Monday, May 18, 2015

learning to see

Gum tree by mathias shoots analogue, on Flickr
I’ve walked this path for ten years. I’ve looked at this tree a hundred times. I give it a mental nod as I go by, as I would a passing acquaintance. Yet I never really saw it, not till today.

Usually all I notice is the lower trunk, as fat as it is tall, dark and gnarled, knobbed with burls and fissures. In that strange alchemy of gum trees, the brown trunk gives way to white branches. They drag their weight over the path, crooked arms ending in broken fingers. A potbellied old man warming his bones in the sun.

This morning I see it differently. As I walk towards it, the sun sparkles off foliage and catches my eye, a cockatoo screams from above, and I look up, up, up into branches I didn’t know were there, long pale limbs raised to the sky, leaves flickering in a high breeze. The grace of a dancer, the strength of bone and sinew and toned muscle.

It strikes me that we are like this. Look at us, how we grow worn and weathered. That may be all you see of me, all I see of you. But if we belong to Christ, the high glory of what God is making us into is breathtaking. He is making us to be like his Son!

We see the skin: the teenager’s awkwardness, the middle-aged woman’s closed-off face, the old man’s irrelevance. He sees stumbling attempts at love, endurance of pain, a life’s faithfulness. We see the gouges and scars on the work in progress; he sees the emerging likeness and the finished glory.

Perhaps it’s time we learned to see with new eyes.

 image is by  mathias shoots analogue 

Monday, May 11, 2015

what I'm reading: learning surrender

One of the ways suffering shapes you is that it teaches you peace. It teaches you surrender. It teaches you to trust and accept God's will. It teaches you that his love and grace will always be there, no matter what.

After four years of fighting God over my son's chronic illness - of asking him, "Why?" - of crying out with bitterness, there was a night, etched deep in my memory, when I reached the bottom of the well, that dark place where there's nothing left but surrender. And with that surrender came peace.

And so, when my husband Steve was diagnosed with cancer, there was something in me that accepted it. The day I heard, I felt angry at God - I don't deny it. But it took much less time for me to reach a place of surrender. I have seen God's love in the hardest places. It is strong, and it is real. And so I can submit myself more gladly to his will.

Which is all by way of introduction to this quote, from a women who suffered two miscarriages, and then, years later, another two. Here's what she says:
We tried again and miscarried—my fourth miscarriage during six years of marriage. My response during those days was quite different from the first two. I was sobered. I knew I didn’t have control—I couldn’t make a baby be born—and I was surrendered to that fact.
I was also at peace. I had spent the last few years preparing for another trial, and God’s promise stood true:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4: 6-7).
Surrendering to the Lord, crying out for help, and thanking him for what I did have proved to bring me great peace. God also tells us that the mind set on him will be given peace, because that person trusts the Lord (Is. 26:3). The Lord was faithful to fulfill these promises. I was at peace because he had given me peace. I was at peace because Jesus was enough for me.
Can I encourage you not to be scared of suffering? Yes, it is terrible, and it hurts horribly. But God will be there for you. You may not see it straight away; it may take years for you to see it; but it is true. His will is good. His grace is enough. He walks with us. He shelters us. And nothing and nobody can separate us from his love for us in Jesus. Be at peace.

You can read the full article by Trillia Newbell at Christianity Today.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

contentment (4) the heart of contentment

I once heard an advertisement on the radio. It went like this (you’ll have to imagine the broad Aussie accent):
I want the kids to go to good schools. I want great holidays in exotic places. I want a comfortable retirement for me and the missus. And you know what? I’m making it happen!
I must admit I tuned out at that point, but my guess is he was advertising some kind of investment portfolio.

Do you hear what this guy is saying? He’s convinced he needs three things to be happy:
  • Significance: the kind to be found in good schools and good careers
  • Satisfaction: exotic holidays and unique experiences
  • Security: enough superannuation to guarantee a comfortable retirement.[1]
Money, he thinks, is the key to all these things.

The problem is that, like most of us, he’s looking for contentment in all the wrong places. He’s like God’s people in these words from Jeremiah ... one of the saddest passages in the Bible ...

Read the rest at TGC Australia.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

online meanderings

How to practice a gospel-centred spirituality - So rare to read something this good on spiritual disciplines.

Being a woman in a frightening world - The author does a good job balancing caution and trust.

Loving Chinese migrants - Some great tips.

Waiting to awaken love - On keeping sexual desires in check.

Love in a time of chronic fatigue - With a son who suffers chronic fatigue and finds church hard, I appreciated this post.

Falling in love with Leviticus - 4 things that happen when you study Leviticus for more than 10 years.
Many of us who wouldn't dream of viewing God's Word in a false or distorted way, think nothing of viewing God's world in a false or distorted way. - David Murray

There is an ultimate harvest, a tree of life whose fruit we will taste on the last day when our waiting finally comes to an end with the return of the bridegroom to claim his bride. On that day, our cold and wandering hearts will finally be transformed and made whole. We shall behold the loveliness of his form with our own eyes. On that day, our joy will be complete. Iaian Duguid
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).   

Monday, May 4, 2015

what I'm reading: preparing for death

The day of death is the greatest day that a Christian can ever experience in this world because that is the day he goes home, the day he walks across the threshold, the day he enters the Father's house.
You won't find a shelf labelled "death" at your local Christian bookstore. Have a look, and tell me if I'm wrong. My guess is that you'll find shelves marked "marriage" and "prayer", but probably not a section on dying.

Your local Puritan bookstore (if there was such a thing) would have been different. You'd find plenty of books on marriage and prayer - the Puritans were great practical theologians - but there'd also be a shelf labelled "dying well". And that's not because they were gloomy do-gooders, as the stereotype goes, but because they were wise and happy realists.

We could do with more modern Christian books on death. Not just on the practical aspects of dying or the stages of grief, but on how to "do death well", with faith and hope and courage. Death is something we will all come to. It's scary and overwhelming, and it would be good for us to know how to prepare for it.

And so I'd like to recommend RC Sproul's Surprised by suffering: a book about suffering with a particular focus on death. Despite the topic, it's not dreary or depressing, but joyful and uplifting. I suggest you read it now. Don't save it for the time you need it, when you may not be able to read at all.

To encourage you today, and to whet your appetite for more, here's a brief sample:
We have considered suffering as a vocation. Dare we think of death as a vocation, too? ... Every one of us is called to die ... Sometimes the call comes suddenly and without warning. Sometimes it comes with advance notification. But it comes to all of us. And it comes from God. ...

Because of Christ, death is not final. It is a passage from one world to the next. ...

The valley of the shadow of death is a valley where the sun's rays often seem to be blotted out. To approach it is to tremble. We would prefer to walk around it, to seek a sage bypass. But men and women of faith can enter that valley without fear ...

God will not send us where He refused to go Himself ...

The valley of the shadow of death is not a box canyon. It is a passageway to a better country ... The goal of the vocation of death is heaven itself. But there is no route to heaven except through that valley.

Quotes are from RC Sproul Surprised by suffering 39, 49-56.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

online meanderings

When fear seizes you - "When fear begins to creep in and all the “what-if” situations begin to consume your mind, here are seven things to remember ..."

Is it a sin to moralise the Old Testament? - Yay! to Peter Adam for writing this. About time someone said it.

The greatest gift is God himself - When God doesn't answer prayers for healing, what then?

Gifts and what they teach us - How gifts train us in humility and service.

Indigenous ministry - Now you see it, now you don't.

Do your laundry and engage the issues - Why working hard at home and at work doesn't mean closing your eyes to the world.

5 wise principles gleaned from a life of excellence - A story of cancer and the testimony of a life well lived.
O for a mind and will that need no more to quiet it than to know what is the will of God and our duty, and in every estate therewith to be content. - Richard Baxter

The gospel says, ‘Mourning does not have the final word. Healing does. Joy does.’ - Robert Kelleman
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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

contentment (3) what's so bad about discontent?

Last time we talked about how becoming content isn’t as simple as practising a set of techniques. ... Contentment requires change at the level of our hearts.

But if it’s that hard to be content, why bother trying? What’s so bad about discontent? ... 

Discontent is incredibly destructive. It ruins three things ...

You can read the rest at The Gospel Coalition Australia.

Monday, April 27, 2015

an app to help you pray

Nam Tso 10-09-2007 (6)High in the Himalayas, ropes bend along the mountain paths. They are hung with prayer flags: squares and strips of fabric like colourful handkerchiefs hung out to dry. The flags dance, toss their tails, grow ragged over the years, and scatter prayers and blessings to the winds.

Well, PrayerMate is no prayer flag. It won’t do the praying for you. It’s not a substitute for prayer; it’s a supplement to prayer. But it has been a great help to me in my prayer life ...

You can read the rest at GoThereFor.

Friday, April 24, 2015

contentment (2) the secret

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to feel content. I’d love to feel fulfilled. At peace. Like I’m not missing anything. I’d love to feel satisfied with my life.

And that’s exactly what contentment means. If you look in a modern dictionary, it means “happy” or “satisfied”. The word usually translated “contentment” in the New Testament means “enough”, “sufficiency”, or even “self-sufficiency”. Contentment means to be satisfied with what we have.

In his famous book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs goes a little deeper. He says,
Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to, and delights in, God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.
That’s a beautiful picture, isn’t it? Not to want more. Not to complain about our burdens. But to freely and gladly accept what God chooses to give us, at all times and in all places. Now that’s contentment.

But how do you get it? In Philippians 4:2, Paul says he learned the “secret” of being content in every circumstance. What’s the secret, the key that unlocks the door to contentment? Here’s what some people have to say ...

You can read the rest of this article at The Gospel Coalition

Thursday, April 23, 2015

online meanderings

Does Jesus really love me?

God's grace will find you, even in the shadow of death. 

Losing a baby; not losing my faith - A wonderful article.

In every marriage, there is already the seed of divorce - The question is what we will do with the seed.

You are on assignment from God - I like what he says about gifts and humility.

How should writers and editors work together? - As both a writer and an editor, I found this post helpful.
Everything that happens today has been filtered through the loving hand of a loving God. - Michael Kelley

Women are better served when they can admit, and when the men who love and shepherd them acknowledge, how difficult these much loved relationships and places are — and because of that, how hard God’s commands toward these relationships can be for us to obey ... It’s only in the gospel that we can face the hard places of our homes and relationships. - Kim Ransleben
To see more links and quotes, click here (Facebook) or here (Twitter).