Tuesday, April 15, 2014

online meanderings

“I’ll never make it to the end of the day ..." - Learn to talk back to yourself. Great stuff.

10 lessons from a hospital bed - Wonderful, and worth reading before this becomes a reality for you. John Piper.

Going for blood - The gospel's solution to self-harm.

For pastors' wives (and others) - "The Lord has helped me recognize that my greatest insecurity, fed by the enemy's accusation, is that I am a disappointment..."

Why am I struggling when my suffering seems so small? - Jenny brings us back to the gospel.

for parents:
A big family is (painfully) changing me - A fantastic post for anyone with 3 or more children.

Why your kids NOT being 'the best they can be' might be good for your family
Comparison is the thief of joy.

"I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." It is almost impossible to reproduce in English the emphasis of the original, in which no less than five negatives are used to increase the strength of the negation, according to the Greek idiom. Perhaps the nearest approximation is to render it, "I will never, no, never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee." In view of such assurance we should fear no want, dread no distress, nor have any trepidation about the future. At no time, under any circumstances conceivable or inconceivable, for any possible cause, will God utterly and finally forsake one of His own. Then how safe they are! how impossible for one of them to eternally perish! God has here graciously condescended to give the utmost security to the faith of believers in all their difficulties and trials. The continued presence of God with us ensures the continued supply of every need. AW Pink

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

what I'm reading: anxiety and the Burden Bearer

Prayer is God's great antidote to worry (Phil 4:6). But so often, we turn from prayer to something else. Ed Welch could be describing me here:
Too often I will begin to pray, then gravitate to the things that worry me, start trying to solve them, realize I am not really praying, and then decide to attend to the urgent matters and pray later.
Does that sound familiar? There are lots of ways I turn prayer into a personal fix-it session:
  • I spend the time thinking through my worries, trying to find solutions
  • I turn prayer into self-talk about my fears
  • I try and get myself into the right frame of mind before I pray
  • I stop praying so I can get on with my to-do list
  • I think God won't listen to me unless I get things right first.
But that's not really prayer. Prayer means we give up control, stop trying to fix things, and hand them over to God instead. And this doesn't come naturally, especially to us worriers, who are used to using our minds to imagine and head off every possible catastrophe:
Prayer is harder than we think ... To actually stop and pray is contrary to our sense that we must do something - and do it quickly ... Prayer is counterintuitive. It is the opposite of what we would normally think or do.
God doesn't just tell us to stop worrying and get on with praying. He reminds us that he is the great Burden Bearer:
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6-7) ...

We are carrying burdens we were never intended to carry alone ...

In an act that could never have been conceived by a human being, the King comes and beseeches us to lay our burden on him. ... He invites us to cast our burdens on him as we would cast burdens on an ox. ...

In one of the amazing paradoxes of the kingdom, when God takes our burdens and takes the position of a servant, he reveals our inability and his sufficiency. As such, he is exalted as the God of the mighty hand.
Prayer isn't about me trying to get my attitudes right, or talking myself out of my worries. It isn't, ultimately, about me at all: it's about God, my Father, the great Burden Bearer.

Prayer is coming to God, just as I am, and talking to him about where I'm at, right now. It's saying to God, "I'm worried, and I can't fix this. Please help me!". It's refusing to try and solve my fears, and giving them to him to carry instead.

I've got a long way to go, but I'm learning to do this. Will you join me?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

God's answer to anxiety from Psalm 131

Simone Richardson on Psalm 131:
A little child rests against his mother and doesn’t bother himself with big and difficult things. He doesn’t worry about how the mortgage is to be repaid. He isn’t thinking about where the next meal’s coming from. He’s not worried about the war in the middle east - or even the war next door. He doesn’t have to. Mum’s got those things sorted. He’s with her and that’s enough. The weaned child knows his place in the world. Nestled in to mum! Mum will sort things out. ...

We can be like kids who grew up in neglectful or abusive homes, who weren’t looked after properly. Kids like that, even after they’re put in safe and caring homes, they still find trust really hard. They can know in their heads that they’ll be looked after, but underneath there’s still this instinct to depend only on themselves. So they’ll steal food from the pantry and hide it under their beds. Just in case.

For many of us here who are Christians, that’s what we can be like. We know in our heads that Jesus reliable. That we can trust him. And we’ve decided to. But our hearts haven’t caught up yet, so we don’t rest against him. We nurture our worries - like a kid stashes food under her bed - imagining that we can stay in control of things that way.

One great theologian said that Psalm 131 takes the shortest time to read but the longest time to learn ...
You can read the rest here.

online meanderings

If I wrote the Bible

Things unseen - "How can a mother bear the loss of a child?"

The trap of doubt - Ed Welch on suffering and trust.

The widow's first laugh - It's true: happiness can be a balm in sorrow.

The fight against sadness - I have found many of these suggestions to be helpful.

Helping people to pray out loud - A wealth of practical tips from Carmelina Read.

for parents
I'm done making my kid's childhood magical and A mother's guide to raising pharisees

The best sex for life - Wendy recommends reading this 6 months into marriage.

Treasuring Christ when your hands are full - A book for mums by Gloria Furman.

The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant. - Dr. Who

Memorising Philippians is going slowly. I am eleven verses in and that little amount is pretty shaky. I have an appalling memory but I am not discouraged. When I do a bit of work on this it is pure joy and I'm not working to a deadline. - Meredith

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

psalm for the downcast (3)

Have you ever been burdened with sorrow or fear? You move through the world in a fog, and others' voices come to you as if from a distance. You wonder how they can be so carefree.

Sometimes, there's no lonelier place than a crowd.

I escape to solitude, grass below and a gum tree above. Twigs and bits of bark poke my legs. I stare at trees drawing lines on a slope striped with sun and shadow, a sky so lovely it hurts. I scribble words in my journal: "Oh, Father ...". It's good to write, but I want more.

How do you pray when your heart is heavy? Words seem inadequate. Hurt edges into bitterness. Perhaps the only word you can think of is "Help!" - and there are few better prayers. But you want more. You need, not your own words, but God's word. It has never felt so necessary.

I pull the Bible from my bag and open it to the psalms. I turn, not quite at random, to psalm 63 (someone once said it was helpful in times like this). I start reading a little earlier - psalm 61 will do. It astonishes me, as always, how the words give perfect shape to my need. I write them in my journal:
Hear my cry, O God.

From the ends of the earth I call to you.
I call as my heart grows faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
I sing in the shadow of your wings.

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
that you, O God, are strong,
and that you, O lord, are loving.
Two dot points form themselves in my mind:
  • he is strong
  • he is loving.
Those two things are all I need to know.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

(Excerpts are from Psalms 61-63.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

God’s gifts in suffering (8) Suffering teaches us to number our days

the winds of spring (365-99)All our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away…
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90:9-10, 12)
When you’re young, life seems long and full of promise. A young woman told me she hopes Jesus doesn’t come back till she’s experienced career, marriage, children. I remember thinking the same when I was eighteen. Life stretched ahead, and I wanted to see and do it all. Can you recall it? Standing at the brink, ready to plunge in?

As you get older, life sometimes seems very sharp and short. Family members become ill. Friends get divorced. Parents age. We go to more funerals. We grow weary of the long battle with sin. On the bad days, when another burden is added, we wonder if we can bear any more. The years that once seemed endless now speed past, and they are often full of pain.

Who is to say that we do not now see things more clearly? Like a flower of the field, we flourish and are quickly gone (Psalm 103:15-16). Life is vanity; it passes like a shadow; generations comes and go, and we are forgotten (Ecc 1:1-4; 6:12). Our days are filled with toil and trouble; they are soon ended, and we fly away (Psalm 90:10).

One of the great blessings of suffering – though perhaps not the most welcome – is that we come to see this more clearly. We’d rather be comfortable in this world, but suffering, mercifully, doesn’t allow it. We share this world’s groaning, and realize what has been clear to most people throughout history. Our hearts as well as our heads now know the truth: in the light of eternity, this life is a blip and a shadow.

This whispers to us of another truth: we are not made for this world. If we were, CS Lewis asked, would we not feel at home?1 Yet we don’t, except perhaps on the most sunshiny days, and even then we are haunted by incompleteness. Always, there is the longing for something more. We feel this acutely, for God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11).

Suffering fuels this longing. It takes us by the hand and says, “Look! There is something better!”. We hold so tightly to this world, but suffering loosens our grip. It reminds us that we’d better not store our treasures here, for they can and will be taken from us. It weans us from this life, and sets our hope on the life to come. And this hope will not disappoint us (Rom 5:5). We will open our eyes on a new creation. The morning is coming.

Have you seen it? Can you picture it? There it is: a golden city, so bright it would hurt your eyes if they, like the rest of your body, weren’t strong and new (Phil 3:21). In the heart of this city, God and the Lamb – the one we love, the one who died for us – sit on the throne. A river runs from the throne, its waters giving life. And look! There’s the tree of life, heavy with new fruit each month, its leaves healing hurts (Rev 22:1-5). Once more, God walks with us in the cool of the day; and this time we have no need to hide (Gen 3:8). Seeing him with open faces, we are at last like him (1 Cor 13:12; 1 John 3:2). Here there is no hint of sorrow, no mark of pain:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev 21:3-4).
It’s better than we knew it could be. We are home.

I read the words, “There will be no more tears…”, and tears run down my face. For this is our waiting time, our season of groaning, our period of exile (Rom 8:18-27; Phil 3:20; 1 Pet 2:11). We long for the day of Christ’s appearing (2 Tim 4:8). We yearn for our true country (Heb 11:16). We seek the things that are above (Col 3:1-4).

The other day, I was standing at the kitchen bench, cutting vegetables, when I noticed my hands were trembling. It was one of those times when the weight of a long struggle presses down, and you know your strength is not enough to carry you. In that moment, as he has so often before, the Spirit brought these verses to mind:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:16-18)

If there’s one thing suffering has taught me, it’s that we don’t really belong here. It has taught me to fix my eyes on the unseen. It has taught me to long and live for our true home.

Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev 22:20)

1. “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

online meanderings

7 ways God uses depression in the life of the pastor - Helpful for the rest of us too.

8 causes of spiritual dryness and discouragement 

Praise God for older women in the church

Is the age of the pastoral visit over? - Food for thought for those of us in pastoral leadership.

For dads
How pastors can care for their own children and 7 things a good dad says

For mums
The lie of a productive day

How to get good at something:
Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Viktor Frankl

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work,” Chuck Close scoffed. “A self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood,” Tchaikovsky admonished. “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too,” Isabel Allende urged. “You have to finish things,” Neil Gaiman advised aspiring writers. Grit and the secret of success

Something experts in all fields tend to do when they’re practicing is to operate outside of their comfort zone and study themselves failing. Joshua Foer

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

what I'm reading: "If condemnation and fears of judgement haunt you ..."

"If condemnation and fears of judgement haunt you ..." Do those words describe you? They describe me.

I often feel like I'm being judged by God, other people, or myself. But who is really accusing me? Ed Welch writes,
How can you discern the difference between the Devil's condemnation and the Spirit's conviction? How can you determine if you are in the bogus courtroom or the real one?

In the real courtroom:
  • you know your good deeds are not enough
  • your hope is in Christ alone for your deliverance
  • when convicted of sins, you are pointed past your sins and on to Christ
  • the last word is always hope.

In the Devil's counterfeit:
  • the attention is all on your sins
  • you stand and fall on your own behaviour
  • you are alone without an advocate
  • questions are raised about the extent of God's forgiveness...

Keep the basic rhythm of Scripture in mind: for every one look at your own sins, take ten looks at Christ.

Ed Welch Running Scared 220-223, bold type mine.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

catch up

It's been a while since I let you know how we're going, and how you can pray for us. The year started with me feeling rested and eager to get into things. But life has become more complicated since then. I guess I'll take this one person at a time ...

Steve got ill with what looked like flu 10 days ago. Two days later, he woke with red swelling up the side of his face, and couldn't give his Bible talk - unheard of, this close to the start of the uni year. It turned out to be erisypelas, a rare, serious infection of the skin that required injected penicillin. He's slowly recovering, but please pray for him, as we have some concerns about his ongoing health.
After a good start to the year, I am struggling. Things are better than last year: my anxiety has decreased, and I have learned much about trusting God in suffering. But it hasn't been easy, with sick people in the house, including me - we've had a nasty virus going round - and bearing the load of multiple school and doctor's trips while Steve's ill. I am so grateful to those who have cooked meals, shopped and cared for us - you know who you are!
Lizzy has had a good start to the year. She loves year 10, is doing year 11 Visual Communications, and has a good teacher putting her through her paces in Painting and Drawing. With all that practice, she's becoming very skilled. She is working her way through Couch to 5K with me - she's up to about week 5. See if you can recognise who this is in her portrait:
Ben isn't getting a whole lot better - three days of migraines a week - so it looks like we might have to go back to the pain team at the Children's Hospital. On the other hand, he manages his "everyday" headaches well, has been at school each day for at least 2 hours, and is keeping up with his work. He just started with a physio yesterday and she seems excellent.
Thomas is growing up. There's something I love about age 10 (have I said that before?). He seems a whole lot older, and is keen not to be lumped in with the "little boys" any more. Fair enough! He's learning to serve cheerfully around the house as he grows in responsibility.
Andy is 7, and we have to stop ourselves calling him "cute" (he is, so it's hard). It's lovely still having someone young enough to bounce around and get excited about events like the athletics carnival and multicultural day at school - even when I'm not (it's my 11th year of going, so I'm a little jaded). Here he is, dressed as an Aussie:

So that's life. It hasn't been an easy term. But God is good, and holds us in his hands. I am so thankful for the way he cares for us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

10 things to do while enduring suffering

Ed Welch:

1. Don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Pet. 4:12). The Son suffered, so do those who follow the Son. You will not be spared the sufferings that the world experiences, but you will participate in them, both for the world’s benefit and your own.

2. Live by faith, see the unseen (Heb. 2:2). Normal eyesight is not enough. Your eyes will tell you that God is far away and silent. The truth is that he is close—invisible—but close. He has a unique affection for fellow sufferers. So get help to build up your spiritual vision. Search Scripture. Enlist others to help, to pray, to remind you of the Truth. Ask the God of comfort to comfort you.

3. Suffering will reveal what is really in your heart. It will test you (Jam. 1:2). Where do you turn when tested? Do you turn toward Jesus or turn inward?

4. God is God, you are not (Job 38-42). This is important. Humility and submission before the King can quiet some of your questions.

5. Confess sin. There is nothing new here; it is a regular feature of daily life. Yet it always helps you to see the cross of Jesus more clearly. It is the quickest way to see the persistent and lavish love of God (Heb. 12).

6. Keep an eye out in Scripture for the Suffering Servant. He has entered into your suffering, and you can enter into his. (Isaiah 39-53, John 10-21)

7. Speak honestly and often to the Lord. This is critical. Just speak, groan, have someone read you a psalm and say a weak, “Amen.”

8. Expect to get to know God better while in this wilderness. That is how he usually works with his people (Phil. 3:10-11).

9. Talk to those who have suffered, read their books, listen to them. You are not alone. Insist on being moved with compassion as you hear other stories of suffering.

10. Look ahead. We need spiritual vision for what is happening now and for where the universe is heading. We are on a pilgrimage that ends at the temple of God (Ps. 84).

With thanks to Vitamin Z.