Category Archives: Cheryl

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.

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.

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

Bible College – following the call of the gospel on our lives

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Two Sundays ago, I shared this letter with our church family:

To our church family:

On behalf of our family, I’d like to share some news with you all.

After much prayer and discussion, Cheryl and I have found ourselves united and sure that by God’s grace, I should pursue training at bible college, with a view to full-time gospel ministry. With the advice of those around us, our plan is to move to Sydney, Australia to study full-time in 2017, which is in 18 months’ time.

This has been a difficult decision to make. We love our family here at Howick Baptist Church. For 8 years you have been family to us. And we also know that, for some, there may still be confusion and unanswered questions about this interim period. Perhaps as you’re hearing this, some of you are thinking “Oh, not again.”

Yet you might recall that last month, the Lord confronted us all in a sermon from Acts 6:1-7 about the need to prioritise between what’s good, and what’s best. It would certainly be a good thing for us to remain here the rest of our life and to continue serving as we currently do. But with the need for gospel workers in New Zealand, I believe that the best thing for us is to step out in faith and be properly equipped for a lifetime of Word and prayer ministry.

This call is both internally desired and externally affirmed, through the encouragement of our elders, Jay Behan, Calvyn Jonker, Peter Somervell, Joe Fleener, Richard Cutforth and others.

The Apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy was this: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).

So here is our rough plan for the next 18 months:

– I will continue working in my current job as a medical writer, but I will also be serving 2 days a week at HBC in order to gain ministry experience.
– I will apply to study at Sydney Missionary Bible College in Australia, commencing in 2017.
– We will keep serving here at HBC until then in all the different areas we’re involved in.
– We will begin approaching individuals, churches and Christian trusts on whether they would prayerfully consider financially supporting our family.

Friends, we plan all this, knowing that ultimately it is the Lord that directs our steps.

Please come and chat with us if you have questions or concerns. We’re happy to share more in person.

For now, it’s life as usual for the Chongs here with HBC. We count it a joy to partner with you all as we strive together for the gospel. “It is He whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)

Friends, we plan all this, knowing that ultimately it is the Lord that directs our steps. Perhaps Christ will return before we make it to seminary. Perhaps one of us will be called to be with Him. Regardless, we count it a joy to trust in the LORD who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who clothes the flowers and feeds the birds of the air, who loved us while we were still enemies by giving His only Son Jesus as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, and who we are privileged to call ‘Abba, Father’.

Here are some prayer items:

  • For each of us to grow in our love for Christ, His Gospel and His church during this time.
  • For Cheryl and I to serve each other with gratitude and to communicate with each other well as we prepare and plan for significant changes to our family.
  • For our girls to grow to become women who love Christ.
  • For the ministries we are currently involved in and for the Lord to raise up others to continue in our place.
  • For individuals, churches and trusts that might desire to support us financially.
  • For the members of HBC as we continue to seek the Lord’s direction for the future.

Some questions answered up-front

Do you think you’re called to ministry?

In one sense, the answer is simply ‘yes’.

I, like every Christian, have been called to take up my cross and follow Jesus, and to take part in the work of whatever ministry God places in front of us – marriage, family, church, community, world.

A more specific question however, is this: “Does God want my specific ministry to be as a leader in the church, and to serve by equipping others in gospel ministry?”

And over the past few years, through the encouragement and example of those around us, including our elders, it’s become clear that yes, God is calling me to be set apart to lead and train others for gospel ministry. God’s gradually changed our desire for more gospel workers, and our willingness to be used by God for this purpose.

(Tim Grant has a helpful write-up on being “called” to ministry)

Why seminary/Bible college?

Seminary is no replacement for practical ministry experience in a local church – what I’ve been involved in at Howick since 2008 (and would continue to do while in Australia). But a good seminary provides a dedicated environment to learn skills that most local churches aren’t in a place to provide, such as Greek and Hebrew original languages, church history, biblical and systematic theology and so on. We see seminary as a place to equip us with the skills and foundations for a lifetime of Word ministry in a local church context.

Why now?

The advice we’ve been given is that the sooner we go, the better. We’re told that with a family, the longer you leave it the harder it is to get to bible college (particularly once they enter school age), and the adjustments to the family are more difficult to handle as children get older. So there’s no time like the present.

At the same time we know that our church family is in a transitional time. That’s a big reason why we’re not leaving straight away – we want to help out through next year, when (Lord willing) we’ll have a new Senior Pastor.

That’s why the plan is to start in 2017 (a year and a half away). We also hope that this gives a good timeframe for us gradually hand over our ministry responsibilities to other capable individuals, and to train others up to continue serving the Lord.

Why Sydney?

Based on the advice and counsel of those around us, we believe that SMBC would be an excellent seminary to be thoroughly equipped for whatever God has in store for us. In the Lord’s kindness I was able to visit the campus earlier this year for a block course, and met the Principal and others from New Zealand who were studying there. All this helped me to see the benefits of studying in a close-knit campus environment with proper training in the original languages, church history, theology, as well as a robust practical programme including preaching, counselling and pastoral care.

Also, Cheryl was actually born in Australia so there may be a little bit assistance for her while we’re there (as a Kiwi though, William gets no help – hence our need for support).

Where do you want to serve in full-time ministry?

Ideally Auckland – we see the need for more healthy, gospel-centred churches in New Zealand’s largest city. There’s a decent pipeline of theologically-trained workers heading to other areas of New Zealand, but not so much to Auckland. And having lived here most of our lives, we want to see our communities here changed by the gospel.

Yet ultimately we’re happy to trust God in where He directs us – as John Newton puts it, “tis grace hath brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”

Are you moving because of the ongoing changes at Howick?

No. Cheryl and I visited Howick Baptist for the first time in April 2008. We began attending regularly from July that year, and quickly found ourselves surrounded by a community that cared for us and was eager to proclaim the good news of Jesus in word and deed.

8 years on we’re still committed members of HBC (even as others have come and gone). In fact, it’s through serving with our HBC family through thick and thin that we’ve seen how much we love gospel ministry, as well as how inadequately equipped we are for the many questions that come up when we open the Bible and share it with others.

It would certainly be a good thing to remain at Howick the rest of our life and to keep serving as we currently do. But with the urgent need for gospel workers in New Zealand, I believe that the best thing for us is to step out in faith and be properly equipped for a lifetime of Word ministry.


We’ll keep sharing and journaling our thoughts as we continue serving the Lord in our momentary marriage and ministry – whatever it looks like in the years to come.

In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We look forward to sharing more in person.

 

Grapefruit cookies

yellow_grapefruit

Many months ago, the first shape for which E learnt the word was ‘circle’.  At breakfast one morning, she stared out of the window, pointed, and said ‘circle’.  And indeed there were: little spheres sprouting on the tree in our next-door neighbour’s garden.

As the circles grew, so did E’s vocabulary.  Other words were added: tree, oranges, and eventually, as citrus spheres ripened from green to yellow, ‘grapefruit’. Since then our neighbour has kindly allowed us to gather little harvests from this tree, and now E may turn to us and request “dada take you in the onbu pick some grapefruit?”

Thank you God for giving growth, change – and fruit.

On the less metaphoric side, little girl’s Mama is now responsible for stewarding a really generous pile of grapefruit.  We can only drink so much grapefruit juice (keeping in mind it is yellow grapefruit, the really sour one, not the red, milder one).

We’ve gotten in contact with a local fruit harvesting/distributing charity, but while we’re waiting for things to get sorted we still have a large pile of grapefruit.  So for the last few weeks I’ve had the privilege of exploring how to fit a lot more grapefruit into our diet.  We’ve tried a variety of ideas.  Some have been great, some have been embarrassing, all have been fun.

Today was cookies.  The classic sugar cookie (I was using a strict 1:2:3 ratio) requires no liquid, so I had to reduce the grapefruit to as little liquid as possible to avoid ending up with cake or scone.  I zested and juiced two grapefruit, then simmered it in a pan to evaporate it into a gel.  I then creamed butter and sugar into this gel, spices including salt, and finally flour with baking soda.  E cut hearts in the dough with a cookie cutter, and into a hot oven they went until they started to singe.

The result was fun.  It looked like shortbread, smelled like shortbread, but tasted like, in William’s words, “that tree out there!”  It had a flavour as intense as the filling of a centre-filled cookie, only there was no filling.  We kept tasting it (grapefruit!) and then smelling it (shortbread!) repeatedly because it was so bizarre that there was no visual/olfactory/tactile sign of the extreme grapefruityness therein.  A pleasant surprise to the end of a busy Saturday.

Other recipes we’ve tried:

  • grapefruit, lemon and ??? citrus jam
  • grapefruit juice
  • grapefruit sorbet
  • grapefruit and feta salad
  • citrus pasta (grapefruit zest + grapefruit-based dressing)
  • grapefruit pancakes
  • pumpkin grapefruit and coconut cream soup/pasta (treat grapefruit like tomatoes)

What are your suggestions for how to use grapefruit?