Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Reflections

I was given an iPod last year and I try to download sermons and other podcasts to listen to. At the moment my iPod is full of all the podcasts I haven't had time to listen to yet. So I've made a bit of an effort to get through some of the build-up of sermons. Today I listened to part of a series on Titus 2:11-14.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. Titus 2:11-14 (NLT)

Philip Jensen (the preacher I was listening to) spoke about Jesus giving his life for 2 purposes.
  1. To redeem us from lawlessness
  2. To purify us as his people, who are zealous for good works
We are saved from every kind of sin and for a purpose. To be totally committed to doing good deeds. What Paul means by good deeds is the loving, merciful, gracious, sacrificial things we do to serve others (and hence God).  In principle I like good deeds. I know what the bible says about good deeds (It's for them!). But being totally commited to them? I find that there are lots of times I'd rather just be doing what I want. Times when my commitment to good deeds falters (to say the least). Times when I think I should be 'sensible' about what I take on. Sometimes I can use sensible concerns to avoid doing what I am called to be totally committed to.

Philip talked about being zealous, being 'unbalanced' in our commitment to good deeds. I am a fan of balance, generally. Everything in moderation (?even moderation). But Paul is telling us our purpose is to be unbalanced, to be immoderate, to be zealous for doing good. It's a reminder to me that the world's wisdom about balance and moderation is not always right. This Easter I would like to think more about Jesus' total commitment to me, the extent he went to redeem and purify me. I hope I can start to live in a more 'totally commited to good deeds' way. To truly hold together total commitment to good deeds and a grace-filled existence without either being watered down.

I've also been reading this book by John Piper (gradually). I have to admit that for lots of it, I've read it to get through the book. Not that I don't believe it but it has not deeply inspired me. That was until I read #36 the other day.

Jesus came to die ... to create a band of crucified followers.

"The Calvary road is where everyone meets Jesus." Jesus died to invite us on the journey to the cross with him. In Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23 and Matthew 10:38 Jesus invites me to take up my cross and follow him. He invites you, me, and every believer to heft the burden he carries and walk in his footsteps to our death.

The paradox of this invitation is that when we follow Jesus in this journey to death, we find real life. Our lost, world-loving, me-worshipping, deluded self dies.
If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
Matthew 10:39.
In giving up our life to follow Jesus, we find purpose (in being totally commited to good deeds), companionship (we join Jesus and the band of crucified followers), empowerment (we have God's spirit living in us) and a home (being prepared for us with our Father in heaven).

I hope Easter refreshes our joy in following Jesus as we see his love for us.

image from stock.xchng

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mental Health Reform Needed

In vain I have looked for the icon to post a video here. My minimal technical knowledge is bamboozled for today...

Anyway, watch this video from GetUp starring Patrick McGorry. Health reform needs to include mental health reform in Australia.

Baking Memories - love the smell of biscuits in the oven...

My mum taught me how to make cakes and biscuits when I was growing up. She also taught me most of her standard meal recipes and I still use them. I regularly realise what a great gift that was.

For a few years I have searched through garage sale/op shop book boxes for this biscuit cookbook, without finding it. Then the other day, one of my playgroup friends turned up with it and presented it to me. WOW! The Beautiful Biscuits book. It is one of the best presents I've been given in a while. Unexpected, spontaneous and really thoughful. Thanks Tara!

Just looking through it is nostalgic. I can't wait to bake something out of it.

Better yet bake something out of it with my kids.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kids and Church

I posted recently about children and parental concerns about their behaviour in church. My next dilemma is considering the pastor's kids at church. My husband has been in pastoral ministry since before we started having children, and our son is now old enough to start questioning why he needs to go to church. Sometimes (usually when he is tired), he says church is boring and that he doesn't want to be there.

Most families who are regular church attenders have Sundays when they don't attend church, but as the pastor's family, we go unless we are away on holidays. I have never questioned this or regretted it. I enjoy our church family and am involved in regular ministries on Sundays. But it means that our kids don't get any choice about going to church.

Generally, they like going to church. They have friends there, they participate and often have fun. But I have begun to think that it would be good for my son to be able to choose not to go to church occasionally. On reflection, I've decided that I want him to have some sense of control over attending.

On one hand, as a family, we attend church regularly. On the other hand, each of our children will gradually develop their own lives and families and face choices of their own about church. This is complicated by the fact that their father works for the church. There will always be a tension between leading our children to make right choices and allowing them to search out their own reasons to make decisions.

Ultimately, I need to trust God, that as we teach and pray for our children, and as they grow in their relationship with Jesus, that they will make the choices that I want them to. And I need to prepare for the possibility that they may not do things my way, or even God's way. I pray that they will (follow God's way), but trying to maintain too much control will cause problems.

It is hard to trust God with something that matters to me this much.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

May justice roll down like a river...

"If there is any justice in the world, Jessica P will win So You Think You Can Dance." (judge's comment).

Wow, and I was hoping justice would contribute to righting the wrongs of poverty, abuse, slavery, exploitation. But it sounds like winning a dance competition is pretty important.

Listening to God.

I liked this post by Lynne Baab, guest-posting on Godspace, that I came across the other day. I love the idea of lying in bed each morning when I wake giving time to prayer and listening to the things God might be wanting me to do. I rush out of bed most mornings my head still fuzzy and my eyes not quite open.

Sometimes I pray, first thing, but it is usually in the shower or as I spoon weet-bix into baby's mouth. My listening is to wishes expressed about sandwich toppings, and a little boy hunting for his favourite Lightning McQueen T-shirt.

There is a balance in discerning God's will. We can become so focussed on being right about it that we never get going. And then we can put it so far to the periphery that we can feel, 'as long as I'm not doing the wrong thing, it's "all good"'. The dialectic between waiting and rushing in, I suppose.

God's word and God's people really do need to shape our discernment of what God wants for us, otherwise we can go off on weird tangents. Romans 12 talks about being able to 'discern God's good, pleasing and perfect will'. The passage ties that discernment to living sacrificially and having sober judgement about ourselves. It is not going to happen easily if we are focussed on our own needs to the exclusion of others or if we are proud or arrogant. God's will becomes clearer when we can see beyond ourselves, when we give time, energy, thought and love to others.

Listening to a talk by the Dean of St Andrews Cathedral, I was struck by a comment in his reflection on 1 Corinthians 12. He spoke of the spiritual gifts finding purpose in serving the body, the church. He spoke about arrogance, when we feel we don't need other members of the body. He pointed to the cure for arrogance - serving others. We actually deeply need others at the exact moment when we disdain them. We need them to provide a place to serve, to learn again humble, sober assessment of ourselves. To have Jesus example in Philippians 2 and start to imitate it.

Discernment of God's will becomes clearer as we serve others, and as we prayerfully search for ways to do it. That's why a good day begins with prayer.

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function,  so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:1-5.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Trellis and The Vine

I read this book recently, and admit that I did a little bit of skim-reading at times. It was readable in a couple of hours, that way. (I think that is a plus, which you may guess by the stack of book-marked tomes I've half-read.)

I attended UNSW in the 90s and regularly went to Campus Bible Study for most of that time. Despite not being a 'Bloke Worth Watching' (which I note has been pc-ed up) I have experienced this model of apprenticeship and discipling first-hand.

I enjoyed the explanation of the principle and the exploration of how it might look in practice. It felt familiar to me, and reassured me that vine growth is possible. In fact it's not rocket science. It is a relief to know that there is not some secret to growth.

I've also perused Andrew Katay's comments on the book. He does have a point about the use of metaphor, but I don't think that reduces what this book has to teach us. He also noted a focus on 'reading the bible one to one', which, if taken literally, is not a full picture of discipleship. Paul talked of 'sharing his life' with those he discipled (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

My experience of being discipled has been that it has always expanded beyond bible-reading together. I have grown from the experience of sharing in another person's life. However, if that sharing had not involved the foundation of God's word, the cutting of his word to my bone and sinew, it would not have grown me as a disciple.

I would summarise the thesis of this book as being...
In order to grow the church, we must put time, energy and prayer into growing individuals in the church. Call it discipleship (I note Jesus did like this term), call it mentoring or call it the development of gifts and calling. The result of discipling people is that they will begin to see the value of discipling people, and start doing it, too. Classic New Testament church growth.

This is the great thing about this book, it is something we can all do. We can all be involved in the ministry of growing disciples. I look around me and there is a multitude of ways that I can work to be involved in God's maturing of his people. It helped me to see the work as possible.

Big Love

I finished watching the current series of Big Love last night. It is a show that both enthralls me and makes me feel uneasy. I faithfully watched the first series, fell away for the second and then I've become a devotee again this time.

If you have never watched the show it is the story of a polygamous Mormon family in Salt Lake City. Bill (who grew up on a cult compaound outside Salt Lake City, complete with its own corrupt prophet) has three wives and eight children. Barb is his first wife, a position that has seniority and allows her to lead her two, younger sister-wives. Nicky, wife number two, is the prophet's daughter and she has been gradually unravelling a troubled past. Margene, number three, is younger, not raised in the church, but has been emerging as an asset in Bill's recent business ventures.

There is a degree of 'soap-opera' about Big Love, but somehow the family are likeable, caring and fun. Bill strives to lead and care for his family, with the aim of ushering them into eternity. His wives love each other and serve each other as much as they love and depend on him. They love God and want to live lives that honour him and 'the Principle'.

The Principle, or the call to polygamy, is seen as a high calling, although perhaps not for everyone. The purpose of polygamy is to bring more children into a family, to bring them to an honoured place in eternity. The family must be secretive, to avoid public notice or scrutiny. It is fascinating that a man can honourably, faithfully and lovingly interract with all of his three wives and contemplate having another one join their family. The marital relationship is portrayed as complicated but respectful and caring.

I am actually uneasy because it makes me question whether polygamy might be an acceptable life choice. I want to say NO! but is that just my modern, Western, individualistic viewpoint? I look at this family and they have something about their faith and unity that I aspire to.

Of course polygamy is illegal, and my husband has openly stated that he has enough wives already. It is not a lifestyle choice I am exploring, but what is it that makes this family wrong? When I watch Big Love I become so involved in the drama of their lives that I cannot fully, rationally understand the objections to it.

I am attracted too, to the portrayal of a family of faith. A family who share a lot of my 'Christian Values'. They have a stronger emphasis on faith in the Principle, than faith in Jesus most of the time. They are not a typical evangelical Christian family, but they are not very different. I am fascinated by them. But I am very glad I am not them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kids in Church

We had a discussion the other day about the behaviour of our children at church. My friend who has children who are 6, 4, 2 and 10 months (and whose husband plays and sings regularly) confessed that she has started to hate coming to church. She worries what people at church are thinking about her children being noisy or misbehaving. She finds herself scanning faces for disapproving expressions. She felt like her son was ruining church for her.

I have thought or felt most of the things she was talking about. Sometimes I miss a whole song or announcement because I'm absorbed by what is happening with one of the children. Some of the time, this is unavoidable. Teaching children to behave in an appropriate way at church is a good thing to do. It takes time, attention and preparation (I'm discovering).

But children are not always well-behaved, even children I love and cherish. They have tired and grumpy days, they have loud and boisterous days, they have 'I'm excited to be alive' days. And if one child has a particular toy at church, it's likely that other children will want it at some time during the service (usually prayer time).

What became apparent during the discussion, was that we all worry about what other people are thinking of our parenting skills, our discipline and our children. It is parenting in public. Even more stressful than the supermarket line, because these are Christians who are weighing us up and judging us.

Wait a minute! this is all wrong. Why isn't church a place where we can experience grace and love and nurturing of our parenting? We are all just learning, bumbling along if the truth be told. It would be a great blessing to be at church and feel that our extended family were here to help us as we teach, train and raise our children.

I think we can start by doing a few things.
  1. Start believing that our brothers and sisters wish us well and are not judging us. That they pray for us and want to help us.
  2. Allow younger and older members of our congregation to share in our frustrations and struggles. Enlist and older member to help hold a baby or toddler. Encourage friendship between teenagers and our children, in the congregation. Allow people into our family for that hour or two on Sunday and then at other times in the week, too.
  3. Stop depending on what others think of us. Start pleasing God rather than people (or our perception of what people think).
  4. Enjoy children and their child-like behaviour - in all its forms.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Not at my House

Last night I sat up and watched 'The Good Wife', legal drama with a bit of political intrigue rolled in. It was easy viewing, but I fell into the trap of not turning off at the credits, so ended up watching 'House' as well.

I haven't watched it for ages, and I will never watch it again. I remember, now, why I stopped watching at the end of season 1. I won't mention the fact that the way he tortures patients as the result of his clumsy guess work makes me squirm.

What really made me mad is that House is actually a nasty person. He does not like his colleagues, he does not like his patients and he does not like his supposed friends. He delights in making them uncomfortable, and they put up with it. In fact they come back for more.

His behaviour at work is harassment. His treatment of patients is dismissive and bordering on negligent.

Last night I finished watching the show with a bad taste in my mouth and felt sad for the broken relationships and hurt people in it. The worst thing is that I was just glad to leave and not have to return. That place is bad news.

I would like to say that I could find compassion for House and that I'd want to help him. I try to imagine being in a room with him and all I can think of doing is leaving or giving him a good telling off. He is a very nasty man. I actually don't know if anyone could be as persistently nasty and self-absorbed as him.

I would like to find a moral point - something about we are all lost or that Jesus can love anyone etc. etc. However he is just a TV character and I think he is written nasty for effect. In fact his nastiness is like the unresolved romance of other long-running shows. The writers can't resolve or develop the tension for fear of losing their audience. So House stays nasty because it maintains the dramatic tension.

I am sick of nasty House. He is unbearable to watch and the people who put up with his shenanigans are just as lost as he is. I don't like being in the same room with them. So I won't.

 I think I'll watch Stephen Fry, on IQ, instead.

Friday, March 12, 2010


I have just finished reading this book by Simon Holt. It is both challenging and encouraging. The book begins with an exploration of what neighbourhood is and how it has evolved. It looks at the biblical perspective on neighbourhoods, and I appreciated the view that our priority is to treat our neighbours with respect, dignity and love. It was interesting to reflect that being best buddies with all our neighbours is not necessarily a biblical imperative. (Collective relief from the introverts in the room).

Simon (and I call him that because we are acquainted, and were once neighbours! - that's my name dropping/brush with fame parenthetical statement)... sorry for that interruption. Simon takes the time to affirm ministry - loving, serving and connecting - in your local neighbourhood as mission. He has obviously spent lots of time listening to 'ordinary' Christians share their experiences of intentionally building relationships, praying, sharing faith and time in their local area.

So there are heaps of stories about people who have put time and energy into connecting with their neighbours, in order to love them and serve them. The stories are told engagingly and illustrate the ideas of the book really well. There is no magic formula for reaching people, no particular ministry model, and that is refreshing. The challenge to me, was to find my own way to bless those in my neighbourhood by working at authentic, respectful, kind relationships. To put time and energy into it because its not just an extra, its the main game for churches who want to build God's kingdom.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Easy Answer

Another dialectic...

Helping people to recover is one of the key goals working with people who have mental illness. I see patients who have experienced considerable difficulties with depression and anxiety. Some struggle with drug and alcohol use because of their depression and anxiety.

Sometimes people want to find a solution or treatment that will fix everything. Sometimes they want it to be easy. People look to medication, to particular doctors or programs, to alternative therapies to have THE answer. Sometimes I can see that someone will struggle to find the motivation and strength to do what is necessary to recover. Getting better takes hard work, requiring determination and perseverence (thesis).

Those who struggle to recover (and that's most of us isn't it?), can so easily feel that it is their fault that they don't recover, or aren't doing it quickly enough. Is it because I'm not trying hard enough? Is it because I don't have enough faith? What else can I do? Not getting better can be a source of guilt, self-blame, depressed and anxious thoughts. People who are already struggling get sunk by these kinds of self-evaluations (anti-thesis).

We need a synthesis which encompasses a call to perservere and struggle on and a reassurance that suffering is not all our fault. We need to encourage hard work and gracious acceptance.

Sometimes it looks like people will not be up to the task, but they need us patiently preparing for the time when they will be able to summon the strength.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Nuanced and interesting opinions involve synthesis of ideas. When I first start to learn about something, my opinions are shaped by the person who has begun to teach me. As I gather information and experience varying perspectives I build a more comprehensive picture.

Dialectics are developments in thinking. Hegel used the concept of dialectics to describe an idea (a thesis) and an opposing or differing idea (an anti-thesis) leading to the development of a synthesis.

Dialectics develop when we contemplate or experience opposing emotions or tendencies. A simple example would be my understanding that God loves me exactly as I am because he made me and knows me intimately (thesis). The anti-thesis may be that God wants me to grow, to mature, to be made perfect, to change from the one he made, into the one he wants me to be.

How do we synthesise these seemingly opposing ideas? A true dialectical synthesis does not negate either concept and does not combine black and white to make grey. Somehow black and white sit adjacent to each other and enrich each other.

My understanding of the synthesis is that God both, loves me as I am, and desires change and maturity for me, as a fulfilment of that love. The tension of acceptance and call for change.

Many of the struggles we face in life, emanate from our inability to hold two seeming opposites together.

How can I (or even why do I) love someone, who has hurt me? There is no easy answer or synthesis, here. But realising the tension and seeing the opposing ideas can help us begin to hold them together. It may take a lifetime for that synthesis to develop.

Developing dialectics and holding them in tension can help us weather the struggles we face. Acknowledging the difficulty of synthesis allows the freedom to be unresolved and to seek fresh input. We don't have to have all the answers, which can be both scary and exhilirating.

What dialectics/dilemmas are you facing?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Trophy Rant

What is the deal with trophies for kids' sport?

When I was a child, I got 2 trophies which sat on my shelf and collected dust. 2 is a modest haul and I was proud of them. One was for winning the 9/5s netball grand final and one for getting 100 points at tennis lessons (it took about 2 years of lessons). I did not feel ripped off or trophy poor.

Now, my children are awarded a trophy for every season of sport they participate in, some seasons they get 2 or 3! They build up in the corner of their rooms/window sills/shelves and get broken pretty quickly. (please note my kids are not sporting heroes, all the kids get these trophies)

Not only that, I have to fundraise/donate in order to buy these glorified pieces of plastic. I am given a box of fundraising chocolates which I then proceed to forget to sell, and end up eating guiltily in front of the TV. Then I fork out the fifty-ish dollars to buy the box. Sometimes I resolve to be strong, and donate the $24 profit each box makes.

I resent buying trophies that I don't particularly want my children to have.

I don't want to ban trophies, per se. I just want to rationalise their use. I just want the winner to get one!

I can't help thinking that we are just rewarding mediocrity, and buying our kids something we would want if we were them. I actually don't think they want endless trophies. I think they want their trophies to be special.

I'll get down off the box now.

The Scarcity Assumption

There are unspoken concepts which influence behaviour. Looking at the drive to acquire 'stuff', to own places and to be the first to have a new thing, one might assume that we need to beat others to it. That there is not enough to go around.

We get impatient when we have to wait in line. We preorder to make sure we don't miss out. Or we line up outside ALDI on a Thursday morning (read also Target/KMart/Big W toysale and layby counter if you live around here) to get this week's catalogue bargains.

Observers of these actions might assume that there is not enough stuff to go around. Last time I checked, however, there are shops filled with stuff in shopping centres all over Australia. Since the GFC most of it is on sale. We are not running out of 'STUFF' any time soon. We have been fooled into thinking that, not only do we need more stuff to survive, but stuff is scarce and we daren't miss out on it.

To quote Veggie Tales (Madame Blueberry), "Happiness lives at the Stuff-Mart, all you need is lots more ... stuff!"

Parker Palmer* talks about the 'assumption of scarcity' driving our behaviour. Believing that good things are scarce drive us to greed, to impatience, to envy and to hate. And the result of our greed and fear driven behaviour is that scarcity becomes reality for the people in society who already lack resources. Eg. People living in famine cannot get food because the world economy is driven by the scarcity assumption.

The paradox he highlights is that the things that really matter in life are actually abundant. God's creation is in fact abundant in beauty and the abundance of creation is always being renewed. God's love and mercy are not limited in availability.

"The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease."
Lamentations 3:22

The world actually has enough resources to provide adequate food, shelter, education and healthcare for people around the globe, if we could overcome greed, oppression and fear.

If we could begin to see the abundance around us, we might be freed from our slavery to envy, greed and the fear of missing out. It is a conscious mindshift, a decision to look for abundance, rather than be driven by the ethos of scarcity. It will encourage thankfulness, generosity and enjoyment. It will loosen the grip of consumerism and greed on our hearts and minds.

Most of all, it will lead us to appreciate the character of God more, God who delights in abundance. Who finds great joy in giving to us, his dearly loved children. God, whose abundance of mercy and grace overcomes our narrowness, our fear and our brokenness.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't he also give us everything else? Romans 8:31-32

*Parker J. Palmer, The Promise of Paradox

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