

And run weeping to Jesus,
then flee,
then back, then flee
and back again,
until knowing
no other place to flee.

Only then,
as buds urge through hardwood,
or like brief snatches
of new breeze in spring,
know evil is mortal
and ends with this earth
in future phenomena
of dying and birth,
and will fade like smudge
into brief memory
of fallen times,
if it is remembered
at all.

- David Hastie.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

what I'm reading: walking through suffering

We are facing a very hard time at the moment. I will tell you more about it another time, but please keep us in your prayers.

This morning I read these words in Tim Keller's Walking with God through pain and suffering. They were just what I needed to hear:
Suffering is something that must be walked through. We are to meet and move through suffering without shock and surprise, without denial of our sorrow and weakness, without resentment or paralyzing fear, yet also without acquiescence or capitulation, without surrender or despair.

Adversity is like a fire that, rather than destroying you, can refine, strengthen, and beautify you, as a forge does with metal ore. The fire "tries" to destroy the metal put into the fire but only succeeds in making it more pure and beautiful. Like fire working on gold, suffering can destroy some things within us and can purify and strengthen other things.

Or not. It depends on our response. The fiery furnace does not automatically make us better. We must recognize, depend on, speak with, and believe in God while in the fire. God himself says that he will be with us, walking beside us in the fire. Knowing him personally while in our affection is the key to becoming stronger rather than weaker in it.

Tim Keller, Walking with God through pain and suffering, 226-9

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

book review: Invest your suffering

Every writing pastor seems to put out a book on two themes. One is marriage. Another is suffering. Judging from the prologues, the process goes something like this: they give a sermon series. It's popular (who isn't interested in these topics?). They turn the series into a book.

It can be hard to know which book on suffering to read, since there are so many. If you were to look over the recently published books on the topic, which one would you choose? I've read a fair few,* and my top pick would definitely be Paul Mallard's unassuming little book Invest Your Suffering. This book is ideal both for those preparing for suffering, and (a harder audience!) for those who are suffering.

I'd never heard of Invest Your Suffering, or of Paul Mallard, when I was asked to review it. I wasn't sure if I had time. I read one chapter in the dentist's waiting room (for me) and others between ongoing doctors' visits (for my chronically ill son). I didn't regret it. It came at a time when I needed it, and it met me in my need.

One of the things I love about Invest Your Suffering is that it doesn't aim for great things. You won't find some clever new theological perspective on suffering (thank goodness!). It's not long and exhaustive (for that, turn to Don Carson or, more recently, Tim Keller). It's readable, honest, and heart-felt. It's really just an exploration of some of the ways God's word meets us when we suffer, from the pen of a pastor long experienced in suffering.

In some ways, this book is a love story. It's about Paul Mallard's wife Edrie, who suffers from a painful and debilitating neurological condition, and the difficult stages of their journey. But it is less about their love - although that shines through the pages - than it is about God's love. Mallard states his goal here:
In the course of this book, we will engage with some of the great Bible passages that have brought light into Edrie's and my darkest moments. (p. 22)
Each chapter opens with a scene from their story and the hard questions it raised for them, then unpacks a truth about God that helped them at this time. This is not a systematic book, but a pastoral and exegetical one. As I read, I felt like I was sitting in Mallard's congregation, listening to him speak; or in his living room, talking with him and his wife.

Invest your suffering opens by inviting us to choose how we will respond to suffering. Will it make us better or bitter? Mallard says, "The right response is a deliberate and reasoned decision to trust" (p. 22), and the rest of his book is an invitation to this "reasoned trust".

The second chapter addresses how we think about our trials. Mallard shows how damaging false views of suffering can be, and how much more deeply a true understanding can help us. If you're looking for a clear, brief, biblical summary of God's sovereignty in suffering - the idea that he is the "first cause", and what that means - you'll find it here. 

Then it's into the body of the book, and the Bible passages and truths that helped Mallard and his wife. Open my copy of the book and you'll find six chapters circled on the contents page. These are the that spoke most deeply to me:
  • trusting God when we can't understand his purposes
  • learning to number our days
  • turning to God when we run out of answers
  • suffering prepares us to minister to others
  • only the cross of Christ helps when we are in emotional or physical pain
  • suffering moves us to long for heaven. 
I hope I've whetted your appetite for more!

When I read books, I hunt for the "gold": quotes that may help me or others. In this book, it was the sentences that made the book sparkle. Here are a few I collected along the way:
Praise God and keep taking the tablets. (p. 32)

We walk by faith, not by explanations. We don't have to understand everything God is doing in order to trust him. (p. 38)

We come to God with our broken hearts, and, without pausing, he continues to conduct the symphony of the stars while sweeping us into his arms and whispering that he loves us and that all is well. (p. 44)

God loves us and is too wise to make mistakes and too kind to cause us unnecessary pain. (p. 48)

Please don't tell me that Christians shouldn't grieve. (p. 56)

God has crushed us so that we can minister out of our pain. (p. 87)

Suffering is the best commentary on God's character, and pain is the finest exposition of his excellencies. We discover more about God's grace when we come to the end of ourselves. You will never know that God is all you need, until God is all you have. (p. 136)

When Edrie wept in the darkness and I wept with her, the Saviour was near, carrying us both on his heart and presenting us to his Father. (p. 152)

The main question we needed to ask was not 'why?' but 'how?'. How can we bring glory to God in the midst of 'attacks' which have all but robbed us of the day? (p. 156)
The book has few faults. I was a little alienated by some of the language (that we can "choose to overcome" and "triumph in the midst" of our pain - although Mallard, if anyone, has a right to say this) and by a couple of the chapters (on giving thanks, and on the benefits of suffering - they felt a little glib to me). Yet the vast majority of the book was sympathetic, sensitive, and open about the agonising questions aroused by suffering.

Here's a typical passage that is worth the price of the book alone:
There was one truth that, for me, stood head and shoulders above the others. It was the fact of the love of God demonstrated in the sacrifice of his Son at Calvary. I lived in the Gospels, and particularly John's Gospel. I read it on my knees. I prayed it. I preached it. As I did these things, Jesus became more and more precious for me. Looking at his love and the suffering he experienced for me helped me to look beyond the apparent meaninglessness of our suffering to see that, at the heart of the Godhead, is a Saviour who knows and feels and sympathizes with our suffering. (p. 149)
Would I recommend this book to those who suffer? Definitely. Not many books are helpful and readable when you're in the furnace. But Mallard's honesty about his pain and doubt, his clarity of thought, and his pastor's heart, make this a good choice for someone who is suffering. By the end you will feel like you have traveled with this godly man and his wife on their hard journey, and drunk deeply with them of the life-giving water of God's word.

* I recently began, and am thoroughly enjoying, Tim Keller's new book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Highly recommended.

Monday, July 21, 2014

online meanderings

When God seems silent

Whole house reveal - How to truly makeover a house. Love it!

10 things missionaries won't tell you

4 questions to keep close to your wallet

The perfect family - An honest, haunting story about a family full of needs.

6 ways your phone is changing you

How to understand Revelation - Brilliant!
If you only choose to praise the Lord when you’re healthy, comfortable and enjoying life, you’re going to spend a lot of your existence grumbling and questioning God's love and goodness. Paul Tripp

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to scripture, faith and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated. - Don Carson

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).        

Thursday, July 17, 2014

thoughts on an imperfect holiday

Hi, friends! We're back from 2 weeks' holiday. We spent the first week at a conference for our uni Christian group, and last week at the beach at Apollo Bay.

There were many lovely moments:

- a wild wind blowing spray backwards from the waves
- the golden lights of evening on the harbour
- seeing the world "like a bird does" (as Thomas said) from the lookout
- sampling the best coconut ice cream ever
- jogging and walking along the beach.

Steve was sick throughout our holiday (he's had a rough year). In the end, he had to take anti-nausea medication. He's still sick - he's now on medication for gastritis - but he made it down to the beach a couple of times. I did my best to look after him, and help the kids to have a good holiday.

I used to think holidays had to be perfect. I'd try to capture that mood where body and mind are at peace, and there's nothing to disturb the feeling. It's not something you can get just by wanting, so I spent every holiday in a state of nagging disappointment.

There were also holidays of teary exhaustion because none of my babies ever slept away from home. And the time I fractured a bone in my foot (I was trying to put a piece of tomato down my brother's back at the time, so at least it was in a good cause). And the plague year when I discovered an allergy to midge bites. Yup, holidays aren't perfect.

I have learned to be thankful for imperfect holidays. Watching the kids splash in the freezing water in their wetsuits. Sitting with my daughter in a cafe, both sipping on spiced chai. A family game of Cluedo. I don't care if I'm sitting on a lump of hard sand, or the kids are bickering; I love moments like those.

We're taught to idolise holidays. We post photos of beaches on Facebook - #it'sahardlife - and wait for the "likes!" that hide our friends' envy. We work and save all year for a week at a resort. We're always in search of the perfect experience - the perfect location - the perfect rest. Like all idols, this one is empty and unsatisfying.

Holidays are good. They're a gift of God for our refreshment. They renew us so we can serve him. They give us meaningful time with family and friends. But they're not yet heaven. In this world, they will often be marred by illness and injury and dissatisfaction. They will always, in some way, disappoint.

There's a better holiday coming - a perfect rest - one where there will be no midge bites or arguments or illness. A holiday only hinted at by those rare, perfect holiday moments. A holiday that will never come to an end.

I, for one, can't wait.

Monday, June 30, 2014

online meanderings

Learning to speak to yourself - I once thought that the psalms were sung by a fine choir in God’s throne room. Then I actually read them, and they sounded more like the words a street troubadour who encourages the participation of those around him. Now I find that they are simply spoken and sung everywhere: in the darkness of night, in the early morning, in all the details of everyday life. And there are a handful of psalms in which the psalmists speak to themselves ...

Stop faking spiritual maturity

4 ways to prepare for suffering now - These would top my list too.

4 reasons to sit near the front in church

The pointlessness of unplugging

for young men
Dear single dudes: it's time to man up

Letter to a potential boyfriend  

Growing older should grow faith, so that like Abraham, we look forward to the heavenly country, to the city built by God—the permanent city, the one with foundations (Hebrews 11:10, 13-16)—where we can be forever with our eternal, unchanging, wholly-satisfying Lord. Rebecca Stark

Healing is a good thing, but it remains entirely in God’s hands. We cannot force or demand it and it is not a benefit that we can earn or receive as a reward. Healing is a gift. There is no secret rite that will elicit its appearance, no magic formula that will sway the sovereignty of the giver. God will bless as he sees fit and in accordance with his own counsel and wisdom. Should he choose to bless you with this mercy, receive it with humility, thanksgiving and joyful praise. Should he choose to withhold this mercy, endure with humility, thanksgiving and joyful praise. - Scott Blackwell

To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).