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Emphasising what’s important to our children

At a recent get-together for young mums, I was asked to share some of the ways I try and point our children (currently 4 years, 2 years and 4 months) towards the gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ. That my personality is disorganised, anxious and perfectionistic works against me. Yet Christ makes all things new! What a wonderful gospel to speak to our children.

To emphasise the gospel as of first importance, I need to de-emphasise everything else. So most of my day’s work falls under these two categories: de-emphasise everything else (to make room for the gospel), and emphasise (i.e. find space) for the gospel.

In Ephesians 4:22-24 it says:

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

While it’s not exactly what I’m talking about, the principle off “putting off” and “putting on” is there. De-emphasise and emphasise.

Some ideas for de-emphasising everything else:

  1. I restrict my own hobbies and interests. I have so many of them: knitting, painting, comics, sketching, ink, poetry, sign language, learning languages, making sourdough, making charts, crochet, sewing, reading – these are just a few! But I am reminded that time spent doing these things could be spent on the essentials (you know, making dinner, looking after the girls), or thinking of ways to emphasise the gospel (more on that below).
  2. I lower expectations for essentials. For example, making multiple meals ahead of time. Freezing meals. Instead of cooking from scratch every night, I can serve the same thing with different starch, or season it with a different cuisine’s flavours (e.g. Mexican, Italian). Or add something crunchy. It’s amazing how far chicken and rice can go. When putting the laundry out – just get it done. Accept help from your husband and your toddlers – it’s OK if the pegs aren’t colour-coded perfectly!
  3. I simplify the daily format. I try and plan one main activity each day. There is also an afternoon nap for everyone – myself included. If time is pressing, just let go of the non-essentials. What if you’ve run out of time even to make dinner? That’s OK – what else are takeaways for, right?

 

Ideas for emphasising the gospel:

  1. Make a specific time for it. Right now, breakfast time is when we read a gospel-lit Psalm. William reads it and we talk about what we found interesting and how it might point to the God’s undeserved gift in Jesus. Or you could have a storytime while your kids are having snacks. If your children can sit still, a book like the Big Picture Story Bible is very good.
  2. Peg it onto an existing hook. The last time I made bread, we got to talk about how Jesus is the Bread of life. Just as without food we die. While tidying the house, I can make compare our sin with disorder. Things don’t get tidy on their own! Likewise, our sin needs intervention from a loving authority (God) to bring it back to order. Or when we write cards, we can practise considering the interests of others and loving them, something we don’t naturally do on our own – but Jesus did! (Philippians 2:1-11).
  3. Use unexpected activities to rehearse it. We’re running late for an activity. A dog appears suddenly and scares the children. There’s an argument about who the toy belongs to. We can process all these things intentionally, in light of the gospel. Highlight the law, our sin, and then the mercy/grace/forgiveness found in Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

So to emphasise the gospel as of first importance, I need to de-emphasise everything else. Do you more experienced parents have other ideas on how to do this? I’d like to hear them.

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9 specific ways to esteem others better than yourself

In Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he gives a gospel-centred approach to our relationships and shows how selfishness is cured by understanding the only truly selfless person, Jesus, and his humility in going to the cross for our sins.

Philippians 2:3-8: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“Me”-centredness is everyone’s default mode of operation. And it’s an area of ongoing work and growth in my life. It’s one thing to know that because of the gospel, we esteem others better than ourselves. But what does it look like in practice? That’s what I often struggle with.

Last weekend we visited some friends who’ve recently joined the exodus out of Auckland. We saw a really helpful list on their fridge that lists 9 specific ways to esteem others better than yourself. I thought it was good enough to share here:

Specific ways to esteem others better than yourself

  1. Don’t assume that others have exactly the same evil motives as you find in your own heart (love “believes all things’, 1 Corinthians 13:7), but rather put the best possible interpretation on their actions.
  2. Look for those virtuous qualities in others that you know you are most in need of yourself. Then seek their help in acquiring those qualities.
  3. Don’t assume that your time, money, energy, thoughts, and opinions are more valuable than your neighbour’s.
  4. When making a decision, consider not only how that decision will affect your own interests, but also how it will affect the interests of others.
  5. Be alert not only to your own needs, but also to the needs of others.
  6. Demonstrate your high estimation of others by commending them for those qualities that are biblically worthy of praise.
  7. Guard your heart from developing a patter of critical, condemnatory, accusatory, judgemental thoughts about others. (Such thoughts make it very difficult, if not impossible, to esteem others better than yourself).
  8. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
  9. Remind yourself often that God has given to you everything you have to be proud of and that He has often used others to get you where you are. Thank God and thank thouse whom He has used to bless you.

(from Pleasing People by Lou Priolo)

My favourite suggestion is 8 – how wonderful would it be if Christians were known for “never putting anyone down, except onto prayer lists” (as Don Carson once said about his dad).

The one that I find the hardest is 7. How about you?

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Confessions – Cheryl

23 July v10


I have always been selfish, proud and self-reliant. Even worse, my heart is deceitful, constantly trying to disguise my sin, or deflect the blame. I usually succeed in deceiving others, and always myself. Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

I worked hard to maintain my deception. I had the praise of others. I took the moral high ground. I was a straight A student. “I’m a Christian, from a Christian family, I’ve even been baptised. Don’t tell me what to do.”


Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

During this time, God placed me in churches where I began to hear the gospel. Though it didn’t inspire repentance, I became familiar with verses such as Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Quite a few years later, I dropped out of my law degree, then failed my Masters in Speech language therapy. This was because my uni lecturers wanted me to get diagnosed for, as it turns out, anxiety and Aspergers, among other things. Around the same time, I was trying to hide a trail of relational breakdowns in my personal life. I was increasingly disobedient to my parents. The divisions already tense in my family were made worse by my callous disregard of anyone else’s feelings. Once I scribbled hatred with a ballpoint pen over my parents’ painted walls. I also had an ongoing internet gaming addiction. I went to great pains both to feed it and to hide my tracks. At one point, I was clocking 16 hour gaming days behind my parents’ backs.


My academic failures upturned my delusions of self-sufficiency. I had gone from a straight A student to a law school and Masters dropout. Also, because the diagnoses were now out there for anyone to see, I could no longer use deceit to hide my various other sins.

In truth, the psychiatric world could only label behaviours it thought were dysfunctional. I realised those were just the tip of the iceberg. For the first time I saw that it was my sin that often caused the unresolved arguments, unspoken resentments, the sun gone down in anger so many times. Everywhere I looked was sin upon sin, a mess of devastated relationships I could not untangle.


Even now, I still marvel at the elegance of God’s grace. He fed me His Word over the years so I would know the gospel. He showed me the extent and horror of my sin. He arranged my life so that I could not conceal my sin; I had to confess it. My only hope was to trust in Christ’s righteousness, death and resurrection.

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


So why am I here today? Haven’t I already been baptised? As an 18 year-old feigning holiness, I got into that pool and I got wet all right. But I was dead in my sin, there was no repentance, and my heart was hard to Jesus. I was not a believer.

So today, I am not getting re-baptised. I am being baptised for the first time, as a forgiven sinner, in submission to Jesus, a new creation in Christ.

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Caterpillars

Beneath a grey, complaining sun,
we wandered, I and you,
disconsolate and dubious,
to where the milkweed grew.

But there were monarch caterpillars
nestled in the ‘weed,
and puffy green ballooning fruit
that scatters swan plant seed.

We glimpsed a tiny second-instar
feasting on a leaf;
The big ones wore their velvet stripes
in black and gold relief.

Behold! He clothes the tree and worm:
are we not God’s delight?
O anxious heart, seek first His realm,
and He will prove His might.

– C. 17 June

Film Review: Risen

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I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to “Christian” or faith-based movies. Perhaps it’s the need for mass-market appeal, or the pressures of getting a box office success. But not only are most faith-based movies not that good artistically, they’re often theologically suspect. The Prince of Egypt calls the viewer to a vacuous “there can be miracles if you believe” (in what? yourself?). The Passion of the Christ’s main inspiration is from a Catholic mystic’s fanciful dreams and meditations. Then there are the flat-out untrue depictions of biblical stories and characters on the big screen – Russell Crowe as Noah the eco-terrorist, Christian Bale as Moses the schizophrenic barbarian, and the myriad of actors as shampoo-commercial Jesus. While the power of film make these portrayals emotionally compelling, I find it hard to get excited about them.

Risen – directed by Kevin Reynolds has just been released in time for Easter. It’s a novel premise – Roman soldier Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is a battle-hardened veteran fighting to keep the peace in Roman-occupied Judea. He witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus, but three days later is tasked  by Pilate with job of detective: finding out why Jesus’s body is missing from the tomb. It’s cleverly written in that this skeptical Roman soldier is woven into many familiar Biblical narratives of Jesus’s death and post-resurrection appearances, and meets many of the same characters in these eyewitness accounts (e.g. the centurion, Barabbas, the Romans guarding the tomb, Pilate, Jesus’s disciples, and eventually Jesus himself) Spoiler alert: Jesus is alive!

After watching it yesterday morning with low expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. In summary, while it’s not for everyone, it’s a pretty good film and a great conversation starter for both Christians and skeptics alike.

There are already some thoughtful reviews from Christians (here and here), but here are some of my own specific observations.

  • For a $20 million budget, Risen came across as well-produced, with a high-calibre cast and crew. The Roman characters in particular were well cast and portrayed convincingly. There’s a good battle scene, and some nice special effects, and moments of breath-taking cinematography. It didn’t look and feel like a cheesy Christian movie, except at a few points (usually when Jesus and the disciples showed up).
  • It wasn’t too long – I thought it was going to be 147 minutes but it was only 107 minutes. Great.
  • The script had some great questions (all posed by the skeptical Romans). Clavius is the character you identify with the most. He asks the questions that we would ask ourselves about the resurrection story (is it true? how do you reconcile the facts? what does it mean?). He expresses hopes and dreams that all of us harbour. And he has my favourite line of the film: “What is it you seek Clavius?” “Peace. Certainty. A day without death.” All hopes that we have, whatever our backgrounds. And all hopes that the Christian gospel gives a satisfying answer to.
  • The plot weaves in all the different possibilities and explanations that were given for the tomb being empty (e.g. disciples stole the body), and how Clavius investigates each one and finds them to not to be true. These are great conversation starters.

Some cringe moments or things to be cautious of:

  • The portrayal of the disciples was pretty mediocre. You’d think after having the Scriptures opened up to them they’d have understood that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Jesus’s] name to all nations…” (Luke 24:36-47) But they don’t mention any of that. Instead, there’s vague talk about becoming more loving and peaceful. The movie depicts one of the disciples in particular as becoming changed, yes – but changed into a crazy, Ned Flanders-type Christian, just a little bit too unhinged to be convincing. And for someone who was the first to see the risen Jesus, Mary Magdalene just seemed to be away with the fairies.
  • Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) is in the movie. He even seemed like petulant Draco. I guess you can’t leave some characters behind.
  • It was a bit weird seeing Jesus portrayed by Cliff Curtis from Once Were Warriors (and now the first Nuzilund Jesus it seems). This would also an issue if you believe the portrayal goes against the 2nd commandment (not to make a graven image of God).
  • The crucifixion scene is portrayed in the first 15 minutes, and it’s gruesome (though thankfully it’s not as gratuitous as the Passion of the Christ)
  • There’s a bit of war violence and scenes with dead bodies being dug up (no zombies though)

I think Risen is good enough to watch, whether with Christians or non-Christians. It’s a great starting point for a further conversation or exploration of the historicity of the biblical accounts, but also the spiritual significance of these events. Perhaps after the movie, you’d want to affirm people’s deep desires, and wrestle with the evidence that Jesus did rise. But ultimately, this movie (or any movie) can’t do the job of answering the question of why the resurrection matters. For that, you’d need to do what Jesus did:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27

Risen is a film that poses great questions about the historicity and significance of Jesus’s death and resurrection – timely as we approach public holidays in his honour. But only the good news of Jesus, explained in the Bible, can provide the best answers to these questions, and satisfy our longings for peace, certainty, and a day without death.