Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Hammer of God

The Hammer of God, Bo Giertz

This is Christian fiction at its absolute best. This book, which consists of three novellas, was written by Swedish pastor and theologian Bo Giertz. This revised edition, translated by Nelson and Andrae, also includes some introductory comments to help the English reader place the novellas in their place in Swedish history.

Each novella is located in a different time, while the local setting is the same parish in rural southern Sweden:

The Hammer of God (the first novella) is set in 1808-1810
Jesus Only (the second) is set in 1878-1880
On This Rock (the third) is set in 1938-1940

Don't let ignorance about this time of history (especially in Sweden) put you off! Giertz writes about issues of faith which have confronted all believers from the time of Christ - the true nature of grace, our sinfulness and the power of God alone to save.

The back cover summarises better than I could:
Based on the theme of spiritual regeneration, The Hammer of God reads like a good detective story, immersing the reader in the unfolding events that present a spiritual drama of death and life, of despair and hope, of upheaval and peace, of sin and grace. Faith comes down to a matter of relying either of our own accomplishments to be right with God or on receiving as a free gift by grace the righteousness Christ gained for us. The basic questions of faith remains the same today as in generations past.
Each novella is based around a new pastor coming to fill a position at the parish. Each has faults in his beliefs about God and his faith, and through the witness of others, each is forced to see the gospel afresh again.

As the minister in the final novella finally grasps the true grace of God, bought only through the blood of Jesus, he preaches to his congregation:
I choose this day to turn away from all that is my own and to consecrate myself to contend for the apostolic faith. I would no longer censure it or make myself its master, as you know that I have done. I would no longer add to it or subtract from it, because I care not claim to be wiser that the Lord and his apostles. I will not point to my own experiences, but with rather with Paul glory in my weaknesses. God has shown me that I am a sinner. Perhaps he will now in his mercy also let me be saved in the old way, by grace alone. (p271)
There is a depth to the theological discussion which would benefit anyone and it is made even more readable because is it in the setting of a novel. I won't pretend it doesn't require your attention - but it  is well worth it. I felt refreshed and renewed by God after each time I sat down to read it.

We are encouraged to move on to solid food, not staying with milk, in order to grow in the Christian life (Heb 5:12-6:3). This is solid food. It is highly recommended reading for any Christian, and especially those in full-time ministry. Why not buy a copy for yourself and your minister?  

Monday, September 28, 2009

Respectable Sins - Lack of Self-Control (Ch 13)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges
Chapter 13 - Lack of Self Control

Starting with the example of Solomon, Bridges illustrates how a lack of self-control can destroy everything.
Like a city whose walls are broken down
is a man who lacks self-control. (Prov 25:28)
Ironically Solomon himself wrote this proverb, yet he had a distinct lack of self-control in his love for women, which resulted in his heart turning away from God.

Bridges believes that self-control is one virtue that has received little conscious attention from Christians, for while we have boundaries for 'obvious sins', we pretty much operate within those boundaries however we like, which can in turn open us up to other sins. He helpfully defines self-control as
a governance or prudent control of one's desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions. It is saying no when we should say no. It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful. It would, for example, involve moderation in watching television and absolute restraint in viewing Internet pornography...

Biblical self-control...covers every area of life and requires and unceasing control with the passions of the flesh that wage war against our souls...We might say that self-control is not control by oneself through one's own willpower but rather control of oneself through the power of the Holy Spirit. (p110-1)
Bridges chooses three areas where he believes Christians often fail in self-control:

1. Eating and drinking - he is not talking about those who are overweight, but those continually give in to the desire for certain foods or drinks. The person who drinks 10 cans of cola a day, or the person who must have ice-cream every day, etc. It is the "tendency to indulge our desires so that they control us instead of us controlling those desires" (p112). I am tempted to think of those who claim they cannot get through the day without coffee.

2. Temper - the person who is short-tempered and who is easily angered. He notes that anger alone is usually sin, but the tendency to be easily angered is also a sin of self-control. James says:
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

3. Personal finances - this includes those who are in debt, spending beyond their means and also those with money who indulge themselves with whatever they desire. It is worth saying that if you are spending beyond your means, especially with spending that you cannot control (eg. compulsive shopping, gambling) - you need to seek professional help.

I heard a sermon about this topic once, and two of the points of application have stayed with me:
- do not buy the best or the worst of anything - the best is unnecessary and the worst is likely to cost more as it will not last - be wise and prudent.
- as much as you spend on leisure or hobbies, give the same to Christian causes or charity. So you can enjoy the money God has given you - when you spend $350 on a Wii, also give $350 away. Or when you enjoy a meal out, pay for someone to do the same.

As I thought more about this chapter, again I thought he really only scratched the surface. Of course, whole books could be written about self-control. Also, as he did point out, a lack of self-control leads to many other sins, so a lack a self-control with our tongues will be addressed in chapter 19 and so on.

However, here are some other areas of our lives where we might see a lack of self-control:
  • what we read - do we fill our minds with trashy romance novels or gossip magazines, or do we choose to read things which grow us in godliness? Do we insist of reading the newspaper each day but never do to same with our bible?
  • what we watch - mostly every show on television these days is an example of gross immorality, even more so in reality shows, so why even watch them? And why are so many Christians seemingly making it their goal to own entire series of television shows? Surely our time and money could be better spent.
  • how much time we give to hobbies & sports - do you follow the football or cricket so avidly that you ignore your family? Do you quilt so often that you neglect your children?
  • the things that we can hide as being good. eg. a desire to lose weight, the pull of continuous exercise - we can hide these under the guise of being self-controlled, but sometimes they can actually become a trap themselves.

I personally struggle with self-control in a number of ways - mostly around how I spend my time:
  • I would love to spend more time on the computer, writing, reading etc. However, it is unhelpful if is drags me away from my family or things that need to be done at home
  • When I read novels I have no self-control - I read every free moment I get & I ignore the kids. I have had to stop reading novels except when we are on holidays. If I could keep it to a time in the day when I can take a break, I think that would be fine, but I seem unable to do this - so I have to just stop reading fiction for most of the year. Sad, but true.
  • We realised a few years ago that we were eating a lot of chips, we would sit down at the end of the day and have a bowl of chips together. After a while, we realised it was completely unnecessary but also that we were starting to always expect to eat them. In the end, we just stopped buying them and chips are now a treat in our house. Although, Husband will be quick to point out that I still have my 2 pieces of dark chocolate each day with a cup of tea, and should probably give that up too, as I now seem to 'need' it!

Some things to think about:
  1. What areas do you struggle with self-control?
  2. How far do you go out of your way to meet your desires? Am you willing to say no to them?
  3. What am you modelling to others when you choose to indulge this desire?
  4. What does the way you spend your time or money say about your priorities?
  5. What can you change to exercise more self-control in these areas?

On Friday: Chapter 14 - Impatience and Irritability

Friday, September 25, 2009

Respectable Sins - Selfishness (Ch 12)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Chapter 12 - Selfishness

Bridges addressed four areas of selfishness which he thinks are common to believers:

1. Selfishness with our interests - the things that we like, are interested in and want to talk about. How much do we talk about ourselves and the things that interest us? How often are we willing to listen to others and hear about them? It's another indication of self-centredness.

Paul's words in Philippians can guide us here:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)
2. Selfishness with our time - we all live our lives feeling like there isn't enough time, not enough to do what we want to get done, let alone including helping others. However, we must not fall into the trap our guarding our time so jealously, that we refuse to serve others, or strengthen relationships.

I can certainly struggle with this one - I value my time and I can be very protective of the free time that I have. It's OK to have time to ourselves to recharge and refresh, but I need to be careful not to keep desiring more and more time to myself, to fulfill my wishes and desires. It has been a lesson for me in the past few years to use some of the free time I have to spend with people, rather than 'getting things done'.

3. Selfishness with our money - we are not generous with our money. As a whole, we "are selfish with our money and relatively indifferent to the physical and material needs and of people less fortunate than us." (p105)

A report that received a lot of attention when it was published in Australia in 2004, showed how Australians spend more on their pets each year than they do on foreign aid. We just don't tend to care about issues that do not affect us personally. Yet the bible calls us to care for others in need:
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)
4. Inconsiderateness - the person who does not think about the impact of their actions on others. This can be expressed in numerous ways - being so noisy we impact other people, being inconsiderate to shop assistants, etc. Just as we we want to cultivate a habit of being thankful to God in everything, we also want to express our thanks and gratitude for those around us on earth.

Bridges points out that that Jesus is the greatest example of unselfishness we have - the Lord of all humbled himself so that we might become rich:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death--
even death on a cross! (Phil 2:5-8)
Bridges says that the people most able to spot selfishness in us are our family, so we should ask them how we are selfish and be prepared to listen and change.

Some things to think about:
  1. In which of these areas do you struggle with selfishness - your interests, your time, your money or in being inconsiderate?
  2. Do you need to change your priorities and expectations regarding how you view 'your' money, time, etc?
  3. How can you be more generous with your time, money or attitudes this week?

on Monday:
Chapter 13 - Lack of self-control

Monday, September 21, 2009

Respectable Sins - Pride (Ch 11)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

Chapter 11 - Pride

Bridges warned at the end of the last chapter that "the sins we look at from here on will probably be more 'ugly' that the ones we've examined so far". And so, he turns to pride. He focuses on 4 expressions of pride that are special temptations to believers. I will look at each one briefly.

1. Pride of moral self-righteousness - which is very easy to fall into today considering the society in which we live.

However, we must seek an attitude of humility based on the truth "there but for the grace of God go I". If we are able to live morally upright lives, it is only because God's grace has acted upon us:
Rather than feeling morally superior to those who practice the flagrant sins we condemn, we ought to feel deeply grateful that God by His grace has kept us from, or perhaps rescued us from, such a lifestyle. (p91)
2. Pride of correct doctrine - the belief that my doctrinal beliefs are correct and anyone who does not hold them is theologically inferior. Boy do you ever encounter this one (and quite possibly display it too!) at bible college. Paul warns the Corinthians about this in regard to food "We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." (1 Cor 8:1b).

We must instead strive to hold our convictions with a spirit of true humility:
I'm not suggesting that we should not seek to know the truths of Scripture and develop doctrinal convictions about what the Scriptures teach, I am saying that we should hold our convictions in humility, realizing that many godly and theologically capable people hold other convictions. (p92-3)
3. Pride of achievement - the belief that all we have achieved we did on our own, with no acknowledgement that God gave us the mental capacity, chance of education, tenacity or desire to try. He gave a good example of this: people that extol their children's achievements in the annual Christmas letter eg. John got 1st class honours in his law degree, Susie trekked the Himalayas and Adam won the grand final for his team!! His point is that we must be careful not to sing the praises of our children without praising God for giving them the abilities to do so. I was slightly more circumspect on this - perhaps don't sing the praises of your children at all??! You could just say: John finished his degree and enjoyed what he learnt, Susie did even more hiking this year and Adam had another fun year of football. Just a thought.

Another aspect of this is the desire for recognition - like the people that give lots of money to a building fund, so their name can go on the plaque in a prominent position. Maybe as Christians we are not quite so crass - although we do quite like to be thanked publicly for a job well done. Our praise should come from God though, knowing that we have served him as we ought, rather than others singing our praises.

4. The pride of an independent spirit - here he includes both a resistance to authority (especially spiritual authority) and an unteachable attitude. These particular areas were suggested to Bridges by ministers who work amongst students and young adults:
When we are young, we tend to think we know everything. Or as one friend expressed it, "We don't know how much we don't know." (p97)
Here he refers to Hebrews 13:17:
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
We must all strive to be teachable and willing to learn. Not only that, but willing to hear the wisdom of those who have lived longer than us and experienced more.

As Bridges closes the chapter, he takes us to Isaiah 66:2b
This is the one I esteem:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit,
and trembles at my word.
I found this a helpful chapter, I can fall into pride in all of these areas. It's important to realise that's what is it - pride, and to repent of it and work, with God's help, to change.

Some things to think about:
  1. Which of these areas are you tempted to be proud: your moral standing, your doctrine, your achievements and/or your independence?
  2. What do you need to do to let go of this pride?

On Friday:
Chapter 12 - Selfishness

Friday, September 18, 2009

A new layout!

I have been thinking about changing the layout of this blog for a while and have decided to go for it. It has three columns now, which I prefer. I am still playing with a few things, but you'll have to be patient as I try to figure out how to change computer code!

How you like it! I think I do.

Respectable Sins: Unthankfulness (Ch 10)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges
Chapter 10 - Unthankfulness

Bridges starts this chapter asking the question - do we ever thank God, purely for our salvation?
Yet how often do we give thanks for our salvation? Have you stopped today to give thanks to God for delivering you from the domain of darkness and transferring you to the kingdom of his Son? And if you have given thanks, was it in a mere nominal way, much like some people give thanks at a meal, or was it an expression of heartfelt gratitude for what God has done for you in Christ?

The truth is, our whole lives should be lives of continual thanksgiving... every breath we draw is a gift from God. Everything we are and everything we have is a gift from Him. (p80)
Even the skills we have, that we may have studied years for, that is all still a gift from God. Bridges points us to Deut 8 and reminds us to heed the same warning given to Israel:
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God ... 17 You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deut 8:10-14, 17-18)
Bridges says that in every aspect of our lives we should be thanking God - the our homes and their furnishings, for our jobs, our studies, the food on the table. We should follow the example of Paul:
always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:20*)
Thankfully, Bridges also goes on to address the issue that really gives us pause: Are we to give God thanks when the circumstances do not turn out as we had hoped? And he answers yes, again using the words of Paul:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:16-18*, emphasis mine)
We need to trust in God (a common theme in these chapters!) in all circumstances, he is still using them for his own good (see Rom 8, esp v 28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose)
So in situations that do not turn out the way we hoped, we are to give God thanks that He will use the situation in some way to develop our Christian character. We don't need to speculate as to how He might use it, for His ways are often mysterious and beyond our understanding. So by faith in the promise of God in Romans 8:28-29, we obey the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in all circumstances.
In the midst of all this, we can also cling to the promise of Rom 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

I wonder how these truths can affect us daily?
We probably do thank God privately for the blessings of this life and as Christians we find that easy to do (when we think of it). But is it part of your daily speech to be thankful of God with others? Do you thank God openly with your children?

What are some ways we can speak more thankfully? Here are some ideas:
    • Find the positive rather than the negative. I have had to work at this with my children, so when Husband is out at church at night, or away on a camp - instead of saying "isn't it a shame Dad is not here?", I try to say "what a privilege Dad has to be able to tell people about Jesus tonight!" OR with other people, instead of complaining how early Mr 6 rises (and truly, it is early), I am now trying to say "we are one day closer to everyone sleeping in". Finding words to express the positive can also change your own heart.
    • Find a way to express your thankfulness to God in conversation that is natural for you. I don't generally use the term 'blessed', although I truly feel blessed. I tend to say 'I am very thankful' - even that has taken time for me to be comfortable with. I was forced to think about this (on a somewhat superficial level) last year after an incident with a falling tool-box!
    • Find ways of encouraging others to be thankful rather than helping them descend into bitterness. Let's help each other to thank God, both for his blessings, and the trials we face, knowing we are being moulded into the image of Christ.
    I do not want to suggest though that we trivialise the real struggles people face in life. I fully agreed with everything Bridges said in this chapter, but again his examples seemed a little simplistic to me. It must be much harder to be truly thankful when life is hard, painful or full of grief. However, time and time again we hear stories of faithful saints who were truly thankful to God, in the midst of their pain and suffering. In the end, all we can do is to keep trusting in our faithful and true God, who loves and cares for us, and who at the end of time, will bring us home to his eternal kingdom.

    * These are the verses I will try to learn from this chapter

    On Monday: Chapter 11 - Pride

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Shopping for Time - Part 2

    Shopping for time: How to do it all and not be overwhelmed, by Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore and Janelle Bradshaw

    Part 2 of 2

    Having looked last week at 2 of the 5 tips in Shopping for Time:

    1. The 5 am Club
    2. Sit Still

    I now want to think more about the next 3 tips:

    3. Sit and plan. Here the idea is the plan a retreat - time away, a few hours or even overnight on your own and use it as a chance to prioritise and assess all the aspects of our lives. The sample list they had included:

    - grow in godliness
    - love my family
    - serve in the church
    - fellowship with Christians
    - evangelise non-Christians
    - attend to my work
    - care for my physical health

    Then evaluate each area honestly - what is going well and what needs to change, and how you can grow in that key area of your life. They went through each of these in a bit of detail, for example:

    - Grow in Godliness - ask ourselves "how can I make my devotions more fruitful?", and "What is one area where I believe God is calling me to grow in godliness?"
    - Love my family - list all our family members and then ask "What is one family relationship I want to give more attention to in this season?" and then "How can I intentionally show my love to this person?"

    They go on to helpfully point out that you cannot do everything at once, so you need to ask yourself at the end "What one or two priorities do I want to focus on for the next three to six months, and what steps will I take to grow in each area?"

    I found this chapter incredibly helpful. Just to be encouraged to think in a more structured way about all the aspects of my life and how to balance them and prioritise them, rather than chasing my tail in response to various things. I would love to put aside a few hours to do this. And the more I think about, now (Sept/Oct) is the time to do it, for this is the time of year when we (and many other people) start planning the next year - school timetables, holidays, ministry commitments, etc. Having put some time aside into thinking through all those things makes us much better equipped to think through our response (be it yes or no) when asked to consider taking on something new.

    4. Consider people - here they encourage us to look at our relationships.
    we are often more passive and receptive that we are intentional and purposeful in our relationships. We may allow people to drift in and out of our lives. We don't usually pause to consider why we pursue a certain friendship or neglect another. Emotions and feeling often dictate the way we go about relationships...We must prayerfully evaluate our relational priorities in the light of God's priorities...Do our relationships - the time we spend with our family and the friends we pursue - bring glory to God? (p69)
    This chapter is not focusing on family relationships because our husbands and children, and even extended family take priority. This is talking about friendships. They suggest that there should be certain types of friends amongst our friends:

    - friends who sharpen (as iron sharpens iron, Prov 27:17)
    - friends who mentor (older women that we can learn from)
    - friend who need friends
    - friends who need salvation

    I had never thought to do this before, not in a planned way anyway! However, there is real value in thinking about this more. However, I also don't want to overanalyze all my friendships! Some friends are just encouraging Christian woman who I enjoy spending time with. Not every relationship in life has to be entirely purposeful.

    5. Plan to depend. The fifth tip contains a lot of practical advice about how to get through the day to day realities of a busy life. However, they emphasise that we must depend on God for all things, "because if truth be told we can't help ourselves" (p89). In all things, we must remember Proverbs 3:6 - in all your ways acknowledge him..."

    They end the chapter with these words:
    In the end, our highest goal each day is not flawless execution of our plans or increased productivity. It's our relationship with God, walking in dependence upon him through the day. We should not be more consumed with the completion of our to-do list than pleasing and glorifying the Saviour. Whether we're sitting down to map out our day, simplifying our to-do list or... we must, above all, plan to depend. (p90)

    As you can probably tell, I liked this book - it made me think a bit more about how I structure things and where my priorities lie. It gives good advice and suggestions all while being grounded in the truth of God's grace and salvation and our sinfulness.

    Worth a read.

    If you go to the girltalk link here, you can download the book for free this month with Kindle (follow their links).

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Waiting for the Lord

    Our bible study groups continued on in Habakkuk this morning, and in the talk the speaker encouraged us to consider:

    How do we live by faith?
    How do we wait on the Lord?

    He gave 4 suggestions as to how we might live by faith, using Habakkuk as our example:

    1. Prayerfully - even though Habakkuk has questions, he speaks to God about them, trusting in Him for the answers.

    2. With perspective - we also need to be able to wait at the ramparts (2:1), to to look with perspective and wait on what God is doing to achieve his purposes. We can keep in mind the words of Paul:
    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Rom 8:18)
    Not only that, waiting on the Lord is not passive, it enables us to be obedient now:
    Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. (James 5:7-8)
    3. With patience - we must persevere as we wait on the Lord:
    we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Rom 5:3-4)
    4. In peace - we will doubt and we will have questions, but we still wait on the Lord, Hab 2:20:
    But the LORD is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth be silent before him.
    Sometimes, we need to stop and be silent before the Lord of everything and everyone.

    James encouraged us to stop and be silent for a time this week, prayerfully asking God with patience for him to remind us of his perspective.

    He finished with the words of Psalm 31:14-15a
    But I trust in you, O LORD;
    I say, "You are my God."
    My times are in your hands

    I have enjoyed this series on Habakkuk - however, there will be no postings from me on it next week - it's my turn on creche!

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Respectable Sins - Discontentment (Ch 9)

    Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

    Chapter 9 - Discontentment

    Bridges clarifies what he mean by discontentment:
    Discontentment...most often arises from ongoing and unchanging circumstances that we can do nothing about. (p71)
    Straight away he makes a careful proviso: there is a place for legitimate discontentment, perhaps with our own spiritual growth or with the injustices and evils in society. I would add also, the discontentment of not being home in heaven yet. However, "the subject of this chapter is a sinful discontentment that negatively affects our relationship with God." (p71)

    Bridges notes that:
    the most frequent warnings in Scripture against discontentment concern money and possessions, but in this chapter, I want to address what is perhaps a more common form of discontentment among committed Christians, an attitude than may be triggered by unchanging circumstances that are trials to our faith. (p71)
    He includes both serious and some more trivial examples of things which can be examples of such unchanging circumstances: continual poor health, singleness well into mid-life or beyond, unhappy marriage, an unfulfilling or low-paying job, or whatever it is that causes discontentment for you.

    Bridges points to Psalm 139:16:

    your eyes saw my unformed body.
    All the days ordained for me
    were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

    and encourages us, that
    [the] truth that God has ordained all our days, with all their ups and downs, their blessings and disappointments, can help us (and does help me) deal with the circumstances that tempt us to be discontent. Whatever your circumstances, and however difficult they may be, the truth is that they are ordained by God for you as part of His overall plan for your life. God does nothing, or allows nothing, without a purpose. And His purposes, however mysterious and inscrutable they may be to us, are always for His glory and our ultimate good. (p73-4)
    Bridges also points out the risk of resignation, for even though resigned we can still harbour smouldering resentment. He claims that only in acceptance can we find peace,
    Acceptance means that you accept your circumstances from God, trusting that He unerringly knows what is best for you and that in His love, He purposes only that which is best. Having then reached a state of acceptance, you can ask God to let you use your difficult circumstances to glorify Him. In this way you have moved from the attitude of a victim to an attitude of stewardship. You begin to ask, "God, how can I use [this circumstance] to serve You and glorify You?" (p75)
    He clearly states there is a recurring theme in this chapter and the previous one (on anxiety and frustration):
    That theme is the importance of a firm belief in the sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness of God in all the circumstances of our lives. Whether those circumstances are short-term or long-term, our ability to respond to them in a God-honouring and God-pleasing manner depends on our ability and willingness to bring these truths to bear on them. And we must do this by faith... (p76)

    It was tempting to just write up this chapter and to try to remain a little disconnected from it. But, that would not be entirely honest. I have struggled with contentment this year. I have had discontentment with a physical situation - I have had a lot of pain in my body this year. It has prevented me from doing many of the things that I feel are 'my job' as wife, mother and manager of the household. In so doing, I have been led by God to again realise that 'who I am' is much more important that 'what I do'. I must seek contentment in where God has placed me for the moment, and trust that he knows what he is doing, even though I do not. (I don't want to overplay this either, many people deal with much bigger things for much longer timeframes).

    At the moment, I feel God is helping me to find contentment in this situation, but I know that I can quickly slide back into frustration, anxiety and discontentment. I don't think it is a co-incidence that at the same time that these problems were worsening, I felt an increasing desire to read God's word more and more regularly and to pray to Him more often (not often about the pain though!). God does work all these things out for his own purposes, even if I do not know what they are. As I talked about in the post last Tuesday from Habakkuk, we can trust God even if we don't know the reasons why or the answer to 'how long?'

    I guess these are lessons we must learn and re-learn again as we live the lives God has ordained for us.

    Some of the bible verses I will focus on are:
    your eyes saw my unformed body.
    All the days ordained for me
    were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)

    Naked I came from my mother's womb,
    and naked I will depart.
    The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
    may the name of the LORD be praised. (Job 1:21)

    Some things to think about:
    1. What are sources of discontentment for you?
    2. How hard do you find it to move from discontentment, to acceptance, and then to glorifying God? What help do you need to be able to do so?

    On Friday: Ch 10 - Unthankfulness

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Another comment on anxiety (ch 8)

    Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

    Chapter 8 - Anxiety and Frustration

    After posting about this chapter on Friday - a good friend raised an important issue regarding anxiety:

    What about the person who suffers from severe and debilitating anxiety? Anxiety is a medical condition. It is very unhelpful to suggest that it is a sin.

    I see exactly what this person means, and I am ashamed to admit that this issue did not cross my mind as I read the chapter and subsequently wrote the post. For someone who struggles with severe anxiety, which is also often closely linked with depression, adding more guilt by labelling their situation as sinful is unhelpful at best and ungodly at worst. If I offended anyone by my comments on this chapter, I sincerely apologise - I do not want to add to the burdens you already feel.

    Having re-read the chapter again, my suspicion is that Bridges is not suggesting this either - but I do think that it would have been helpful to distinguish between general anxiety (that many people feel at various times) and anxiety disorders. I feel certain he is talking about general anxiety. However, I agree with my friend - it would have been helpful for that to have been clearer.

    An article downloaded from the Beyond Blue website includes some of the following information on anxiety:
    What is an anxiety disorder?
    We all feel anxious from time to time however, for some people, these anxious feelings are overwhelming and cannot be brought under control easily. An anxiety disorder is more than just feeling stressed – it’s a serious condition that makes it hard for the person to cope from day to day.

    How common are anxiety disorders?
    Anxiety disorders are very common. One in four people will experience an anxiety disorder at some stage in their lives.

    Types of anxiety disorders
    There is a range of anxiety disorders. The six most common disorders are:
    1. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which involves the person feeling anxious and worried on most days over six months or more.
    2. Specific Phobia
    3. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    5. Panic Disorder
    6. Social Phobia.

    Anxiety disorders are common, but the sooner you get help, the sooner you can learn to control these conditions, so they don’t control you.

    Summarised from Anxiety Disorders Information card, downloadable from this link.

    If you are someone who is struggling with a level of anxiety that affects your daily life, there are a number of places to go to start to get help:
    All of these sites have some guidelines to help diagnose anxiety disorders - but you should also see a doctor.

    I really welcome comments that point out areas that I have missed or been unhelpful. Thanks.

    Book ideas request

    I pass on a request to you, the reader, from another reader of this blog.

    Amy has asked me to recommend books for her written in an Australian context, keeping in mind the following:
    • she is new to Australia, from China (I hope I'm right there Amy!)
    • English is not her first language
    • she has recently been reading a few Alexander McCall Smith books (from the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency and 44 Scotland Street series) and has enjoyed them
    • she would like something that while fiction, still gives her some insight into Australian culture and/or history
    Over to you readers - any suggestions??

    One to one ministry, and ministry apprenticeships

    I have just got around to reading The Briefing for this month, amazingly I actually read it in the month it was published!

    The focus this month is on 'one-to-one ministry' - meeting with one other person regularly to read the bible and pray.

    If you don't normally get the Briefing, this one is worth buying.

    Have a think about whether you meet with anyone to read the bible together, and if not, ask yourself "why not?". Surely you and someone else could benefit from it? Why not take that scary step and ask someone to read the bible with you - it could be a friend, an older mentor, a new Christian or a younger mentoree (is that a word?!).

    Isobel Lin, in her article "Women, awkwardness and one to one", lists three benefits of reading the bible with someone:
    1. Reading the Bible together can protect us from becoming self-absorbed (we don't spend the whole time talking about ourselves)
    2. Reading the Bible together can protect us for favouritism (we can meet with people we don't know very well)
    3. Reading the Bible together can give us the priceless treasure of a friendship that has been enriched by God's word
    And don't think by the title of that article, one to one ministry is only for women, most of the rest of the issue talks about men meeting together.

    There is also a very helpful article by Col Marshall for those considering full-time ministry and the importance of doing a ministry apprenticeship before having theological training. Some of his reasons include:
    • apprentices learn to integrate Word, life and ministry practice
    • apprentices are tested in character
    • apprentices are well-prepared for theological study (a point Husband & I would definitely agree with, have not done a apprenticeship and having gone straight to college. The people who had done a MAP/MTS program were more aware of the issues of ministry as they studied and the questions they needed to answer for ministry)
    • apprentices learn ministry in the real world
    • and a few more...
    Worth getting your hands on if you thinking through such things...

    I can email a copy of the eBriefing to any one who is interested (which is allowable under the copyright requirements). Leave a comment with your details (I will not publish it!) and I'll send it to you.

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Children's Book - How Big is a Pig?

    How Big is a Pig?, Clare Beaton

    We discovered this toddler book on recommendation from a friend, and then spotting it at the library. It is a book of opposites, but what is brilliant about it are the illustrations - hopefully you can see in enough detail in the picture - they are felt pictures, all sewn together.

    It's such a lovely way of illustrating, A (2 years) loves it - she loves seeing the different pictures and she even tries to answer the questions:
    Some cows are thin; some cows are fat.
    But how big is a pig? Can you tell me that?...

    Some geese are dirty; some geese are clean.
    But how big is a pig? How many have you seen?

    This is one of those baby/toddler books that is worth getting!

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Respectable Sins - Anxiety & Frustration (Ch 8)

    Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

    Chapter 8 - Anxiety and Frustration

    In this chapter Bridges addresses both anxiety and frustration.

    Bridges states that anxiety is sin for two reasons:

    1. It is a distrust of God. "If I give way to anxiety, I am, in effect, believing that God does not care for me and that He will not take care of me in the particular circumstance that triggers my anxiety of the moment" (p64)

    2. It is a lack of acceptance of God's providence in our lives, "we tend to focus on the immediate causes of our anxiety rather than remembering that those immediate causes are under the sovereign control of God." (p64)

    He says that we should pray about the situations that cause us anxiety:
    it is appropriate to pray for relief and for deliverance from whatever circumstance is triggering our anxiety, but we should always do so with an attitude of acceptance of whatever God's providential will may be and a confidence that, whatever the outcome, God's will is better than our plans or desires (p67)

    Bridges briefly looks at worry as well, categorising "worry with more long-term difficult or painful circumstances for which there appear to be no resolution" (p67). His method is still the same though, trust in God and his providential care.

    His treatment of frustration is similarly brief, "frustration usually involves being upset or even angry and whatever or whoever is blocking our plans" (p69).

    I must say I found this chapter a little too simplistic. Most of the examples in it (eg. planes running late and computers not printing) were a little trite and they downplayed the serious worries, anxieties and frustrations that some people face (although he did refer to one serious type of worry - the long-term care of disabled children).

    He finished the chapter with this:
    Both anxiety and frustration are sins. They are not to be taken lightly or brushed off as common reactions we have to difficult events in a fallen world. Can you picture Jesus ever being anxious or frustrated? And whatever in our lives is not like Jesus is sin. (p70)
    As I read this, I thought - yes, I think they are situations where we see Jesus anxious or frustrated. Surely in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed 'for this cup to be taken from me', there is anxiety about what he know he is about to face. He does rely on God's will ('yet not my will, but yours') - however, he was certainly intensely troubled about what he was about to face. (interestingly Bridges did refer to this and Jesus' being anxious on p67, so in some ways has contradicted himself anyway). And there are times when Jesus seems frustrated at people's lack of faith or understanding (Luke 9:41 "O unbelieving and perverse generation,"Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?").

    I guess in the end what matters is our response to things, and mostly our responses of anxiety and frustration are because we are not in control of everything and we would really prefer to be so. Even if I found the chapter a little simplistic, I don't think Bridges is giving a simplistic solution. He is right in saying that in all areas of our lives, we must turn to God in prayer and through his word and be willing to let him work according to his will.

    And for those of us for whom anxiety is a prominent feature of our personality (and it certainly can be mine), I think it is helpful to ask ourselves why we are anxious: Is it because we want to be in control? Do we not really trust God and his will? Why not? We don't want to be too simple in a statement of "Let go and let God", however for many of us who struggle with anxiety, we probably need to go further towards that sentiment than we have been previously willing to do so.

    Some bible verses to remember:
    Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7) *

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil 4:6) *

    So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

    Some things to think about:
    1. What causes anxiety and/or frustration for you?
    2. Will you pray to God about these things and allow him to work them out according to his will?
    3. Can you trust him enough to do so? What prevents you from trusting God?

    On Monday: Chapter 9 - Discontentment.

    Later note:
    Please look here to see some further notes regarding anxiety made after this post.

    * these will be the two I will try to learn from this chapter

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Recipe Meme

    Nicole has tagged me on a recipe meme. Oh, the pressure...

    Here are the rules:
    - Choose one ingredient from her recipe and post a recipe using this ingredient on my blog, linking back to the previous blogs that have posted a recipe.
    - Then tag four new people, and we will see how it grows.
    - To keep it exciting please post within a week of receiving the tag.

    I have selected the chicken from Nicole's recipe, and share with you my chicken casserole recipe, cooked in a slow cooker. I love this meal because it feeds us twice: on the first night as a normal casserole with rice; and on the second night as a pie. I have included both recipes below. (It could be done on the stovetop or in the oven too)

    Chicken Casserole
    ~1.5kgs chicken thighs, cut into pieces
    1 onion, chopped
    1 packet (250g) short cut bacon, chopped
    1 cup chicken stock
    1 cup wine (I use rose; white or red is fine, could just use more stock too if preferred)
    1 tsp minced garlic
    Italian herbs
    salt and pepper
    4-6 carrots, sliced
    ~8 mushrooms, sliced
    frozen peas
    30-40g butter
    2 tbsp flour

    • fry onion and bacon in olive oil, put in slow cooker
    • fry chicken to brown, add to slow cooker
    • add stock, wine, herbs, garlic, carrots and mushrooms
    • cook on high for 4 hours
    • 1 hour before finished, add peas
    • 1/2 to 1 hour before finished, mix butter with flour and hot juices, make a paste, then add to casserole (this thickens up the sauce and adds a bit of creaminess)
    • serve with rice

    Chicken Casserole Pie
    1½ sheets frozen short crust pastry, defrosted
    2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
    chicken casserole

    • blind bake shortcrust pastry in greased pie tin (10-15 mins on 200°C with pastry weights)
    • microwave casserole to heat through
    • place in pastry shell
    • put over 1 sheet of pastry, spray with canola and repeat with other sheet. Fold over pastry at the edges, spray all with canola
    • Bake at 200-220°C fan forced for ~40 mins - enough for pastry to brown

    I am struggling to figure out who to tag, seeing a number of people I would ask have private blogs...

    I will tag Jenny, Sally, Gillian & Tamie. But I will not be offended if you don't continue the meme! Will be a test too, to see if you actually read my blog!

    And could anyone enlighten me as to where 'meme' came from???

    Photo from stock.xchg

    Shopping for Time - Part 1

    Shopping for time: How to do it all and not be overwhelmed, by Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore and Janelle Bradshaw

    Part 1 of 2

    This very helpful little book is written by Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters, also known as the girltalk bloggers. It is <100 pages, very easy to read, and sets up some good principles for how we prioritise things as women. There is a tendency in it to talk in relation to marriage, but it is equally relevant to women of all ages and stages. I found myself reading it realising that it would have been good to think about these things when I was younger, before life got so busy, so that I was more pro-active in those years.

    There are 5 key ideas in it, the first two of which I will cover in this post:

    1. Rise early. They call this the 5am club. The idea is that you get up early, so that you have time to spend in God's word at the beginning of the day.

    When I first read this chapter I really fought against the idea. After all, my youngest is already up at 5:30am and that seems early enough to me. However the more I have thought about it, I have realised that on the days that I am up early on duty (rather than the one who gets to sleep in) these are the days that I am more organised and prepared, both for the morning rush and for the entire day. I have realised that once all my children sleep or stay in their rooms till a normal hour (which I feel is 7am), I am someone who would like to get up early in the morning and get started on things for the day (although I may settle for 6am, rathan than 5!). I don't think personally that I can read the bible or pray effectively early in the morning, but I can certainly get other things done, so I can clear time to spend with God later in the day.

    I did have one major hesitation with this suggestion however. I think it is actually a higher priority to have time for my husband in the evenings. If I choose to get up so early that I am exhausted in the evenings, I am actually doing my marriage a disservice.

    They were very careful to say there they are not making a law here, and you have to figure out what works for you personally:
    The 5am Club is founded on principle rather than practice. The question isn't, "How early do you get up in the morning?" but, "Does your daily schedule reflect your priorities: seeking God at the outset of the day, romancing your husband, and serving your family?' The purpose of getting up early is to make the most important priorities most important (p36)

    2. Sit still - sit at Jesus feet, seek him through his word and prayer. The model here is Mary rather than Martha (Luke 10:38-42), and having a willingness to listen to Jesus' teaching, rather than trying to do everything ourselves.
    Because of his death of the cross for our sins, we have the privilege to sit at the feet of the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace and to listen to him (Isa 9:6). What marvelous access!

    As if it weren't enough to simple bask in his presence, it is here than we receive grace to make the best use of our time. When we seek God through his Word and prayer, we glean wisdom for walking carefully. We obtain guidance for daily decisions. We find peace in the midst of life's whirlwind. We are infused with strength to complete our tasks. (p41-2)
    They give helpful tips about how to get started reading God's word more regularly and some resources that one could use. I know I have found the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan invaluable for me this year. I have kept to it since I started in May (it's previously unheard of for me to keep to the one same system for 5 months!)

    The next 3 tips were extremely helpful and challenging for me, and as they may require a bit more thought, I will post about them next week in Part 2.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    Trusting God

    Our bible study groups started on Habakkuk this morning. We were studying Hab 1:1-11, looking at the questions Habakkuk asks of God: "why are you not acting to right the injustice of the world?"
    How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
    Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
    but you do not save?
    3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrong?
    Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds. (Hab 1:2-3)

    Then God responds: I am going to act, but in a way you would never have dreamed of - in judgement and in the sending of the Babylonians to invade you:
    Look at the nations and watch--
    and be utterly amazed.
    For I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told.
    6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
    that ruthless and impetuous people,
    who sweep across the whole earth
    to seize dwelling places not their own. (Hab 1:5-6)
    It raises the question of how God acts in the world, using ways we never would have thought of. The speaker, James, asked all of us this insightful question:

    Why do we think we can only trust God when we have all the answers?

    God acts in surprising ways and ways we would never act, but He is God and He is almighty, all-knowing and all-powerful.

    He ended by quoting from a hymn of William Cowper, Light shining out of Darkness - I have included all the words below:
    God moves in a mysterious way,
    His wonders to perform;
    He plants his footsteps in the sea,
    And rides upon the storm.

    Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never-failing skill,
    He treasures up his bright designs,
    And works his sov'reign will.

    Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
    The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy, and shall break
    In blessings on your head.

    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust him for his grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
    He hides a smiling face.

    His purposes will ripen fasts,
    Unfolding ev'ry hour;
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow'r.

    Blind unbelief is sure to err,
    And scan his work in vain;
    God is his own interpreter,
    And he will make it plain.
    (sourced from here)

    I found it an encouraging reminder of the character of our God in whom we trust.

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    Respectable Sins - Ungodliness (Ch 7)

    Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

    Chapter 7 - Ungodliness

    Now Bridges turns to the first of 14 chapters dealing with so called respectable sins. The first he chooses to tackle is ungodliness.

    I first turned to this chapter thinking, what exactly does he mean by ungodliness? Well, he is very clear:
    Ungodliness may be defined as living one's everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God's will, or of God's glory, or of one's dependence on God. (p54)
    He stresses that there is a difference between wickedness and ungodliness - you can be a perfectly pleasant person, but still be ungodly.
    Now the sad fact is that many of us who are believers tend to live our daily lives with little or no thought of God. We may even read our Bibles and pray for a few minutes at the beginning of each day, but then we go out into the day's activities and basically live as though God doesn't exist. We seldom think of our dependence on God or our responsibility to Him. We might go for hours with no thought of God at all. In that sense we are hardly different from our nice, decent, but unbelieving neighbor. God is not at all in his thoughts and is seldom in ours. (p54)
    Bridges then examines what it means to do all to the glory of God:

    1. I desire that everything I do be pleasing to God. "I want God to be pleased with the way I go about the ordinary activities of my day" (p57)
    2. I desire than all my activities of an ordinary day will honour God before other people. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says, "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

    Bridges identifies another mark of ungodliness as having only a meagre desire to have a personal relationship with God:
    A person man be moral and upright, or even busy in Christian service, yet have little or no desire to develop an intimate relationship with God...For the godly person, God is the center and focal point of his or her life...However, such a God-centredness can only be developed in the context of an ever growing intimate relationship with God. (p58)

    So, then asks Bridges - what do we do?
    Our goal in the pursuit of godliness should be to grow more in our conscious awareness that every moment of our lives is lived in the presence of God; that we are responsible to Him and dependent on Him. This goal would include a growing desire to please Him and glorify Him in the most ordinary activities of life. (p60)

    I found this chapter a very helpful starting point in thinking about specific sins. Ungodliness overarches all sin - for if we were living our lives fully aware of God's presence, how many other sins would we take more care to control? It is our desire to ignore God and pretend he is not there, that enables us to continue to sin in abandon.

    Some of the bible verses that he referred to that I found helpful are:
    So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31)*

    Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Col 3:23)*

    For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God (Col 1:9-10)

    O God, you are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you,
    my body longs for you,
    in a dry and weary land
    where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)

    Some things to think about:
    1. Did Bridges' definition of ungodliness resonate with you?
    2. How do you think you are going at keeping God at the centre all of the time?
    3. Are you encouraged to spend more time strengthening your personal relationship with God? What do you need to change to enable that to happen?

    On Friday: Ch 8 - Anxiety and frustration

    * these will be the two I will try to learn from this chapter

    All bible references here and throughout this blog are NIV.

    Saturday, September 5, 2009

    Children's Authors - Alison Lester

    This week's author is prolific author and illustrator Alison Lester - yet another talented Australian.

    She has a great series based around 7 children. We have enjoyed When Frank Was Four, Celeste Sails to Spain, Ernie Dances to the Didgeridoo & Tessa Snaps Snakes.

    These ones have appealed between ages 2-6. Children like to see what happens to each child and how they are different.

    When Frank Was Four goes through each age and what each child did:
    When Frank was four, he ate three packets of fruity fish.
    Nicky cut off her plait.
    Tessa dressed up the cat.
    Ernie started to wear glasses.
    Clive took off his training wheels.
    And Rosie's pony arrived on Christmas morning.
    But Celeste danced in her first ballet and received a standing ovation.
    Others of the series talk about what each child likes, or what their adventures were, or where they have been - it's just lovely.

    Lester also has written and illustrated Are we there yet? which is the story of their family trip of around Australia. This one is better for older kids (4+) as it requires some attention to read it through, but it is a treat.

    It says on the inside flap of this book that it took a decade to reach publication - you can understand why considering all the illustrations - but it was worth it!

    Another one which we have just found at the library is Imagine. Children are pretending to be in different parts of the world, and then there is a detailed scene showing all the animals that would be there. There is a key at the back to help you find them all correctly - for kids that are interested in animals this would be a winner. Younger children (2-4) will like looking at the pictures, but older children will be keen to try to find and name all the animals correctly. And if the illustrations for Are we there yet? took a long time, I cannot imagine how long these took!

    She obviously has a real sense of the imagination that children have, as many of her books emphasise that. I'm Green and I'm Grumpy! is all about a game of dress-ups and what everyone wants to pretend to be. The illustrations show so well the ways that kids can make anything around the house into a toy or dress-up. The ending is lovely too!

    However, in my opinion, I have saved the best for last - Magic Beach. Again, based around imagination, she talks times at the beach and then the ways kids can turn it into an imaginary adventure:
    At our beach,
    at our magic beach,
    we play in the sand for hours,
    digging and building,
    with buckets and spade,
    invincible castles and towers.
    (illustration is a normal beach scene)

    The king and the queen are trapped in the moat
    a dragon is spitting out flames.
    Princess Belinda is charging the beast
    to rescue little Prince James.
    (illustration is the imaginary scene)

    This is a truly wonderful book, the poetry flows beautifully and the illustrations are fantastic. This book was our first introduction to Alison Lester, and now we get whatever we can find of hers whenever we are at the library.

    All images copyright ©Alison Lester 2008 and sourced from her website.

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    Respectable Sins - ch 6

    Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges

    Chapter 6 - Directions for Dealing with Sins

    Having read through chapters 1 - 5, looking at how sin is so prevalent and serious in our lives and that Jesus' death has won our forgiveness, Bridges now takes us through a suggested method for dealing with our sins. I will outline his steps in some detail:

    1. We should always address our sin in the context of the gospel. We must remember that "our sins are forgiven and we are accepted as righteous by God because of both the sinless life and sin-bearing death of our Lord Jesus Christ" (p48)

    I wonder, does this truth resonate with you? Do you truly desire to change because of what God has already done in Christ through you? Or are you more tempted to rely only on God's grace, taking his forgiveness a little for granted and being less inclined to change? This reminds me of Romans 6:
    What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?...
    In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies so that you obey its evil desires...For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom 6:1-2, 11-12, 14)
    2. We must learn to rely on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. We must cultivate an attitude of continual dependence on the Holy Spirit.

    3. Recognise our responsibility to pursue all practical steps for dealing with our sins. This must be balanced with relying on the Holy Spirit.

    Are you more likely to reply on the Spirit or on your own power?

    4. Identify specific areas of sin. Be open and be honest. As we read the chapters over coming weeks, some are sure to resonate with you more than others. Be prepared to face them.

    5. Memorise and apply appropriate scriptures. As Psalm 119:11 says: "I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you".

    I have always liked the idea of memorising verses, but have never been very good at it. Perhaps I can try a little harder through this book!

    6. Cultivate the practice of prayer. We must be willing to pray both in a planned way about our sins and struggles, but also spontaneously when we are in a situation that triggers sin.

    I was a little surprised here that he does not use the language of confession. He talks about acknowledging our sins in prayer, which in giving the benefit of the doubt may be what he means. But I wonder if a list of bible verses to encourage one to confess sin, followed by those which show God's forgiveness would also be appropriate. Some that spring to mind would be Psalm 51:1-5:
    1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
    according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
    2 Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.
    3 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
    4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
    so that you are proved right when you speak
    and justified when you judge.
    5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
    and Romans 3:10-18
    10 As it is written:
    "There is no one righteous, not even one;
    11 there is no one who understands,
    no one who seeks God.
    12 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one."
    13 "Their throats are open graves;
    their tongues practice deceit."
    "The poison of vipers is on their lips."
    14 "Their mouths are full of cursing and
    15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood;
    16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
    17 and the way of peace they do not know."
    18 "There is no fear of God before their
    Of course, it is appropriate after such confession of sin, to rejoice in the forgiveness of God. But surely it is still appropriate to confess.

    7. Involve one or a few other believers in our struggles. A relationship that has mutual vulnerability and accountability to one another with openness and prayer, can be of great help in combating sin.

    There is real value in cultivating a relationship where this type of honesty can occur. They are hard to do, but well worth it.

    Things to think about:
    1. Do you agree with these steps?
    2. Which of these steps would you be tempted to skip? Why?

    On Monday, Chapter 7 - Ungodliness