One True Christmas Gift

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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.

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How to fear God and love children

Does it really matter what children do in Sunday School?

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This week we’re celebrating 500 years since the Reformation in Europe – a time when big changes occurred in the church in order to get vernacular Bibles into the hands of people who’d never understood the Bible before.  They’d been going to church all their lives without understanding a word of what was said, and they’d hoped they were good enough because they’d tried to follow the rules the church had set out for them, and they’d picked up on some Bible themes from the stained glass windows.  Their actions gave them a Christian appearance, regardless of any understanding of the gospel.  This is a very brief and inadequate description but this isn’t actually a post about the Reformation.

I’ve been thinking about children’s work in churches (although most of what I will write also applies to teaching our children at home).  I’ve noticed that sometimes the way children’s work is done bears some resemblance to this pre-Reformation religion.  Sometimes children’s work is done more for appearances than for any actual spiritual benefit.  Children hear a story and/or do an activity, and probably come away with tangible evidence, e.g. a craft.  But this is mostly done to show others that the children are participating in the church service, and they’re learning Christian stuff.

These children come out of creche or Sunday school with a lovely craft, but with no relationship with God.  They have learnt some Christian morals, but they have no knowledge of the Word of God.  They have been shown role models, but they haven’t encountered the gracious God of the Bible.  (I think the role model topic might be another blog post in itself.)

Why does this happen? Maybe it’s because it’s the easy option.  But I can also think of two beliefs behind this way of doing things:

  1. Christian children are nice and well behaved.  Therefore, it’s good if children come to church every week, because we all want nice and well behaved children in our community, don’t we?
  2. Children can’t really get to know the living God who’s revealed himself to us through his Word.  After all, they’re only little.  They can’t even tie their shoelaces!  How can they be expected to understand doctrine? Let’s be realistic.

I guess there are many ways I could argue against these two points.  As usual, I’ll come back to Deuteronomy 6.  You need to read the whole chapter really but here’s one extract:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 

The Lord has always commanded his people to teach their children about him, so that they’ll know who they are and what the Lord has done for his people.  For us New Covenant believers, we don’t just need to teach them about a rescue from slavery in Egypt, but also (and ultimately) about our rescue from slavery to sin, through our Saviour Jesus Christ.  And a Saviour is what we all need:

“And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deut 6 v25)

Like the Israelites, we are unable to keep the law, and so we need a righteousness from God that is by faith from first to last. (Romans 1:17).  We desperately need Christ’s righteousness, and to stop trying to rely on our own good behaviour.  So why on earth would we think that what children really need most is to be well behaved?

And why would we think that they can’t have a relationship with the Lord?  In order to think that, you need to ignore all of the commands God gives to teach children his word (e.g. Psalm 74:5-6) plus what Jesus commanded about letting children come to him, plus just common sense.  Does a child know his/her mum and dad?  Do they know their siblings, their grandma, their neighbour?  Do they know their Sunday school teacher?  So why can’t they know Jesus?  Is he not real? Knowing the Lord is what they were made for.  Of course I know that their understanding of things will be different to ours (although don’t forget Jesus told us to learn from them (Matthew 18:3), but teach a group of children for a period of time and you’ll see some of them relating to their God.  Hopefully this relationship will lead to good behaviour (that’s certainly what I’m praying for my children!), but good behaviour without a changed heart is just a veneer.  Let our creche not be a Pharisee factory, because I’m quite sure Jesus wasn’t impressed by the Pharisees.

If you’re teaching creche or Sunday School, your responsibility is not to churn out well-mannered children who can tell you who Moses and Jonah are: it’s to faithfully teach God’s word to them, and to pray for their souls.  Don’t underestimate that responsibility.  These people are made in God’s image, and their precious.  If we fear God, we should teach his word with reverence to him.  And if your church isn’t doing this, then I would urge you to remedy that, even if it means you have to take charge of it (I know, as if you haven’t got enough to do).

Can I just say that I help run the creche in my church, and we do want the children to behave well, plus they do crafts, so I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying those things aren’t good.  But they’re really not the point of us all being there.  If we really believe in the power of God to speak to us by his Spirit through His word, regarding his Son our Saviour, then we’ll believe that for our children, too.  I hope you can see how this links to what I wrote at the top about the Reformation. Let’s do children’s work the great Reformers would be pleased to see.  We have the Bible in their language, so let’s not just show the kids some pictures and send them away thinking that all they need to do is try their best to be good.

And if you read this and feel encouraged that the children’s work in your church is good, maybe you could encourage the leaders this week, and thank them for faithfully doing the Lord’s work.

 

This reminds me of a post I wrote a long time ago called Hearts Not Garments.  

The Greatest Life

 

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“What’s your dream for your child?”

I was asked this by my son’s nursery teacher once.  She wanted to write it on a Post-It and keep it in mind all year.

What kind of things should we be wanting for our children?  Safety? Happiness? Education?  Fulfilment of Potential? Satisfaction? Wealth? A family? Health? Self Esteem?

Like most people who grew up in the Western world in the Nineties, I’ve watched a lot Seinfeld.  (If you’ve never seen Seinfeld but you’ve watched Friends, let me just say that Friends is a bit like a cover version of a Seinfeld track. If you’re too young for Friends, thanks for joining us here at the grown-up table 🙂 Try to keep up.)

In 2015, Jerry Seinfeld was named the highest paid comedian in the world, having earned $36million the previous year. When Seinfeld had been going ten years, he turned down the offer of $5million dollars per episode to make a tenth season, which would have earned him $100million per year.

Why am I going on about Jerry Seinfeld?  Isn’t this a parenting blog?  Well, I’ll tell you. The other night my husband and I had the pleasure of watching a programme about how he got started in comedy (Jerry Before Seinfeld – Netflix).  He talked about how he began his career doing unpaid stand-up in a Manhattan comedy club. “I remember thinking, ‘even if I’m not any good at it, if I could just make enough for a loaf of bread a week I could survive, and that would be the greatest life I could have.'”

Now, you can hear that cynically and think, “You’re earning more than that now though, aren’t you?” Call me naïve, but I believed him.  He’s worked hard in his career and I don’t begrudge him all that wealth.  I think that what he’s saying there is actually really beautiful.  I wonder if you’ve ever felt like that about something?  Have you ever loved something so much that you genuinely feel you’d be content to survive with that and that alone?  It’s the essence of many a love song.

I want to be that passionate – but not about comedy.  I know in my head that the only one who can satisfy is Jesus.  He’s more than enough. He even calls himself the bread of life: “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

I want to be like David in Psalm 27:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

Part of me thinks, “Well I used to be like that but then I had four children and now we need more than just bread to survive.  We need a lot of plums.  And school uniform, and petrol, and central heating, and…”  But are those just excuses?  Has my passion been diluted the more I’ve seen of this tantalising world? Have I just turned my eyes from the beauty of the Lord?

Nobody forced Jerry Seinfeld to take up comedy.  I doubt he was even encouraged to do it.  But he was pulled there.  Do I feel pulled towards the Lord Jesus?  Do I love him enough to want, more than anything, my children to follow him? Is that my dream for them?  It should be.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’ Mark 8:34-38.

I want my children to enjoy the good world God has created, and I want to give them freedom to explore and create and enjoy.  There’s more to parenting than reading the Bible to my children and praying for them.  But how much of my thought-time and head-space and conversation is taken up with concerns over comparatively trivial matters? Would I be content if the Lord said to me today, “Your children will have nothing in this life but their daily bread, but one day they’ll enter eternal rest with me.”? Would that be enough?

It’s good to be humbled and challenged, even by Netflix Original TV shows.

I’ll finish with a quote from Gladys Aylward, 20th Century missionary to China:

“I have not done what I wanted to. I have not eaten what I wanted or worn what I would have chosen; I have lived in houses that I wouldn’t have looked at twice; I have longed for a husband and babies and security and love, but God never gave them; instead he left me alone for 17 years with one book – a Chinese Bible. I don’t know anything about the latest novels, pictures and theatre. I live in a rather outdated world and I suppose you would say it is awfully miserable, isn’t it? Friend, I have been one of the happiest women who stepped this earth. I have known the heavens opening and the blessings tumbling out.”

Happy?

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Matthieu Ricard has been dubbed ‘the happiest man in the world.’ I heard him this morning on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show. He’s written a couple of books, and of course people buy them. We all want happiness, don’t we? Here’s a quote from Ricard:

“May every moment of my life and of the lives of others be one of wisdom, flourishing and inner peace!”

I expect we can all mumble an “Amen” to that! And if we’re parents, our priority might have changed from our own happiness to the happiness of our children. After all, what could make me happier than my child’s happiness?

I don’t know about you, but I think all of this happiness talk makes us Christians a bit nervous. Life isn’t about making myself happy: it’s about serving the Lord. And thus begins the dilemma: Do I make my child’s happiness, or his godliness, the priority? I feel sure it’s his godliness, but that goes against my maternal instinct. After all, doesn’t loving them mean doing my best to make them happy?

But what is happiness, anyway?

This week I heard a sermon on happiness. No offence to Matthieu Ricard, but given the choice I think I’ll listen to Scripture on the topic before I read his book.*

“Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever they do prospers.’ (Psalm 1:1-3)

Blessed means happy, but not in a clap your hands, superficial way. This is a deep-seated, contented happiness, like finally finding what you were designed for and doing just that, every single day.

Sometimes it feels like being a Christian mum is defined by saying ‘No’ to lots of things that the crowd says ‘yes’ to. ‘No’ to watching certain films, playing football on a Sunday, blaspheming, avoiding unpopular people (we invite them for lunch), maybe going on amazing holidays because we’ll be on a Christian camp etc. Some of these things are different for different families, but you know what I mean. I find it interesting that Psalm 1, verse 1, the beginning of the whole book of Psalms, is about the negative – what the blessed one does not do. Sometimes we will be defined by what we don’t do, and according to Psalm 1, that’s OK.

But we have an alternative (v2) – the law of the Lord. Our children get the privilege of listening to brilliant Christian songs (as well as, you know, Queen and Coldplay), they get to learn about Jesus and spend time with church family on a Sunday, they learn memory verses, they’re learning to live out Jesus’ teaching, they’re delighting in God’s word. And God’s word bears fruit. When people notice that my child is kind, or grateful, or gracious, or patient, I know that the Lord is to thank for that. It’s certainly not genetic.

I found out on Sunday, but had never noticed before (despite meditating on this Psalm for years – just shows how dull I am), is that (v3) the tree is planted by streams of water. Someone (the Lord) has deliberately planted the ‘happy person’ in the best place possible. They have plenty to drink, so that they can flourish and prosper.

So as a mum, while I’m bringing my children to ‘the law of the Lord,’ I am planting them (or allowing them to be planted) by streams of water. I’m making them lie down in green pasture. I’m giving them living water to drink. I’m giving them happiness.

This sounds very impressive, but it relies completely on the Lord. He’s the one who blesses, but I can bring my children to him.

And it sounds impressive, but of course it doesn’t look it. It looks like ‘family devotion’ which i.e. trying to explain one bible verse to a 4 year old while the baby screams and throws fromage frais across the room.

Or it looks like standing your ground while your child has a tantrum over trainers you won’t buy them to please the crowd.**

Or it might look like living somewhere a bit grotty without even a balcony while all of your peers have bought detached houses in the country.**

But Psalm 1 says it is impressive. While magazine articles tell me that happiness is private school, ballet camp, designer clothes and drama classes, God’s word tells me that happiness comes through delighting in the law of the Lord. And it makes sense, because all of those other things will fade, but God’s kingdom will last forever.

With special thanks to Andy Mason for his talk on Psalm 1. My blog mostly consists of me listening carefully to what Andy says, writing it down and chucking in some illustrations about kids and mess.

*Several other things (involving cats ice skating in hot places) will happen before I read it too. I’m a busy woman.

** Of course, Christians can live in big houses and wear expensive trainers. I’m more thinking about the principles of living for the Lord and not for this world.

Dear New Mum

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Here is a letter to my lovely friend Charlie, who is about to give birth any day now. It’s a bit honest, but I hope you like it. It seems wonderfully appropriate, one year on from writing about my own struggles with my first newborn (Push, Push, Glide), to post this here.

Dear Charlie,

I’m sitting in a café (had free coffee voucher – bargain!) and a lady next to me has a teeeeeeny tiny baby! He is very cute and drunk on milk. Everyone is gazing at him. Mum is probably exhausted and wondering when the baby will next need feeding. I’ve found that there’s a big old difference between actual motherhood, and motherhood from the outside looking in.

You’re about to have your first baby! You know that already. I’d love to give you loads of advice and tips. I’m sure all of your mum-friends will want to help and give you their opinion on what’s going on. My first tip would be to ask for advice if and when you need it, but if you haven’t asked perhaps put on some sort of mental filter! And then even when you’ve asked, don’t feel you have to do what people tell you. One thing I’ve learnt from reading many, many books about parenting and having many more conversations about parenting, is that babies are all different. And mums are different, as you’ll know. You’re unique, as is your family, so not everything that works for others will work for you.

You’re about to enter a world of contradictions. The baby is completely weak and vulnerable – frighteningly so – and yet has the power to make you giddy with joy one minute, and crushingly disappointed the next. Things you know are small and relatively insignificant become paralysingly huge: Why hasn’t he burped yet? How long has she been asleep? How many clean vests will I need to take with me? What does that face mean? When should his teeth come through? Which brand of bottle/travel cot/car seat (and how do we assemble any of these things)?

Conversations with your husband undergo a complete transformation. Things I thought I’d never hear Mike say, and then did:
‘We need to assign a cupboard in the kitchen just for the bottles and sterilising equipment.’
‘The ideal situation would be this: Wherever you are in the flat, you can turn around and find a clean muslin.’
And then there was the song he made up encouraging a constipated Miriam to do a poo. (It was to the tune of the South African national anthem.)

Life will change. You know what’s about to hit you, but actually you won’t know what’s hit you.

How is any of this useful? Well, I was pondering these things and wondering what the best advice for you would be, and here is what I came up with (except I didn’t come up with it at all):

One of [the Pharisees], an expert in the law, tested him with this question:
Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matt 22)

When you can’t remember what day it is, who just visited you or when you last had a shower (top tip: do have a shower!), hopefully you’ll be able to remember these two commandments.

When things seem huge, especially in the middle of the night (when sleep is short and truth is needed*), it’s vital to remember the wonderful truth that the Lord is God. The world revolves around him, not me or my baby. When we’ve lost all perspective, let’s remind ourselves what we know to be true.

I remember Mike finding me in a heap on the floor at the end of the day because acid-reflux Ezra had cried for too long. At that moment, it was hard to remember that God is big. It was hard to believe that one day I wouldn’t be sad about that anymore. It sounds silly now! But emotions are powerful. So when you’re finding it hard to look beyond you and your baby, try dwelling on the Lord your God, and worshipping him (Psalm 27: 4 is good. And stick a worship CD on!).

So onto that second commandment. You may find that your baby teaches you how to love someone else as yourself. It’s certainly true that motherhood is a great lesson in sacrificial love. What a blessing. But I also want to encourage you to keep loving others, especially as your baby’s demands seem overwhelming. In Babywise one of the many parenting books I’ve read, I remember it saying that when we become mothers we don’t stop being wives/daughters/sisters/friends. That’s not the advice you’ll hear everywhere, and that’s why it’s so important to hear.

I don’t mean to pressure you – “Don’t you know that a 3 day old baby doesn’t get you out of the church baking rota?” No I don’t mean that. But by God’s grace you’ll be able to show concern for others and pray for them, check how they’re doing and even offer to help them. And in doing this, you also will be blessed. Sharing joys and sorrows with your friends and family will help you to see your own issues with a bit more perspective. (I recently said to a friend who’d been in a horrific car accident, ‘Will you pray for me? You’re not the only one with problems!’ I truly am a wonderful friend to have around! Do you miss me?)

And we need grace, grace, grace:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. Romans 3:20-21

Every day of being a parent, you will be conscious of your sin and your need of a saviour – at least I hope so. And in Christ, you have the righteousness of God. So keep asking for his help – he’s listening! Don’t expect to know what you’re doing, or be any good at it! And that’s all good. Your child needs to see that Mum and Dad need Jesus.

So in summary, it’s going to be hard, remember the world doesn’t revolve around you, and remember you’re absolutely hopeless without the grace of God! There, I intended to encourage you and I feel my work here is done!

Heaps of love,

Cat. X

*That was a quote from my lovely friend Katy, who sent me worship CDs to listen to during the night feeds with Ezra. Amazing. Now I’ve told you that, I suppose I’ll have to send you some! 🙂

p.s. Love you, I think you’re going to do a great job!  (Probably should have led with that.)

Hearts not Garments

Miriam

 

I find that parenting can often be a lot about keeping up appearances. What I mean by that is it’s often easy to slip into the habit of dealing with skin-deep issues rather than prioritising the heart.  In church this week we looked at Mark Chapter 7, where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for putting ceremony and tradition above God’s word:

He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teaching are merely human rules.
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’ vv 6-8.

It’s pretty strong stuff.  Do you see Jesus is saying that by observing their own made-up rules, they’ve actually ‘let go’ of God’s word.  He later says they’ve nullified God’s word.  In their efforts to look and feel holy, they were actually rejecting the true and living God.

Of course, it’s not just the Pharisees’ problem.  This tendency to want to look pure rather than actually having a pure heart is a habit of a lifetime for me, and it often affects the way I train my children.

Have you ever had that awkward (/mortifying) moment in the toddler group when your child resolutely refuses to say sorry?  They’ve kicked/punched/bitten/snatched from little Bobby, but no matter how hard you try to get them to apologise, they just won’t – all under the watchful eye of Bobby’s mum.  The problem is I think I’m more embarrassed than I am concerned about the fact my child isn’t genuinely sorry.  If he does say ‘sorry’, then he’s done the socially acceptable thing and therefore I’m not really too bothered whether he is sorry or not.  I can breathe a sigh of relief and move on.

Or sometimes I can have regularBible/praise/prayer routines in the home and I can sit back on my laurels and think that my children have the right attitude, but that isn’t always the case!  If they’re singing a song of thanksgiving to God but fighting over who gets to sing ‘Amen’ at the end, then perhaps I need to go over with them (yet) again why they’re actually singing the song in the first place!  Argh.

I can sometimes be more concerned about their behaviour than about their hearts.  And I can be more encouraged by their achievements than about their characters.

I do this, for (at least) two reasons:
1. I’m a people-pleaser more than I’m a God-worshipper.
I care more about what other people think of me than what God thinks of me; I want to please people more than I want to please God.
2. I’m a box-ticker more than I’m a heart-surrenderer.
It’s much easier and more instantly satisfying to set an achievable goal and then achieve that goal, than it is to die to myself and give God my absolute everything every single day.

I recently read in Joel 2v13 God say to his people, ‘Rend your hearts and not your garments.’  Aside from being beautiful rhetoric (I’m always won over by a good metaphor), this is such a helpful admonition to me as a mum.  Tearing garments was often a sign of repentance or mourning.  God wanted them to repent and mourn with sincerity, not just for show.  I’ve never actually torn my garments (on purpose), but I often think that by showing something on the outside I don’t need to bother with it in my heart.  It’s a continuous battle:

Seeming on top of things Vs Showing complete dependence on God
Talking of dependence on God Vs Truly relying on God
Homemade Birthday cake + irritable mum Vs Tesco cake + kind mum
‘Quiet Time Slot’ Vs True repentance, praise and worship
Gourmet dinner + misery Vs Chicken nuggets + love and patience

I do have friends who are good at this heart-not-garment business.  Which is encouraging!  It is possible after all.  Their children aren’t always the best behaved or the best turned-out and they don’t even know all of the answers in Bible time.  But they know grace; they know God’s provision; they know Jesus is King.  And in the Kingdom of God, those are the things that matter.

For more on this, I’d recommend ‘Shepherding a Child’s Heart’ by Tedd Tripp.  If you’ve read it, you’ll be thinking ‘Yeah Catherine, tell me something I don’t already know!’  Sorry!  But hopefully it’s still good to be reminded.

Head Above Parapet

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I’m reading through Jeremiah at the moment.  Sigh.  It’s so tragic, not to mention long.  Recently at church we looked at Ezekiel together, and one thing I’ve learnt from Jeremiah and Ezekiel is this:  the Lord hates idolatry.  Sometimes I find myself turning to idols – comfort eating/retail therapy/thinking my husband can solve all of my problems – and I remind myself that those idols won’t satisfy me.  They’re not good for me.  And this is true – God uses it as a reason to turn from idols when he speaks to his people: ‘Where are the gods you made for yourselves?  Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble!’ Jeremiah 2:28.

But the first reason I shouldn’t worship idols is not actually to do with me and what I will or won’t get out of it.  The first reason is that the LORD is the only true and living God, and he hates idolatry.  He will not share his glory with another.  Just read what he says to his people in Ezekiel 7v3-4:

The end is now upon you,

and I will unleash my anger against you.
I will judge you according to your conduct

and repay you for all your detestable practices.
I will not look on you with pity;

I will not spare you.
I will surely repay you for your conduct

and for the detestable practices among you.

It’s sobering stuff, isn’t it?  Idolatry makes God angry, because he alone deserves all the glory:

But the Lord is the true God;

he is the living God, the eternal King.
When he is angry, the earth trembles;

the nations cannot endure his wrath…
He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like [idols],
for he is the Maker of all things… Jeremiah 10:10;16

So when I find myself trusting in other things, I need to repent and ask the Lord to give me a pure heart that worships him alone.

Sometimes, though, an idol is so ubiquitous and normal in our society that we might not even notice it. These are the dangerous ones, because if they’re even normal within the church, we’re much more likely to keep on trusting in them, and therefore not fully trusting in the Lord.

One example of a popular god in our society has caught my attention recently.  This god is ruthless and cruel.  It promises much: power, success, money, opportunity, legacy, freedom, but of course it cannot deliver.  It will not satisfy.  But also if you don’t live up to its high demands, this god will label you useless, stupid and an all-round failure.  And even as its most devout followers begin to see the cracks and the disappointments in this religion, they are pushing their children harder in its rituals and practices.  Perhaps they just need to work a little harder at it?  Then they’ll really see results.  They’ll have absolute security; they’ll be truly satisfied; they’ll really feel significant.

Have you guessed what it is yet?  I hope so.  This is the Western god of education, or perhaps I should say Academic Success.  Now before you throw your laptop down in disgust (don’t do that, you’ll only regret it), I know that education and success in it are good things.  For what it’s worth, I did extremely well academically at school and I know I’ve benefitted from that.  But our society has turned this good thing into a false god, and the current generation of teenagers is being worked harder and put under more pressure than any generation before it.  Youth groups suffer (i.e. discipleship takes a back seat) because teenagers can’t spare the time away from homework and revision.  The local church ships its teenagers off to an independent school miles away while the school on its doorstep remains oblivious to the gospel message.  Young people leave university, crippled with debt and still not knowing who they are or what to do with their lives.  And all because we, not just our neighbours but our churches too, believe that salvation comes from being the top of the class.

Can I just reiterate that although I know I’m putting this strongly, I do believe that education itself is a good thing.  If it adds weight to my argument, I did used to be a teacher and I loved it!  And although I know this is a very contentious issue, I do believe we are free to send our children to whichever school seems right.  I do also think that we need to examine and question our motives, particularly because the worship of Academic Success is all around us, inviting us in.  Education might be a silver bullet, but it is not a saviour.

In a week’s time I will find out what school my daughter will be going to in September.  Every year this gets in the newspapers, with headlines about ‘postcode lottery’ and parents almost having breakdowns with the stress of getting their kids into the ‘only good school in the area.’  As a mum, it’s really hard not to get swept along with the hysteria.  Pangs of jealousy when you meet someone whose child got into the school yours didn’t get into.  Lying in bed at night wondering whether she will be irrevocably damaged by a sub-standard primary school.

I could go on and on about this.  If you know me personally, I’ve probably talked to you about it.  Maybe I’ll write another post (or ten) about it in the future, but for now let me just encourage you that above all, your child needs Jesus.  My daughter needs to know that the Lord made her – that’s who she is.  The Lord loves her – that’s where her security lies.  The Lord can forgive her sins – that’s her salvation.

The Lord loves your child, and his plans are perfect.  This is true if you can afford the best prep school in the country; it’s true if your child has a scholarship to that prep school; it’s true if you home educate; it’s true if your child’s school is ‘bog standard.’  It’s true if your child’s school is the absolute worst performing primary school in the UK.

I love this from 1 Samuel: Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless (1 Samuel 12:21).  In case we didn’t hear it the first time, he tells us again that the idols we make for ourselves are useless!  Only the Lord is God.

So how do we do turn away from idols?  As Tim Keller says in Counterfeit Gods, ‘idols must be displaced.’  We turn from idols by worshipping the Lord:

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,

whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water

that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;

its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought

and never fails to bear fruit.’ Jeremiah 17:7-8