Children are a Gift from God Thursday, Oct 21 2010 

Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.

Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

(Psalm 127)

The message of the Bible, over and over again, is that children are a blessing, a gift from God.

This is incredibly humbling.

The message in our society is that children are things we create, of our own choosing, in our own time.

To realise that God is actually the one who decides (and I’ve heard of enough “oopsie” pregnancies and infertility struggles to know it’s true) just knocks me over!

Sometimes it’s like I’m a petulant child, demanding that I receive my Christmas gifts in August.

“I’m ready for my presents now,” I whine, “They’re mine anyway!”

“It’s not the right time,” says my Father gently.

 

If children are a gift, what right do any of us have to decide when we receive them?

 


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Wedding Planner Sunday, Jan 25 2009 

I’m quite a fan of our wedding planning folder.

wedding-planner-001

It has all our to-do lists, budget outlines, spending records, lot of pictur, ideas, etc.

wedding-planner-002

I love making lists; writing out everything that needs to be done, knowing it’s all down on paper so I can’t forget, the satisfaction of crossing things off when they are completed.

Anytime I have moments of panic about the wedding, I have a flip through the folder and reassure myself that everything is on track.

But I wonder if I am getting a little too caught up in all this.

Have I been neglecting my relationship with Blake to make room for all this planning?

It feels like every time I see him now, I have something “wedding-y” to tell him. Some detail that needs confirming. Some question that needs to be discussed.

It’s not all we talk about, but it does enter every conversation.

I need to be this committed and serious about planning our marriage and, particularly, what it will mean for me to become a wife.

Wouldn’t it be a great investment if I had a folder for “marriage planning”; I could make lists of my personal growth areas, lists of steps I’m going to take to grow, a list of helpful Bible references, ways I can be helpful to Blake in a day-to-day sense.

That would be something which holds value beyond the wedding day.

A New Conviction Monday, May 26 2008 

Lately God has really been driving home to me the point that I need to love others out of obedience to him.

I tend more towards the selfish, “rewards-based” kind of love. That is, I’m more likely to be loving when I am being loved by others.

It sounds logical. It sounds fair. And it is both of those, but it’s not right.

What happens is that I end up on a roller-coaster, going up and down depending on how others treat me.

I’ve particularly seen this in my relationship with Blake lately. He will be his normal, wonderful self and we have a great time together. I treat him well for a while, riding on that high. But then as soon as he gets a bit worn out (you know, like humans do) and misses a beat, I suddenly withdraw my affections.

I can’t keep going like this. It’s not kind to Blake, and it’s certainly not acknowledging God’s constant, unwavering love in my life.

In all my relationships, I need to treat others well out of love for and obedience to God, not out of some vain expectation that they will treat me well back.

Of Tidyness and Mothers Thursday, May 1 2008 

As I sorted through my overflowing washing basket this afternoon (which I have put off for three days – funny how it keeps getting bigger…), trying to decide what was most “urgent” to wash, I realised that I’ve never been a very organised person when it comes to “clean and tidy” things.

Take, for example, that last sentence.

It is my conclusion that I’ve inherited this from my Mother.

(Don’t worry, she would agree with me on this. One story stands out – Her expression half-incredulous, half-pained, Mum recalled a time when I was younger and I came into her bedroom to see her changing the sheets. I innocently asked, “Is someone sick, Mummy?” It was then that she felt the sting of guilt that she mustn’t be changing the sheets nearly enough if I thought it only happened when someone was sick. As a teenager and young woman, she has impressed upon me many times the importance of changing your sheets regularly. Sadly, I think I’ve picked up her habit rather than her recent exhortations.)

My Mum has been a great model to me of many things (patience, joy, compassion, generosity), but I don’t think organisation is one of them.

Although, that’s not an entirely fair comment. Mum organised the house almost neurotically if we were having guests over. There was always a frenzy in the house to get the toilets cleaned, mop the floor, vacuum the main living areas (and your bedroom while you’re at it), put on the nice table cloth, get out the good salt and pepper shakers, hang out the washing, get as many clothes as possible out of sight in the laundry, clean the bird-cage, etc. Funnily enough, I think I’ve taken on this attitude a bit too. I mean, I only have a small bedroom at the moment, but it gets quite messy. So if someone is coming to visit, I have a bit of a “cleaning burst”. I’ll rush around putting away the clean clothes on the back of my chair, put away the stray papers on my desk, get everything off the floor, make the bed (no, I don’t normally do that *cringe*) and put away any books left out.

Other bad cleaning habits:

– My test of when it’s time to vacuum is when I’m scared to drop an item of clothing on the carpet because it will need washing.

– My desk is a magnet for all kinds of paperwork. I think I tell myself that I’m only putting it there for a few minutes, but it only takes about 3 days before the piles are ridiculous.

– I procrastinate unpacking from trips for the longest possible time. Today when I did my washing, I discovered some items that have been “waiting” since a camping trip about a month ago.

Before you render me an unredeemable slob, I will offer this defence – I am quite a clean person. I have good hygiene and I don’t let things get “dirty”. My problem is with mess.

Last week I had the pleasure of my Mum staying over the night. While she was here she vacuumed my floor, changed my sheets and helped me put clothes away.

It is a humbling thing to have your mother clean your room at 19 years old.

That is all.

Self-centred? Me? Saturday, Feb 2 2008 

Have you ever had one of those moments of bitter revelation, where you’re talking or thinking about a person who really annoys you and you realise… you are that person?

Well, I had one of those moments the other day.

I was reading an article where the author complained of girls who seem to turn every conversation into something about them. You’ll be describing the activties of your weekend, when she pipes up that “the same thing happened to me…“. And then you’re hearing all about her weekend.

Really annoying, right? I mean, we all know people who do that… the sort of people we try to avoid talking to because you know it’s never just a “short chat”.

I am that girl.

I realised that I have a (bad) habit of turning every conversation back to myself.

It even seems natural. I don’t think my motives are particularly bad or selfish, but sometimes when people speak, my own experiences immediately spring to mind, dying to get out.

But you know what? It really is selfish.

What it means, even if I don’t acknowledge it, is that I think what I have to say is more important than what someone else is saying. I think it’s more important for them to listen to me than for me to listen to them.

A while ago, I used to be really into online forums. I used to frequent a few and post regularly. I was genuinely interested in the issues coming forth and interacting with the other people.

I remember a conversation I had with a good friend. She said she really liked them too, but she was realising that her opinion is not always the best one and sometimes it was better to just let others cover things.

That thought was quite revolutionary for me. But it had an effect. I started thinking more carefully about how I would respond to things, if at all. I began to see that there were actually a lot of people more wise than me out there. I began to post a lot less as I discovered how little I actually knew.

Similarly, I’m beginning to see now that people seem to cope just fine without my anecdote-filled conversations, and it’s actually much more interesting to ask other people questions about themselves.

In his letter, James says:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…

(James 1:19)

So, I’m thinking that’s good advice, and from now on, I’m trying to do a bit less talking and a bit more listening.

And when I do talk, it should be stuff that’s going to draw attention to God, not me.

Shopping: harmless pastime? Monday, Jan 21 2008 

I’ve often prided myself on being a bargain-hunter and scrupulous shopper. I get most of my clothes from op-shops, only going to stores like Target and K-mart for items like coats and jeans. And I delight in the offer of hand-me-downs.

And because I have managed to be so frugal in my clothing habits, I convince myself that I can have more clothes. Afterall, many people are paying full price for all their clothing… if I can get it cheaper, shouldn’t I be able to have a higher quantity?

Well, that philosophy has done me fine up until now. I’ve never had anyone question my spending habits, let alone accuse me of… greed. That is, until Phillip Jensen gave his series of talks entitled “The Gospel and the World” at this year’s KYLC. All his talks were remarkable and challenging, in some way, though I think I found the last one (Consumerism) to be the most pertinent to my life.

The reality is, our society (in the West) is saturated by a consumerist mindset. Everything is about buying and selling, and even people are reduced to “customers” or “stakeholders”. Along with this, we are among the most wealthy people in the world. Even the poor here are among the most wealthy in the world.

As a Christian, I can’t pretend that I’m not part of this, or that I didn’t do anything to contribute to the situation. The fact is, I live in this world and I can’t deny the influence it’s had on my life and on my mind.

The other fact that cannot be escaped is God’s remarkable generosity to the world, collectively, and to me, personally. He gave the one thing that meant the most to him: his Son.

How can I turn my face away from that?

I don’t know how good a job I did of describing that talk to you, but by the end (by the start, even) I was heavily convicted that I cannot continue to handle money in the way I have been. I cannot continue to buy excess amounts of clothes with a clear conscience.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit was also working in the heart of my friend, K, and she felt convicted by the talk as well. K said that she had heard of someone not buying any clothes for 6 months. So that’s what we’re doing.

No more clothing until July 20.

Of course, it’s not simply about not buying anymore clothes for 6 months, it’s also about getting out of the habit of trying things on every time you walk into a clothing shop. I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty hard to resist a sales rack. And I know that sounds funny, but it’s true. It’s like there’s a magnetic pull or something.

Please join us in this “challenge” of sorts, and encourage your friends to do it as well. (And leave a comment if you decide to, it will encourage us greatly!)

As an aside, I am certainly not condemning clothes shopping or providing for your needs. I’m just saying that we all need to be a bit more discerning about where our money goes… money that God has graciously blessed us with.

Confessions: Jealousy Sunday, Oct 14 2007 

I would like to reiterate the point of me doing these confessions: to show others that they are not alone in their struggles. It occured to me recently that it could seem like I am trying to minimise my own sin or make it seem attractive. I just wanted to clarify that sin is always life-destroying, evil and deserving of punishment. The only reason I am able to talk about my sin without shame is because Jesus died, rose again and paid for it.

With that, I will now share something that has caused a lot of pain for me and for others. It has almost destroyed relationships and has blinded me at times I most needed to see.

Jealousy.

One particular instance (spread over a few years) comes to mind.

I had a crush on a guy for a long time and I grew very jealous of other girls who would show him attention. In my thinking at the time, he belonged to me and the other girls should have backed off (despite him not being aware of this).

Over time I became bitter and paranoid in my relationships with these other girls. My only motivation for talking with them was to find out what their intentions were or distract them from talking to this particular guy. There was nothing genuine about the way I related to them. Our friendship, for me, existed on the basis of competition.

I remember a time when I actually felt sick to my stomach from all that had been going on. I poured out my feelings into my journal, begging God to take away the pain. It felt like everywhere I turned, she was with him; laughing, playfully touching his arm, posing for a photo. Every happy moment between them increased my agony. That’s what jealousy does – it stops you from caring about the wants and needs of others. It makes you completely inwardly focused.

I should mention that these things happened with two different girls, at two different times….same guy. The sad thing is, the situation basically repeated itself and I didn’t take the hint that the common denominator was me. I was the cause of the problems. I did recognise that I was struggling with jealousy the second time, but I don’t think I truly wanted to let go. Looking back on my journal entries from the more recent of the two times, I felt ashamed of my jealousy and I thought that ignoring the whole situation (even in my own diary) would make the problem go away. In hindsight, I think that made things worse. If I had been able to let go of my pride and truly share my problem with someone, it probably would have helped in overcoming it.

It hurts even now to remember the thick cloud of jealousy which hovered around me for so long. I thought I was completely justified in feeling hurt, annoyed and resentful.

When things started to develop with my boyfriend (not the same guy) earlier this year, I found that these other girls were great, godly friends I could confide in and go to for advice. What had my jealousy caused me to miss out on before, in the friendship of these young women? What could I have given to them if I hadn’t been so distracted by competing for attentions?

More recently, I have found myself developing jealous feelings towards others in my Christian community because of roles they have. It’s easy sometimes to feel like it’s a personal attack on me whenever I am not chosen to do something.

I have envied (is envy the same as jealousy?) the romantic relationships of others, comparing them to my own. I recall writing to God in my journal one day, something to the effect of: “I know they have problems, Lord, but why can’t my problems be more like theirs? Then I would be able to trust you.” That seems pretty ridiculous, even to me, but I can’t deny that jealousy is still a real battle for me. I can’t deny that I have to daily fight off these feelings and horrible thoughts.

If you know me and you think I might be behaving out of jealous motives on anything, please challenge me.

Confessions: Gossip Tuesday, Oct 2 2007 

Here’s a sin that I do probably more than I want to admit. The problem is… well, there’s lots of problems, but I was going to say that this is so deeply ingrained in my culture that it’s hard to let go of, let alone admit I’m doing the wrong thing. Other than this, problems include the deceitfulness of the heart, my own ability to lie to myself, the fact that gossip can be fun and it makes me feel good about myself.

I think, for me, gossip is not a conscious attempt to put others down, at least most of the time. I often do it because I’m in a group of friends who suddenly start talking about someone else, and I feel that I have a “valuable” contribution to make. Other times I initiate the gossip because I want validation of an opinion I have about someone. Example: A certain tutor seemingly never knows what they’re talking about, so I complain to my fellow students about the fact that we’re not getting our money’s worth out of our education. Suddenly, everyone has something nasty to add to the conversation and we’re in a full-blown gossip session.

I’m not condoning these reasons: far from it, I’m trying to explore why I continue to gossip even though I know it’s wrong.

I remember a time at uni where I was talking with 3 girlfriends between classes. We were casually discussing our upcoming assignments when the conversation turned to other students at the uni. There was one particular girl who we all seemed to have bad experiences with – the kind who is easy to really get stuck into. And I went for it. I pulled out everything I had from late assignments to stupid answers. Suddenly there was a slight pause, and I felt a bit guilty. The conversation followed a bit like this:

Girl A: “She never even came to class much last semester, I don’t know how she passed.”

Girl B: “I know. She was away for, like, six weeks right in the middle. Who does that?”

At this point, already feeling enough conviction to stop, I almost choked. You see, I knew EXACTLY why she had been away for six weeks in the middle of semester. And it was surely the most gossip-worthy piece of information I had ever come across in my life. It was the most juicy, tantalising, gasp-inducing morsel ever known to man.

I knew, however, that to share it would be going directly against God, who was heavily speaking to me through my consciense at that point. So I bit my lip and kind of grunted.

The conversation died and eventually turned to the topic of creepy men on trains…

But it was so painful. I’m ashamed to say that, but it was REALLY HARD to hold back.

It also made me realise that I really have a problem with this. For the first time, I couldn’t deny that I had said damaging things; that I had gossiped about someone who would have called me a friend. It forced me to look in the mirror and admit that it wasn’t all beautiful.

Another type of gossip that I do sometimes, but can be harder to identify, is “prayer-gossip”.

“Could you please pray for so-and-so, he’s really struggling with X at the moment.”

“I’ve been praying for A and B a lot, do you know how they’re going with …?”

“I’m really worried about Miss L, I saw her doing *****. We really need to be praying for her.”

Now, I’m not saying that all these things would be wrong all the time, but I know I have said these things at least once, and my motives were NOT pure. Really I just wanted to talk about other people.

I guess this is a tricky one because we do need to be praying for people, but maybe if we ask others to pray, we can stay brief on the details so it doesn’t become gossip.

I can’t remember where I read this recently, but someone wrote that there is a difference between gossiping and seeking counsel. Seeking counsel is looking for a solution to, not confirmation of, your problem with a person. Gossiping is jsut going round and round discussing the person, with no one really directing the conversation in godliness (although, it was probably stated more eloquently wherever I read it).

This has been a good principle for me because I think there are circumstances where we genuinely need advice and help, we can’t keep it to ourselves. I need to make sure that I choose someone to talk to who will challenge my assumptions and not let me get away with saying unnecessary comments.

In the Old Testament, Proverbs has a lot to say about gossip, including:

“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”

-Proverbs 16:28

The New Testament lists gossip among other sins:

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

-Romans 1:28-32

 

How do you define gossip? And do you have any strategies for stopping this sin? 

 

Confessions: Pride Tuesday, Sep 25 2007 

Something has come to my attention lately: people in the Church are so ashamed of their own sin (despite being forgiven – where is the need for shame?) that they can’t bear to share their struggles with other people. This, of course, means that every time someone struggles with a particular sin (which is actually really common) they think they are the only one who struggles, perpetuating the cycle of silence and making people in the Church feel even more isolated and guilty. There is no need to hide in shame! We have been forgiven through Christ – our sin we no longer bear!

This is not me pointing the finger. I am guilty of this 100 times over. I admit (shamefully) that many times it is the condemnation of others that I fear more than that of God, if word of my sins were to get out. So this is me taking a sledge hammer and smashing the cone of silence that is destroying our Church community.

In the book of James, we are told:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

– James 5:16

I will be writing a series of blogs in which I will confess and talk about some sins I have struggled with, and continue to struggle with. You have already heard about my battle with sexual sin. Guess what? There’s more where that came from. Feel free to comment, or just know, in silence, that you are not alone.

The first one is about pride, because I think it is a big part of what often stops us talking about our sins.

Pride has been a constant struggle for me, but it can be so elusive; so hard to identify.

Last year this caused some real rifts between me and my friends. Yet, I don’t think I was ever consciously aware of it as a problem. I had a few friends who were Christians and to the others, I was the “good girl”. My Christian friends looked up to me as someone who had it all together – I didn’t worry about boys, I got good marks, my family was nice and I was passionate about God and truth. My other friends would talk to me occasionally about my faith, but our conversations were often limited to shallow things. To tell you the truth, I liked everyone thinking that my life was on track. My pride stopped me from letting them get too close, which meant I didn’t have to get hurt. But they didn’t really see me. I remember one day when my Christian friend said to me with a sigh, “Jess, your life is perfect”. At that moment, I felt my heart break into two pieces. I felt a lump in my throat. I wanted to tell her that inside, I was just like her and that I struggled with the same insecurities everyday… but I didn’t. Turns out, that lump in my throat was my pride. And it did NOT want to be swallowed. So I kept the pain inside and let her go on thinking that.

I couldn’t bear the thought that my wonderful image would come undone, despite desperately wanting someone to know and love me for who I was. After a while, I noticed that my friend started to change. She would go out drinking, started dating a non-Christian guy and became a lot less interested in talking about God. The hardest part was that she would hide things from me. She would open up to our non-Christian friends about her problems, but steered clear of me even though the effects on her life were obvious. One time I confronted her about dating a non-Christian. She said she knew I was right in saying she shouldn’t be doing it, but that she hadn’t come and told me about it because she knew what I would say. She thought I was too judgemental. In my pride, I didn’t want to ruin my reputation as someone who had it all together, despite the fact that my friends were pulling away from me.

Pride is also something that I struggle with today. Coming to live in a community of Christians can be really encouraging, but it can also put a lot of pressure on one to “look Christian”. I suppose this has been intensified by me becoming a Bible study leader. Suddenly it felt like the small torch which occasionally shone into my life had become a massive spotlight, and the heat was making me sweat. My pride had been fed by the fact that I was wanted as a Bible study leader, and caused me to think that leading well meant not letting anyone see the sin. I still wanted people to think I had it all together.

I remember going out with the other Bible study leaders for coffee and a catch up one evening. They had all done it once before, but it was my first time. Imagine my surprise (and anxiety) upon hearing that we would all individually share our recent struggles and have one member of the group pray for us. The pressure built as the other leaders took their turn to share heart-felt struggles from their life and the insecurities that some battled each day. Still, I was too prideful to share how I had been struggling sexually with my boyfriend. Although what I said was honest, it wasn’t what had really been on my heart.

Pride has kept me, and still does to some extent, from sharing things with my room mate. It always seemed to me like she had the perfect life and I was scared to tell her things because I thought she might judge or look down on me (sound familiar?). I wanted her to think that everything was great in my life. For a long time, I didn’t tell her about the struggles with sexual sin my boyfriend and I were going through. He had an accountability partner and he strongly encouraged me to talk to her and open up. I stubbornly refused, saying that I didn’t think she’d understand. Liar. I really just didn’t want her to see my problems. Sometimes I still keep things from her because of the same fears and pride.

Recently, before Blake and I broke up for a day, I opened up and told her about my doubts and fears in the relationship. I told her how I had been feeling and that it scared me. We talked for a while and her words were filled with compassion, understanding and wisdom. Not the judgement and eye-rolling “I can’t believe you have this problem” that I expected. She encouraged me to open up to Blake with the same openness I had shown her. And later that night when I came in crying and distraught, she hugged me and my pride fell into little wet patches on the back of her shirt.

In my relationship with Blake, pride has been the cause of many an argument. I am unwilling to admit I’m wrong, and he is frustrated with the way I cling to my opinion without allowing challenge. In the middle of a (somewhat) heated “discussion”, Blake emphatically declared, “Jess! You can be so stubborn sometimes!”. I bit my lip and did not say the words burning in my mind: “That’s because I’m right!”. It’s sad, but that’s how prideful I am at times. Honestly, I have no real resolution to offer on this one. I still regularly hold onto my pride instead of letting Blake see, and relate to, the real me.

As you can see, pride is a sin that spans far and wide and is one that’s easy to mistake for good intentions sometimes. It is a constant struggle for me, but God is good and he finds ways to challenge and humble me.

Read Isaiah 2:6-22.

The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled
       and the pride of men brought low;
       the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.

-Isaiah 2:11