God was not in the beating

And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12 ESV)

Sometimes things happen that are not necessarily God’s direct acting but He uses them to communicate to us. Last week I wrote about my daughter being beaten up at school and that it seemed my prayers for her protection had gone unanswered.

Since then my wife and I have been to discuss the incident with a teacher at school, done a lot of discussion between us, written to the board of trustees, met with the Principal of another school and tomorrow my daughter will start at that school. Maybe this seems like a rather strong, knee-jerk reaction. Actually the decision to change schools has been two years in coming and was possibly overdue. There have been a number of issues which individually have caused us to consider such a change but the upheaval didn’t seem justified for any single issue.

This most recent incident required action on our part and turned out to be a floodlight on the issue behind many of these problems. Like a seed crystal the immediate incident brought together a whole lot of other issues to clearly indicate that for our children’s sake it was better to inconvenience ourselves by changing schools. Not an easy decision, which is why we resisted such a change for so long.

While I don’t think this is the entirety of why God ‘allowed’ the incident to occur, in even such a short time it is apparent that there is a bigger story going on than just a violent over-reaction by a schoolboy. He is not a bad kid, his Mum is surprised and concerned by how he reacted and when both Mum’s talked together they gained increased understanding of each other and the strains on both children.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
(Matthew 10:29-31 ESV)

At least now I have some sort of explanation to offer my daughter if she asks, “Why did God let that happen?” Not a complete answer, for that she will have to wait until she stands before God Himself, but in His grace He is at least allowing us to see some good emerging in the responses to what happened.

Gifts I have noticed recently:

710) Being forced to face a hard decision.
711) Grace at work in relationships.
712) God’s ‘still, small voice’.
713) Sermon prepared and delivered despite tiredness.
714) Poison prevention talk delivered.
715) Coffee and cake in a beautiful café.
716) The aroma of real pine Christmas trees.
717) Sunlight.
718) God putting the sun in the heavens (Genesis 1:16).
719) A peaceful election.
720) Not being allergic to pine pollen.
721) A quiet walk in the cool of evening
722) Realizing that too much alone time can be very bad for me, even as an introvert.
Photo of crystals: fluor_doublet

Pray for your kids – protection

… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.(Daniel 3:17-18 ESV)

This post is not following the 31 Days of Prayer for children guide but is based upon a dilemma which occurred for me as I prayed for my 10-year-old daughter who was beaten up at school today.

She was foolishly kidding around and provoked a boy in her class. He then proceeded to punch and kick her, pulled her hair, and banged her head against a coat hook. She now has a nasty bruise on her forehead and a very sore head.

I often pray that God will protect her, she hears these prayers and yet didn’t feel protected today. God did not intervene to prevent the incident, no teacher was around to stop it happening and it was her peers who vainly tried to stop an out of control bully. Even her parents are only able to respond after the fact, we will be discussing it with the school tomorrow but could not prevent what has already happened.

When I rested my cheek on hers and prayed this evening I could not bring myself to ask God to protect her, though secretly that is still what I want. Instead I prayed for Him to comfort her and take away her anxiety, to heal her and give her rest.

How do I pray out loud for God to protect the child who He has not protected from being bullied?

I know that bad things happen to Christians and this does not mean God has deserted us. My understanding of God is able to accommodate incidents such as this, my main concern is about how this affects my daughter’s perception of the usefulness of prayer? Is there any point praying for God to protect her is He appears to simply allow bad things to happen? How do I encourage her faith in a God who really does listen to (and answer) our prayers?

These are honest questions, I do not know the answers. I will continue to wrestle with this over the next few days. (See the results of the wrestling here).

A possible explanation is that it was better for Iona to suffer this incident and learn valuable lessons from it rather than to have to experience worse sometime in the future because she had not yet learned those lessons. But does this mean that God’s wisdom is limited to only being able to teach some things through hurtful experiences? The trite answers fail.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
(Job 13:15 ESV)

Download the prayer prompts:

Image of boy punching: iStockphoto

Getting God’s attention

getting-gods-attentionAn article heading from The Desiring God blog:

How to Get God’s Attention

Mar 26, 2011 01:30 am  |  by Josh Etter
Isaiah 66:2 —
But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

That headline certainly got my attention!

Oh to be a man who is looked upon favourably by God! The amazing thing is that this passage describes something I can actually do, and you can also. In fact, if you are a Christian you have already done this, because what is being described in Isaiah 66:2 is childlike faith. The faith Jesus likes:

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven
(Matthew 18:3–4 ESV)

Children know themselves to be small and powerless. They believe easily and take seriously what they are told about the consequences of disobedience. Childlike faith in Christ trusts Him because He is God, knows itself to be powerless against sin and genuinely trembles at the prospect of being a sinner without God’s favour.

I’m becoming more aware of the central necessity of such faith. My need to keep coming to the Bible in Childlike faith, awed by Jesus, desperate for His favour.

Gifts I have noticed recently:

701) Coming home to pancakes after a night shift
702) A rebuke from the book of Proverbs.
703) My first run in a very long time.
704) Career clarity from the example of hard-working refugees.
705) King Saul and David reminding me of the value of music to my soul.
706) Patching up a daughter’s homework that was ripped by her baby brother.
707) Walking home from school with my girls.
708) A friend sharing his story in church.
709) Pastor John Piper.

Photo of father and daughter: iStock

Pray for your kids – diligence

A diligent child is loved by teachers, and as an adult will be an asset to employers. More importantly, we are all commended to work hard for the Lord.

A young girl writing in a notebook.

Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,but the diligent man will get precious wealth.
(Proverbs 12:27 ESV)

Diligence is generally considered to be an ethic of persistence and hard work, characterized by self-discipline. A very employable attribute!

Career options aside, diligence is something God requires of us:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,
(Colossians 3:23 ESV)

In this increasingly distracted world in which we are trying to work and study, remaining diligently attentive to the task we need to do is perhaps harder than ever.

We should pray that God will help our kids be diligent, and I think it is important to get specific in this – ask Jesus to teach our children to focus on what is of real importance rather than entertaining or fun. Pray for them to learn the value of working hard regardless of the ‘reward’, in the Kingdom of God it is who we are, our character, that will be rewarded as a sacrifice to Christ.

You may also find yourself challenged in praying these things for your children, I certainly am!

Download the prayer prompts:

Image of girl writing: iStockphoto

A book a month

My ‘to read’ stack

I am currently 42. Based on Psalm 90:10 there is some justification to think I could live another 28 years. On average I can manage to read a book a month (not including my reading of the Bible, which never ends). So, 28 x 12 = 336; a reasonable estimate of how many books I could read before I go home.

That is actually not a lot when you consider all the books out there that might be worth reading (and there a plenty that are not!), so it would be sensible to choose wisely what to invest time into reading. Therefore I am creating this list to help me target my reading.

In choosing books to read, I am trying to aim for literature that will enrich my soul –  quality rather than quantity.

This list is likely to change and morph as I reassess whether certain books are ones I really want to read or not. (The numbers do not indicate priority, they’re just to keep track of how many items are on the list).

  1. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (finished in 2012)
  2. The Evil of Evils by Jeremiah Burroughs
  3. Communion with God by John Owen
  4. Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges
  5. Church History by Eusebius
  6. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry Garrard
  7. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (finished in 2015)
  8. The Works of John Newton, Volume 1
  9. The Works of John Newton, Volume 2
  10. The Works of John Newton, Volume 3
  11. The Works of John Newton, Volume 4
  12. The Works of John Newton, Volume 5
  13. The Works of John Newton, Volume 6
  14. When I don’t desire God by John Piper
  15. With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray
  16. The Mortification of Sin by John Owen
  17. The Poems by W.B. Yeats
  18. Prayer by John Bunyan
  19. Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sack
  20. Spiritual Depression by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
  21. Imagining the Course of Life by Nancy Eberhardt
  22. The Confessions by St. Augustine
  23. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  24. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  25. Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth by Walter Bruegemann
  26. Praying the Psalms by Walter Bruegemann
  27. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  28. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  29. A journey to Victorious Praying by Bill Thrasher
  30. The Cross of Christ by John Stott
  31. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  32. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  33. Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen (finished in 2013)
  34. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  35. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
  36. Scripture by Heart by Joshua Choomin Kang
  37. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  38. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Louis Carroll
  39. 1 Samuel by Dale Ralph Davis
  40. 2 Samuel by Dale Ralph Davis
  41. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (finished in 2018)
  42. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  43. The Gospel According to John by Leon Morris
  44. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
  45. Herzog by Saul Bellow
  46. The Epistle to the Romans by Douglas Moo
  47. Living on the Maniototo by Janet Frame
  48. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  49. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  50. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (finished in 2012)
  51. Paradise Lost by John Milton
  52. Collected Poems by T.S. Elliot
  53. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  54. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  55. Selected Poems by Robert Browning
  56. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  57. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  58. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  59. Letters of William Cowper by William Cowper
  60. A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot
  61. Joy Unspeakable by D. Martin Lloyd Jones
  62. Seasonable Counsels by John Bunyan
  63. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles by Tom Schreiner
  64. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (finished in 2012)
  65. Zorba the Greek
  66. Treasury of David by Charles H. Spurgeon
  67. The Way of Life by Charles Hodge (edited by Mark Noll 1987)
  68. Practical Christianity by J.C. Ryle
  69. Everything Must Change, Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope by Brian McClaren
  70. Future Grace by John Piper
  71. Because He Loves Me by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
  72. The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
  73. The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal
  74. Journals by George Whitfield
  75. The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther
  76. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  77. The Righteous Shall Live by Faith by R.C. Sproul
  78. Short Stories by Anton Chekhov
  79. Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller
  80. The Plague by Albert Camus
  81. The Unity of the Bible: Unfolding God’s Plan for Humanity by Daniel P. Fuller
  82. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
  83. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  84. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (finished in 2013)
  85. The Shan: Refugees Without a Camp by Bernice Koehler Johnson (finished in 2012)

Post updated with when I finished reading some of these books: 28 September 2018

Quit working

Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow as each day has enough worries of it’s own. In Exodus God supplied enough food for each day only, forcing His people to look to Him for their provision rather than their own cleverness or hard work. When God and wise Christians tell me to be faithful to the tasks in front of me today, trusting God for tomorrow I nod in agreement while internally I am still seeking security in what I can do, planning, worrying and fretting.

I’m going to quit working and will live by faith. I have come to realize that although I’ve not thought of myself as an anxious person, I do in fact worry a lot about the future for myself and my family. Jesus tells us not to do this so I have decided it is time to take a step of faith and trust God’s promises for provision (see Matthew 6:25–34).

Some history

On freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, one of the first issues to arise was the logistical problem of feeding hundreds of thousands of people. God took care of this by providing manna each morning (except on the Sabbath) which the people were to gather and cook for food. To ensure the Israelites only gathered what they needed for the day and didn’t stockpile the stuff, God made it go rotten if kept overnight (except on the Sabbath). So they had to go out each day to gather enough for that day. Anxiously hiding away extra ‘for a rainy day’ would result in an awful stink and maggots growing in it.

Written for us

Paul tells us that these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11). We have a big thick Bible with Exodus included in it so that we will learn spiritual lessons from what God has done in the past (see also 1 Corinthians 10:1–5).

Your goal is to get into a manna rhythm. Seek his grace today, be faithful to the tasks in front of you, and trust him for tomorrow (Ed Welch, Depression, A stubborn Darkness p150).

Such a manna rhythm is something that honours God. It is an attitude which acknowledges that all we have comes from Him. It is an attitude of humility, trusting that God knows what He is doing, is faithful to His promises and will always provide what I need as I need it.

Now the rubber hits the road

That’s not to say it is easy though. I prove day after day my mistrust of God’s promises, embracing assumptions which highlight a lack of faith in God by my choices to work at improving myself by human means. Allowing weakness to become an excuse for not fighting for joy. Letting physiology over-ride love.

Changing these things is a daunting mountain. I do try to overcome this obstacle, and this is where I’m going wrong. God is calling me to seek grace daily for the tasks of today. He is not asking me to worry about the mountain, He calls me to follow Jesus. Step, step, step, step. Jesus even calls me His friend. We can chat on the way. What He does require is that I trust Him. Trusting promises such as:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV).

But I fall and fail. It is so easy to look at my own weakness and failings (sin) and interpret the situation as meaning this promise cannot be true because I have sinned so that settles it. Whereas perhaps it is more like I have given up on enduring, or have not accepted the way out. Giving up too early or hanging around too long can open me up to sin.

God’s promise is that he will never put us in a situation where we have no choice but to sin (Ed Welch, p201).

Sin is not only actions, I have sinful thoughts more often than I do sinful actions. Temptations are not limited to lust or coveting, despair and joylessness can be lure me in also. Whether Satan skewers me with sex or suicide probably makes little difference to him. The roots of sin and temptation go very deep into my heart, it is difficult for me to discern where each temptation originates, this is like guerrilla warfare against my own heart (James 1:14–15, Jeremiah 17:9 and 1 Peter 2:11). It is serious stuff, subtle – but of eternal consequence.

In the mind of God, sin is a much more serious problem than suffering (Ed Welch, p202).

I’m too busted for a DIY job to be feasible, only God can fix my sin. So working at a patch up job is simply making the mess worse, yet there remains a job to be done. My job is to keep trusting in Jesus Christ when my anxious thoughts are wanting to scheme ways to look after myself.

So I remind myself

God is calling me to seek grace now for the tasks of today.

Photo of sleeping construction worker: iStockphoto

Instant maturity?

From Transformed! a recent(ish) post by Nancy Leigh DeMoss on Tim Challies blog:

Does your Christian life look a bit like this:

Commit. Fail. Confess.
Re-commit. Fail again. Confess again.
Re-re-commit. Fail again. Give up.

Reading this is like seeing myself in a mirror, it is exactly how my Christian life is. Nancy goes on to discuss our longing for ‘quick-fixes’, some reasons why they don’t work and a few tips on getting ourselves moving in the right direction. All good stuff and I recommend reading the article.

Cultural values

We can be somewhat blind to our own culture as a result of being completely immersed in it and not noticing what is distinctive in the art forms we are so accustomed to. After experiencing a fantastic ballet performance I considered my own cultural heritage and the active work required to maintain art and culture.

For Father’s Day in September my wife gave me tickets to take our daughters to The Sleeping Beauty by the Royal New Zealand Ballet. After a long wait, the weekend finally arrived to take them and amazingly we were also given tickets to the Saturday evening performance. So Heather went on Saturday evening with a friend, and I took the girls on Sunday afternoon.
I thoroughly enjoyed taking my daughters to the ballet and spoiling them with treats. It is wonderful going to an event at which everyone is dressed up and excited to watch a world class performance. The dancers were incredible and their costumes stunning, accompanied by the music of Tchaikovsky played by a live orchestra. The whole experience enveloped us, entrancing us in it’s magnificence.

There are times when I feel as though other nationalities or ethnic groups have rich cultural tradition but we don’t. Thinking over our ballet experience proves me wrong – we do have a rich cultural heritage and even get the benefit of a blending of European, Maori and Polynesian cultures in this nation.

However, culture takes effort. Performance requires practise, skill, discipline and training. It seems a lot to expend for a three hour public performance. Added to this, cultural groups rarely ‘pay their way’ – even with full houses orchestras, ballet troupes, theatres and other cultural or artistic groups require additional funding in order to survive. They are not a ‘practical’ necessity, so is culture a cost to society or an essential part of being human?

I would argue that the very nature of culture requiring work against the status quo proves its worth. We know that human nature is sinful, if you bow to the status quo and lowest common denominator what results is decline, banality, trivia and anarchy. Proof of our humanity lies in fighting such decline and going beyond what is merely a functional necessity of life to express art.

Art and culture will not save us, but they do prove that God has placed within humanity much more than animal desires and instinct. Art is a reaching for God, even when corrupted by sin the motivation to express, to create, is from God.

Gifts I have noticed recently:

691) Art, making life more than making do.
692) Delight on girls faces.
693) A daughter wanting to imitate my Bible reading habits
694) Rekindled desire to play music.
695) End of my working day.
696) The wonder of a gull in flight.
697) Apples are cheaper than chocolate.
698) My wife, who I could not live without.
699) Daily, grace beyond anything I could ever deserve.
700) Guilt when I lazily take others for granted.

Nothing looks the same

Last Friday evening my wife and I went to a concert by New Zealand’s two best gospel singers, Derek Lind and Steve Apirana.

Steve & Derek regularly tour NZ in support of Tear Fund, playing for donations in local churches. Their concerts are humorous and spontaneous, these guys are relaxed and genuine. They also have depth, there is no flashy lights or stage makeup, what you get is real faith accompanied by experience and wisdom.

This particular concert has challenged me. It occurred at a time when God seems to really be on my case about reaching unreached people groups in hard places with the Gospel and love of Jesus. Then along comes the Christian singer who has been in my ears since 1989 and seriously reinforces that message!

In fact God niggling at me about missions work is nothing new either, over 20 years on that one too! (I’m a slow learner). There has also been a lot of background work needing done before I would be fit to inflict upon the world.

What I am finding is that my perspective is changing. I am seeing things differently, myself, my life, my place in the world, the realities facing others don’t look the same.  There is no undoing the knowledge I now have of how much suffering is happening in Burma. With that knowledge I am responsible (to paraphrase Brooke Fraser), I cannot just pretend it is not a problem.

Nothing Looks the Same

Fly the friendly skies,
nothing looks the same.
From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
Fly the friendly skies,
and hang your head in shame.
From this altitude,
nothing looks the same.

Was that a lightning bolt?
Nothing looks the same.
Was that a camera flash?
Nothing looks the same.
Is God taking photographs,
for evidence for blame?

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.

But under the spell of gravity,
there is dissonance and danger.
This voyeur gets to touch,
and taste and small and see,
This is not fiction,
it’s fact, and it’s stranger.

This is not a checkerboard,
these are paddy fields and fishponds.
This is not quaint,
it stinks and it’s ugly.

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
From arm’s length,
nothing looks the same.
Even from 35 millimetres,
nothing looks the same.

Just remember this
at the end of a long hard day,
I get to fly away,
you get to stay

Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same

Derek Lind – Nothing Looks the Same

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