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Do you have a child with a smart phone or tablet? Are they reluctant to remove their eyes from the tiny screen because someone is droning nasally on YouTube about Minecraft? Do they fail to hear calls for meals or run away from table too early in order to play Angry Birds? Let me share with you an app I came across recently that has aided our parenting and helped us to ease the Queen (aged 13, now a proud possessor of a smart phone on a super cheap but strangely comprehensive contract) into learning some self control:

DinnerTime

Seriously, I cannot recommend this free app highly enough. It works by allowing you to control your child’s smartphone or tablet from your own phone. It’s available from Google Play, the Apple App Store and the Amazon App Store. We have the Queen’s set to switch off at bedtime and we can summon her to the table at the touch of a screen. She doesn’t mind, and it can be quite funny to see how quickly she appears once I’ve used the ‘Take a Break’ function.

Of course, I want her to develop self control, but I never had the challenge of having to switch off my phone at night when I was 13. It was bad enough trying not to read under the covers. So this app enables us to help her let go of the phone without having to physically remove it from her grasp. If you are buying a device for a child this Christmas, you could install DinnerTime (or DinnerTime Plus for even more functionality) before the child has it and then bedtime screen battles will not even begin. I have mentioned DinnerTime to other parents and to a headteacher recently, and there seemed to be some keen interest. Perhaps it will help you or someone you know who’s battling in this area. It’s been a blessing to us.

A great weapon in the battle of the screens

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Apologies. We have had the lurgies. And hence the exciting 2014 regular posting phenomenon has gone a bit down the tubes, after lasting for all of about a fortnight. The Queen got sick and then kindly shared her bug with three of the four grown-ups in the house. BytheSea had the Daddy Bear version, involving treatment with antibiotics, I have had a Mummy Bear attack which has merely confined me to bed for four days, and the Vicar has had the Baby Bear lurgies and has felt terrible but still managed to lead a massive funeral and attend a 2 1/2 hr school governors meeting midweek plus all his normal vicaring duties.

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that we’re on the mend and I’m able to have a small blogging catch-up.

FIRST: The winner of the caption competition – randomly generated as I found it too hard to choose – is Shaun. Please email me at thevicarswifey [at] gmail [dot] com to claim your prize of an e-book of The Ministry of a Messy House.

SECOND: Book news: The Vicar reviewed my book (I’m relieved to say that he liked it) – and Claire Musters posted her review on Christian Today (she seemed to understand the writing process in the Vicarage perfectly).

THIRD: Ace apps – I’ve been meaning to mention a couple of excellent free apps – the Bible App for Kids and PrayerMate for iPad/iPhone and Android (free until the end of March courtesy of London City Mission). My kids are a little on the big side for the Bible App but they have enjoyed noodling about with it. It looks like a fun way to get kids familiar with bible stories. Recommended for ages 3-8. And PrayerMate is a truly excellent way to order all your regular intercessions. Over the years I have used various versions of prayer lists and abandoned/lost them pretty regularly. PrayerMate is a superb app which enables me to keep my list fresh and has some whizzy features like alarms and prayer diaries from mission societies (all in iOS, some still to come in Android).

FOURTH: I have come across a couple of interesting programmes on Alba – the Gaelic language BBC service which we can get on iPlayer. There’s a gentle series about ministers’ wives in Scotland (Bean a’ Mhinisteir) and tonight we’re going to watch Reaching Out with Hope (Na Soisgeulaich) which is about three evangelical churches in Scotland reaching out to their communities, including Niddrie Community Church, led by Mez McConnell of 20Schemes. Two of our children have Gaelic names, but that’s the extent of my knowledge, but it’s okay – the programmes are subtitled in English.

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If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m  often full of great new ideas and initiatives. But what that actually means is that many old ideas and initiatives have fallen by the wayside. So when I extol the beauty of a new bible reading scheme or system of prayer, it possibly (=usually) indicates that the last system I extolled has somewhat petered out…

Last night Sharonxx asked the following:

I have tried to set myself the simple ‘resolution’ this year to pray at least once a day [either an Office or personal prayer], to read one small devotional a day and to do one bible study each day [using T.Wright…for Everyone]. I work 9-3, I have an 8 year old son and I’m married….pretty normal on the face of it….so why can’t I achieve even these simple goals??

Any tips? How do you do it with your busy life and family commitments? Indeed, DO you always manage to keep up with the bible reading etc.??

Simple goals, and ones I can relate to so well: read my bible, read something else devotional, pray. I’d love to do this every day too. But I often don’t. And I don’t work outside the house either, with all the extra juggling entailed in that.

So why don’t I do it? There are a bunch of reasons: tiredness, craziness of life in the Vicarage, but mainly it’s because other things seem more important than spending time with God. They’re not, of course, but my sinful heart takes control and I sleep a little more, tweet a little more, watch a little more Midsomer Murders. As I was reminded by my reading in Romans 7 this morning ‘What a wretched (wo)man I am!’

But the important thing is not to be discouraged when I fail. I’ve snoozed and missed the timeslot when I would have been reading my Bible. So I can grab a verse for the day on my phone. I’ve missed prayer time in the quite of the early morning. But I can still pray over the ironing board, or in the queue for the sandwich shop. I might not feel that I’ve prayed very well, or read enough of the Word, or wrestled with a theological concept. But if I’m keeping in regular touch with the Lord, I’m able to build my relationship with him. And even if I’m crazy busy or laid low by illness, there are still ways that relationship can grow, as his Spirit works in me. The Spirit reminds me of Scriptures or hymns and spiritual songs that I can cling to when I’m struggling with time or energy. The Spirit shows me the Lord’s providence in seemingly small ways that enable me to praise God when I feel like crying. The Spirit works in me so that I can will and work to the Father’s good pleasure.

Some of the resources I’ve found useful recently include using the audio setting with YouBible on my phone or tablet. This morning I read my allotted chapters from my epic 10 chapters a day reading plan but my head was a bit fuzzy and I didn’t process much. So then I listened to them again as I cleaned the kitchen and a bit more went in. Not everything, but a bit more.

My prayer life is a bit wobbly at the moment, but I’ve been using The Valley of Vision and have also recently downloaded the excellent PrayerMate app which is free at the moment. It has all the bells and whistles if you have an Apple device, but we are Android users in the Vicarage, so I have the newly launched version (which will be updated over the next few months) and am slowly uploading my prayer diary to its pages.

So I guess my answer is that I constantly fail to read my bible, to pray and balance all my family and other commitments. But I also constantly try and reboot them and get them back on track. The temptation is to feel that once we’ve missed a day in our readings, we’ve missed the boat. So we need to remind ourselves that the Father is waiting for our return. He loves us unconditionally, whether we’ve read our Bibles, prayed our prayers or simply slouched on the couch. Find a system which frees you from guilt if you miss a day; 10ofthose have some great undated devotional books. Start again. I read a blogpost in the last week about how we need to have Monday resolutions, not just New Year resolutions. And perhaps I even need to have daily resolutions. I mustn’t put off getting back on track because I’m waiting for a special season. I can reboot my resolutions today.

Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:7

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I know I know, Lent began yesterday. But just in case you’ve meant to start something and forgot. Or maybe you’d just like to try something extremely worthwhile without worrying about exactly when you begin or end: the Bible Society have got a fantastic idea – wouldn’t it be great to listen to the whole of the New Testament? It will only take 28 minutes a day if you listen every day for the 40 days of Lent. They have a special new recording of the CEV, from Riding Lights theatre company. They also have a Welsh language version available. There’s also a free CD pack available. The Bible Society are obviously keen that we would contribute towards their work if we benefit from this project, but the audio downloads are free on the website.

Here in the Vicarage, we’re trying to listen to a chapter (or two) of the bible at teatime this Lent – we’ve been playing the audio on Biblegateway.com on the kitchen computer. We’ve been impressed by how quiet the kids are as we listen. Early days yet, tho’. But we have found the audio bible a good way to nourish ourselves with larger chunks of scripture.

If you have a tablet, or a smartphone, you can do the same thing using the free Daily Bible app.

So I think it’s worth a listen. Even if I don’t manage the whole New Testament in exactly 40 days, I’ll have taken in more scripture than usual, and that’s only going to be a help since

… faith comes through hearing…

Romans 10v17

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