God doesn’t wrap His gifts

It is 5 minute Friday in which I write feverishly for five short minutes, find a picture to fit my story and then post without reworking and rewording the entire thing before being brave enough to publish!
Today our prompt is gift.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
(Ephesians 2:8 ESV)

I get the impression that God does not like fancy gift wrap.

He made a man out of dirt! Then He made his wife from one of his ribs.

God’s greatest gift to us came as an ordinary baby in a grubby stable, wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in a feed trough. Then the epitomy of His generosity and giving was a bloodied mess of whipped, scourged flesh dying on a torture instrument.

Jesus gave us his peace – un wrapped. He gave us His Holy Spirit, again with no nice wrapper. We are given treasure of value we do not understand, wrapped in jars of clay.

If my mother gave me a birthday present wrapped in brown paper I would be a little disappointed in her lack of effort. Yet God has given me gifts I do not fully comprehend and they are without any wrapping I can see, though I cannot say I have truly unwrapped them yet.
Stop

Crepuscular

Dunedin harbour

If I had to choose a word to describe my life at the moment it would be ‘crepuscular’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines crepuscular as:

1 Resembling the twilight of morning or evening; dim, indistinct; not yet fully enlightened.
2 Of or pertaining to twilight.

 

Working shift work and with winter closing in it feels as if I live in a perpetual twilight, not only in terms of the light levels I experience but also socially – I am out of sync with the rest of society so my weekends occur at odd times and I have to work during the real weekends.

Then there are other aspects of me that could be described as dim and indistinct, maybe I will tell you about it one day.

Choose your sword wisely

I have used three different Bible translations for my ‘daily’ reading (well, ‘reading most days’!) over the years. However, in retrospect I’m not sure that it is such a wise idea to change translations – I started off reading the NIV, then after about five years changed to the NKJV because it was more literal and reading that version gave some passages much more force than the NIV which appeared to have ‘softened’ the impact. About four years ago I changed again and now read the ESV. This change was partly because this translation comes highly recommended and also because I like the flow of the language – contemporary English with good grammatical structure, not ‘dumbed down’, and a literal translation rather than a paraphrase.
Each of these translations has been used by God to nurture my faith in Jesus. I’m glad to be reading the ESV, but the problem with having changed translations is that I still ‘think in NIV’. When I know there is a passage in the Bible about something I almost invariably remember the NIV version of the text rather than the ESV or NKJV, which makes searching for it online tricky because generally I search for the ESV text because that’s what I currently use.

The great irony of having accurate online search tools for the Bible is that I often can’t find what I’m after there – I have to pull out my old NIV exhaustive concordance from the bookshelf and flip pages until I find the passage I remembered, then look it up in my ESV. Maybe it is a sign of old age that I can find Bible information quicker in a paper book than electronically!

The point of all this? Don’t switch translations without having a VERY good reason to do so, it is good to be able to ‘think Bible’ in the same translation as you read every day (or most days). In the end the important thing is to be reading the Bible rather than analyzing it academically.

Another good reason to stick with one bible is the tendency to remember not only the words but also the position of those words on the page. It sounds silly, but this is does make it much easier to find the verse that convicted you last week. One obvious disadvantage of eReaders I suppose!

Pray for your kids – Contentment

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

Child consumerism

For my children to be content with what they have is much harder than it was for me at their ages. They are subjected to an unending stream of stuff, food, experiences and entertainment that simply did not exist when I was a kid.

There is big money to be made from targeting children as consumers, and it is generally easier to convince a child than an adult that this next new thing will bring happiness. There are people out there greedily wanting money.

They are happy to use our kids in order to get it.

A learned state of heart

Learning to be content is a battle for all of us. From outside ourselves there will always be more to have, while arising from within is a constant stream of desires. These may both be neutral, but we are naturally primed to be always wanting more than we have.

Contentment is learned. It has to be learned from God because the world does not want us to be content – economics depends on our dissatisfaction!

Ask God to give your children contentment and for yourself also. Pray that we parents will learn how to be content so our kids have examples to follow.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
(1 Timothy 6:6-8 ESV)

Download the prayer prompts:

Other posts related to this topic:

Image of my girls: Me

Pray for your kids – contentment

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.(Philippians 4:11-13 ESV)

Child consumerism

For my children to be content with what they have is much harder than it was for me at their ages. They are subjected to an unending stream of stuff, food, experiences and entertainment that simply did not exist when I was a kid.

There is big money to be made from targeting children as consumers, and it is generally easier to convince a child than an adult that this next new thing will bring happiness. There are people out there greedily wanting money.

They are happy to use our kids in order to get it.

A learned state of heart

Learning to be content is a battle for all of us. From outside ourselves there will always be more to have, while arising from within is a constant stream of desires. These may both be neutral, but we are naturally primed to be always wanting more than we have.

Contentment is learned. It has to be learned from God because the world does not want us to be content – economics depends on our dissatisfaction!

Ask God to give your children contentment and for yourself also. Pray that we parents will learn how to be content so our kids have examples to follow.

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
(1 Timothy 6:6-8 ESV)


Download the prayer prompts:

Image of my girls: Me

Thunder and whispers

It is 5 minute Friday in which I write for five short minutes, fight my urge to edit and re-write the whole thing and just post whatever I’ve got.
The word this week is Loud.

Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
(Psalm 42:7 ESV)

Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.
(Exodus 19:19 ESV)

I hate loud noises, especially sudden ones. I swore at the phone this evening when it rang loudly beside me, giving me a fright. I covet the peaceful quietness once everyone has gone to bed and the TV is off. To read, to think, to just be.

My aversion to loudness causes me to get stressed when multiple people talk at once. I cannot follow what is being said, get confused and flustered.

God isn’t like that. He can follow billions of conversations all at once without stress. He can cope just fine with loudness or with silence. He can communicate through a thunder storm or a torrent of water. He can make Himself known without any sound at all.

He condescends to meet me in my weakness, stopping me in my complaining to whisper, “It is not about you – this life you have, all you are – it is about Me, about My Son. About Jesus.”

Stop

It is odd how thinking about loudness reminded me of what He quietly spoke years ago.

And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
(1 Kings 19:12-13 ESV)

The beautiful people

I have just discovered that yesterday (NZ)/today (USA) is/was World Down Syndrome Day.
As a teenager I attended school with two classmates (in a class of 27 students) who were Down Syndrome. Despite my typically teenagerish bad attitudes initially, I grew to greatly appreciate these students and in retrospect realize I learned a vast amount from them about compassion, teamwork, how to help others, and that people are of much more importance than achievements. I am delighted to be able to add a small voice of encouragement and support for folks with Down Syndrome.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has made a statement about world Down-Syndrome day, here is an excerpt:

For too long, persons with Down syndrome, including children, have been left on the margins of society. In many countries, they continue to face stigma and discrimination as well as legal, attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their participation in their communities.

He finishes by saying:

On this day, let us reaffirm that persons with Down syndrome are entitled to the full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others. Let us build an inclusive society for all.

I have highlighted a statement which is very important. The most important human right which needs to be upheld for people with Down’s Syndrome is the right to life – spelled out in Article 10 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

Article 10 – Right to life

States Parties reaffirm that every human being has the inherent right to life and shall take all necessary measures to ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.

New Zealand (and the United States) have signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I consider this of huge importance in the face of a concerted effort by ‘health providers’, atheists and liberalists to eliminate any Down Syndrome babies detected prior to birth. On one hand we claim to uphold the rights of people with ‘disabilities’ (in our view), yet consider inconvenience for families and mothers to be of more significance than a person’s right to live. In the view of some, a baby does not even have the right to be considered a person, so if a newborn will be inconvenient they could theoretically be disposed of! (OK, that is another issue – one which I fully intend to discuss at length in future).

It is true that raising any child who is different is a lot of work, but our selfishness is not a reason to become evil and deny life to such people. Let us love people first and then worry about achieving other goals (I am preaching to myself here).

I tell myself it is worth the trouble

This year we are attempting to do some Lent devotions as a family when possible. It is a somewhat stumbling effort, but the kids do seem to like it and even our three-year-old is getting the idea, or at least he likes the candles!
For us the best time to do a ‘God talk’ in this format is immediately after dinner while everyone is still at the table and the kids have not yet switched into jungle hour mode (totally hyped, loud, disobedient and cranky). Some evenings the meal doesn’t end neatly however, and bringing everyone back to the table and settled becomes quite a challenge.

To plan my devotions I use the reliable and scientifically proven organisational approach called last minute rush. In this case flicking through the gospels in my Bible looking for a Jesus story that isn’t too long, can be explained to a six-year-old and I haven’t used in the last couple of weeks. Tonight my background accompaniment was middle child having a melt-down over a lost homework book, with boisterous boy playing melody and strains of tired ten-year-old on strings.

Then I couldn’t get the first candle to light (the one in the photo – can you see why?) and little boy decided  he needed to help me. He was most indignant when I refused to give him a lit match! He was correct in assuming I needed help.

By the time I said ‘amen’ we had everyone together around the table.

Our carefully chosen (ahem!) passage for this evening was Matthew 21:18-22, leading to discussions of how large a splash mountains would make on landing in the sea, the meanness of Jesus in killing a fig tree, and how cool it is that God can make impossible stuff happen.

With a young family and me doing shift work, our attempts at devotions are erratic at best. Yet even when it seems the kids are not paying any attention and we are all tired, I convince myself it is worth the hassle. I just pray my children find good churches when they are older with pastors who can straighten out their bizzare theology!

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
(Matthew 21:18-22 ESV)

New life

new-life

There are times in my Christian life when I feel like a dried up old leaf, devoid of life.
Fortunately a friend reminded me of the promises which we have both clung to over the years. Promises of being made new, given life, dead to the world and sin and raised in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
(2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)

Maybe this is not the ‘right’ question to ask, but how do I experience this? From the Bible I know it to be true regardless of how I feel, yet the dry, crunchy sense of having had the life sucked out of me by the world is needing to be replaced with something better. The idea of new life is appealing, how do I experience life in Christ as fresh and new?

Reading the New Testament gives me ample reason to trust that God has indeed given me new life, and I generally find that as I read my dryness lessens. However, I cannot spend all day reading the Bible, much that it seems appealing to do so!

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8 ESV)

As I consider the promises I clung to and yearned to experience as a young Christian I find that it is possible to see ways in which I do have a deeper understanding of them now and have experienced the new life through the Holy Spirit in the years since first discovering them. I certainly have not arrived at some marvelous spiritual plane, instead I can trace the life God has infused into me working itself out in the real world as I’ve grown and stumbled onward in Christ.

So I delight in remembering how far the journey has already been, this gives reassurance that whatever may lie ahead can be faced in Christ. The baby Christian of 1988 could not have imagined where God would lead him! And He continues to lead us onward, one day at a time.

But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:10-11 ESV)

Limited edition

God sets the limits for all things. He sets limits for the sea so it does not encroach upon the land. He sets the times and seasons, He determines the orbits of stars and planets. He sets the length of life for all people and the times of rulers and kings.

God also limits each of us, setting the place where we will be born, the parents we will have, and the abilities we will inherit.

I seem to spend much of my life kicking against the limits within which my life has been placed. I’m not entirely sure what I am seeking to achieve, but often I push against the limited time available to me, burning through the quiet hours of my nights in the eerie glow of a computer display. I hungrily read and consume from the fire-hose of information now available through the internet.

Oddly, my ‘problem’ is no longer the difficulty of locating information as it was a decade ago, now I have difficulty saying ‘enough’. I have information obesity (it is even a problem for academics).

Unfortunately most of what passes as ‘information’ is really just trivial. In fact, the best most popular blogs, websites, news outlets and social media sites are primarily experts in entertainment and how to hold a human being’s attention in such a way as to induce clicks, page views or divulging of credit card details.

This evening I read a book instead of opening the lid of the laptop. It felt good, undistracted, a cohesive argument to follow and well crafted words – quality workmanship. I need to read more books and browse the internet less. There is good reason for calling it ‘browsing’ or ‘surfing’ – both capture the skimming, superficial nature of how we interact with the web.

God created me with limits. I need to respect them and use the limited time I have wisely.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
(Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)