Saturday, 31 January 2009

Getting Children's Ministry materials right

I went to a committee meeting for the CCOWA Perth Children's Ministry Convention a few nights ago and one of the things we talked about was the topic for the 2011 convention. That's right, we're looking ahead to 2011 already!

Every second year the convention is aimed at Children's Ministry workers and in 2009 the topic is "Music with Meaning". In 2011 we are looking towards a convention that will train Children's ministry workers to evaluate their present curriculum materials according to biblically sound principles and then give them an opportunity to adapt the resources they currently use, or begin developing better ones.

As an aside, I just had to write my paragraph personal description for my graduation with the Certificate of Christian Studies, coming up in a few weeks. Here's my spiel:

Sharon is excited to be graduating at the same time as her husband Jeff, and at the thought of using what she has learnt from the Certificate in Christian Studies to support him in his new role as Pastor at BCC. She has already put a lot of what she has learnt to use, running seminars for the Christian mother’s support group she goes to and working together with Jeff to disciple their four young children, as they bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. In the future she dreams of being granted the opportunity to work with the Children’s Ministry team at B*** to develop a high quality, biblically sound, gospel-centred Sunday School curriculum to align with the teaching program.

Kaye (our committee president) brought this article along to our meeting: Hermeneutics and Children's Curriculum. I found it thought provoking. I am not sure I agree completely with it, though. The comments also make interesting reading. What do you think?

[Since Amy asked, and it's been a few days since I posted this, I have added an extraordinarily long comment for this post giving my opinion. If you care to read it, it will be better to open this post in another tab so you're not forever scrolling. While you're at it, open Walton's article in another tab as well, so you know what I'm responding to. I am also changing the date on this post so it appears as the most recent, so y'all notice it and get a chance to read the comments. I'd love to have some more discussion on this topic.]

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Marking my Bible so I remember what I read

In my recent post on memorising Scripture, I wrote of highlighting the verses I memorise in my Bible. I use a highlighter pencil, not a texta, so it doesn't bleed. And I write a whole lot more in my Bible as well.

Amy commented, "Praise God for the adults who made Scripture memory a key part of nearly every stage in my youth. These verses are still in my brain, although I can't always recall the reference. There is no substitute for Scripture memory and it greatly helps with Bible study, for interpreting Scripture with Scripture is the best way to understand the Bible. (It is especially helpful for BSF challenge verses!)"

That's my hope as well. I know that there are times when I am listening to a sermon and suddenly I realise, "Oh! That meshes exactly with that verse I learnt a few weeks ago." Or I am studying my Bible on my own and I realise "Ah! That supports or builds upon what I was reading a month ago." Every time this happens I thank God for reminding me that His word is authoritative and He didn't make any mistakes when he was "breathing" it out via the prophets and apostles!

I owe BSF a great debt for teaching me to see that the whole Bible is interconnected in this way. Before doing Bible study with BSF, I didn't really realise that one passage might connect to many other verses in the Bible, unless it was in the footnotes already as a direct quote. Well, I knew I could look things up in a concordance to study a key word topic, but it's not quite the same. (And I had used a reference Bible, but I didn't ever check out the references unless I was bored or told to.) Now, when a preacher mentions a verse that supports the sermon message, I am keen to look it up to check it out - and sometimes I've already realised the connection myself!

[Some of my recent mark-ups in Galatians are shown in the image at right. Click on the image to enlarge.]

In my personal study, I have learnt to do a quick search for which verse exactly I am thinking has relevance to the passage I am studying. Having a visual memory helps, since I have underlined many of these verses which, when I read them, struck me as critical for some reason or other. I just pick the book from memory, then flick through until I find the underlining that matches where I remember the verse being on the page, if I cannot remember the exact verse ref. (This gave me terrible angst when I gave my old Bible to my mother last year and bought a new one with bigger printing and hence different passages per page, but I am used to the new one now.) Once I have found the verse which connects to the passage I am studying, I write a little verse ref in the blank column at the side of the original passage. This way I am gradually creating my own, personalised, reference Bible!

The other thing I write in my Bible is the main principle (marked with a colon :) and/or an important application (marked with a pointed bracket >), as well as brief prompts for prayer. Yes, I do write in very tiny letters! I also use one of those clicky pencils, rather than a standard one, so it isn't ever blunt. It keeps me on my mental toes to identify the key principle of a sermon or lecture, particularly if the speaker isn't an organised one. And then I try to put it into my own words, because if I can't, then I probably haven't understood it properly anyway. Having said that, I often talk to Jeff about the sermon on the way home from church and we often draw other principles from the passage, and it is often these that I record in my Bible, because they are more pertinent to me. I really like to record the principle and/or application when I am studying the Bible on my own, because it helps me to be precise in my thinking about a passage, rather than just mumbling around in my head about it without coming to a solid conclusion.

Sometimes, I want to write a whole lot more than one sentence about a passage, and I use my other blog Following the Star for that. In the past I have also used a paper journal, but I find that I never re-read what I have recorded in them, so I haven't kept up with that.

I have recently begun using index cards to begin building my very own personalised concordance! I'm not interested in rivalling Strong, but I do want to develop a resource that I can go to to help me find verses which relate to a particular Christian character trait/behaviour, as well as verses which encourage me as to God's will for me in my salvation, and verses which teach me about God's nature, so that I can worship Him in Truth. I put a key word at the top of the card, then write down the verses on the lines below as I come across them. So for example, from my study of Galatians, I have cards labelled such things as Do Good, Freedom, Hope, Live by the Spirit, Love, Righteousness, Stand Firm (in faith) and Zealous.

As well as general underlining, I also circle in my Bible a lot of the words which I decide in my reading are key to the passage. So in Galatians, for example, I have underlined every occurrence of the words gospel, faith, free/freedom, justify/justified, righteous/righteousness, believe/believing, Spirit and promise. Then at the beginning of the epistle, I have written a note to myself: "Key words and ideas: sanctification by faith vs observance of law, sonship vs slavery, promises of God fulfilled in Christ Jesus..." etc.

Now every time I open my Bible, I am reminded afresh of what I have learnt from reading it in the past. And I give thanks to my God, who was so gracious in providing this precious tool for understanding who He is and who He is making me to be!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Which verses to memorise?

I am a big fan of memorising scripture. Having just encouraged Amy to get into it, I am posting (most of/slightly edited) the comment I wrote on her blog on how I choose which verses I will prioritise memorising.

I've found it a lot easier to memorise verses that I have picked myself, rather than memorising someone else's list. I usually have two criteria:

1. Would it help my faith to grow if I memorised this? An example passage could be Luke 5:24-25, or Ephesians 2:4-5,8-10.
2. Would it help me to love God and my neighbour better if I knew this off by heart? John 1:1-4 and Philippians 2:14-16a are passages we have memorised that fit this criteria.

Of course, the entire Bible is God's provision to us to help us in these very things. But when I read a verse in my personal Bible study that jumps out at me as fitting one or both of these criteria, I add it to my "to memorise" list.

The other criteria which I use when selecting verses for the kids' to memorise, which I will inevitably memorise along with them, is:

3. Will knowing this Bible verse help them to remember and understand the Bible narrative better? (In other words, does it briefly describe a critical event or situation in the gospel narrative?) Gen 12:1-3 and Mark 3:13-19 are good examples of passages that fit this criteria.
4. Will knowing this Bible verse teach and remind us of the importance of the Bible as the authority for faith? Psalm 119:105, which we memorised last week, is a great example here, as are pretty much all the verses in Ps 119! Also Ps 1, Prov 3:5-6, etc.

One further criteria to do with verses from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). I have found that where an event is recorded in more than one of the synoptic gospels, I usually prefer to memorise the verses from Luke's gospel. It isn't that I think Luke's gospel is somehow more authoritative than Matthew or Mark. It's just that (in the NIV, at least), his verses seem to be the clearest in their description of the events. Compare these verses from the baptism of Jesus, for example: Matthew 3:16-17 (try explaining "lighting on him" to a pre-schooler, especially one who has just learnt John 1:1-4 "...In [Jesus Christ] was life, and that life was the light of men" and will also be learning Psalm 119:105 "Your word is ... a light for my path"), Mark 1:9-11 (try telling your kindergarten-age son what "heaven being torn open" might look like - because you know he will definitely ask - and not getting side-tracked completely from the task of memorisation!) and Luke 2:21-22 (simple, clear, concise yet complete, without confusing terms or descriptions).

The critical thing I have found is to make sure you have a plan for how you will practise all those verses you have memorised in the past. As well as the good examples from the Fighter Verses links here, and the Simply Charlotte Mason Scripture Memory System, I would also recommend highlighting (not just underlining) the verses you memorise in your Bible as soon as you feel they are successfully memorised. It will not only encourage you as you see more and more of your Bible gradually being highlighted! You will also find that as you come across these highlighted verses when reading nearby passages or just looking for another page, your eye will be drawn to them and you will quickly re-read them, thus refreshing your memory of these verses, perhaps memorised long ago, each time you do.

Jeff reckons we have enough frequent flyer points

for the two of us to fly return to Frankfurt (Germany), Paris (France) or Los Angeles (USA).

Of course, as he's just beginning a new job we couldn't leave until he has accrued enough holiday leave to make it worthwhile, at the very soonest in the middle of the year. And we'd have to leave the kids with grandparents somewhere...

But now he's told me I'm all excited and just want to think and dream and make potential plans (Aimee's holiday snaps from their trip over to the US where her husband is going to be working soon haven't helped). Anyway, I got too excited and now Jeff has banned me from talking about it to him until future notice. So I just have to write about it here instead!

We don't have enough points for all three locations unfortunately. Which one would you choose if the points were yours?

Our 5yo Kindergarten Curriculum

At the end of 2007 I posted our curriculum choices for 4yo kindy. Here, before I forget them in the haze of another year of home schooling, when Anna does her 5yo kindy year (some of which will include grade 1 level curricula), I will record the curricula we used in 2008. Some of these resources were initially chosen with only Joshua (the 5yo) in mind, but Anna (4yo) joined him and achieved admirable success as well, hence her progression to some grade 1 materials for 2009. Abigail has also joined us for Bible and Belief.

Bible and Belief
Joshua, Anna and Abigail have attended weekly BSF kids' classes while I have been doing the BSF Women's Day Class. This year, we learnt a lot more about Jesus the King and promised Messiah of the Jews as we studied our way through Matthew. 2008 was Joshua's last year of pre-school BSF, having attended for the studies of Ruth, Genesis, Romans and Matthew. I do hope that one day in the future he will be able to attend BSF school-age classes along with either Jeff or I in an Evening class. For 2009, though, I will continue with Day classes and Samuel will be old enough to join the girls and I for the first time.
We have also continued with our family Circle Time, although at times this has been intermittent. Jeff has taken over the telling, explanation and application of the Bible story and also led us in prayer. The kids coloured a Gospel Light picture for each story and just before Christmas I had them bound together into their very own story Bibles. I was amazed at the evidence of just how many Bible stories we had shared with them over the year.
I have continued to help the children learn memory verses. We started strong with this in the first half of the year, but learnt less in the later half, although we did learn some longer ones. Most of our memory verses were selected as we came across them in our tour through the Bible narrative; for example we learnt When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love: with you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:21-22) in the week after we heard the story of Jesus' baptism. We learnt the Lord's Prayer as well. We have also learnt a few Bible verses which I have specifically chosen because they have given me a reason for the behaviours I am training my children in. Thus we learnt Philippians 2:14-16a: Do everything without complaining or arguing, so you may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked generation, shining like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. This verse helped me explain my reason for the behavioural standards I was expecting and enforcing in combating Joshua's tendency to whinge and whine. We also learnt Colossians 3:23-24: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. in order to exhort the children to a more pleasant and diligent attitude, towards their academic school work in particular, but also in many other areas of their life where they would rather make the easy choice than the godly one.
My other contribution to our family Circle Time has been teaching them a few songs that are familiar to them from church. We learnt "Away in a Manger", "Shout to the Lord", "Shine, Jesus, Shine", "In Christ Alone", "Amazing Grace" and "How Deep the Father's Love for Us". I mostly chose these simply by taking note of which songs I really liked at church, finding the words, and then singing them with the kids regularly. The exception to this was "Amazing Grace", which I began singing to Anna one night to help her calm down from a temper tantrum, which has since become the children's favourite from this half dozen. Anna and Abigail both still like to hear this song whispered in their ear when they get upset, and one precious memory from 2008 is the beautiful moment when Anna sang "Amazing Grace" to Abi. The other song we have learnt I wrote to help us learn Philippians 2:14-16a, and it's a great help to remind the kids by singing this song when they do get back into the habit of complaining.

Having followed the instructions in Reading Reflex to teach Joshua to read according to "the basic code": words which have a one-to-one correspondence between the number of letters and number of sounds, and which use the primary sound for each letter, eg bat but not ball. I borrowed a set of Bob Books and then ended up buying a set for myself, and Joshua read his way through them for most of the year, finishing the fifth set and "graduating" to PD Eastman and Dr Seuss Beginner Books at the end of 2008. We also used six Ladybird Phonics books, each with three or four stories in them, but these were not a success as the vocabulary was uneven in it's phonetical skill development. Anna has worked through the first four sets of Bob Books and is now reading Dr Seuss books as well, although she is less fluent than Joshua.
One resource that made a big difference to the kids' understanding was the workbook Multiple Phonograms, the second workbook in a series produced by LEM Phonics. This book introduced the kids to the most common "multiple phonograms": where a single sound is represented by two or more letters, such as sh (a digraph) or oi (a dipthong). Exercises included copying the phonogram, reading words which have the phonogram in them and matching to the correct picture, finding and underlining the phonogram in words in series and in paragraphs, and review sections where the correct phonogram was selected from a list to fit the space in a word (with a picture to illustrate the word next to it), eg b__n [picture of fire] - the missing phonogram is ur. This workbook was a great help to both Joshua and Anna, but especially Joshua, in explaining to them (and helping me to reinforce) the way written English works. Anna will be continuing with the workbook series in 2009.
Another element of our literacy program was copywork and dictation, using text from a variety of sources. This went well and we kept it up for the first semester but in the later half of the year we did a lot less of this as we were using the phonics workbook, Joshua was writing more in other contexts and I didn't want to overwhelm them with our writing requirements.

We read a lot of great books during 2008, mostly selected based upon my memories of books I enjoyed in my childhood, or from books I have seen recommended numerous times and places as "children's classics". I posted our read aloud book list from 2008 here.

We have worked our way steadily through Singapore Earlybird Mathematics 2A and 2B, with both Joshua and Anna completing it successfully. I used or adapted many of the recommended concrete activities for each lesson, doing one or two pages each day. After we had done the concrete activity they completed the workbook page.
We also used Maths Mastermind Starter Level, which has play-based concrete activities for developing mathematical awareness in number, space & shape and probability. Colour Patterns was another play-based visual/spatial development tool which we used, and it came in useful for developing the kids' numerical understanding, particularly in examining the 100-table which comes with it, when they were learning to count by 10s and 5s. The kids enjoyed using these materials but we didn't use them nearly as much as I had planned. I want to use them (and similar resources) more regularly in 2009.

Science and Geography
We worked our way around the continents of the world reading non-fiction library books and some fiction picture books about the well known fauna and some flora of each continent as we studied a little bit about it's geography. One of my favourite resources was National Geographic's online website, especially their animal pictures to colour and their free, customizable atlas printables.

Joshua took Karate lessons throughout 2008 and in the second half of the year he joined the local Boys' Brigade group for his age, Anchor Boys. We enjoyed play dates with our homeschooling friends the B family as well. And there were numerous excursions to the Perth Zoo, the Aquarium of Western Australia, Yanchep National Park as well as enjoyable and educational holidays at Granny and Gramps' hobby farm at Albany.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Kids' Singing in the Congregation #4

At the end of March next year I will be co-presenting a workshop at the CCOWA Perth Children's Ministry Convention. The topic for the 2009 conference is "Music with Meaning" and my workshop is titled "Integrating children's music and church music".

Tuneful Tuesday's are back! I am posting my workshop draft in dribs and drabs in "Tuneful Tuesdays" and whoever wants to comment and help me improve the draft before it becomes the final version will be welcome and appreciated for their efforts. (See here for previous Tuneful Tuesday posts.)
II. Making congregational music understandable and meaningful

1. Children can understand the words of songs when they are familiar or have been explained adequately.

A) In order to explain the words of a song, the Song Leader must first understand the words themselves!

> Song Leaders need to spend time reading the Bible for themselves and with others. The importance of this cannot be emphasised enough.

> One tool for personal Bible study is to try to summarise the passage that has just been read in a sentence of no more than 8-10 words. This skill of summarising will greatly help in explaining Christian terminology briefly – words like “faith”, “gospel”, “righteousness” and “justification”; and titles such as “Christ”, “Lord”, “Messiah” and “Saviour”.

> Song Leaders would also greatly benefit from some further study in theology itself. You could take The Framework, one of the eight Trinity@Night courses offered each year by Trinity Theological College, or you could work your way through a book on systematic theology such as Know the Truth by Bruce Milne. Ask your Pastor for more suggestions of books to read or courses you can enrol in.

> Having heard and read the words explained a few time, the Song Leader will be much better equipped to explain them clearly to others, including the children in the congregation.

B) Children, and adults, will benefit from having the words of songs explained.

> When a song is introduced, it can help if the Song Leader gives a brief, simple explanation of one important word or phrase from the lyrics. The explanation should not include more long, difficult words that also need explaining!

> The Song Leader will need to prepare this explanation ahead of time and not expect to be able to do it “off the cuff”. This is particularly important with children, who have limited attention spans especially when it comes to things they don’t immediately understand. An explanation of no more than 8-10 words, not including any words longer than two syllables (or, at the most, three) would be ideal. It would be wise for the Song Leader to check their explanation with their Pastor before presenting it to the congregation, to make sure they have it correct.

Explain the following words in words suitable for primary-aged children to the person sitting next to you: glory, sin and forgiveness.
Now try hosanna, hallelujah, praise and worship.
And finally, Lamb of God.

> In order to maximise the benefits of the explanation, no more that one song should have this explanation given on any one Sunday. This helps the children as they only have one thing to learn at a time.

> Some churches would prefer to have the Pastor or Minister provide this explanation, rather than the Song Leader. In this case, the Song Leader would be wise to ask for the Pastor’s help in the matter, and make sure to include a time slot for the Pastor to speak at the appropriate time within the song schedule.

C) Careful selection of songs for each session can help children to understand the words better by providing additional explanation through lyrics of other songs.

> The Song Leader may choose several songs with a common theme, and explain the theme word at the beginning of the singing. Then, as each song is sung, the lyrics will provide a context for the children to understand the word further, as they hear the word used correctly and appropriately.

> The Song Leader can order the songs with thought to how they address this theme, with the simpler, clearer songs first and the more complicated songs later.

> It is even better if this theme can be aligned with the children’s talk and/or the Sunday School lessons as well as the Pastor’s sermon for that day. This would ensure that children get extra explanations and parents are also equipped to talk further with their children about the words of songs they have sung together with the congregation.

> Try your hardest to work closely with the other servants in your church!
Next Tuneful Tuesday: II.2 Helping children with different backgrounds

[Image courtesy of CCOWA.]

Monday, 26 January 2009

A Call to Spiritual Reformation ch5b

I am doing a series of posts 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.
Chapter Five: A Passion for People - 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 (Second Half) (The first half was way back here.)

This chapter is based upon 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13. In the second half of this chapter, Carson examines the content of Paul's prayer and asks, "What is it exactly he is praying about?" Carson identifies four things.

1. "Paul prays with a rich thankfulness for the people of God."
One particular feature of Paul's thankfulness is that he addresses his thanks to God, who is ultimately responsible by the grace he has extended to the Thessalonians. Yet his thanks are shared openly with the people, so that they might know and be encouraged by Paul's recognition of God's work in and through them. Carson says, "So what we need, then, is a prayer life that thanks God for the people of God, and then tells the people of God what we thank God for." Can you think of one person - perhaps your husband - who you should commit to praying with thanks for the work of God in their life? For what specific signs of God's grace will you give God thanks? Carson encourages readers to commit to praying for a person or persons in our church for several months and then, after we have prayed regularly for some time, to let the person know that we are grateful to God for them.
Secondly, Paul is not just extending some weak platitude to God, rather, he is expressing heartfelt gratitude for the delight and joy that he has experienced as a result of their faith. Why has Paul experienced such joy? Because his heart is aligned with God's purposes and he eagerly and earnestly desires those things which will bring pleasure to the heart of God and glory to His name. Do you find joy in the things that the Bible says will please God? If not, how can you work on changing your attitude so that your desires should more closely align with God's will? If so, do you thank God for giving you this joy, and for changing your heart so that you are no longer enslaved by the things of this world, but instead seek to live a life that is in step with the Spirit of God within you? Galatians 5:16-26 exhorts and encourages us in living our lives by the Spirit.

2. "Paul prays that he might be able to strengthen these believers."
Carson makes the point here that, when Paul writes of praying "night and day", he isn't speaking of praying continuously through the night and into the day. Rather, Paul is referring to the regular times he has set aside to pray, each evening and morning (remember, the Jewish perspective of the 24 hour day was that it began with what we would call the sunset of the previous day). Do you have regular times which are set aside in which to pray? How well do you keep to them? I must admit, I have been very slack about praying regularly and diligently over the past month or so while we were moving home. I have been praying, but much of it has been on an "as needs" basis. Jeff and I have been praying persistently and consistently for God's protection over our children, especially Abigail, each evening as we put them to bed. But the prayers that I pray out loud, and then again in the quietness of my mind, over my children are often shorter and less detailed than the prayers that I pray when I get out of bed early and kneel at the side of my bed in the morning. Although perhaps no less heartfelt. (Does the fact that we have floorboards rather than carpet in our new bedroom have some relevance here? I suspect so!) I need to get back to this. Mind you, a lot of my early morning discipline has gone out the window with moving house and Christmas holidays. Preparation for Joshua beginning school next week (and the need to be able to get him there by 8:50am) might just be the external prod I need to work back into mornings which are more self-disciplined and oriented on beginning my day with my Father.
In this part of his Prayer, Paul is praying about the lack he is aware of in the Thessalonians' faith (attributed not to their unwillingness to respond to teaching or the Holy Spirit but to Paul's need to leave Thessalonica before he had taught them for very long). Paul doesn't stop at asking God to meet the Thessalonians' need in some unspecified way, or even asking that God would send someone to teach them. Rather, his love or them prompts him to pray that he would be able to go to them and meet their need. Carson writes, "For Paul, prayer is not a substitute for Christian service, it is part of it. And apparently he cannot long pray for believers without longing to serve them himself." He continues, "the mindset of service should belong to all of us, especially when we pray." Is there some need you have noticed in your local church recently? Have you been praying that God will meet that need? Have you considered that He might plan for you to meet the need? For inspiration, you might want to check out Isaiah's immediate and willing response to God's call in Isaiah 6: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
Paul also prays that hindrances to his service will be removed. Paul is aware that the devil has hampered his work in the past (see 1 Thess 2:18) but he also knows that God is far greater, and His will shall prevail. "These hindrances do not curtail his praying but incite him to greater fervency. They are not grounds for discouragement but for renewed intercession." This has been the case in our family over the past few weeks. Jeff's appointment as Pastor of BCC and our subsequent move to a house very close to the new church building went amazingly smoothly and we could see the hand of God parting the waters - so to speak - at each stage. However, once we had settled into our new house, we noticed that Abigail was having bad dreams, nightmares really. She was upset, and we were getting grumpy with the disruption to our sleep and becoming more argumentative as a result. So this wasn't just impacting her, it was affecting us. We were at a bit of a loss as to what to do, until one night I lay with her to cuddle her to help her sleep and found myself experiencing a horrible nightmare as well. I do have bad dreams occasionally, and I have developed the habit of praying my way out of the miasma of distress they bring, using 2Cor10:4-5 as my guide. As soon as I prayed that night, the nightmare fled from my mind. Yet soon after, Abigail was having another bad dream. I prayed for her and she calmed instantly. All of a sudden, I began to suspect that Abigail's bad dreams weren't the product of her own mind, but the result of an attack on her (and us, through her) by the devil. This is what has prompted the consistency of our evening prayers for our children in the past few weeks, and we have seen that the bad dreams have vanished completely as a result. Some would put these bad dreams down to the stress of moving home; but I know that the only thing which made any difference was prayer, and the difference prayer made was immediate! God has been very good in combating this attack and keeping our precious Abigail safe since we have re-realised the necessity of praying with and for her. So please be encouraged to pray over the struggles in your life, whether they be big or small. God can handle all of them!

3. "Paul prays that there might be an overflow of love among these believers."
A week ago we heard a sermon at Denmark Baptist based on Philemon vv4-18. Paul's letter to Philemon shows clearly that faith fulfils itself in love, especially love for the saints of God: other Christians. He also makes it clear that one natural and necessary expression of Christian love is forgiveness. Here in his prayer for the Thessalonians, Paul is dwelling on the same topic. He has given thanks for them and prayed that their faith might be built up, and now he addresses himself to the way they demonstrate that faith pracitcally: asking that their love may increase and overflow for each other (ie, the other Christians) and everyone else (ie, non-believers). Carson explains, "The enlargement Paul here envisages is not in numbers, but in spirit, strength, perspective, heart... Christian love, mature, deep, and unqualified, is a rare commodity. When it is displayed, it speaks volumes to a society that gorges itself in self-interest, lust, mutual-admiration pacts, even while it knows very little of love." Carson encourages us to follow Paul's example and pray for others in love, and pray for love to be shown by ourselves and others. Which of your relationships do you need to bathe in prayer so that you are enabled by God's grace to act in a more loving manner than you have in the past? In what ways, other than prayer, can your love for this person be fostered in Christ?

4. "Paul prays that these believers will be so strengthened in heart that they will be blameless and holy when the end comes."
Here, Paul's prayer turns to the future. As he prays that the Thessalonians' faith is built up and their subsequent love for each other grows, he naturally considers what will follow: by God's grace they will grow in sanctification, becoming more holy. Their lives will more and more reflect the fact that they are God's chosen people, and that their lives are being lived according to His purposes, rather than worldly aspirations. He prays that they may be "blameless". It is only through their justification through the atoning death of Jesus Christ that this may be fully achieved, and that has already been accomplished. However, Paul is praying that their lives may in a greater measure reflect the status which has already been won for them. He is praying that their lives as Christians may, each day, be lived more and more in accordance with God's will, in obedience to His word, in a manner which brings glory to the LORD's name. Because if this were not to happen their lives would become stagnant pools where no eternal life would flourish - they would gradually "fall away" from the faith. Just as a billabong needs fresh water from the rains, or, no longer connected to the main river, it will dry out and die, we must be continually restored by the ongoing work of God's Holy Spirit in our hearts. Salvation is achieved in the moment we turn in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. But it is also an ongoing experience. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Paul is praying here that the Thessalonians will also "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [you] heavenward in Christ Jesus." Because Paul knows that the final Day of Judgement will certainly come. "When we pray for people, we must do so knowing that these people, and we ourselves, are inevitably moving toward the last day, ... because people like you and me are the ones who must give account to God on the last day." Will you join me in praying this prayer?
Next time: The Content of a Challenging Prayer - Colossians 1:9-14

[Cover image from koorong.]

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Friends play together and help each other

This afternoon, after she woke from her nap, Abigail asked Joshua to help her play with her fischerTip kit, since he has made everything from his kit. He had been making treasure - rings, bangles, a broach - with his left-overs to supplement the pirate-themed articles he had already made according to the kit's instructions. But he was happy to pack his kit away and sit down with Abi to help her make a mirror from her princess-themed kit.I was very impressed with the helpful dialogue which I overheard between the two as I sat and enjoyed the afternoon peace which descends when the majority of our family gives into their need for an afternoon nap.I am so grateful that, by the grace of God, my children are friends.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Dress Up Fun

Anna is dressed up as "an Asian person"; Joshua is a hen, sitting on its nest (made of Duplo) and laying an egg.

Thursday, 22 January 2009


I took Joshua and Anna to the college uniform shop today and spent $229.60 on Joshua's summer uniform and his school bag. When I got home Jeff took Joshua along with Abigail and Anna to buy school shoes and spent $179.97 on three pairs: sneakers, lace-ups and sandals (and that was apparently at 25% off). That's a grand total of $409.57. And we haven't bought his complete winter uniform yet. Or the second half of his stationery requirements.


We are going to have to spend a lot less on casual clothes for each of the kids once they begin school. I guess he won't wear his casual clothes out nearly as fast, though, since he won't be wearing them all day long. And he'll wear his shoes to places other than school, of course. But it's still a shock to spend over four hundred dollars on clothes for a kid who I'm not sure can even count that high.

But he does look cute in his grey shorts and white short-sleeved shirt and way over-sized school backpack. Anna wasn't impressed with the thought that he would be going to school without her, though.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Holidays and School Days

We have just returned home from a week in Albany at the farm. Well, the kids spent a week at the farm with Granny and Gramps.

Jeff and I spent three nights there and three nights in a cozy hillside cottage with views down to the sea in the hills above Denmark. It was lovely to have so much time alone with my husband! We read books, watched the fourth series of The Office on DVD and visited a few wineries. I cooked dinner without hearing any whinging voices asking when food would be ready. And we enjoyed the luxury of a two person spa bath!

It was a great way to spend some of the last days before Jeff begins work as the Pastor of BCChurch and Joshua begins as a grade 1 student at KCCollege ("away-school"). Both of them have their introductory day on Tuesday in just less than two weeks time.

Our last night in Albany I didn't sleep very well, however. I had my first school-parent dream! Back when I was a teacher, I used to have back-to-school dreams (can't find the classroom, can't find the students, etc) and now, as a soon-to-be school parent, I am having back-to-school dreams again. This time it was about bundling Joshua into his uniform and getting him there on time. Probably stimulated by the snippet of back to school advice I saw on the morning news/chat TV program, which had actually given me a handy heads up for some things to remember (like the camera!).

I am torn between feeling relief at the thought of only having three kids to look after for most of the day and excitement for Joshua, and hatred at the school for what, in a burst of emotional irrationality, I think of as their tearing my son away from me. Hmm. I need to get a grip on my emotions before that first day. Otherwise I'll be crying more than he is! (If he does at all.)

Monday, 12 January 2009

Enjoying our new Play Room

Our new house has a play room, as well as much larger bedrooms. This is why I am loving having it:There's enough room for them all to play at once, and the toys don't have to be packed away the instant they are finished. And it's right next to the computer desk, from where I took these photos, where I can blog within easy reach if they want to talk to me or I need to talk to them. Aah. Mothering bliss.
I took this shot a little wider than the others so that you can see some of our wall of toy baskets, toy drawers and book shelves which lines the inner wall of the play room, and also has windows which open onto each of our bedrooms. While it is unusual to have internal windows (the Play Room was built on to the original house) I have found them convenient for passing through teddies that might be needed for naps or toys wanted for play.

I am finding the eccentricities of this house suit us very well.

Joshua earned Salty all by himself!

Salty cost $30.00 and Joshua earned the money to buy him all by himself! He also earned enough to tithe from his earnings before spending any of them.Joshua began earning, tithing and saving back in September and I am really proud of him for keeping up his effort, even with the distraction of Christmas gifts.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Geography of Western Australia 101

For my American friends :-) Check out the links for a few images to whet your appetite for a West Australian holiday!

The state I live in, Western Australia, is mostly desert. The Pinnacles, which we recently visited, and another rock formation, called Wave Rock, are the major land formations that tourists would be likely to visit. The Pinnacles are about 3-4 hours drive north of the capital city of WA, Perth. Wave Rock is, as near as I can tell, in the middle of nowhere, inland (east) of Perth.

Tourists would also probably visit the picturesque Swan River (but then, that runs right through the middle of Perth) and Rottnest Island, home to reputably cute quokkas (small marsupials) and only a ferry ride from Perth.

South of the capital there is the wine-producing region around Margaret River and the absolutely majestic Karri, Jarrah and Marri forests near Pemberton, one of our favourite places in WA.

Our holiday was to Geraldton, a day's drive north of Perth. One of the highlights of our visit there was our trip to the local branch of the WA Museum, where we saw some amazing shipwreck relics and read tales of some of the most famous wrecks on the Western Australian coast, in particular the VOC Batavia and VOC Zutydorp (of the Dutch East India merchant navy); another VOC ship the Duyfken was credited with European discovery of Australia when it reached her western shores in 1606. Click here for Wikipedia's take on the tragic Batavia story of shipwreck, mutiny and murder. I found it gruesomely fascinating. The Perth-based VOC historical Society calls it "the most horrific mutiny in the annals of maritime history" in the detailed account here. (Please be warned, neither of these accounts would be suitable for children, IMO.)

The north of Western Australia is much more sparsely populated than the south. Most of the towns are there for one of three reasons: the town is a tourist destination (such as Broome), the town provides housing for those involved in the mining industry, mainly gold or iron-ore, also such things as blue asbestos, and those who support it (such as Port Hedland) or the town is an Aboriginal community, with traditional or historical connections to the area (such as Fitzroy Crossing).

There is some breathtaking scenery in the north-west of WA, but fewer people get to see it because it is very remote and often only accessible by 4WD or helicopter, and access is sometimes limited further due to seasonal flooding. The Bungle Bungles and the unexpectedly green canyon oases of the Hamersley Ranges, which I visited as a teen with my parents on one of our annual camping trips, are both spectacular.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Saying Thank You

One thing the Christmas Season is full of, is opportunities to say "Thank you."

This week, Anna made a Thank You card for her grandparents, to express her gratitude for them coming camping with us just after Christmas.
It was a great to spend time with my whole family: both my brothers were there along with my younger brother's family, and my parents. The only problem was the weather; it was in the high thirties each day, up to 39 C (102 F) at times. That made it difficult to get the kids to nap in the afternoons in the hot tents. But it was well worth it for the opportunity to share with the next generation some of the delights we had enjoyed as children, when my brothers and I went camping every Christmas with Mum and Dad.

Here we are having some fun at the Pinnacles, our lunch stop on the way to Geraldton, where we camped for the four nights.We were really surprised to get to the look-out and see short, squat pinnacles, not at all like in the photos. The kids had a lot of fun running around through them with their cousins Lisa and Rebecca, though. Then we got in our cars and did the desert drive, and found many of the taller, slimmer pinnacles that the area is so famous for:

Can we play "Getting Married"?

Friday, 9 January 2009

Six things I learned last year

Nicole has tagged me in a meme, and has asked me to share six things I learned last year. I couldn't think of six within any reasonable space of time, but here is my #1:

1. I've learnt it is really, really a safe "bet" to place my trust in the Sovereign provision of my wonderful God. In particular, He has shown amply with his provision of a Pastor's job for Jeff and a perfect house near the church for us that He will ensure that His plan for our lives works out even when we wonder if it has been derailed somehow.

This makes me wonder what I'll be saying this time next year!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

New Year, No Nappies

This morning the first thing I heard at 7am was a little tinkle in the toilet. It was a good noise to wake up to.

For a week or so before the New Year, Abigail went down for her nap in underpants, and since she managed that without accidents, we decided she could try going the whole night through as well. So since the 2nd of January she has been wearing underpants to bed instead of nappies, and she has only wet her bed once.

This morning when I heard that tinkle, and then saw Abigail put her undies in the laundry dirty clothes hamper, where she told me, "I'm just going to pick my own clothes and get dressed", I had a quietly happy moment. I now only have one child out of four who still needs me to change his nappies and dress him.

My mothering life is getting that little bit easier.

Of course, I still have the teen years ahead...

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Our Read Alouds from 2008

Just for posterity, here is a list of the significant books I read aloud to the family last year, with asterisks by the stories we liked particularly:

Ned Kelly's Jerilderie Letter
The Borrowers Afield by Mary Norton
*The Borrowers by Mary Norton
**The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop [Anna's narration is here]
**Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel [Joshua's narratin is here - just scroll down for it]
*The Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit
The Phoenix and the Carpet by Edith Nesbit
*Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes and How She Came to Tell Them by Alison Green illus Axel Scheffler [my brief review with some excerpts here]
Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales by Ludwig Bemelmans
Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
The Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum
Dot and the Kangaroo by Ethel Pedley [Joshua's narration is here]
*Roverandom by JRR Tolkein
Dangerous Journey (selections from Pilgrim's Progress) by John Bunyan
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
*Thomas the Tank Engine: The New Collection by Christopher Awdry
an adaption of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
*The Frog Who Wouldn't Laugh by Cecilia Egan [Joshua's and Anna's narrations here]
**The Little Black Princess by Mrs Aeneas Gunn [my review is here]
**The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
*Mr Bliss by JRR Tolkein
*Pinquo by Colin Thiele [Joshua's narration and my review are here]
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Selections from the gospel accounts of Jesus' life and ministry
*The Complete Adventures of Curious George by HA and Margaret Rey
**Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection by Rev W Audry

And of course a lot of stories from **The Bible.

I'm beginning a new list in my RHS column. Our first family read aloud for this year was The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins by Dr Seuss. Yes, I've joined the local library already!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Hooray for internet access!

We finally had the phone line connected at our new house today and then Jeff spent three hours on the phone to tech guys trying to work out how to get internet access for the computer set up in our new study. There are about four or five phone points in this new house but the problem is that it is a long way from the nearest phone exchange so broadband was not working well enough. I think it's all right now. I am so glad I have a husband to sort these things out for me. You'd never guess I taught Information Technology to final year students in my last year of teaching, would you?

Happy New Year to everyone who reads this blog and I will start posting once I've had a chance to read all your blog posts for the last fortnight!

Just one thing to ponder. Why do I never feel the same hunger to read the Bible after a few days out of it, as I feel for the internet? I have been very convicted of that one in the last week and have hence spent some wonderful time contemplating Paul's letter to the Galatians, and loved every moment of it. I know that when I do read my Bible for a few hours at a time, I always feel a lot better at the end than if I'd spent the same amount of time on the internet. Just some thoughts...