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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Neighbours – so close and yet so far

It’s more than seven months since we moved into our flat. We love so much about living here – from the balcony to the dishwasher, from the parking space to the pool. We love sharing our home with our families and friends and our new small group every Thursday.

But when we moved here, close to church, into a huge apartment complex, we really hoped and prayed that we’d be able to connect with our neighbours. On our floor alone there are 11 other apartments. But most of the time our hallway looks like this:

our empty hallway
our empty hallway

So the best (and only?) time to interact with our neighbours is in the thirty seconds it takes to use the lift from the parking lot or ground floor, to our level and vice versa. In theory. And preferably going up, so that the conversation continues down the hallway. We soon learned however, that other people don’t really want to talk to their neighbours. Perhaps living in close proximity to so many others makes people more private. Perhaps Australians aren’t as friendly as we make ourselves out to be. Perhaps people don’t want new friends.

So we have become those people. We try to smile at our fellow building dwellers when we share the lift (although headphones and back turners can make this rather difficult) and strike up conversations ranging from the weather to work and little else in between. Beyond the lady next door and her cute little one year old, we don’t even know anyone’s names on our floor…

It can’t stay this way, that much is clear. But how can we love our neighbours if we don’t know them?

Should we start a building Facebook group like others in our community have done? Where to begin? What would its purpose be? Do we have the energy to establish and sustain something like this…and what if we move? Should we start small – a meal with the couple next door or invite our whole floor to casual drinks on our balcony? The ideas excite and scare me at the same time.

What if people aren’t interested or are too busy? A friend told me a few months ago about how their new neighbours in a very different part of Sydney declined to come over for a BBQ, full-stop. They were too busy. It would be sad, but it would be ok. At the very least we would know we had tried. And I really hope that in the next few months we will indeed try. 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.

Mark 12:30-31

 

 

Advent Blog Day 7 – soaring with the Lord.

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Yesterday I, and many, many others, said goodbye to a precious young lady – Victoria Leah Pearce. Tori was 23 when she passed away last Wednesday.

Tori
Tori

The service was perfect. Tori loved her family, her church, her friends so much. And oh how she was so loved.

I remember visiting Tori in hospital when she was a baby – she was born with spina bifida and so throughout her life has been in and out of hospital for various reasons. My Mum and Dad were her god-parents. Our families spent lots of time together when we were kids…bushwalking, camping, birthday parties, playgroup, picnics, violin concerts and lots of things at church.

I hadn’t seen Tori for some time. The last time I saw her was at Hillsong Colour Conference – but it was so inspiring to hear the brave, honest words from her friends and family about the beautiful woman of God she had grown into. A young lady who loved Jesus with all her heart, and whose wheelchair never held her back from anything – skiing, swimming, singing, dancing in her chair, playing violin (we all had the same teacher) and more recently, driving. Determined, joyful, stubborn, loving and always smiling.

I can’t comprehend the loss that her family would be feeling. Her dear sister Sarah said, “Well, this sucks.” God’s timing is so far beyond our understanding. As I sat in the service, tears rolling down my face, sang songs of praise to and hope in God, and heard about the impact of Tori’s life on people, I felt a great sense of confidence that God would bring good, awesome things out of this. Her life had significance because she trusted in Jesus. Sarah thanked her parents for fighting for Tori each day of her life, helping her grow and flourish. She concluded with these words of hope and truth:

Tori is with the Lord. And the Lord is good. 

butterflies

Advent Blog Day 4 – Friendship

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

Tonight we met with our church small group – probably for the final time this year. We reflected on what the book of Proverbs has to say about friendship. According to Proverbs, great friendship is characterised by loyal, constant, unconditional love that mutually encourages both people.

It was a joy to share and reflect on these things with friends – with people we have grown closer to as we have shared life and learned together over the past year.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

In dying for us we see that Jesus is the ultimate friend. He loved us before we even knew him.

God has blessed me with many wonderful friends. I’m thankful for each one and feeling challenged to be more intentional in my friendships. I pray that I might love my friends at all times, in a way that is deeply, truly encouraging.

Here’s a little photo snapshot of some dear friends…

NaiSuse

AJNAiKtKathNai Vioricaone1seven

(and if you’re not here I still love you…it’s almost midnight – my advent blog deadline!)

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.

the joy of helping

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that, despite not really wanting to, I chose to help my husband make his music video. Here’s the finished product…

No regrets. I am so glad I chose to help. Aside from being the right decision to support my husband, it was fun pulling a tiny wooden car all over Petersham. If for nothing else than the variety of responses from passers-by (cats included!) from people volunteering to model, to people who pretended we weren’t there and forced us to do re-takes!

I’m so proud of my husband. And pretty honoured that the song he picked for his first music video is the one that’s about us.

Hooray for helping!

it’s not about me … (part 2)

The Christian principle that needs to be at work is Spirit-generated selflessness – not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself but thinking of yourself less. (The Meaning of Marriage p.66)

I’ve been thinking about these words a lot in the last few weeks. How do I think of myself less?

In a recent sermon at church, I was challenged by the passionate words of David in the first verse of Psalm 18. David declares, “I love you LORD.” It is something I have wrestled with for many years – in my mind I think, well of course I love God! But when I examine my heart and I look at the rest of my thoughts, actions and the way I spend my time, I wonder…do I really love God? Heart, soul, mind, all?

Every day I let the small things weasel their way in. Through the Spirit, there needs to be a “find and replace” edit of my thoughts and attitudes. From the concerns and obsessions fueled by fears and wounds from the past (Keller says it’s primarily our wounds which make us self-centred), to the foot of the cross. To Christ. To the fear of the Lord. To loving God.

Five years ago as I went to Uganda on short-term mission, my prayer and heart’s desire was that my love for God would grow. In the space of a few weeks I witnessed God powerfully at work in the lives of my African brothers and sisters, despite the poverty and hardship they faced. They taught us a simple African chorus called “My God is Able,” and we sang this many times over. Oh how my passion for God grew. He is so big and yet he loves, knows, cares forgives me! My prayer was answered.

gorgeous girls at church in Uganda

My mission trip to Africa was wonderfully life-changing but I can’t take a trip to Africa every few years to get a boost of excitement for God. I struggle day to day to feel excited about God, but I want to have an enduring, passionate love for my creator, Lord, redeemer, saviour, friend, Father, comforter, refuge.

But how?

Two small steps for now…

1 – God above all

I’m convinced that the only way to truly fill my heart with God above all, is to spend more quality time with him – whether the desire is there or not. Last year I borrowed Shopping for time, by Carolyn Mahaney et al., from a friend. It’s a little book with big challenges and comes highly recommended! Through it I was challenged to prioritise spending time with God by doing it first each day – no matter how early that meant getting up. (I know, yikes, right?!) It was great when I did it, but unfortunately it didn’t last. I’ve decided to order my own copy, with the hope of getting (back) into the habit of regular quiet times.

2 – Devoting less brain space to consumer decisions…

Another friend’s decision to spend less money on herself, by not buying anything except essential items (so no clothes, shoes, homewares, jewellery etc) has inspired me to do the same thing for two months, til my birthday. So I am trying to think about myself less by pre-making the potentially daily consumer decisions I am blasted with every day as I work in the CBD. It’s been 12 days so far!

As I close, it would be crazy of me to think that in the doing or not doing of things that I would be come instantly less self-centred. But I pray that these little steps and challenges help my heart to change in a lasting way and that my love for God deepens, as I look away from me and look up.

So what about me? (Part 1)

Which ones today? Thanks husb. Fun, beautiful gift!

What should I wear out tonight? I need more sleep. I really feel like a smoothie. I hope Adam comes home soon. I wonder if anyone has liked my Facebook status?

me. me. me.

I don’t know about you, but I think a lot about myself and all the things that (have the potential to) affect me. I worry, wonder, ponder, think, ruminate. And I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Sure, self-preservation is probably just part of being human, but I know deep down that me, me, me, is not the way I was intended to spend my days.

For the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting on my self-centredness as I’ve been reading The Meaning of Marriage, by Tim Keller and I’m only a few chapters in. So far it’s authentic and a very interesting examination of marriage – firstly from society’s point of view and then digging into the meaning of marriage according to the Bible.

There can be no doubt that marriage exposes our sinfulness, our selfishness, who we really are. Married friends counselled us with this advice before we got married and we nodded and smiled. How right they were. The ups and downs on the marriage journey have brought to light ugly parts of my character that I barely knew existed.

The book has put words on a page for my own struggles with self-centredness (guess that’s almost ironic) and the ways that this has brought difficulty to us.

Self-centredness by its very character makes you blind to your own while being hypersensitive, offended and angered by that of others. (p.57)

Yes. Blind. How many times have I thought “He’s being selfish…Why doesn’t he think of me?” It’s almost ironic.

Every day offers opportunities to pursue our own gain or that of others. One Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I had my usual to-do list – baking washing and grocery shopping, and probably other wishful ideas in my head. But Adam needed me to help him make his music video.

I’m not going to lie, I said yes to helping because on some level I knew it was right but for the first half an hour or so I wrestled with anxiety about not doing my things. By the end of the session, I knew I had made the right call. We struggled to understand each other at times, but it was lots of fun and we had this rare opportunity to get outside and wander around our area and create a story together. The fruit of that afternoon (and a few others) will be public in the not too distant future, we hope! Keller writes (p 60),

Fulfilment is on the far side of sustained unselfish service, not the near side.

I’m pretty sure that joyful unselfish service is the key to authentic love. In the famous Bible passage about love, Paul explains to the Corinthians…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

After four and a half years of marriage God continues to reveal my selfishness on at least a daily basis. Apparently, it goes to a whole new level when you have kids, so I’m glad to trust in God’s perfect timing for this and look forward to the ways it may refine and grow me anew!

This is how we are to love – by being others focused and it is Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the ultimate picture of what this truly means.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

So what about me? It’s not about me, it’s about God. Stay tuned for Part 2…

my soul’s longing

A couple of weeks ago when I started my new job and I found myself back in the familiar hustle bustle of the CBD, I began craving vast open spaces. I yearned from somewhere deep within to be surrounded by nature.

And then it occurred to me that I hadn’t left Sydney in almost four months, not since I touched down from our round the world trip. That’s a lot of time to be in the suburbs, in one place, with people, buildings, cars, in constant, close proximity.

The week I started my new job did end with a brief overnight visit to a conference in the Blue Mountains. Although it was an important trip for my new job, a great opportunity to meet and be inspired by the stories of some of the missionaries, by the time I left it was my sixth day at work (and up until this one I had been enjoying four day working weeks), so I was pretty exhausted.

Yesterday was date day. No sales shopping for this girl (not yet anyway!) We drove south to the Royal National Park, and once in, Adam wound all the windows down in the car. Not something I usually enjoy, but as my hair was whipped into a frenzy and I breathed in the smell of the gum trees outside, there could be no denying – it was good. Later, standing on Garie Beach for a few moments, with the southerly wind blasting the salty Pacific air into my face, gazing up at the vast cliffs, my soul started refilling.

The rest of our afternoon entailed fish and chips and ice-cream and a stroll on the beach. Stepping off the little footbridge onto the sand and wriggling my toes around in it – I think that added a few drops into the soul tank too. As did a long time just sitting in the sand, mid-stroll, watching Adam shoot videos on our new camera and the waves crashing over the low-lying rocks along the shore, each one causing tiny cascading waterfalls. Planes flew overhead, the ferry came and went, strangers wandered by and kids screamed as they played in the sand a few metres away. But it didn’t matter. If only for a day, I was back in nature and some dwindling part of me was coming back to life.

the serene view from my spot on the sand

I wonder what it is that makes us humans need nature – to feel the sand between our toes, smell the salt air, see bushland all the way to the horizon and hear the sound of waves crashing on the shore. I knew I wasn’t trapped in the city, yet I felt ‘cooped up’ to a certain degree – perhaps more by the busyness of our schedule than by anything physical. It could be a bunch of things but above all, being in nature brings me back closer to its creator. That which I see, hear, feel, touch, smell points to Him. I’m a little closer, reminded of who I am and what matters, and my soul rejoices at the Lord of all creation.

This morning, after writing most of this post last night, I remembered the words of the Psalmist…

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 42:1-2

Getting poured out in Sydney

The four of us sit at a plain round table. Inside the room is a there is a stillness but it is not quiet. Other tables and chairs surround us but they are empty for now. Peak hour continues on the busy city street visible through the window. A taxi toots its horn, a bus slams on its brakes, the pedestrian crossing makes its’ ‘green man’ noise.

I am one of the women in the room and I’m there to join in prayer for Sydney, for the people in my city who are lost and broken, poor and oppressed, in desperate need of hope. And for God to use His people here in this city to help love people – that they might see Him, know Him, follow Him.

Hope for Sydney is the name of this network and tonight was their third monthly prayer meeting. It was my first meeting with them. I’m told that different people come each time and there’s usually a few more than tonight, but we know it doesn’t matter – God will hear our prayers!

The Hope for Sydney mission:

Connecting volunteers with Sydney’s poor and marginalised in the name of Jesus Christ.

We shared little snippets about our own churches, read from Isaiah 58 and reflected on the picture therein of God’s heart for the restoration of the oppressed.

We prayed for God’s people here in Sydney to be convicted by the Spirit of God’s love and that we would generously pour ourselves out for those in need. And we prayed for Partners like Anglicare, the Salvos, Mission Australia, International Teams and others, who are already engaged in helping the poor and marginalised – from the homeless, to the disabled to the refugee. God loves them all, and as His people we need to share His love with them.

I am excited about this movement of people uniting in prayer, and mobilising toward action. Ever since reading Generous Justice by Timothy Keller, I have been praying and dreaming about how I could be more deeply engaged with reaching out in Sydney, and how I might help others get involved too.

This is just the beginning, but I have a sense of being part of something bigger than my little world, that God is on the move and that change – both within our churches and our communities – is possible – only by His grace and guidance.

A deep social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to others, and especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith and a real connection with God. ~ Timothy Keller