“I’m Ungrateful!”

FullSizeRender

“That ain’t fair, miss.”

This is one of the most commonly used phrases in the classroom.  Sometimes, when teaching teenagers in East London, I used to respond with a lecture about how they were absolutely right, things aren’t fair because they get an education they don’t have to pay for, in safety and comfort and with all the resources they need, while some children have no opportunity to go to school and have to slave away seven days a week just to survive.  So no, life isn’t fair. As you can imagine, this went down really well.

It doesn’t take long for small children to learn to say “that’s not fair.” Some children I’ve met seem to begin each sentence with this phrase – I’m not sure they’re quite sure they’re even saying it.  But it’s not just children.  Of course, they’re only expressing an attitude which many of us, as adults, still have.  We might not say that same phrase as much, but we might harbour resentments or appeal for sympathy because we, deep down, feel that things are not fair.  “I’m fine, it’s just really hard because, you know, I don’t have a tumble dryer.” Or “It’d just be much easier if I had a car, that’s all.” Or “That’s good advice but I can’t do that because I don’t have the time/space/money/figure/teeth.”  Poor me.

In our home we’re not allowed to say “that’s not fair.” Of course, people do say it, but I won’t just let that go unchecked.  (There is, of course, a way to say “that’s not fair” and not be whinging, but I’ve never heard my children use it that way.  When they say “that’s not fair”, what I hear is, “I’m ungrateful.”) Instead of being thankful for what they have, they’re looking at what someone else has or what they feel they deserve, and being discontent with their own lot. When I hear them say, “that’s not fair,” I try to have them rephrase it and apologise, e.g.

“No you can’t have another biscuit.”
“That’s not fair!”
“What you mean is, ‘I’m ungrateful that I got to have one biscuit.’ What do you need to say?”
“Sorry that I’m ungrateful that I got to have one biscuit.”

I’m sure you can find many flaws with this approach, but hopefully it’ll go some way to showing the children that nothing good (not even a biscuit) can be gained by being ungrateful and discontent.  Lord, may they not become “that ain’t fair, miss” teenagers.

During Lent I’m reading through Proverbs and also The Way of Wisdom by Timothy Keller.  There’s a lot in Proverbs about envy:

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
    when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the Lord will see and disapprove
    and turn his wrath away from them. (Proverbs 24.17-18)

Keller writes about the German word Schadenfreude, which means joy in someone else’s sorrow/shame.  You know, like tabloid newspapers? But it’s a problem we all have in our hearts at times.  We might not want to be, but we’re secretly pleased when something finally goes wrong for someone.  Or there’s the opposite, which is secretly being upset when someone else does well.  What ugliness.

When I envy my friend’s gifts, house, cooking skills, church community, success at work etc. I’m actually being really unloving towards her.  Do I get that?  I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of envy.  If you envy me because I can go on a super duper holiday, for example, you’re essentially saying that you wish I didn’t have that blessing.   (And by the way, isn’t Social Media the perfect breeding ground for envy?)

That’s not love.

A heart at peace gives life to the body,
    but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30.

A heart at peace is thankful to God.  Comparisons and envy will destroy me.  As Keller said, ‘envy is being unhappy at other people’s happiness.’  How horrifying!  I think we know this is bad, but it’s good to be reminded.  I also think that we don’t recognise this very well in children.  Envy becomes an accepted part of life, and we can even plan things around it.  We don’t challenge the child who says, “How come she gets to go there/do that, I’ve never been/done it, it’s not fair!” Or we even withhold good things from one child because we know the others will be envious. “I can’t let them go to that party/have that free drama class because it wouldn’t be fair on the others” (i.e. the others would have a tantrum about how unfair everything is).  When they’re crying over someone else’s birthday presents we try to placate them by saying, “Oh well I’m sure you’ll get something nice for your birthday.”

“It’s only natural they should be envious,” we say.  It is natural, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.  As Christians, we wage war against our natural, sinful natures.  Instead, we can encourage them to be thankful for their brother or sister’s joy and success, and we can remind them of everything they have to thank God for.  If we train them early, what a blessing it will be for them later in life if they’ve learnt to be thankful for God’s grace in the lives of others.

For more on comparisons, please see here and here.

Advertisements

Dear Santa

I’m just kidding, I don’t write to Santa.  That’s because he’s a big fat lie who drinks sherry.

At this time of year everyone asks what you want for Christmas, and for some that’s lovely and for others it’s really stressful.  If you’re in the latter group, here are some ideas from me:

IMG_1588

 

In no particular order:

  1. None Like Him  – this is a book about God, with short chapters and big truths, explained brilliantly by Jen Wilkin.  She is really good at writing, and I don’t say that about many people.  She has a gift and she’s using it to teach us how we are not like God, and that’s a good thing!  I highly recommend this – get your best friend a copy too and read it together.
  2. Prayer – Timothy Keller.  The book absolutely blew my mind.  The only trouble with it was that I wanted to read it about five times, but it took me a year to read (on and off) so there wasn’t much chance of that.  You know I love Tim Keller – he’s fantastic.  What a blessing he is to so many people.  This book will inspire you to pray and then give you practical advice for daily prayer.  Here’s some inspiration from the book about how the Lord Jesus sets us an example:
    Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer.  He prayed often and regularly with fervant cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night.  The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21-22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29).  When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer.  We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1-26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Finally, he died praying. 
  3. The Plausibility Problem – Ed Shaw.  This book isn’t hot off the press (none of these books are), but I think this should be compulsory reading for any Christian who’s serious about obeying Jesus’ command to love one another.  However, it’s not my job to set compulsory reading for Christians, so I’ll jus say it comes very highly recommended.  It’s not just a book about loving people who are same-sex attracted*, it’s about how to love people and live as church family, as we’re called to do.  It’s fascinating, it’s challenging, it’s very moving.  Thank you, Ed.
  4. Gilead – Marilynne Robinson.  Oh my goodness, I read this a couple of months ago and it’s a book I didn’t want to finish.  It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, which yes means I am very, very behind on life.  It’s the memoire of a mid-twentieth Century pastor in rural Iowa, and if you like good writing and a good character piece, and especially (but not necessarily) if you’re a Christian, you’ll love this.  She’s written other books too, which I should probably read…
  5. Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan.  Right, so I’ll come clean.  I haven’t actually read Pilgrim’s Progress.  If you think that’s bad, then wait till I tell you that I think it was required reading for my English degree.  It’s not on my Christmas list because I know exactly where it is on my bookshelf.  You know when you’re in a Bible study and someone says, “This reminds me of Pilgrim’s Progress when..” and then gives a really poignant and relevant example?  And you have to smile and nod because you’ve never read it?  Well I plan, by the end of 2018, to be able to smile and nod sincerely, because I will have read it.  Hey, I might even be the one with the insightful Bunyan anecdote.  Maybe we could read it together – so to speak – next year?

If you’d like other ideas, click on the “Books” category and you should see my previous posts about books I recommend.

 

*This is how Ed Shaw describes himself.  It’s all explained in the book!

One True Christmas Gift

FullSizeRender.jpg

Christmas is round the corner and we all know what that means.  There is a stereotype of a busy mum at Christmas, and I don’t know about you but I find that I am that stereotype.  I love Christmas – did I mention that? – but let’s face it, it’s a crazy time.  It’s a time when I make crazy decisions and I overreach to new and surprising heights.

Advent is a time when we feel pulled in several directions all at once.  There are children’s parties and grown-up parties (which non-parents just call parties), church outreach events, church social events, Christmas shopping, over-excited children, gift wrapping, travel, relatives, Christmas cards, sometimes Birthdays (e.g. mine), Secret Santas, school performances, more baking than usual and (we hope not but maybe) the occasional bout of flu.

So at this busy time, when we can become so much like Martha of Bethany, rushing around in a sweat and scowling because nobody is helping, it’s all-the-more important that we try to be like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to him – I assume it’s not just me.

There are many resources around to help us meditate on the Lord Jesus during the Christmas period, and I wanted to recommend this one to you – One True Gift – as it’s new and it’s a little bit different.  Sometimes a different angle can help us to refocus.

It’s by Tim Chester, who I think is brilliant.  If you haven’t read Total Church, which is now really old, then please do.  You don’t have time now, but maybe in January.  I really enjoyed reading his Advent devotion in John’s gospel, One True Light a couple of years ago.  He’s a good man and he communicates the gospel in a down-to-earth way, which is very helpful when you’re knee-deep in overambitious Christmas crafts.

The thing that makes this book a bit surprising is that it’s a 24-day meditation on Philippians 2, which isn’t usually seen as a festive passage of Scripture.  But since it’s about the Son of God coming to earth as a human baby, who would grow up to serve and even to die, and is therefore now raised up to the highest place from which he’ll return one day to judge the world, there are plenty of good reasons to meditate on this passage in the run up to the celebration of the astonishing and marvellous incarnation.

So while I’m doing my worst Martha impression in the run up to Christmas, here are three ways in which, by God’s grace, I expect this book will help me:

I’ll be rebuked by Jesus the servant:
“‘I’m willing to serve,’ we might say, ‘but not that person – not after the way they’ve treated me.’ Yet Jesus washes the feet of Judas knowing that Judas already has 30 pieces of silver jangling in his wallet.” (p. 47)
Jesus is my example to learn from and to follow.

I’ll be encouraged by the love of Jesus.
“Jesus died for your sins.  When he hears you grumbling and arguing, he didn’t turn away in disgust.  In his love he turned towards the cross, arms opened wide to take the nails.  And now in his love he turns towards you, arms opened wide to embrace you.” p. 77.
Jesus is my Saviour to love and to trust.

I’ll be awestruck by the incarnation:
“we are left with this conclusion: the baby in the manger is none other than the LORD, the covenant God of Israel, the Creator, the one, true God.” (p. 41)
Jesus is my Lord to praise and to worship. 

If you don’t buy this book, I do hope you’ll find another way to make sure you’re feeding on God’s word each day this advent, so that your acts of service and good works are done for Him, our Saviour and Lord and the true star of every show.  This book is very accessible, so I’d recommend giving it as an early Christmas gift to a friend or your mum, or anyone you think might be willing to take a closer look at Jesus this Christmas.  You can buy it here from the Good Book Company.

Book Recommendation: Hope When it Hurts, Kristen Wetherell & Sarah Walton

IMG_0667

There is one great sign that you are loved more than you thought.  It is the cross.  And there is a still further sign that you will live in tis love forever.  It is the empty tomb.*

The cross is so precious to Christians – to those who know what it means for them.  But it seemed at the time to be a catastrophic end to a promising life.  Shattered dreams, hope lost.  And yet, the cross is where our King triumphs.  He pays our debt in full.  He breaks the power of death: our great enemy, our big problem.  Our God’s greatest victory was won through agony and apparent weakness.  And so it’s not surprising that as Christians, we suffer.

There are those who will tell you that suffering only comes from lack of faith, or disobedience, or even God’s mistakes.  But it’s a lie.  In this broken world, we should expect to suffer.  That’s why I want to recommend this book to you, Hope When it Hurts.  It’s a series of short chapters meditating on 2 Corinthians Chapters 4 and 5.  You could read one a day, or read big chunks at a time.  Either way, I think it’s a really precious resource.

This book explores the value of weakness: not only is weakness inevitable but it is also used by God to show his power and to bless us.

This book explores the blessing there is in suffering, as it draws us nearer to the all-sufficient God.

This book is honest about life – written by two women who are learning these lessons as they go along – and points us to the good, sovereign, gracious God who has a plan and will not abandon us.

If you’re not suffering right now, it’s likely that you will do in the future and/or that someone close to you is.  It’s also really important that we don’t trust in our earthly comforts but that we trust in God, through the “easy” times as well as the “hard” times.  Yes, we’re heading for a perfect world, but since we’re not there yet I think you will find this book to be worth its weight in gold.

If we think that suffering and blessing can’t co-exist, we will always be seeing shallow pleasures and comforts, and we will miss out on the deep blessings of walking closely with Christ in suffering.  The world to come means that we can be pained and privileged at the same time. (Hope when it Hurts, p.82.)

*From Jared Wilson, The Wonder-Working God, quoted in Hope When it Hurts.

True – Part One

earplugs

A weird thing happened to me yesterday – two different people got  in touch with me to ask me to recommend Christian books for babies.  That’s never happened before, and it got me thinking.  It’s worth asking people for recommendations on children’s Christian books and music, because let’s face facts – there is quite a range available.  And by range, I mean some stuff is spot on, and some stuff is ambiguous, and some stuff isn’t good.

Does it matter? Let’s take music to start with.  I grew up in a family where we learnt the words to (secular) songs, and I find it impossible to consider a song without thinking about the words  (I’ve since learnt that this is not universal).  I’ve spent hours trying to figure out lyrics, listening with headphones (my mum was best at this) – and by the way hasn’t Google just taken the fun out of all of that?  But I digress.  So, I was raised to think that lyrics do matter.  Now I am married to a worship leader who chooses songs for our church to sing, and who also writes songs (in his spare time, ha ha ha ha HA!).  So he also thinks that song words matter.  If we’re singing to God to praise him and to encourage each other, shouldn’t we be singing stuff that’s true?  And by true I mean true.

So let’s honour our children by remembering it matters what they listen to and sing along to.  Children are sponges (some more than others, as I’ve discovered), and will quickly learn the words to songs even if they have no concept of what they mean.  So we should really be explaining things to them for a start, and also making sure we’re teaching them good stuff – dare I say it, sound doctrine.

earmuffs
Not quite ready for some music!

Here are two examples.  I don’t want to point fingers but I think it’s helpful to use examples.  Both of these songs are written by people who have written some great stuff, so I’m not saying anything about them as people, but I have comments about these specific songs.  Firstly, one from Hillsong kids:

It’s not a secret,
It’s not fairytale,
It’s not made up
,

Jonah was in the whale,
For three whole days,
123!

The greatest treasure,
The word God’s people wrote,
It’s in the bible,
Where Noah built a boat,
And it rained and rained,

The rainbow’s in the sky,
To show God’s promises are true,
The rainbow’s in the sky to show the world,
He’s the only way,
For your everyday.

OK.  Firstly, Jonah has very little to do with Noah or rainbows.  Why put him in the song?  It’s confusing.

Secondly, the rainbow is in the sky to remind us that God will remember his promise not to flood the whole earth again, which is quite specific:
1I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Genesis 9.
I suppose it does remind us that God’s faithful to that promise (and other promises), but I find the chorus a bit ambiguous.  I’m not pinning all of my hopes on God because of a rainbow, but rather because of the resurrection.

And thirdly, “he’s the only way, for your everyday” (not sure if you mean every day or everyday, but that’s a different issue*) – Jesus is the only way to the Father.  That’s a wonderful promise.  I feel like “for your every day” is quite a vague (and disappointing) ending to this sentence.  But OK, the song is about the rainbow (not John 14:6**), however the rainbow doesn’t really show me that God is the only way… does it?  If it does I can’t see how, and not sure my children will figure it out either.

So all in all, I wouldn’t ban my kids from listening to this but I would want to talk to them about it, and to be honest I would just put something else on which is clearer and doesn’t mix up Bible stories.  And again, Hillsong have written many good songs and I’m grateful to them and to God for that.  Please don’t take this as an attack on them.

My other example is shorter.  There’s a great CD called “Mr Cow” by Julia Plaut which has many good songs on it.  However, the ten commandments one has the refrain “these ten rules are all you need” (in fact, that’s the name of the song).  Well… if you mean they’re all you need except for the fact you can’t keep them and therefore you’re desperately lost and need a saviour, then yes I agree.  But since my children are naturally legalistic (being human and all), I don’t want to affirm that by letting them think that ten rules are all they need.  In contrast, Randall Goodgame’s Ten Commandments song is spot on:
“The ten commandments, no-one can keep them all,
The ten commandments, not even on our best behaviour…
The ten commandments, that’s why we need a saviour.” (from Sing the Bible 2).
I’d rather my children learnt this truth than that they actually learnt the ten commandments (which they will also do, from the song.)

So I hope I’m helping you to see that it really does matter what we teach our kids through music.  Maybe this was obvious already?  But when I’ve said stuff like this to friends they sometimes haven’t even thought about the words, so I hope it was worth mentioning.

Well I haven’t even got onto books yet.  Perhaps we should make this a two parter….

(To be continued)

*Don’t get me started on everyday and every day!  But I genuinely don’t know which they mean and that’s not their fault – I don’t have the official lyrics.

**Incidentally, if you want a good song about John 14:6 then Colin Buchanan’s is great (hoo cha hoo cha hoo cha cha).  Does anyone know a good one about rainbows?

Have a Happy Advent

Several blog posts are in my mind at the moment, but haven’t made it onto the blog.  That’s not much use to you, sorry.  Hopefully after my daughter’s birthday party this Saturday there’ll be a post about that and other things coming your way.

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend this book to you: The One True Light by Tim Chester.  It’s available here.  I don’t have much time to tell you why it’s a good idea to get excited about Jesus this Christmas, but I will re-blog my post, Joy, from last year above this instead (or you can click on the link).  We are so blessed to have resources like this book to help us focus on Christ, the one true gift who truly satisfies.

I’m starting these advent readings now, because I’m pretty hopeless at reading the Bible on my own once a day 7 days a week (gasp!), so I wanted to give myself a head start.  I hope you find this or something similar a blessing to you this Christmas.

Familiar with Pain

easter post 2015

It was mostly fear that had prevented me from reading this book sooner. Especially sensitive since becoming a mum, I didn’t think I’d have the nerve to get through a memoir of the holocaust. But I’m really glad I took the plunge, because never was an account of the Lord’s faithfulness more profound and strangely beautiful than The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  This isn’t a book review, friends, but I am sharing one of the lessons Corrie taught me.

I started reading this book with hunger – a hunger to know that God is still good, even when the unthinkable happens.

Injustice is a legal term, and the legal system is not known for its shows of emotion. But I think injustice is, actually, extremely emotive. Often when I’m most upset, traumatised, furious, it’s because of injustice. Child abuse; exploitation; oppression. Someone, through no fault of their own, is suffering at the hands of others. Our hearts cry out against it, don’t they?

It can make us angry. Not just angry with the perpetrators, but with God, too. Doesn’t he see? Doesn’t he realise? How can he let this happen? Is he sleeping? I want to wake him up.

Here’s an excerpt from The Hiding Place. I’ve chosen one which doesn’t spoil the story for you. Here Corrie writes about the little Bible she had with her in Ravensbruck camp, and the routine medical examinations she, her sister Betsie and the other prisoners had to endure:

I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were – of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts. I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus’ arrest – how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at him, flogged him. Now such happenings had faces and voices.
Fridays – the recurrent humiliation of medical inspection. The hospital corridor in which we waited was unheated, and a fall chill had settled into the walls. Still we were forbidden even to wrap ourselves in our own arms, but had to maintain our erect, hands-at-sides position as we filed slowly past a phalanx of grinning guards. How there could have been any pleasure in the sight of these stick-thin legs and hunger-bloated stomachs I could not imagine. Surely there is no more wretched sight than the human body unloved and uncared for…
But it was one of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering, in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me.
He hung naked on the cross.
… I leaned toward Betsie, ahead of me in line. Her shoulder blades stood out sharp and thin beneath her blue-mottled skin.
“Betsie, they took His clothes too.”
Ahead of me I hear a little gasp. “Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him…” p.182-3.

Throughout the book, Corrie and Betsie find impossible contentment and even see beauty in the overwhelming ugliness of their situation. But if you widen your lens and absorb the bigger picture of her situation, your heart bursts with indignation at the injustice of it all. They’re called prisoners, but their “crime” had been protecting people from genocide. They’re people, made in God’s image, treated like vermin. None of this should ever have been allowed to happen.

But there is a greater injustice even than this. There was an ultimate injustice, and it happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, give or take. Not only had Jesus, God’s Son, committed no crime, he alone had committed no sin. He suffered injustice through man’s justice system, and died forgiving the ones who tortured and killed him. More than that, he died so that they could be forgiven:

“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
“Crucify him!” they shouted.
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate… had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Mark 15: 12-15

You might be wondering – OK, but how does that help? I think it helps in many, many ways, but here are two (which I think, on reflection, are overlapping!):

There is the way it helped Corrie and Betsie in their situation. Jesus does see their suffering, and not just in a way that we see things on the news and know about them. He sees and knows, because he’s lived through it himself (“a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”). Not just that, but he’s lived through worse. He suffered the ultimate isolation – being abandoned by God the Father – so that we don’t have to. So he can give great comfort in our time of need, because he’s been there. He’s actually been where we’ll never have to go: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 16:34). We’ll never have to, because he did.

And it also helps because of what he achieved for us. When we look at the cross, we see how much God cares about justice. He wanted to bring us into a world where there is only goodness and truth, where everything is fair, where there is no isolation and no grief. And there was only one way to make that possible, but it required sacrifice. Not ours, but His. So through suffering we can look ahead to that certain hope of a new creation where none of these questions will ever need to be asked again.

He was treated badly and made to suffer.
But he didn’t open his mouth…
He was given a grave with those who were evil.
But his body was buried in the tomb of a rich man.
He was killed even though he hadn’t harmed anyone.
And he had never lied to anyone.

The Lord says, “It was my plan to crush him
and cause him to suffer.
I made his life an offering to pay for sin.
But he will see all his children after him.
In fact, he will continue to live.
My plan will be brought about through him…

He was counted among those who had committed crimes.
He took the sins of many people on himself.
And he gave his life for those who had done what is wrong.”
From Isaiah 53 (NIRV)

Related links: Trust Issues; More than Sparrows; On your Knees