31 Days in Proverbs – Day 3: Wise Discipline

Proverbs 3:11-12

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,  and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves,  as a father the son he delights in.

I can’t remember getting into too much trouble as a kid. I’m not saying I was an angel, more that the memory of my childhood has faded over the intervening decades. I do have a distinct memory of me and my two brothers, crowded into the back of out small late-70s model Mazda. We were on our way to visit my Grandfather or our cousins in the Eastern Suburbs.

The car didn’t have air conditioning and in summer your legs stuck painfully to the vinyl seats. There weren’t iPods or iPads then. We didn’t even have a cassette player – just the radio (talk about dark ages!). Instead, we’d have to entertain ourselves on the 30 minute drive, which as kids stuck in a hot and uncomfortable car, would soon get out of hand.

I can still see us, laughing the kind of jokes that as a kid you think are hilarious, or jostling each other about. Looking at my own youngest child’s latest antics, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d reach out and pinch my brother, or poke him in the face just for fun. I was that kind of kid.

Dad’s stern voice would come from the front seat, issuing a warning that quietens us down for a moment. But not for long. Either one brother would annoy the other, or one of them upset me (never the other way around of course!), and at the next traffic lights – slap! One of us (almost certainly one of the boys) would get a slap on the leg. That’s when we knew it was really time to stop.

I remember being young and being disciplined by God, too. I was 16, and had been a regular church member and follower of Jesus since I was 12. In my early teens, my experience of following Jesus was more external than internal. I was a Christian because I did “Christian things” – like go to church, teach at Sunday School, and attend Youth Group. My Bible Study leaders also encouraged me to read the Bible and I did because I respected them and wanted to be like them.

(As an aside – youth leaders- never underestimate the power your life and example have to influence young people. The kids under your care will pick up your habits without you even noticing it – the good and the bad ones!)

As a young teen, my experience following Jesus was more of a series of habits than a relationship. Obedience to God meant ticking those boxes every week. Perhaps I’m being harsh on my young self, I probably did have the notion of a personal relationship with God, I just hadn’t had to make any hard choices yet. I didn’t have to risk losing friends because of my faith – most of my friends were Christians, too. And those who weren’t were either happy to come to Youth Group with us, or didn’t care that we went. At 16, I hadn’t yet been tempted by parties with alcohol and drugs, none of my friends were into that.

The first hard choice I had to make as a follower of Jesus was precisely were my weakest temptation was – it was about a boy.

We’d met at my part time job filling shelves at a toystore. He was a few years older than me, finished school and working full-time. I thought he was nice. I liked talking to him. He didn’t drive and lived in the same suburb as me so my dad drove us both home from work a few times. We got chatting one night on ICQ – an online chat program that was a forerunner to what Facebook would become. Then, one night as we were chatting online, he asked me out! Me! Awkward, ugly, overweight, still with braces on my bottom teeth. It seemed too good to be true.

(I still to this day don’t know why he wanted to date me. I definitely wasn’t his type, as his later dating preferences would attest to.)

It was the beginning of a new year. I had just been away on a Church camp where we studied Hebrews 11 – which from that time has become one of my favourite passages of the Bible. I’ll write a post about it sometime in the future. Yet, within weeks I’d ignored everything I’d learned about what true faith, true trust in Jesus looks like, and decided that instead, I’d throw it away for a boyfriend.

Needless to say, the relationship didn’t last long. Nor did it end well. It took a whole year for me to truly recover.

After not reading God’s word for a few months, I decided to take back up where I’d left off at the end of the church camp – Hebrews 12. The verses from proverbs above are quoted, then the writer to the Hebrews goes on –

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!

 

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

 

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

 

-Hebrews 12: 7-13

I can still see myself – 16, heartbroken, sitting on the bed my small bedroom with pink walls covered by posters of The X-Files, reading these verses. I remember the awe I felt when I realised that God’s word was describing exactly what I was going through at that moment.

Up until that point, I had only expected good things from God – easy life, good friends, success at school. And when a difficult choice arose, I was thoroughly unprepared for it.

We think of discipline as punishment or correction – and sometimes it is. But there is another facet of discipline – training, growing, failing and trying again. And God promises to guide us through it. Just like our parents discipline us because they love us and want the best for us, just like I try to discipline my kids because I want the best for them, God wants us strong in our faith and our relationship with him. And he knows better what we need than even a parent does with their child.

That moment when I was 16 was when God laid the groundwork for a real relationship with him. It wasn’t the first time I’d face difficulty and had to work out my faith. There’d be lots more between 16 and 35, and I suspect lots more to come between 35 and whenever it is that my Lord calls me home. And no matter how painful the discipline, I will be thankful for it, just as I am thankful for that day, almost 20 years ago.

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 2: True Wisdom

Proverbs 2:6-7 

For the Lord gives wisdom;

from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He holds success in store for the upright,

he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,

for he guards the course of the just  and protects the way of his faithful ones.

One of the great blessings of the Information Age we live in is the access to seemingly infinite amounts of information. And, with that information comes great blessings. The internet, used wisely, can provide us with, so many new things we can learn, new ways of seeing the world, new skills to master.

One of the things I love to do is learn from life-hackers or productivity gurus. I’ve picked up some amazingly helpful habits by chance, stumbling onto the right podcast episode, or reading the right blog post.

Like when a blogger on a Christian website mentioned the Pomodoro Technique for productivity. This is where you work for focused bursts for 25 minutes, then schedule a 5 minute break. Finding this was was revolutionary for me at the time, particularly when I was struggling with motivation to climb what seemed to be the unending mountain of my PhD.

Or another time when I listened to an episode of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Podcast and she talked about reward bundling. That is, when you tie something you don’t want to do with something you enjoy doing. For example – if I have a pile of marking I’ve been dreading, I can take it with me to a nice cafe and treat myself to a coffee and cake while I mark. Or, I’m struggling with motivation to exercise, so I tell myself I can’t listen to the audiobook I’m dying to unless I’m out for a walk or exercising at the gym. Doing the thing you want to do helps you do the things you don’t.

These life-hacks, among others I’ve come across, have served me well. But even the most proficient of online self-help gurus (like Tim Ferris or Jordan Peterson) have their limits.

True wisdom cannot be found in a system. It cannot be finessed with a motivational technique. It comes from God.

I find this infinitely comforting!

To gain wisdom, I don’t have to search the labyrinthine depths of the internet for the best way to organise my life, or structure my day, or fold my clothes in my cupboard. God has revealed wisdom to me already, and made it freely accessible in the pages of his word, the Bible.

In my Bible study last term we looked at Proverbs, and we kept coming back to the phrase “wisdom is truth applied”. I tried to find out if we had come up with it ourselves (it’s a group full of very wise women!) or if we’d read it in a commentary like Graeme Goldsworthy’s notes of Proverbs. A Google search turned up this instead –

“Wisdom is truth applied to the soul as guided by divine love.”

-Doug Groothius, The Soul in Cyberspace

The truth of God’s word, the great good news of Jesus and what that means for those who believe in him is freely available in the pages of the Bible. But it’s not enough to know the facts of Christianity – wisdom is putting those facts into practice, living them out in the muck and the mire of everyday life. It’s hard. It’s tricky. There’s no easy life hack to guide you.

But we do have this great promise from God –

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

-James 1:5

I’m not a naturally wise person. But I follow the Lord of all who is willing to give his wisdom to me. All I need to do is ask.

 

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 1: Wise and Foolish Friends

I can see why the Godly couple I spoke of in my earlier post would choose to read a chapter of Proverbs every day. There is so much gold to be mined, so many pearls of wisdom to be applied. It’s going to be hard for me to pick up on just one thing every day without feeling guilt for all the other brilliant teaching I’m going to be leaving behind.

(Perhaps I could encourage you to be reading Proverbs for yourself so you can see what I mean!)

Take chapter 1 for instance. Perhaps the most famous verse in the whole of Proverbs is 1:7 –

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction (NIV11).

And while there’s lots that I could say about this verse and how helpful it is as a framework for approaching God (when understood correctly), this isn’t the verse I want to focus on today.

Today, what jumped out at me was the passage written in the form of a warning from a father to his son –

My son, if sinful men entice you,
    do not give in to them (Proverbs 1:10, NIV11).

Later, in 1 Corinthians, Paul makes a similar warning about the power of foolish friends –

 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:11, NIV11).

It’s a frightful warning. It strikes me hard as a parent. I want nothing more for my children to grow up to know Jesus as their saviour and to live with him as their King. It’s my prayer, my longing, my deepest desire for them beyond what grades they get at school, or what career they choose – (the eldest one has already made up his mind on that front. He’s decided he wants to “go to work with daddy”, and that on his first day, they’ll have to drive together because he doesn’t know the way to daddy’s workplace yet!).

I can pray for them. I can teach them God’s word. I can try my best to model what it looks like to follow Jesus. But there’s so much I can’t control.

Friendship and can have so much power, can exert so much influence.

But God’s spirit is even more powerful.

And so I will continue to pray, to teach the word, to try my best to model faithful obedience to Christ.

And now I’m going to start praying for my children’s friends, too.

Be Transformed Challenge – Week 1: The Bible Project on YouTube

In the Be Transformed Challenge, I am going to try to vary my entertainment diet a little bit every week. I’m not talking a radical overhaul – like the time I tried to go cold-turkey on all TV and only listen to recordings of sermons on my iPod (did I mention this was over 10 years ago?). Instead, I’m going to try to make small incremental changes to my viewing habits.

Every night, after my kids are in bed, my husband and I sit down and watch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on YouTube. I find great comfort in watching Colbert, an echo of a time when I was in the midst of deep depression and watching Colbert’s old show, The Colbert Report was the only thing I looked forward to in the day.

This week, we’re going to start the habit of watching a Christian YouTube clip every night before Colbert.

The Bible Project

Over the last few years, I have been blessed by the amazing content being produced by The Bible Project YouTube channel. Headed by Jon Collins and Tim Mackie, and supported by a team of creative Christians and deep-thinking Theologians, they have produced dozens of hours of content unpacking the depths of the Biblical narrative in an engaging accessible form.

The site contains clips which simmarise books of the bible. They also have themed videos where they trace a concept throughout the whole biblical story (the latest is about Exile). And they’re also working through a series that explains the whole structure of the Bible itself.

This week, I’m going to start by watching their videos on Genesis and moving through the Old Testament. Just one video a night. A small incremental change to my viewing habits.

How about you? What small change can you make in your viewing, reading, or online habits to help you grow more in your faith and trust in Jesus? Do you have any suggestions about other things I could be reading/watching/listening to? I’d love to hear from you!

To learn more about The Bible Project, watch this clip.

 

1 John – Resources for Reflection

At my church, we are spending this term in the books of 1, 2, and 3 John.

We heard our first sermon this week, and in it, our Senior Minister Neil Fitzpatrick encouraged up to be spending some time in 1 John – reading it and reflecting on it, in preparation for the sermons each week. (You can listen to the first sermon here).

As I learned at church this week, 1 John is written unlike any other book in the New Testament. John is not a linear thinker – he doesn’t develop an argument point-by-point like Paul does. Instead, John has chosen several key themes and those themes keep recurring over and over again throughout the letter. A theme introduced in chapter 1 might be mentioned again in chapter 2 before given its complete treatment in chapter 4 – for instance.

Because of this structure, 1 John is a book that’s worth reading, and re-reading, and then reading again. In fact, Neil encouraged us all to try reading through 1 John every day this week.

In the list below, I’ve compiled a list of resources that might help people not only read the text of 1 John, but to listen to it, ponder it, and reflect deeply on what God has to say to us through this book.

Please let me know if you find this list helpful, or if you have some other resources you’d like to add.


Read / Listen:

The Bible app on iPhone

It should only take you about 10 minutes to read 1 John, perhaps you could find some time during your commute, or set yourself the challenge to read 1 John before you check Facebook for the day.

This app also contains an audiobook version of 1 John, which will take you 16 minutes to listen to (or 8 minutes if you’re a double-speed listener like me!)


Read

Easy Summary – An Introduction to 1 John

More Advanced – A list of Commentaries on 1, 2, and 3 John


Watch

The Bible Project Summary of 1 John


Look at

Infographics about 1 John

8289-nextsteps-cen-blog-1john8de5601d419e8c768df21a16253a3361


Did you find this list helpful? Please let me know if you have any other suggestions to add.

 

31 Days in Proverbs – Introduction

I once heard about the habit of a Christian leader I admire. He and his wife read a chapter of the Proverbs every morning. Every single morning. And when they get to the end of the book, they start again.

Proverbs is perfect for this, of course, as it has 31 chapters. One for each day of the month (a few extra chapters in February!).

Ever since learning this, I’ve thought more and more about the character of that man, and the one thing that continually strikes me is his Biblical wisdom. Now, I’m certain that his wisdom has come from reading more of the Bible than just this one book, but I’ve always wanted to emulate this pattern.

And so, this month, I’m going to read a chapter of Proverbs every day, and post a brief reflection every morning.

Can I challenge you to do something similar? If not a chapter, maybe a few verses. If not the Proverbs, maybe another book – the Psalms, or one of the Gospels?

If you do, drop me a line. I’d love to hear how you’re finding it.

Christian Podcast Recommendations

I love podcasts.

Over the last few years, popping in an earbud (only one) and tuning into the spoken word has been the primary way I relax at the end of the day. And I literally mean the end of the day – I will fall asleep at night with my iPad under my pillow and the voice of a podcast host in my hear, coaxing me off to sleep.

To my shame, though, I have to admit that my regular diet of podcasts does not reflect the content in the list below. While I do listen to these Christian shows, I invariably find myself selecting temporary political news shows over the living and enduring word of God.

But when I am exercising some self-control about my listening habits, these are the shows I tune in to. I’d be keen to hear if you have any other recommendations.

The Bible Project

safe_image (1)The guys at the Bible Project have a series of amazing youtube clips about God’s word that I’ve discussed elsewhere. But in this podcast series they go into further depth about the theological thinking underpinning each video they make. Tim Mackie is a self-described “Bible Nerd”, and it shows, but some of the insights he has are amazing. And even though I have been stretched and challenged in my Biblical understanding, Tim and his co-host Jon present the content in a easily-understood way.

Tim’s sermons have also been collected at Exploring My Strange Bible.

Unbelievable

safe_image (3)This podcast is uploaded from a British radio series. Each week, the host has a Christian and a Non-Christian debate an issue surrounding Christianity. Topics and guests come from a range of areas – Science, Philosophy, and other religions. Some deep thinking, and helpful to be able to hear the opinions of those who disagree with our message – and their reasons why.

Hinge

safe_image (2)This is a short series of about 6 episodes in which one Christian and one former Christian discuss the reasons for and against belief in the Gospel. Unlike Unbelievable, this series isn’t structured as a debate, but rather it chronicles two men as they passionately search for the reasons they believe the things they do.

Word Matters

safe_image (5)I love this series for two reasons. One – each episode is short and sharp, over and done with in under 20 minutes (which for me listening on double-speed is only 10!). And Two – each episode is packed full of helpful content. Hosts Trevin Wax and Brandon Smith take a passage of scripture which is notoriously difficult to understand (such as “Blessed are those who mourn” in Matthew 5; “the abomination which causes desolation” in Matthew 24; or the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh in 2 Corinthians 12). They present different interpretations, give reasons for the ones they’d prefer, then in conclusion they discuss how they’d teach such a passage in a church context. For a content-to-minute ratio, this podcast is at the top of my list.

SMBC Principal’s Hour Express

safe_image (4)I have to declare that I was a part-time student at SMBC up until the middle of last year – but that doesn’t remove the fact that the teaching at Principal’s hour includes some of the most helpful and challenging sermons I’ve ever heard. (Ironically, I actually listened to the talks more regularly when I was living in another country – not when I attended the college as I was never there on Principal’s hour days!).

Jannali Anglican Church Sermons

170x170bbI can’t not include the teaching roster from my own church. I have been so blessed by the faithful Biblical theology delivered by the ministry staff over the more than 20 years I have been a member.

 

Friends’ Recommendations

I put the call out on Facebook for some other Podcasts. These are a few my friends have shared and why they recommend them. I’m looking forward to checking them out!

Risen Motherhood

safe_image (1)S says “I love that it is so focused on how the gospel effects every part of our life and every episode goes through a biblical theology of whatever topic is being discussed. It isn’t always super practical but often gives general biblical principles for dealing with the different issues it discusses.”

 

The Word Grows

safe_imageL Says “This podcast Tom Habib, an Anglican minister out at Yagoona. It has a good mix of Bible (currently looking at gospel of John), doctrines you should know, practical tips – the first one has some great tips on personal Bible reading, and how to read the Bible with toddlers.”

What about you? What do you think? Are there any glaring omissions? Any suggestions for podcasts I should try?