Book Review – The Envy of Eve

I recently finished reading Melissa Kruger’s The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World. One of my friends gave it to me for my birthday. She read it last year and it changed her life. This year God has been working through this book to change me too. What a gift!

If you had asked me before I started reading The Envy of Eve whether I struggled with the sin of coveting, I probably would have said no. And I probably would have claimed to be pretty content. I would have been lying. I do covet. I struggle with contentment every day.

The book starts by unpacking what coveting is and how it is different to longing for something in a good way. She says that there are three characteristics of coveting which make it a dangerous sin to ignore and leave to grow in our hearts:

  1. Coveting is a sin pattern, not a circumstance. Kruger says, “Coveting can so blind our minds that we come to believe that if we could just attain the longed for item (a job, a baby, a spouse, healing) then we would be able to be content in life. However, our inordinate desires are never sold by attainment. Today we may covet one item, but once it is given, we will soon begin to desire something else.” (p.25) How often have I wrongly believed that if my circumstances were different, I would act differently/not sin/be happy?
  2. Coveting is marked by comparison and entitlement – we think that if others receive something we want, that we deserve to have the same. If we don’t get what they have, then we wrongly believe God has failed to be good to us. There are lots of problems with this, but I was particularly challenged to reflect on the fact that when I compare myself to friends, neighbours or colleagues, I’m failing to love that person.
  3. Coveting is a ‘begetting sin’. Coveting inevitably leads to other sins like envy, greed and lust (cf. James 1:14-15). It’s dangerous.

One of the things I loved about the book from the start was that it’s so grounded in God’s word. Each chapter focuses on a different story in the Bible and the ways that people like Eve and David fall into coveting, as well as highlighting God’s grace to them despite their sin. All coveting comes out of unbelief in God. It is a failure to trust in God’s sovereignty, love, power and provision in my life. As Eve doubted God’s character and the truth of his promises in the garden of Eden, leading her to sin, when I covet a friend’s circumstances or abilities, I’m actually failing to trust that God is good, sovereign and loving towards me.

But God is absolutely good and sovereign and loving. And because of this, he is working in and through me and the circumstances, relationships and gifts he has ordained, for the best purpose of all (cf. Romans 8:28):

At every moment, God is working to conform each of us into the likeness of Christ. Thus, whatever we lack, it is so we will grow to look more like Christ. Both our blessings and trials propel us toward this ultimate and better good.

Whether life is difficult or good, I pray that I will keep coming back to this truth and believe that the God of the universe loves me and is achieving a greater purpose – to mould me to be more like Jesus. And there’s nothing better than that.

More reflections on what I have learned to come…I hope.  

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God said go. Jonah said no.

Reflections on obedience from the book of Jonah

A couple of weeks ago we went to ReachOut Conference, which aims to help Christians become fully engaged in God’s global mission by sharing our passion for his purposes.

Since the conference I have continued to reflect on one of the messages from Simon Longden in particular, about God at work in the story of Jonah. God showed compassion on the people of Nineveh and chose to work in and through Jonah in the process. He commanded Jonah to go and tell the people to repent. God said go, but Jonah said no. Jonah fled on a ship in the complete opposite direction, faced a storm, three days in a fish’s belly. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah telling him again to go and warn the people of Nineveh to repent. God gave Jonah a second chance. Jonah couldn’t hide from God – neither his presence nor his commands. He went and told the people of Nineveh to repent and this is what happened…

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 3:10-4:2

God is and always has been at work in the world, bringing people back to himself. God’s heart is for all the nations to worship him. And in his work of redemption he chooses to act through people. He doesn’t need us (Acts 18:25) but he calls us to share his word with others. It is by his grace alone that he works through broken jars of clay like me.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

God has a plan for my life and things for me to do, that he doesn’t have for anyone else.  It’s humbling and scary and exciting all at once. My experiences, my past, my story, my gifts – I am clay in his hands to be used by him for his purposes, his work, his glory – if I will let him. Am I being obedient? Am I being faithful? Or am I, like Jonah, saying no?

My strength

Every day I am tempted to do things in my own strength. I don’t think I am exactly strong, but I still try to be a godly wife, employee, friend, church member, daughter and sister, on my own. Without God, I am weak and I constantly fail. Last night at Colour Conference I was struck by these words:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

Psalm 84:5

I realised afresh that not only do I have the strength of my Heavenly Father because of what Jesus has done on the cross, but I am also blessed as I set my heart on pilgrimage towards eternity with him. Why rely on my human strength when the Almighty God of the whole universe wants to bless me when my strength is in him?

The purpose of Colour Conference is to gather Christian women each year, to encourage and strengthen them, and then scatter to the places where they are planted – empowered and strengthened to be the change.

This is my third Colour – one of the reasons I love going is because I know I will leave uplifted, strengthened and empowered to continue serving God faithfully in the church where God has planted me. And as I scatter (only a couple of suburbs away to Redfern), I must remember that God alone is my strength, and blessing is possible when he is in control. I can do nothing without him.

Snapshots from Colour Conference 2013
Snapshots from Colour Conference 2013

Advent Blog Day 14 – Here in my weakness…

It’s Friday night, the end of a rich yet busy December week.

When I came home this afternoon, I felt deeply tired, almost spaced out, weak. I’m guessing that at this point in the month and year, I probably wasn’t the only one. But as I reflected on my weakness, God brought this song to my mind…

Grace.mp3

I love the image of God chasing us down, meeting us in our weaknesses and lighting up the sky with his glorious grace. (Maybe I’m a tiny bit bias since my friend and my husband co-wrote this song). But  I’m also thankful that God uses different things at different times to remind me that I need him. When I am weak, he is strong.

Advent Blog Day 12 – One year at CMS

It’s a year today since I started working as the Communications Officer at CMS. As I reflected in November 2011, I started in the job with a great sense of God’s leading – it wasn’t my plan, but his.

I had to hit the ground running when I started, and though I’ve taken some holidays along the way, it is by far the busiest job I’ve ever had. The deadlines just keep coming! Quite a contrast to my experience as a solicitor – when I would often have to drag my feet around the office asking for more work, which was actually quite demoralising. Busy is definitely better – especially when the work is varied and fulfilling!

I have spent a large chunk of the year working on CMS’s quarterly publication, called Checkpoint – and along the way have learned a lot about working with and communicating with people. Like how do you tell someone you’ve never met in person that the article you have already asked them to re-write once is still not appropriate? That was not my favourite day, but I have learned from the experience.

Some of my favourite times this year have been training new missionaries in how they communicate with churches and supporters, when missionaries have popped into our office to say hi, and the opportunity to spend time with some missionaries in Spain when we went there on holidays. In the last few weeks I also got to try my hand at writing kids’ activities, which has been a new and satisfying

There have been some challenging times over the course of the year. Sometimes being the one female on a team with two guys can be hard – but I have learned to expect the weird looks I get from time to time! I have no doubt that there are more challenges and opportunities for growth to come.

As I look back over the last year I am deeply thankful for a job that’s usually not hard to get up for in the morning, where I can serve God using my passion for writing and editing, and also help others as they reach people for Jesus all around the world – from Germany to Cambodia, Namibia to Chile and many places in between.

my editor's sign-off!
my editor’s sign-off!

 

truly good

There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to him and bad when it turns from him.

C S Lewis, The Great Divorce

I love the simple truth of this quote. It’s black and white. Only God is truly good.

I recently finished reading The Great Divorce, a challenging, vivid and at times, harrowing story of what it might be like when we face God. In the book, every character who arrives in heaven still has something or someone they are holding onto from this life. And most of them can’t let go – to the extent that they would prefer to return to hell.

It feels uncomfortable to say that the entire creation is good when it looks to God and bad when it turns from him, but then, often truth is painful. God’s not exactly interested in what sounds nice. He’s on about redeeming souls – those who turn to him.

Pondering. Praying.

Am I fully turned towards God? 

What do I need to let go of? 

musings on life and holidays from Spain

Street art in Valencia

Today is about the halfway point of our holiday in Spain, and I woke this morning feeling anxious to make the most of both the day ahead and the rest of the trip.

With little more than accommodation and flights organised beforehand and our longest overseas holiday together since our honeymoon, I really don’t want our spontaneous adventures in Spain to end!

So this morning I was already thinking ahead to the end of the holiday, sad that our adventures would be over and apprehensive about going back to work with zero days of leave.

Holidays are wonderful high points in life – a concentration of new experiences and a time for refreshment and reflection away from the usual busyness of the everyday. I’m really thankful for this opportunity and that I live in an age and culture where holidays are encouraged.

Medieval gateway in the streets of Valencia

Five years ago I booked a trip to Melbourne within a week of returning home from my first overseas trip. I needed something new to look forward to. I love having good things to look forward to, especially holidays. But as I get older I realise it’s dangerous living from holiday to holiday.

John Lennon once sang,

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

It’s true. This morning I was imagining myself feeling sad days in the future, but as I did that I was missing the real life happening around me here, on the holiday I was anticipating the end of. Things like the sounds, smells, sights and flavours of daily life in Valencia: the squeals and laughter of children heading home for siesta in the middle of the day, impressive medieval gateways, even the regular whiffs of sewerage on the footpaths and the cross-shaped neon green ‘Farmacia’ sign flashing outside the window of the apartment.

Modern architecture in Valencia

Even if holidays aren’t what life’s all about, I think it’s natural for us humans to look forward to and enjoy rest. We were made in the image of a God who rested after his work of creating the world. He created rest – but we were made to glorify him not the good things he has created.

As a Christian, my challenge is to embrace the tension of living in the moment and enjoying God’s good gifts, including holidays, while at the same time fixing my eyes on the only true rest possible, in eternity. And as Adam reminded me, our spontaneous adventures won’t be over when our holiday ends…marriage is a lifetime of adventures! Five great years of them tomorrow actually.

Yesterday’s adventure – we cycled to the beach in the pouring rain and celebrated accordingly!

the myth of missing out

On Tuesday I stayed home from work sick with a nasty headache and pounding pain behind my eyes. I was only feeling marginally better by the evening, but as I tried to decide whether to go to bible study that evening, I found myself torn – 15 minutes before it started. I struggle with a fear of ‘missing out’.

In my childhood and teenage years there were orchestra practices, netball training, violin lessons, tennis, swimming squads, hockey training, bible study, school musical rehearsals and youth group. I’m thankful for all these opportunities and for my parents funding them and ferrying me around, but I think somewhere in amidst all this busyness, the fear began to creep in.

Maybe it started in Year One when I was sick the day they gave out parts for the school play – I was given the role of playing a mustard pot in ‘Food, Glorious Food’ from the musical Oliver. Or maybe when I stopped doing ballet at the age of nine, and I wanted to start jazz ballet. I was probably busy enough, but I thought I was too old to start. I had missed out already.

As an adult I still don’t like to miss dinners with friends, church on Sundays, or failing to do things I’ve said I will do, whether for illness or because I can’t be in two places at once. When I have to make decisions like these I’m plagued with thoughts of “I really should…” and “what will so and so think?” Sometimes I just put it off until I really have to or I get others to make the decision for me. The husband is not a fan. “What if I don’t choose the best thing? What if I get sicker? What if…?”

Well I recently joined with thousands of women at the Equip Conference in Darling Harbour. The Bible talks on the theme Heaven is Waiting were a powerful reminder to live in light of eternity – looking forward to Jesus’ return.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives  as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:11-13

Through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection we can look forward with hope to the day of Jesus’ return, when he brings heaven, where God dwells, to us (Acts 3:21).

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20

This world is not where I belong, but it matters how I live here. In Di Warren’s talk at Equip she gave four suggestions* for how we live now in light of our true citizenship. The first:

We enjoy good experiences, but we don’t chase them

This is the counter to my struggle. To entertain the idea that I am ‘missing out’ in any sense, amounts to a lack of trust in God.  This world offers many good things, but ultimately it is fallen and is just a shadow of what is to come. No amount of me controlling the events of my life in the pursuit of happiness will truly satisfy. In fact, usually when I pursue the ‘perfect’ day, I end up sad or fighting with my husband because things didn’t go according to my plan.

This world isn’t intended to satisfy and I’m not supposed to be in control – Jesus is Lord of my life. The worst that can happen in any situation is that I die or am injured in some way. Death and injury do not justify a life lived in fear. Because heaven is waiting. God doesn’t make mistakes and always works for the good of those who love him. Not for our happiness, but our good.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
― C.S. LewisWeight of Glory

I’m challenged to make decisions in faith. Yes I must be thankful and enjoy God’s good gifts – delicious food, breathtaking sunsets, soul-nourishing time with friends, inspiring music, my loving husband. But I’m convinced that with God in control, ‘missing out’ is nothing other than a silly myth.

heaven is waiting

***

* Di Warren’s other helpful suggestions for living as citizens of heaven:

  • We invest in our homes, but we don’t over-invest (Matt. 6:19-20)
  • We save souls, not the environment
  • We have hope, even in pain

Worship worthy

Yesterday I went along to the City Bible Forum in Sydney for the first time – a weekly lunchtime meeting investigating what the Bible says about different issues.

Working with missionaries all over the world as part of my job exposes me to some of the realities of life for people serving and living in countries where security risks for Christians are high. It reminds me to be thankful for the freedom we enjoy in Australia to gather around the Word.

The talk was on the theme, “Must love always end in tears?”  Now, tonight I’m sitting here with dry tears on my face after watching the start of a romantic comedy where a man loses his wife in a car accident.

The end of love whether through death or otherwise, is excruciatingly painful.

Worship of something is inevitable for humans. Bertrand Russell said “love ceases to be a demon when it ceases to be a god.” I don’t think we can love someone too much, but we can put the wrong thing in first place – and that will certainly end in tears.

God has always commanded that we make him our first love. We were challenged yesterday to consider that if the object of our worship is anyone/thing other than God, it will almost certainly, destroy us. The object of our worship must be worthy of it.

Love is painful. Jesus has been there – confronted by his friends mourning for the loss of their brother Lazarus, he wept (John 11). He had compassion for the woman at the well whose own love life had likely been deeply painful and unsatisfying. He pointed her to himself, the Christ, the one who could offer living water, eternal life – through the only truly satisfying love relationship possible.

How good it is that there is a bigger picture, one who is truly worthy of our love, a God who from the beginning has called us to worship Him alone and who came to earth to show us how.

I long to love God with all my heart, soul and mind. It’s a regular prayer of mine. And as I love him more, though there will certainly be pain, I will love others more like Jesus did. I will love my husband well.

Though inevitable, death is not the end. Our hope is in an eternity with our supreme love, the all-powerful, gracious God who romances us like no human being ever could or will.

making the most of…today, tomorrow and…

I like my job, but on days like Friday, when all the first drafts of articles appeared in my inbox for the next edition of the magazine, I really like my job. An inbox full of honest, creative stories about what God is doing. Pretty cool.

I attended a funeral on Friday morning of a church member who sadly passed away very suddenly from an aneurysm. He was 48. As we said farewell to a shy, kind, but troubled man, who we hope knew Jesus as Lord, I was reminded that our days on earth are numbered. Paul tells the Ephesians that this truth must impact the way we live, every moment, every day.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5: 15-16

I’m sure Paul isn’t just talking about what we do for work (i’m keen to come back to the other aspects of life in a future post). Every day at work I read, write, and pray about the things God is doing all over the world through his people. From Cambodia to Spain to Chile and all sorts of places in between. It’s such a privilege.

This week marked three months since I started my new job as the writer at CMS Australia. They still want to keep me it seems.

On Thursday night I caught up for drinks with some colleagues and bosses from my first full-time job at a law firm. They told me they would have me back any time, and while it’s flattering & lovely to see them catch ups like that and days like Friday confirm that where I am is where I’m meant to be. Over drinks I heard the latest on a couple of the cases I was working on two years ago(!!). Let’s just say that no amount of sweet talking could make me give up writing about God’s work, to account for every six minutes of my day working with neighbours, developers and crazy rubbish-collecting ladies. Someone has to, but it’s not for me.

I want to make the most of my days on earth. I hope that by helping missionaries tell the stories about what God is doing in the tiny villages and the massive megacities that God is glorified and lives and communities are changed as more people come to know him. I’m thankful for the peace I have that my job is right where God wants me.

Like any job it can be uninteresting and slow at times, and while I have lots of ideas about improvements I’m trying to be wise about when to speak and when to stay quiet. But so far at least 20% of the time or more it makes me come alive and for that I’m incredibly thankful!

In the words of switchfoot:

Why would I wait til I die to come alive? I’m ready now, I’m not waiting for the afterlife. (“Afterlife” from Vice Verses, 2011)

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