Sunday, January 15, 2017

He knows what is in the darkness

Here are some little pieces of encouragement from Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies. Lord knows my life has contained some confusing things, and I could torment myself for eternity with “what-ifs” and “if-onlys”, and I have tried till I wore out to explain other things, to no avail, so these were good reminders.

January 4
You see, there is no mystery with God. He is never caught off guard. He never wonders how he is gong to deal with the unexpected thing. I love the words of Daniel 2:22: “He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him.”

God is with you in your moments of darkness because he will never leave you. But your darkness isn’t dark to him. Your mysteries aren’t mysterious to him. Your surprises don’t surprise him. He understands all the things that confuse you the most. Not only are your mysteries not mysterious to him, but he is in complete charge of all that is mysterious to you and me.

Remember today that there is One who looks at what you see as dark and sees light. And as you remember that, remember, too, that he is the ultimate definition of everything that is wise, good, true, loving, and faithful. He holds both you and your mysteries in his gracious hands, and because he does, you can find rest even when the darkness of mystery has entered your door.
January 14
Even though you’re a person of faith who has acquired some degree of biblical literacy and theological knowledge, there’s one thing you can be sure of – God will confuse you. Your theology will give you only a limited ability to exegete your experiences. The commands, principles, and case studies of Scripture will take you only so far in your quest to figure out your life. There will be moments when you simply don’t understand what is going on. In fact, you will face moments when what the God has declared himself to be good brings into your life won’t seem good. It may even seem bad, very bad.

Now, if your faith is based on your ability to fully understand your past, present, and future, then your moments of confusion will become moments of weakening faith. But the reality is that you are not left with only two options – understand everything and rest in peace or understand little and be tormented by anxiety. There is a third way. It really is the way of true biblical faith. The Bible tells you that real peace is found in resting in the wisdom of the One who holds all of your “what-ifs” and “if-onlys” in his loving hands. Isaiah captures this well with these comforting words: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3) ...

Friday, January 06, 2017

A sobering beginning

So I started out the week with new year plans and projects and goals, and got stuck into them on Tuesday, then on Wednesday morning a friend died, and suddenly that all didn’t seem so important anymore.

I stayed in a house with this friend and his family five years in a row over the long Easter weekend, while we went to Katoomba Easter Convention, though that was some years back now. He was a RAAF pilot who gave up that high-flying career to study theology and then plant a church in the town where the RAAF training base is located. He was dedicated to sharing the gospel any place and time he could. He had a wife and four young children. Early last year he was diagnosed with a form a leukemia, which was considered quite treatable; the chemotherapy and transplant had gone well and he was talking about going home. Then there was a fever and suddenly he was gone. The shock and the sadness is everywhere.

When someone like this friend dies early and unexpectedly, I sometimes ponder whether, if we are here on earth to become more like Jesus and join his mission of sharing the gospel, then some people go on early because they are ready – in which case I’ll be here till I’m 150 – but I know that formula doesn’t actually apply. Other times I wonder if God just looks down on us and shakes his head and smiles at the way we beg for ourselves and others to stay down here, as though we have no idea what he has in store, but I know he understands what it’s like to be human, how hard it can be for those left behind, and that he experienced grief. And when someone like this friend dies, I can’t help wondering why I am allowed to live (unless the first scenario applies!), but I know our walk with God here is not all about our doings, good and important and right as they are, and we simply have no comprehension of his ways or the plans he is working out.

So, that was a sobering beginning to the new year. Also a timely reminder of how it's worth spending it.

But, I still went to IKEA and bought the things and played around in my house. (I’ve had so many DIY and painting and sorting projects going and half done that the house was an absolute disaster. Today I decided I needed to begin the clean up and just finish what was started or I would be going back to work on Monday in chaos.) They say we should live like each day is our last. But that is hard. I wonder if perhaps it’s hard spiritually because it’s also hard practically – we don’t even grocery shop like it’s our last day. Still, when these things happen you feel like you want them to make a difference, though that can be hard to measure.

I did go out to Koorong this week and buy New Morning Mercies by Paul Tripp. I have benefitted a lot from Paul Tripp’s books in the past, so decided I wanted to read through this book this year. It’s not something I want to substitute for bible reading, but I am looking forward to the soul prompts. In the introduction he writes this:
So this devotional is a call for you and me to remember. It’s a call to remember the horrible disaster of sin. It’s a call to remember Jesus, who stood in our place. It’s a call to remember the righteousness that is his gift. It’s a call to remember the transforming power of the grace you and I couldn’t have earned. It’s a call to remember the destiny that is guaranteed to all of God’s blood-purchased children. It’s a call to remember his sovereignty and his glory. It’s a call to remember that remembering is spiritual war; even for this we need grace.
May that be so this year.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Catching up

I have returned from almost two weeks in Queensland. I spent the day with my Mum and my younger sister and her family and then we had Christmas dinner with my Mum’s extended family, which was very pleasant (I repented of my bad attitude in that last post). I sat down next to a cousin who has just not showed up at family gatherings for the last few years, so I was a little surprised and very glad to see them there. And another cousin who has had a few troubled and non-participatory years was there also being just lovely, and I had a few conversations with them. (A lot of my cousins are a good bit younger than I am, so I am talking about people in their early twenties here.) My dear old Nanna is struggling with her hearing recently and also her memory and at one point in the night I said to her “so are you looking forward to moving” (they are soon to move into my Aunt’s home, from their own house in another town on a large block of land, about which the family is overjoyed) and she paused and I thought, oh dear, that was a bad question to ask (it’s taken them a long time to be ready for this move), and then she pats my leg and says ‘well it’s better than a bad marriage, and there are plenty of those around’. I then paused and I still have no idea what she thinks I might have said, so I let that one go. I caught up with a couple of old friends and there were a lot of questions, but people only ask because they care, so I should be thankful for that, and it was great to see them.

It was a nice time up there, though the last few days were insufferably hot and humid. On New Year’s Eve I walked with a bunch of folks up one of the bush tracks up Mt Coot-tha to watch the 8.30 pm fireworks, then we walked down again. Boy that was hot and sticky on the way up but on the way down it was pleasant. It’s a fun thing to do that doesn’t require waiting half the night in cocktail attire, which suits me nicely.

I like to have a bit of reflection time around New Years, with some time alone for it, which is harder when you are away in someone else’s house, but I have formed a few resolutions, or maybe they are intentions. One is just a simple thing, which is that I shall eat my breakfast and dinner at the dining room table, instead of wherever takes my fancy in the living room (usually on the floor in front of the heater all winter!), and keep my bible there so I can read a chapter or two. I consistently read devotional material on the bus to work last year, but I would like to get through more of the bible as well this year. I’ve also got the usual exercise goals (since moving to Canberra and tearing my calf muscle and then having surgery I have added some padding I want to lose) and goals of better time management, particularly around social media. Then I want to spend less, but also get out more, which are probably not compatible ...

I was originally going back to work today, but then I decided to have the rest of this week off and I have a long list of house jobs to do. Today I went for the first jog in more than two weeks, then just did post-holiday washing, poked in my garden, which barely survived my time away, went and bought more chalk paint for furniture, then dropped in to the tip shop and found the perfect old cupboard in a size I have been looking for since I moved in (only I’m now going to have to paint that too), packed up Christmas decorations, pulled one crate of clothes I haven’t worn out from under the bed, and put one coat of paint on some shelves I also found at the Green Shed before Christmas (so many things to paint! - I’ll do a reveal when I finish them all).

I’m hoping to blog a few more things of substance this year, but I won’t make any promises. I’ve decided the key to continued blogging is actually to take the pressure off yourself to do it.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and New Year and some time to rest.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Nativity - by GK Chesteron

I came upon this nativity poem by Chesterton that I have not seen before. I like it - it romps along in a fashion reminiscent of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. But I am not really sure about the final verse and what he is trying to do with it. It needs more pondering.

The Nativity

The thatch on the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind had a peal as of trumpets,
Though blowing and barren and cold,
The mother's hair was a glory
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming
      A child was born.

Have a myriad children been quickened.
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered
      A child is born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires, like dreams unremembered,
Huge cities for ages laid low?
This at least—that with blight and with blessing
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them,
      "A child is born".

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove,
Still the plumes stir around us, above us
The wings of the shadow of love:
Oh! princes and priests, have ye seen it
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes,
       A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the wise men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened.
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is enthroned; yea, the sternest,
      A child is born.

And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things,
Still feels that high moment unfurling
Red glory of Gabriel's wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, anointed,
      A child is born.

And thou, that art still in thy cradle,
The sun being crown for thy brow.
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer,
Say, whence art thou come—who art thou?
Art thou come back on earth for our teaching
To train or to warn—?
Hush—how may we know?—knowing only
      A child is born.

~G.K. Chesterton (ca. 1902)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Where the love really is at Christmas

I bought this little wooden nativity scene this year. One day I am going to make one, but till then.

So, it was my last day of work for 2016 yesterday. I feel quite chuffed with myself that in the last few weeks I gave myself a hasty crash course in Adobe InDesign (there was a lot of googling!) and made a newspaper. I received the Christmas Message from the Bishop on Wednesday, squeezed it in, took a deep breath and printed a gazillion, then yesterday put mountains of them in the mail, so I can now take rest in peace.

Once again I am flying off by myself over Christmas to do another tour of the relatives and maybe a couple of old friends, as the weird and unloved spinster. I don’t particularly enjoy doing this (though I am keen to see my grandparents in particular), and answering all the questions (can you tell?), but I accept that this is the life God has given me to live.

And I know that, for all the talk about “family” and “loved ones” at Christmas, that’s not what it’s for. And I know that ultimately I am not unloved (and that someone did indeed take the initiative). As dear old Christina Rossetti wrote, love came down at Christmas. Here’s that poem in full:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

And I think this quote from Marilynne Robinson deserves a repost. Even when love seems at its most elusive here on earth, God loves us with this wondrous love. I don’t object to the ‘love narrative’. God didn’t send his Son down here simply to make a penal substitutionary atonement. That would have been completely unnecessary if he didn’t love us enough to consider that worth doing. Higher than the point that God is angry with our sin and too Holy to suffer it, such that he had to send his Son to the cross to reconcile us, is the fact that he cared enough to do it, rather than atomise us in an instant. But here is Marilynne Robinson on the point:
There is a great old American hymn that sounds like astonishment itself, and I mention it here because even its title speaks more powerfully of the meaning of our narrative than whole shelves of books. It is called “Wondrous Love”. “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss / to bear the dreadful cross for my soul?” If we have entertained the questions we moderns must pose to ourselves about the plausability of the incarnation, if we have sometimes paused to consider the other ancient stories of miraculous birth, this is no great matter. But if we let these things distract us, we have lost the main point of the narrative, which is that God is of a kind to love the world extravagantly, wondrously, and the world is of a kind to be worth, which is not to say worthy of, this pained and rapturous love. This is the essence of the story that forever eludes telling. It lives in the world not as myth or history but as a saturating light...
~ When I Was A Child I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson

I don’t leave till Tuesday, and the urge to post something might strike again before then, but if not I hope anyone still out there reading here has a joyful Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A little Wendell Berry observation

I really need to get back into the swing of blogging. I've had an old childhood friend visiting for the weekend (who was happy to take up her book at any opportunity, which is my sort of house guest! - you know they are happy with a little bit of nothingness). We went to the National Museum and saw the A History of the World in 100 Objects exhibit from the British Museum. The truth is, it was perhaps not quite as amazing as I was expecting it to be, but I am pleased I saw it.

I thought I'd share a little Wendell Berry. There is a character in his novels called Burley Coulter. I have quite a soft spot for Burley, though he is not one one who has walked the straight and narrow. Here is a  passage that shows the beautiful way Berry observes the simple things. He commenting on the tobacco harvesting:
I never caught up with Elton and Nathan and Danny, or came anywhere near it, but at least when the rows were straight I always had them in sight, and I loved to watch them. Though they kept an even, steady pace, it was not a slow one. They drove into the work, maintaining the same pressing rhythm form one end of the row to the other, and yet they worked well, as smoothly and precisely as dancers. To see them moving side by side against the standing crop, leaving it fallen, the field changed, behind them, was maybe like watching Homeric soldiers going into battle. It was momentous and beautiful, and touchingly, touchingly mortal. They were spending themselves as they worked, giving up their time; they would not return by the way they went.

The good crew men among us were Burley and Elton. When the sun was hot and the going hard, it would put heart into us to hear Burley singing out down the row some scrap of human sorry that his flat, exuberant voice both expressed and mocked:

Allll our sins and griefs to bear – oh!

– that much only, raised abruptly out of the silence like the howl of some solitary dog. Or he would sing with a lovelorn quaver in his voice:

Darlin', fool yourself and love me one more time.

And when we were unloading the wagons in the barn, he would start his interminable tale about his life as a circus teamster. It was not meant to be believed, and yet in our misery we listened to his extravagant wonderful lies as if he had been Marco Polo returned from Cathay.
From That Distant Land, a short story in the book of the same title.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Latest op shop art find

On the weekend I was swanning up Lonsdale Street in Braddon with some visiting family, and I’d already been fossicking around in a ‘Designer Op Shop’ and been on my way, but on walking back up the street past the shop I noticed the basket out the front on the footpath containing sale framed art. I flicked through and spied the painting below and quite liked it. It was the only one without a sticker so I took it in, asked what they wanted for it, that being $24, and took it home. I like impressionism in oils and I like an alpine scene. But mostly I bought it because of the dusty blues in the shadows and sky as those are the colours in my bedroom (which are not altogether in decor fashion at the moment). The evidence is in the cushion.

When I got home, as I tend to do, I googled the artist and discovered that Peg Minty was a local artist who received an Order of Australia Medal for her contribution to the art world, and there is a street in the suburb of Weston named after her (you can read about her if you search her name here). So I am quite chuffed with it. I now have three op-shop paintings in my room by local female artists, all featuring dusty blues. It's become a thing.

The painting needs some cleaning and I will also clean and paint the frame, but I’m an old hand at painting op shop frames now (yay for another chalk painting project!).