Saturday, 29 November 2008

The miracle of re-birth... and of romance

Thoughts of Anna's birth have led me to reflect upon my own birth: my second one, whereby I was reborn by the Holy Spirit and became a new creation in Christ.

A while back, Amy asked me to share my testimony. And then our advance warning of questions to be asked for Jeff's interview came in and they are going to ask for my testimony tomorrow as well. So I thought I would use the quiet tonight (I'm over at the T family's house babysitting their five lovely children) to share some of my testimony with this blog's readers. Jeff warned me I'll only have about two or three minutes at the interview, but I hope you might have a few more moments than that, my dear reader(s??). I'll warn you now, this may well be my longest post ever.

My mother is a Christian, but my father is not. Rather, he is an outspoken atheist. He wasn't always quite so outspoken, however, and I do have one memory of him attending a Christmas Eve carols service at Mudamuckla church (a tiny building, it would seat perhaps only 30 people). He spent most of the service seeing how artistic he could be with the dripping wax from his candle. I wonder if perhaps after that Mum thought he needn't bother with the pretence of worshipping with us, even at those annual Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter. I certainly don't remember him coming to church with us ever after that, until he came to each of my children's infant dedication/thanksgiving services, having been specifically invited.

However, my mother was and is a Christian and I often admired (and still do) her perseverance in her faith in the face of antagonism. I remember watching her place money in the offering plate each Sunday and wondering at her determination to give to the church of God despite Dad's seeming to let us go there on sufferance. My mother's quiet faith and perseverance in it spoke volumes to me as a teenager and I still reflect upon it today, mostly with gratefulness that, unlike her, I am married to a man who loves God.

Dad was content to allow Mum to bring myself and my two brothers up "in the church", although they did choose a family sport which took us away from services every second week during the winter. I attended Sunday School classes and, in high school, I went to a weekly Bible Study. I was enthusiastic about being a Christian, but sadly I thought Christianity was something you did, rather than something you were. This caused no end of strife in my later teen years and early adulthood!

I am not sure what led me to this erroneous conclusion. I did attend preparation for baptism/confirmation classes in high school, but somehow the things I was taught there did not sink in, despite me deciding to be baptised and confirmed into the church when the classes ended. I remember having a very lop-sided view of the Holy Spirit as a result, partly, of having listened to a very emotion-rousing speech at a youth event on the need to "have the gift of tongues" as evidence of one's salvation. I think the lesson I learnt from that was that the Holy Spirit's role in the life of a Christian was merely something to do with helping them pray in an unusual way. I don't remember being told that the Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus to his disciples as the counsellor, who would show them what to say and do in their lives after He ascended to heaven. Which was unfortunate, really, because I could have worked out the prayer stuff on my own (or with a few good examples, anyway) but it was the counsel part which I really needed in my own life.

I struggled deeply with the idea that I had to live up to a standard of behaviour in order to be a Christian. By about half way through university, I remember very clearly thinking one day that I couldn't live up to this standard on my own so I wasn't going to bother even "trying" to be a Christian any more. There was a guy involved, but he was just the catalyst for my decision, not the root cause. The problem was that I was a sinner - and I thought I had to be a saint all on my own, without any reference to what Jesus Christ had done for me, or what the Holy Spirit would do for me if I only had faith in Jesus' work on my behalf.

My behaviour spiralled down from there, but I won't go into that. Since I no longer had the desire to live up to God's standard, I didn't worry too much when I couldn't. And so I took many small steps which eventually took me a long way from the moral foundations I had once held dear.

At times I went to church with my Mum, then when I went off to Adelaide to do my Grad Dip I went on rare occasions with my brothers, and once or twice with a boyfriend. In my second semester of teaching I was working in a small country town and for some reason I decided to check out the local church and was welcomed. I even went so far as to join a Bible Study small group for a while, but my heart wasn't in it and I struggled to know what the point was. Upon reflection, I suspect much of my motive was a need to connect with someone who didn't know my boyfriend whom I had split up from after moving to the country to be nearer where he was. At the end of that year I decided to move back to my parent's place in Darwin and got work at a private high school there. I had emotional wounds to lick in private but my spiritual wounds would only grow deeper.

Despite living for a while with my parents again, I didn't go to church with Mum. I moved out with friends after a while. I put a lot of effort into my work (most of my teaching time was with ESL Aboriginal kids who had come to the school as boarders from remote rural communities). I also spent a lot of time reading pagan books looking for a religion which would allow me to worship the god I wanted to worship, not the One in the Bible, who I had earlier rejected. I bought a goddess charm which I wore on a necklace and, while I didn't delve deeply into Wicca, I gradually came to look upon myself as a neo-pagan. Of course, I wasn't "neo" anything: I was a pagan just the same as those who worshipped the Ashtoreths back in the time of the Israelites! But I didn't think of it from that perspective, of course. I thought of it as a sort of feminist revival of a religion which suited who I was and wanted to be. There was a small voice inside which whispered "this is not going to please the One True God very much, is it?" but I managed to ignore it most of the time.

And then I met Jeffrey one Saturday as I wandered through the local shopping centre with a friend. I still shudder at some of the things I said in that first conversation, but for some reason he was fascinated by me and rang me later in the week to ask for a date. I remember thinking, after hanging up the phone, "That was odd... why on earth is he interested in me?" (Jason, a mutual friend who had given him my phone number, later let slip that Jeff had spent quite a while mooning over "that wonderful girl" to Jason before finally acquiring the number and ringing it. I still wonder how he wasn't turned off in shock at my antics.)

Jeff and I spent most of the next month arguing. Mostly about religion and our conflicting beliefs. However, he did tell me he loved me only two weeks after we met, and I told him not long after that. Seven weeks after we met Jeff asked me to marry him and I said yes, although I was quite put out that he chose to ask while I was barefoot in the kitchen cooking dinner. The champagne he had in the fridge almost made up for the burnt stir fry.

Despite our engagement, the arguments continued. Jeff thought of himself as a Christian, and I thought of myself as a pagan. I tried to argue with him that god was really a multi-faceted being and he was just choosing to worship the facet called "God" by Christians and I was worshipping a "goddess" facet, but he wouldn't have a bar of it. He told me it was all a load of rubbish. For the first time I ran up against someone who knew that post-modern pretensions that "it can be true for you, even if it's not true for me" didn't hold any water in the arena of religious belief. And Jeff, who had been on the territory debating team in senior high school, was no slouch when it came to arguing his point forcefully. Still, I loved the adrenalin of the arguments almost as much as I hated the frustration of knowing I was losing most, if not all, of them.

I stubbornly held to my own beliefs, but as a good post-modern I couldn't do anything to attack Jeffrey's. After all, he was entitled to believe whatever he wanted, wasn't he? So at some point before we got engaged, we came to what I now look back on as a naive and foolish, if not downright stupid, agreement. I agreed to support Jeff in his "Christian" beliefs and also allow any children from our union to be brought up to think that Christianity was true, so long as they were also taught that other people believed something else was true. Jeffrey pretty much only conceded not to harass me about my pagan beliefs anymore. It wasn't much of a truce but it helped me to feel comfortable with the idea of marrying Jeffrey, because I remembered from my childhood in the church (and my own family) that Christians shouldn't marry non-Christians. I still can't believe I was that naive.

Anyway, Jeff and I moved in together a while after that, because he had been living in a house provided by his employer the ICRC. He had been planning to move to Africa to work for them there two months after we met, but decided living in a war zone wouldn't be good for a new marriage. So when he quit his job we found a flat together and I embarked on what I looked at as "helping Jeffrey to be a better Christian, the Christian he really should be if he wants to keep calling himself by that title". You see, I didn't think Jeff really had too much of an understanding about what Christianity was all about. He never went to church, he was willing to marry me (and I knew he shouldn't do that because I wasn't a Christian) and he didn't even complain too much when I went and got a tattoo (and I knew the OT said something or other prohibiting permanently marking your body - how could he not know that rule, even if he was willing to flout the marrying one?). You can see from this that my view of Christianity was still completely one of living by the rules. I don't think I'd ever heard the word "grace" at this stage. I certainly didn't know what it meant.

Part of my plan was to get Jeff to attend church. So I told him to pick one, because he should be going. He picked Darwin Baptist, because that's where he had gone as a kid growing up in Darwin. I was happy that he didn't want to go to the church I'd gone to with my Mum years ago, because I worried that people would look down on "that poor heathen girl" - me. Because I knew that the best way to get him off to church on any given Sunday was to go with him myself. So there I found myself at DBC one Sunday, patiently standing and sitting with the rest of the congregation (but refusing to sing the songs or pray the prayers, because I didn't want to pretend to be something I wasn't), while I waited for Jeff to find out what this whole Christianity thing was all about. I found myself there a whole lot of Sundays actually, and even found myself singing along a little bit, just to the tunes which were really catchy, darn 'em.

We got married somewhere in here, seven months after we met. And we were still arguing about religion, but the arguments had spilled over into other things as well. Pretty much everything which we disagreed about seemed to have the root of the problem come from our differing views about God, however. I didn't realise until later how much Jeff's heart ached as it finally dawned on him that the woman he loved was not going to be in heaven with him when we both died.

Then one Sunday they announced at church that an Alpha course was about to be run. I nudged Jeff and told him, "You need to go to that. Then you'll really find out what Christianity is all about. You have to know what you say you believe. Put your name down!" Again, the easiest way to get him to go to the Alpha course was to go along with him. I look back with a smile at this time because I honestly thought I was being a good post-modern pagan encouraging my husband in his own religious beliefs, with no thought that God might actually use this course to teach me what Christianity was all about as well!

So we went along to the Alpha course together. Some weeks Jeff wanted to be slack and not go, and it was me (the "pagan"!) who got him there on time. And each week on the way home we would have huge arguments over what had been said in the video. Huge arguments, even for us! We'd still be arguing for an hour or more after we got home and then we'd go to bed to lie in stony silence. I don't know about Jeff, but I was always lying there trying to think of a better argument, and I just couldn't. I still can't believe that I persisted with dragging Jeff along to that blasted - blessed - Alpha course each week. Because if I hadn't become a Christian, we sure would have ended up divorced, those arguments were that bitter.

Around about the third or fourth week of the Alpha course, there is an explanation of the fact that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sin of the people of the world. It completely rocked my world. Beaten down by so many arguments with Jeff, I remember walking out onto the balcony of the flat where the course was held and praying my first prayer to God in years.

"God," I said with resignation in my heart, "Your Son has already died for my sins. It happened a long time ago now and there's nothing I can say that will undo it. So I might as well take advantage of it. I'll be a Christian if You want me to be one. But You know I can't be a good Christian on my own. If You want me to change, You'd better make me. Because I can't do it on my own, and I know I do need to change. So You do it. Take my life, and make of it what You will."

I didn't really think, even in that moment, that He could change me. (It took two weeks before I would even admit to Jeff that I had become a Christian!) And I sure had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I told Him that He could do whatever He wanted with me. (I mean, here I am, only seven-and-a-half years later, about to become a Pastor's Wife!!!) But He was faithful. He still is. He led us to a Bible study where I heard about Justice, and Wrath, and Grace, and Mercy, and Election, and Love. And I slowly began to learn that God will never be what I want Him to be. He is Who He is, and I have to accept that and worship Him in Truth. I began to learn that Christians do not live lives which accord with God's moral standard because that earns them their salvation. Instead, Christians are moved by the Holy Spirit, which is placed within them at the moment they place their faith in Jesus Christ, to live lives which increasingly reflect the glory of the One who died for them. I learnt the difference between justification and sanctification. And at last I began to see how it all applied to me. And little by little, I placed more and more trust in God. And little by little, and sometimes even in big jumps, He was at work in me, sanctifying me and making me more like His Son, Jesus Christ. Giving me the desire and strength to live the life I had never thought possible as a teen.

After we moved to Perth I heard an explanation of God's plan of salvation and how it is revealed in the Bible which, for the first time, helped to put every word in the Bible into place for me. I enrolled in BSF, which I had gone to for a short time in Darwin, and learnt more about God's Sovereignty, and His provision for my righteousness. And I heard a whole lot of solid, Biblically-based teaching about the Holy Spirit and His role in the life of a believer. I learnt that a Christian is truthfully described as a believer, not a do-er. But also, that faith without works is dead, and "good works" are one evidence that faith is indeed present in the life of a Christian.

I learnt to hold precious those special words of Ephesians 2:8-10:

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Thank You Jesus for dying for my sins. Thank You my Father in Heaven for calling me to be one of Your children. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for residing in my heart as a testimony to the hope I have in Christ Jesus, and for the way You move me to obey God's will. Thank You God, for loving me so much You saved me and made me a Christian in truth, rather than just one in name. Amen.

PS And just in case you're wondering, Jeff and I argue a whole lot less now: praise the LORD for His mercies!

Friday, 28 November 2008

There is no frigate like a book

I love this poem by Emily Dickson which Ali posted last Friday. Do check out her post, she has found a lovely apropos illustration as well.

A Book
by Emily Dickinson

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Memories of birth

WARNING: some of this is a bit explicit in the terminology used, but not, I hope, offensive.
I have included two photos; neither shows private body parts, but there is blood, so don't scroll down if you're squeamish.

A few days ago I got out Anna's scrapbook & photo album to show a newly pregnant mum some records from my pregnancy and the birth. Anna grabbed it afterward and of course she was fascinated by the (quite graphic) birth photos after she managed to open the discreet cover pages. She asked to see some more and, since she'd already seen them, I wanted to look at them with her properly and talk to her about them, but there just wasn't time right then.

So yesterday, with a rainy morning making it nice to stay indoors, we all sat down at the table and looked through not only Anna's album but also Abigail's and then Joshua's. Sam doesn't have one - he only has this blog and the many many photos saved on the computer - and looking through them with the kids I felt a yearning to be regularly scrapbooking again.

We started with Anna's birth. She was born very quickly, almost immediately after I arrived at the labour ward, and I was attended by two midwives and no doctor. But having said that, one of the midwives actually took photos of the whole event while the other coached my mother in the fine art of delivering her granddaughter! Jeff was there as well, rubbing my back and whispering encouragement. We have photos of Anna crowning and then of her head emerging with a little fist beside it in "thinker's presentation". We presume she was interrupted sucking her fist because she was born with suck marks on both her hands; the scars have only recently faded away, four years later.

As I talked about these photos with the children, I explained what was happening in each one, but I tried to focus on the people rather than the gore. I talked about how special it was for Grandma to be able to cradle Anna's head in her hands as she was born. I talked about how thankful I was for Jeffrey rubbing my back to soothe me. I talked about how excited I had been to meet her finally, and how while she was being born, I remember calling to her through tears of joy, "Come on little Anna! It's all right my little Anna Christina, we love you!" Even though I did not know until she was born and given to me that my "Baby X" was indeed the girl I thought she must be. I talked about how much we all loved her, from the first moment.

Then we have photos of Anna screaming up at me as she lay between my arms (I gave birth kneeling on the floor); she had an APGAR score of 10/10.There is a photo of Anna feeding at my breast minutes after that, with the placenta (delivered naturally, which was quite unusual for the hospital) complete on the bed.

I pointed out the cord to the children explained to the children how it had taken blood with food for Anna from my body to her stomach within me. Anna in particular was fascinated by this, and of course we had to examine her belly button to see where the cord had gone.

And finally there was this amazing and tender photo of Anna staring straight up at Jeffrey's face as he holds his little baby girl in his arms.I remember saying to Jeff at that moment, feeling like it had been a very easy birth, "Next time we have a baby..."

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Pray for us, if you will

Jeff has been asked to attend an interview for the Pastor's position at BCC on Sunday afternoon.

And they've asked for me to come along as well, which fills me with some trepidation, but also relief. If he were interviewing to be, say, a sewage engineer (as he has been previously), prospective employers would not dream of asking his wife to attend the interview as well. However, pastoral ministry to a local church is not like sewage engineering. (... Well, not in some ways!) It is important for the church to consider Jeff's wife as well as Jeff.

Paul wrote to Timothy with quite specific selection criteria for certain official positions within the early church in Ephesus. The titles used in the original Greek are translated "overseer" (or "bishop") and "deacon" in my version. Whatever the fine print of the job requirements for these positions, compared to the position of "Pastor" which Jeff is presently applying for, Paul had some things to say which it would be wise for Jeff and I, as well as the elders and congregation of BCC, to consider.

1 Timothy 3
1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer [bishop], he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer [bishop] must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, their wives [deaconesses] are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He [God] appeared in a body [in the flesh],
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

Obviously there are criteria other than those relating to our marriage here, which must also be considered when assessing Jeff's suitability for pastoral ministry. All but one of the criteria Paul lists here are character traits, behaviours that provide evidence that the person concerned is living a life of faith. They have put off the old, corrupted self and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:222-23). They are continuing to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in them to will and act according to His good purpose (Phil 2:12b-13).

The only criterion which is directly related to the skills (or gifts) required to carry out the tasks involved in this pastoral ministry (for "overseers") is: "able to teach". Jeff has had many people, over the years, acknowledge privately and publicly that he is indeed gifted with the ability to teach from the word of God. He suspects that the pastoral search committee will ask him to preach one Sunday at BCC before they make any final decision, as well.

So please pray for us as we attend the panel interview together on Sunday afternoon. It is an awesome responsibility to work full time in the edification (building up) of the church of God in a local congregation. A "noble task" indeed.

Abigail doing her "lessons"

As I mentioned in my last Weekly Report, Abigail has started asking to do "lessons" with Joshua and Anna. Her first lessons have been in tracing her own name, once per lesson. This afternoon we were doing school late, so she was able to join us after her nap. I managed a few photos of her efforts.I am glad Abigail's first experiences of "homeschool lessons" have left such a big grin on her face!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A Call to Spiritual Reformation ch4

As I mentioned, I have decided to post weekly comments (actually, they seem to be happening fortnightly) on the book by Don Carson, "A Call to Spiritual Reformation", which I am reading slowly but steadily at the moment. You might like to join me in reading it, or simply learn from my comments.
Chapter Four: Praying for Others

This chapter does not focus on any one of Paul's letters, as did chapters 2 and 3. Instead, Carson considers the breadth of Paul's prayers in all his letters and identifies the overwhelmingly common factor that Paul is often and insistently praying for other believers. "One of the remarkable characteristics of Paul's prayers is the large proportion of space devoted to praying for others."

Carson opens the chapter with a discussion of the reality of the church being made up of believers who have not yet attained perfect sanctification and glory: yep, that's me and you! Carson relates this to the essential role of the church in serving the church, God's people. He argues that Jesus identified two clear commands for the life of a believer and ranked them first (love God) and second (love your neighbour). Thus addressing humanitatian concerns is not the essence of the Christian Life, however, it is the mark or evidence of a Christian Life. "Our allegiance to God and his gospel will be demonstrated in our service to his people, to those who will become his people, to those made in his image." In what practical ways do you show love for others around you, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Of course, love of others is manifested in our prayers as well as in our actions. Prayer must include both praise to God, expressions of repentance for sin, and prayers for oneself. However, Carson observes of Paul's prayers that they "are outstanding for the large part intercession for others and thanksgiving for others play in them." Do you pray frequently, diligently and persistently for your fellow Christians? Do you thank God for them and for the evidences of His grace in their lives? Carson then directs the reader to examine the breadth of Paul's prayers for themselves. Are your prayers for others Biblical in their foundations?

Carson's instructions: "Do not skim them. Take time to read them slowly, thinking them through, vocalising them quietly if it will help you to slow down. ... Listen... to the content and thrust of Paul's praying." I am including the list of references here. At the end of the chapter, Carson suggests to the reader, "As a spiritual discipline, slowly read through the prayers of Paul every day for one month. Record in what ways this discipline influences your own praying." You could do this by reading one or two prayers each day (there are just over 40 in the list); by reading the whole collection each day; or by reading all the prayers in one particular letter each day for a few days in a row. As you read each of the following prayers, I suggest you ask yourself, Who could I pray this for or about?

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Rom 1:8-10
Rom 10:1
Rom 12:12
Rom 15:5-6
Rom 15:13
Rom 15:30-33

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours; together with all the saints throughout Achaia:
1 Cor 1:4-9
1 Cor 16:23
2 Cor 1:3-7
2 Cor 2:14-16
2 Cor 9:12-15
2 Cor 12:7-9a
2 Cor 13:7-9

To the churches in Galatia:
Gal 6:18

To the saints [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus:
Eph 1:3ff
Eph 1:15-23
Eph 3:14-21
Eph 6:19-20

To the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
Phil 1:3-6
Phil 1:9-11
Phil 4:6-7
Phil 4:23

To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:
Col 1:3-14
Col 4:2-4

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the/our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
1 Thess 1:2-3
1 Thess 2:13-16
1 Thess 3:9-13
1 Thess 5:23-24
1 Thess 5:28
2 Thess 1:3ff
2 Thess 1:11-12
2 Thess 2:16-17
2 Thess 3:2-5
2 Thess 3:16

To Timothy my true son in the faith; my dear son:
1 Tim 1:12
1 Tim 2:1ff
2 Tim 1:3-7
2 Tim 1:16-18
2 Tim 4:22

To Titus, my true son in our common faith:
Titus 3:15b

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home:
Philem 4-7
Philem 25

Will you commit to following Paul's prayers over the coming weeks?

At the end of this recitation of Paul's prayers, Carson gives a warning that our prayers will be hindered if we do not forgive others. "If you are serious about reforming your prayer life, you must begin with your heart. Unconfessed sin, nurtured sin, will always be a barrier between God and those he has made in his image. ... If we harbour bitterness and resentment, praying is little more than wasted time and effort." Who and what do you need to forgive, just as in Christ, God forgave you?
Next time: A Passion for People - 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

[Cover image from koorong.]

Weekly Reports 2008:40-43

Well, more like a monthly report! I've been too busy for a weekly report of late but here's what we've been up to in the past four weeks.

Before I start...
Here's a gratuitous image of Sam.Just because I can.
I opened up the garage roller door one day last week and he promptly took off down the driveway in our kiddy car. When I asked him where he was going, he replied with quite clear diction, "Going to shops". He went the entire length of our street in the right direction before I stopped him and brought him back (I went with him of course). Just for reference, that tiny pink dot on the path in the background is Abigail, about where our house is.

Literacy - Joshua
Joshua has really taken off in the past few weeks with his reading. He has finished Are You My Mother? from the Beginner Books series and also read There's a Wocket in My Pocket, The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back and is three-quarters of the way through One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I am impressed because with the high level of repetition in these books he has moved from decoding almost every word to reading almost all of the words fluently in one smooth stream. A bit of it is the ability to guess, helped by the rhyme and pattern in the stories, so it is great to see him putting together other cues about what upcoming words will be as well. I had hesitated in using these books because they use such controlled vocabularies, but right at this point in Joshua's reading journey I think they are perfect, because he can decode every word if he needs to, and if he does have to do it, that provides reinforcement of the phonics rules he has been learning in our workbook. I can hardly believe that he has come this far from struggling through reading one sentence each day at the beginning of this year, such as "She has a zip on her red bag." Joshua has only four phonograms and a number of review pages to go in his Phonics workbook. He is a few pages ahead of Anna, because he very rarely has an afternoon nap, and if he does, then she is almost certainly also too tired for school as well. If they nap, they miss out on school for the day since we do our academics during the quieter hours while Abigail and Samuel also nap.

Literacy - Anna
Anna struggled through the fourth, fifth and sixth Ladybird Phonics books. It wasn't so much that she couldn't read the words (she was fine at that level), but more that she wasn't interested in the stories, which were oriented more to boys than girls, IMO. Which is ironic given that Joshua also found the books hard to deal with because he was too distracted by the pictures to concentrate on the words. I think I will skip these books with Abigail and Samuel. She has also read all the way through Green Eggs and Ham, with a lot less whinging than Joshua when he read it, which wasn't too long ago! She'll read one or two more Beginner Books before the official end of our term in just under four weeks, and then I think I will have her read the fifth box of Bob Books over the Christmas Holidays. Possibly. She is doing very well, and her handwriting is quite neat in the Phonics workbook. Anna naps about one afternoon out of the four or five we do academics, but she generally catches up the workbook task within the next few days. Reading gets skipped that day.

Literacy - Abigail
Abigail has started to ask for school lessons as well, but she is too young to give up her afternoon nap. (I have a hard and fast rule that all children in our household must have an afternoon nap until their fourth birthday.) So when she does wake up early from her nap, I have been getting her to trace her name on the megasketcher board. She loves this simple task, and is happy for this to be all of her "lessons" for the moment. She was even able to trace her own name on Jeff's congratulations card that we made for him last week. (The others each wrote their own name as well, without tracing, except Sam, of course.)I have begun letting her have her pre-nap cuddles on the couch as well, so she can listen in to at least the first chapter each day of our on-going Read Aloud book, immediately after lunch.

In the past four weeks we finished The Phoenix and the Carpet and also The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit and loved the last book of the Five Children and It trilogy best. It would be a great book to read to tantalise children with a taste of history to begin academic study in this area. The kids also got their first taste of the myth of Atlantis from this book, which we followed up by reading a picture book retelling of the Atlantis tale, which I borrowed from Mrs T.
Taking a break from Nesbit, we turned to Mary Norton's Borrowers series and read The Borrowers with delight. Today we were able to obtain The Complete Borrowers from the library, so we have now begun on the second borrowers title, The Borrowers Afield.

Joshua and Anna continued to steam through subtraction.
We spent a few days reviewing telling the time, with Anna learning to tell the time to the hour and Joshua learning to tell the time to the half hour. Then last weekend, they both learnt quarter to and quarter past, although that was a quick lesson and will need a fair bit of review. Joshua knew how to tell time to the hour from Play School and Anna picked it up without too much difficulty as well. I'd like them to be comfortable with telling the time to the quarter hour before next year, so I will have to remember to ask them to work out the time whenever they ask me what it is!
We skipped the lesson on Days of the Week as they all know this well, even Abigail, since I made a "Today is" chart for our dining room wall.We often talk about what yesterday was and then I get them to work out what day today is and tomorrow will be. Even Abigail is becoming proficient at this process.
They completed Lesson 13 on counting by tens to 100, which both can now do comfortably. I have also been having Joshua practice counting by tens to 200 and further, and I think he has got it. They already knew how to count by hundreds to one thousand.

We have completed what I wanted to cover with Science this year, and so our Science lessons have morphed into "Agriculture" lessons: backyard gardening with Dad. They have planted a wide range of vegetable and even fruit seeds (watermelons) and have also planted some flower seeds as well. Sprouts are starting to show up and Samuel has now been rebuked and corrected enough times to remember to stay out of the vegie patch, which is protected by a make-shift fence.
Joshua has been thoroughly enjoying Boys' Brigade nights and Karate lessons. Here he is, showing off some of what he has learnt:Anna is looking forward to being old enough for Girls' Brigade next year.

[Book cover image from Amazon.]

Monday, 24 November 2008

End of Year dinner for TTC

For the third year running Jeff organised the end of year dinner for students and staff of his Theological College. Well, he did have help. And for the first time he left the premises before the dishes were all done, and without helping with them either. To put this comment into perspective, the dinner at the end of Jeff's first year of college was held on the Saturday evening after Samuel was born. He was born around 10:30am on the Friday, after an all night labour. And yes, we (Sam and I) were both at the dinner as well. Jeff still helped with the dishes rather than take our three weary bodies to bed an hour earlier: that's the kind of guy I am married to. Helpful and kind.

So anyway, on Saturday Jeff's mum & step-dad came up from Albany to look after the kids for us and we got all dressed up in our duds.Now, before you laugh too hard, I'll let you know that the theme of the night was

Op Shop Chic:
if you don't already buy second-hand,
you will once you're in ministry.

I bought my dress for $6 that afternoon. Jeff bought his suit and tie for possibly even less that morning. So that's why we're such stunners! Courtesy forbids me from posting some of the other pictures I took of guests all dressed up, given that I took all the entrance photos for the night. Just believe me when I say that some people found some very interesting items.

It was a great evening. Jeff was MC but did get to be with me for more of the evening than might be imagined. I enjoyed the chance to catch up with N, who has recently left the TTC staff to work elsewhere, and M, wife of one of the first year students who did a Trinity@Night course with me earlier in the year.

I hope we'll be able to keep in contact with many of the wonderful people we've got to know through College. It'll be exciting to see where the LORD takes them, as well as where He takes us.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Two pieces of good news

Jeff's brother A and his wife K just rang to say they're expecting a baby at the beginning of June next year!! (Hooray for another cousin!)

And... (drum roll, please) this evening Samuel did his first wee on the potty. (Round of applause, please.)

So, our extended family now has one more baby to love and one child who is showing more and more that he is no longer a baby. Joy all round.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Excitement at Moore River

On Friday, the first day of Jeff's freedom from slavery to Theological College :-) we went to Moore River, less than an hour north of where we live, for a fun day at the beach. Moore River reaches the sea at the township of Guilderton, where another student was staying at his uncle's house. G invited us to join him for a day and we took him up on it.

We arrived mid-morning and after a chat, took the kids down to the beach. The river is not flowing at the moment, now it's summer. They have just sealed the mouth of the river with a sand bank so the end of the river, where many families take their kids to swim, does not get too salty. The kids loved it!Jeff played with the kids for a while but Sam was not too keen on the water, so I took some more photos while Jeff and the other guys walked a little way up the beach.I turned around to take a few photos of Jeff with Sam:And then, mere moments later, disaster struck! (Well, almost struck - God was definitely looking out for us.)

Having taken my eyes off the kidilets swimming, I didn't notice when Abigail got into water a bit too deep. Thankfully, Joshua did. Although he cannot swim well (it's been three summers since we owned a house with a pool), he was able to doggy paddle out to where she was and grab her. Unfortunately, she began to pull him under. His cry for "HELP!" was the first thing any of us adults noticed.

Jeff was up to his chest in the water with Abigail under one arm and Joshua under the other before I even realised there were two of them in trouble and not just one. I am so terribly thankful for his quick reaction! Not to mention Joshua's quick thinking attempt at rescue and call for help: in that moment he truly was our Rescue Man. [For more on Rescue Man, see here and here.]

Abigail was frightened but unhurt, so we moved to the beach and took her (holding both hands) a little way into the surf until she was able to get over her immediate reaction that all water was dangerous. After she settled a little we let her sit with towel around her while the rest of the kids dug in the sand and the adults took it in turns to go into the surf and have a little fun. Then we went back to G's uncle's place for a shower and lunch... Abigail was completely fine and Joshua was none the worse for the adventure, either.

Next time we visit the beach, I'll remember that just because I'm taking photos, I don't have an excuse to take my eyes off those in the water.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Jeff's last day at Theology College

Today is Jeff's last day as a Theological student (well, for now) as he sits his Theology examination this morning.

From tomorrow, he'll be "unemployed", except for his part-time job at our present church. He'll be preaching there in a few weeks, so it is not as if he has no work to go on with. But to a large extent he will be temporarily free of the duties and demands of service to a human master (lecturer, employer, etc).

So what will we do now? We know we we won't be staying in our present denomination.

Last Sunday, Jeff and I dropped the kids off with Sam's godparents so they could take them to our church for us. We went instead to a service at B Community Church, an independent church with an (Open) Brethren background. BCC is in a Perth suburb, a fair bit closer in to the city than where we now live but probably the same distance from the urban centre as our present church, although further east from the sea. They have been advertising for a full-time pastor for a few months and want to employ someone to start early next year. Our visit was one of the final steps in our consideration before Jeff definitely decided to apply for the position. After the visit, we talked to Sam's godparents in quite some detail about the church and Jeff's suitability for the position, and the position for him. Later that night, we talked about it together and with a friend from our home group.

Jeff submitted his application to be their pastor on Tuesday.

The elder in charge of the pastoral application process is away this week, so we won't hear if they're interested in interviewing Jeff until at least next week. And Jeff will be on holiday next week in Margaret River, relaxing after the stress of exam and project work. So we have a few weeks at the very least to stew in the sea of possibilities. Well, me really, Jeff doesn't seem to think too much about uncertainty in our lives, but I like to wonder and dream about all the possibilities.

Such as how I am going to cope with the kids on my own for five days while Jeff is flitting about the Margaret River.

Such as what special family things to do with Jeff at home all the time, for at least December and probably January.

Such as where we might live (there is a manse next door to the church but it is apparently pretty run down and possibly not big enough for our family - and all our bookshelves - to fit into). In the same suburb or somewhere between here and there?

Such as how on earth we would cope with the logistics of moving house now we have four kids instead of three, like last time, and a whole lot more stuff.

Such as how I will navigate from any new home to the school we have enrolled Joshua in for next year.

Such as what sort of pastor Jeff will make, after three years of edifying study at Theological College.

Such as what sort of pastor's wife I will make, now that I have to face the prospect that I really will be one, and possibly quite soon.

Such as what wonderful friendships are waiting to blossom in the new church, for me, for Jeff and for our children with the rest of the congregation.

Such as how cool it will be to listen to my own husband preach Sunday after Sunday!

Such as... the magnificently gracious way God has brought us through the past three years, while Jeff has been doing his Masters of Divinity. Thank You, God!

At times like these I am so glad that I know my God is sovereign and almighty and holy and, most of all, within me by His Spirit.

Teri Maxwell: Memorising Scripture

Teri Maxwell from, the author of Managers of their Homes: A Practical Guide to Daily Scheduling for Christian Homeschool Families has been writing "Mom's Corners" for several years. I get one emailed to me each month. The past four months have been an encouragement into the how-to and why-for of memorising and copying the words of the Bible. Here are links to each of the four articles:

Scripture Memory and Bible Copying - Mom's Corner August 2008

Scripture Memory and Bible Copying Part 2 - Mom's Corner September 2008

Scripture Memory and Bible Copying Part 3 - Mom's Corner October 2008

Scripture Memory and Bible Copying Part 4 - Mom's Corner November 2008

If you are interested, you can subscribe to Mom's Corners here. (They come once a month, compiled together with a Dad's Corner written by Teri's husband Steve. I don't always agree with everything they write, but they definitely provide food for thought.)

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Sibling Love and Tears

Last night, as I lay talking to Joshua before he went to sleep, I warned him that today would be his last day at BSF. Next year he will be too old for the pre-school children's program and he will be going to away-school during the days. His first response was to focus on the issue of being at school and the impact this would have on his ability to watch Play School:

"Perhaps I can talk to my teacher and tell her all about Play School and then she'll let us watch it when it's on."

"It's not very likely", I told him. "You'll be too busy doing lessons to watch TV."

Then I went to cuddle Anna and told her the same news. Tomorrow (ie, today) would be the last day of BSF classes for the year, and next year Joshua would be too old to go, but Samuel would finally be old enough, so he would be coming to BSF with us for the first time. Anna burst into tears!

"But I will miss him!" she told me through her sobs.

"But you will have your other Bible Study friends with you." I explained.

"But he comforts me and helps me to be happy," she told me.

How could I argue with that?

Then she asked, "How will I play with him, if he is at school all day?"

I explained that he would be home in time to play with her in the afternoons.

But I have to admit that I, too, am worried that he will not have enough time with us when he is busy at school all day. I hope there is adequate time for him to play with her (and Abi and Sam), as well as talk to me (and Jeff) when he is going to away-school. I guess one of the benefits of the school year beginning at the end of summer is we will still have a few weeks of Daylight Saving left to enjoy together while he gets used to the long days away from home. He will hopefully be less tired at the end of each day before winter comes and with it the shorter days.

Anna cried for ages, and would not be comforted. She was truly distraught by the idea that Joshua might not be with her at BSF and even worse, that he might not be with her to play with each and every day. In the end, it took cuddles and jokes with Dad to take her mind off things enough for her to calm down. Even then she couldn't settle and had to be put down to sleep in our bed. All of the kids fall asleep better in there, even without our presence, for some reason. And later, after we had put her into her bed, she woke up and cried again and needed more cuddles and reassurance before she finally slept deeply and could be transferred back to her own room for the last time.

I did not have any idea I would be opening this can of worms when I told Anna about the end of BSF classes for the year. It came as a surprise to Jeff as well. Neither of us realised fully, until this conversation, just how attached Anna is to Joshua. He is her best friend!

They do play together very well each afternoon. I thought a large part of it was that Joshua had already been in the habit of playing quietly during afternoon "Quiet Time" and when Anna dropped her nap, she simply took the lead from him. However, it is now obvious that it is more than that. The afternoon Quiet Time, when they have up to an hour to play quietly in the lounge together while Abigail and Samuel nap and I have "Mummy Time" (reading a book, on the computer or sometimes napping myself) has allowed them to bond into a very close friendship, closer than either of them have with their other siblings. The time they have lessons together has probably helped them to become closer as well. Hmmm.

I already knew Anna would miss Joshua when he goes to school, though. Because I will be missing him too!

In the boy's bedroom, when he heard Anna's tears, Joshua became upset as well. All of a sudden he realised that he would not be seeing his BSF friends again (without my organising a play date) and this upset him a lot. However, he was able to be comforted by taking up my suggestion to pray about it.

"God, I am very sad about not seeing my Bible Study friends again. Please look after them and help me to be able to play with them at other times. Help me to make new friends at school. Thank you. You are a great Almighty God and You do miracles. You fed and looked after the Israelites in the desert. You can look after my friends, too. Amen." And after this short prayer, he was calm.

I am glad we have taught Joshua to turn to God when he is upset, as well as talk to Him when he is happy. I am glad that when we read Bible stories to him, we talk about what we can learn from them and apply to our own lives. I am glad that we use big words like "sovereign" and "almighty" with him, and tell him what they mean, so he understands a little of the nature of God. And I am enormously grateful that my son evidently has the Holy Spirit within his heart, prompting him to rely upon his Father in heaven, who is indeed sovereign and able to look after each and every one of us.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Sam, Sam, the birthday man!

I can now easily rattle off my children's ages again without stopping to think where the gap falls: they're 5, 4, 3 and 2. This only happens for a quarter of the year (the rest of the year there's a gap somewhere or other) so I'm enjoying it while I can!

Samuel enjoyed himself today as well.

Joshua, Anna, Abigail and Samuel's three 'godsisters' (the daughters of his godparents) singing "Happy Birthday" to Samuel:Sam blew out his candles with help from Mummy and Joshua. I didn't realise when we lit them, but we accidentally used those trick self relighting candles. A bit difficult for a little man of 2 to handle all by himself.Without comparing notes, Samuel's Grandma & Grandad, Granny & Gramps and Jeff & I all gave him little trucks to play with. He loves each and every one of them.And here's a close-up of the birthday 'man':Sam received a new hat from his godparents (and a new t-shirt) and, loving all brim hats as he does, he took to it quickly. He put it on the instant he unwrapped his present and didn't take it off until his bath after dinner. In this photo, he's running to his godmother to thank her with a kiss.

Jeff handed in his MDiv project today

I am so proud of my husband for all the work her has put into his Master's project. This project was the equivalent of two individual subjects for the semester, that is, half of his work load for this final semester. His final report was 55 pages long; it was the result of what seems like hundreds of hours work.

Jeff chose the topic "To Serve or Not to Serve? A Christian Approach to the Ethics of Voluntary Military Service in the Australian Context". He evaluated the Pacifist stance and Just War tradition from a Biblical perspective. He then dealt in detail with the Australian situation in terms of military capability, deployments of our military since the Vietnam war, and operational commands for military actions under these deployments.

Having worked in the Army for 7 years just prior to meeting me, Jeff has been keenly interested in the ethics of warfare for some time. In 2005, he wrote the longest letter to the editor every published by The Briefing, on the topic of Just War theory and how it was being applied to Australia's involvement in the Iraq War. (He reckons he almost still agrees with what he wrote back then.) Since then, he has wanted an opportunity to dig deeper into the issue. His Master's project was the perfect chance.

So congratulations and well done to my husband, Jeff. I am very proud.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Marriage advice

Jean at In All Honesty has some fabulous advice for wives to ignore about marriage today. If you'd like a laugh, check it out.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Great Grandma came to visit

Jeff's grandmother (his father's mother) came to visit us this week. She had been circumnavigating Australia aboard the Dawn Princess. In the picture below, you can see the ship in the background: look how far it shows above the two storey passenger terminal! And of course there is lots of ship below the ground level of the dock as well.
We had a fantastic time with her on Monday and Tuesday before she flew off to Adelaide to visit Jeff's brother Andrew, among others. A thousand thank yous to Jeff's Auntie Laurel (his mother's sister - the completely other side of the family) who hosted Great-Grandma for two nights and took her to the plane.

On Monday, Joshua was effervescent with his declarations of love for Grandma. She had given all the children a small chocolate when we'd all got out of the car back at home. And then she had given him two activity books, on dinosaurs and pirates! What more could any 5 year old boy desire?

On Tuesday, it was the girls and Sam who were overwhelmed. Grandma gave Abigail and Anna a doll each, as well as two lovely wooden doll's cots to put them to bed in. And Samuel was given a (small, stuffed) singing Santa. He spent the hour before dinner pressing the Santa's hand and then rocking his torso to and fro in the same way the little Santa did. It was very cute.

Sorry no other photos, but my camera battery ran out while we were at the dock and I still haven't had my wonderful mechanically-minded husband sort that out for me.

My husband was an engineer

And once an engineer, always an engineer. This video cartoon might go some way to explaining why the UC thought he was "not sensitive enough" to work for them.

Since I received this via email, I don't know who to give credit to as author. But you can find Dilbert online at Thanks to Mrs T for sending it to me - she also knows the joys of being married to an engineer.

Monday, 10 November 2008

A Call to Spiritual Reformation ch3

Sorry this has taken so long. I am posting it with the date I began to write it (Monday) or otherwise next week's comment will come too close!
As I mentioned, I have decided to post weekly comments on the book by Don Carson, "A Call to Spiritual Reformation", which I am reading slowly but steadily at the moment. You might like to join me in reading it, or simply learn from my comments.
Chapter Three: Worthy Petitions

This chapter is based upon an examination of 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12.

Carson identifies two petitions (requests of God) which Paul makes in his letter to the Thessalonian Christians. He then discusses the "goal" and "ground" of Paul's prayer.

1. "Paul prays that God might count these Christians worthy of their calling." (v11a)
Carson explains that "Paul is not here praying that the Thessalonians might somehow become worthy enough to be called." Instead, Paul is praying that they might live up to the calling that God has already made. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:1), "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." Paul is writing of his expectations for the growing sanctification of the Thessalonian believers, whereby they grow more like Christ until the time of their final glorification in Him at the Day of Judgement. Sanctification is the process whereby a Christian becomes what they had not been; as Carson says, "we are children of God because of his free grace to us in Christ, we must now become all that such children should be." Thus Paul is praying for more of the evidence of their faith for which he has already thanked God.
Importantly, Carson notes that "We are not strong or disciplined enough to take these steps ourselves. That is why Paul prays as he does." It is by God's grace that we enter His family, and it is also by His grace that we are conformed to the family likeness. Do you desire to become more like Jesus Christ? Do you pray that you might grow in humility and gentleness, patience and love? (Eph 4:2) Do you pray that your children will grow in godliness to the standard God holds them to: to honour, respect and obey their parents and to love their "neighbours", especially their siblings? Do you pray for your husband that he might grow into the man God wants him to be? From eternity's perspective, it is these things which should be prioritised in our To Do list each and every day.
This morning I prayed that my children would improve in their obedience to my instruction, and in their respect for me. I also prayed that I would improve in my diligence in godly parenting, particularly in the way I discipline the children with a complete combination of teaching, rebuke, correction and ongoing training, based on Scripture rather than worldly standards.

2. "Paul prays that God by his power might bring to fruition each Christian's good, faith-prompted purposes." (11b)
Carson says that "Paul presupposes... that God's people have been so transformed through their conversion to Jesus Christ and his gospel that they now develop new sets of goals." As Christians, the Holy Spirit within us prompts us to develop new plans and set off in different directions. To an extent we no longer hunger after the things of the world, but instead fix our eyes and appetites on things that will have eternal significance. How have your long-term goals changed since you became a Christian? How have your everyday actions changed?
Carson points out that Paul is praying for God himself to bring these godly pursuits to fruition and fulfilment. He identifies two problems: "We may have all kinds of wonderful ideas about what we as Christians may do, yet somehow never get around to doing any of them. Alternatively, we may immediately proceed to organisation and administration, and never seek, except in sporadic and incidental ways, the decisive approval and blessing of God on our Christian dreams." Do either of these sound like you? Christians need to be thoughtful in the way they go about their lives, not just reactionary. We must consider what God would have us do, pray and plan to carry it out and then get on with it.
This morning I prayed for my husband and the church he will pastor in the future, although we do not yet know where it will be. I prayed that God would fulfil our hopes by making a place for us. I prayed that Jeff would be able to work with the congregation to disciple them in godliness and with the local community so that they might come to know Christ as their saviour. I prayed for Jeff's enthusiasm and strength for the task, and that whatever he does at that church, that it will bring glory to God.

3a. "Paul seeks the glorification of the Lord Jesus." (v12a)
Carson explains that, while the immediate goals of this prayer are what has been explained above, the eventual end of these two goals is that God will be glorified. "The Christian's whole desire, at its best and highest, is that Jesus Christ be praised." Carson also identifies the problem of self-interest, and notes that Paul has recognised this problem and is responding to it: " 'We pray this,' he writes, not that you may be thought remarkable Christians, or so that you may gain a reputation for perseverance and spirituality and power throughout the Roman Empire, but 'so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.' "

3b. "Paul seeks the glorification of believers." (v12a)
Carson comments that this second part of Paul's eventual goal is "startling". Paul prays for immediate goals (above) but one ultimate goal is that Christians should be glorified in Jesus Christ. Paul is not talking about worldly glory, the praise of men. Rather, he is praying with the Day of Jesus' (2nd and final) return in mind, when we shall all be made perfect with new bodies to live in the intimate presence of God in the new heavens & new earth (see Romans 8:29-30). This will be the conclusion of the sanctification process, when we are finally transformed to the likeness of Christ in His glory. This glory does not take from the glory of Christ, rather because it is He who makes our glorification possible, our glorification also brings Christ glory. (Got that? I know it's confusing.) How can sinful human beings be made perfect? Only through the work of Jesus on the cross and the on-going work of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of those who place their faith in Jesus and His atoning work. As we are glorified by His actions, the fact of our glorification will cause Jesus Christ to be praised and glorified for the work He has done for and in us.

4. Paul's prayer is grounded in "the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." (v12b)
Carson writes, "Paul does not want to end his prayer by leaving the Thessalonian Christians with the impression that what he is really praying for is that they will simply try harder. At one level, of course, that is exactly what Paul wants. But Paul always recognises that if we try harder, it is because the grace of God is powerfully at work within us." Paul reminded the Thessalonians that everything they were capable of, all that had changed in their lives, in their attitudes, desires, words and actions, was because of the grace of God: it is God's free choice to support and strengthen the Thessalonians (and all Christians) so that they are capable of the things which Paul aspires to on their behalf. Are you praying for God to be at work in your life? Or do you just expect to do it all on your own?
Next week: Praying for Others

[Cover image from koorong.]

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Up close with a Ring-tailed Lemur

On Saturday I took Anna and Joshua to the Zoo for an Anchor Boys day out. We happened by the Ring-tailed Lemur exhibit just at the time they were beginning their public walk-through time. Joshua and Anna were keen to check them out up close, so we got in line and were in the first group to enter the cage. We'd only been there a few moments when I leaned down to talk to Anna about the lemur on a fence post in front of her... and then felt a weight settle onto my back with surprising suddenness.

"Look, kids, what's on Mummy's back?"

The other lemur had jumped onto me and stayed there for quite a while. The kids thought it was a huge joke as they watched her sit there. They were wide-eyed - both the kids and the lemur!

[Image courtesy Perth Zoo.]

Thursday, 6 November 2008

HTML hints for blogger users

Amy asked me to give her few tips on HTML for her blog so here they are.

For all the code instructions below, where I have given the code in Courier font, you must enclose this text in triangular brackets, thus:<>. Sorry for the confusion but I'm not sure how to include HTML code in my post without it actually working as HTML code.

The code for italics is em and /em or i and /i. These pairs of code are used at the beginning and end of the text to be italicised. The one without the backslash goes at the beginning, the one with the backslash goes at the end. (This is the same for all HTML tags.) I have found that the i code works in both the body posts and within the pre-coded page element gadgets. In contrast, em does not work in all of these gadgets, in particular the list one, I have found. You can use the i code in comments on blogger as well. Having said that, I remember reading somewhere that em is more widely used and accepted, so it might be better to get in the habit of using that where possible.

The code for bold is b and /b to begin and end bolded text.

The code for strike through is del to begin and /del to end. I am not sure that it works in every gadget, but it definitely does in the HTML script one, which is what I use for my book list where I cross things out.

The code for underline is slightly longer. To begin, use this: span style="text-decoration:underline;" and to end, use this: /span. According to the blogger help page I found this on, "The text decoration can be set to none, underline, overline, or line-through. This is most commonly used to remove the underlining on links." Line-through works the same way as del but of course del is a whole lot shorter to remember and type.

If you want to make a list of items where each item is slightly further spaced apart than is achieved with a standard line break (the br tag), and there is a hanging indent (that is, second and subsequent lines of one item are indented but the first is not) - such as you can see in my list of "Classics I'd like to read in 2008" on the right hand column, then you need to use two sets of tags. The code to begin a list is ul, and to close it and go back to normal, you use /ul. Within these, you also need to surround each item of the list at the beginning and end with li and /li.

Why would you want to do all that when there is a gadget that makes lists, just as I have described? Because blogger's list gadget does not allow the del and span tags to be used, so if you want to use strikethrough, you can't unless you do it within an HTML/Javascript gadget.

And of course you might want to make such a list in a blog post as well. The only thing is that this tag is actually to create bulleted lists. It puts in the bullets when you use these tags in a post, but for some reason blogger doesn't show them in side bar elements, even using the same code. Don't ask me why, I don't know!

You can also make a numbered list using the tags ol and /ol instead of ul. Don't forget to use the li tags as well for each individual list item.

With all the above, don't forget to enclose the code within triangular brackets, or nothing will work.

And now for the biggie! How to centre the title on your blog.

Note, the curly brackets in the code below are real curly brackets. Don't go changing them to triangular ones like you needed to for the examples above.

If you go into the blogger dashboard, there should be an option to called "Layout". Go there and select "Edit HTML". Then follow the instructions to save a backup copy of your template in case this doesn't work! There are options to preview the changes and to clear your edits, but you can't clear saved edits.

Scroll down to where it says,
/* Header

Then just a little bit below that you should find the following code:
#header {
margin: 5px;
border: 1px solid $bordercolor;
text-align: center;

The bit I have rendered in bold is the bit you need to check. Does this say center or left, or is it missing? It must say center.

If that's okay, check down a little bit further to where it says something like this:
#header h1 {
margin:5px 5px 0;
padding:15px 20px .25em;
text-align: center;
font: $pagetitlefont;

and here as well:
#header .description {
margin:0 5px 5px;
padding:0 20px 15px;
text-align: center;
line-height: 1.4em;
font: $descriptionfont;
color: $descriptioncolor;

As I have shown in this example, you can insert the text-align:center code anywhere in each of these sections as well.

Amy, I suspect that since your main title (which relates to the #header h1 portion) is centred but your title description (which relates to the #header .description portion) is not, you will find that you have to change a line of code in this third place. The code in these lower two sections seems to override the code in the first section, if my observations are correct.

HTH, Amy!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God has been on my mind a lot lately as we decided to send Joshua to private school next year and then Jeff's application to the Uniting Church to become a Minister of the Word was rejected.

This morning I went to BSF, my Bible Study class. This past week our class has been reading through the stories of the last supper, Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane, Judas' betrayal and Peter's denial of Jesus and the five trials Jesus went through (before Annas, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, Herod and Pilate again). The thing that struck me the most with all these stories was Jesus' insistence that what had been prophesied and recorded in the Scriptures (ie, the Old Testament) must come to pass.

Below is just one example, although there are many throughout the "passion" narrative. I have woven this account together taking verses from both Matthew and John's gospels. None of the gospel accounts includes every detail of this time, but together they provide a picture which is as complete and sufficient for our needs as God wanted it to be. The words of Jesus are in red, to help you keep track of who is speaking because it is not always apparent from the snippets.
Matt26:1-2 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, "As you know, the Passover is two days away - and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified."

Matt 26:4-5 ... they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. "But not during the feast," they said, "or there may be a riot among the people."

Matt 26:16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

John 13:18
"I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture: 'He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.' "

Matt 26:23,25 Jesus replied,
"The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me."
... Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?"
Jesus answered,
"Yes, it is you."

John 13:27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
"What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him.

John 18:1-3 When he had finished praying Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.
Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Matt 26:46-47
"Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!"
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent fromt he chief priests and the elders of the people.

John 18:4-6 Jesus knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them,
"Who is it you want?"
"Jesus of Nazareth," they replied.
"I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)
When Jesus said ,
"I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground.

Matt 26:48-50 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him." Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.
Jesus replied,
"Friend, do what you came for."
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.

Matt 27:1-2 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and he elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

John 18:28-29 Then the Jews led Jesus to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, "What charges are you bringing against this man?"

Matt 27:22,24-26 "What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked.
They all answered, "Crucify him!"
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"
All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!"
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and
handed him over to be crucified.
Can you see how Jesus guided the events so that His crucifixion occurred at the very time which God had planned for it - the Passover, the annual Jewish celebration of their deliverance by God? The people involved eagerly desired Jesus' blood yet they did not want to cause a stir at the Passover time, when so many Jews were present in Jerusalem. Despite this, at Jesus' urging Judas betrayed Him at a time which ensured Jesus would indeed be crucified at the Passover.

And yet, Jesus' instigation of the timing of the event does not change the fact that Judas is held accountable by God for his premeditated betrayal of Jesus. When Judas saw what he had done, he felt remorse, but no true repentance. This was demonstrated by the way he went to the chief priests and elders to ask them to undo what he had done - but he never went to Jesus to ask forgiveness. If he had, he might have been at the foot of the cross later that day when Jesus said, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 24:34). Instead, filled with regret and shame, he committed suicide. We each need to remember that while God is sovereign and in control, He is also our Judge with authority over us and He will hold us accountable for all our decisions and actions, big and small.

Consider what Peter had to say about this later, when he spoke to the crowds at Pentecost:
Acts 2:23 "This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross."

Peter and John prayed this after they were released by the Sanhedrin (religious council):
Acts 4:27-28 "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen."

Jesus' crucifixion was all part of God's eternal plan for salvation. He brought it about according to His own sovereign will. But it was our sin, yours and mine, which required that it should come to pass.

For a completely differnent discussion of the Sovereignty of God, check out Jean's article Just how sovereign is God? at the Sola Panel.