Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Praying for boldness

I wrote this for my church newsletter:

"When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted." Psalm 138:3

In Acts 4:29 we see the believers praying after Peter and John have been released from a night in jail. "Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness" and the answer in v.31 "After they prayed … they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly". While this is the only recorded prayer for boldness there are about six other occasions in Acts when we read that someone, mostly Paul, spoke the word of God boldly, which suggests that maybe this was something they prayed on a regular basis.

Yet it seems that we don't pray for boldness very often. It is quite a scary thing to pray, especially when we see how promptly God answered. Boldness will help us to initiate conversations about the Lord and put us in situations where we are asked about our faith. "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that your have" 1 Peter 3:15.

Nevertheless it is not God's intention to overwhelm us and He will teach us, "little by little" like He taught the Israelites when they took possession of the land. "Little by little I will drive them out before you until you have increased enough to take possession of the land" Exodus 23:30.

So boldness, like wisdom ("If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, …" James 1:5), is something we can regularly pray for ourselves, and others as we seek to be God's witnesses.

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Befriending dead dogs

Yesterday I was at the Dare Conference in Melbourne. Heard some good stuff. Like the story of a missionary in the Philippines who had been witnessing to a guy called Richard. He didn't think it had been going that well because Richard didn't speak much English and the missionary didn't speak much of his language. Then Richard rocked up one night and said he had decided to become a follower of Jesus. The missionary asked him what was it that made him decide. Richard said, "You remembered my name".

The speaker used this story in relation to the incident in David's life where David befriended, Mephibosheth, for the sake of his friend, Jonathan (2 Samuel 9). Mephibosheth saw himself as a "dead dog" (v.8). The speaker's point was that we need to befriend the dead dogs of the world for Jesus' sake. Richard had been one of those who saw himself as a dead dog and couldn't believe that someone would bother to remember his name.

Another speaker spoke about some research she had done into the ways God speaks to different people and came to the interesting conclusion that God will most likely speak to us in our preferred learning style. So if we prefer to learn visually God will often give us pictures, if our preferred learning style is auditory God will give us words, if we learn best kinaesthetically then God will "speak" to us through us sensing things. There is also olfactory learning (smell & taste) but that is fairly uncommon. I found this helpful because I couldn't understand why other people didn't sense things the way I did but it may be because they have a different learning style to me. What a blessing that God that knows us so well and wants to speak to us in the way we can best understand.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Psalm 112 - God's default setting

This psalm describes a person who is living with the blessing and protection of God (v.1-9). It is what I like to think of as God's default settings for a Christian. Of course, the thing about default settings is sometimes they get changed.

God's default settings are such that if we trust God and follow His direction for our lives we will experience His blessing and protection. But there are two things that change God's default settings. The first one is pretty obvious we changed them ourselves when we don't trust God. The second one is less obvious but can be seen very clearly in the life of Job. Job was a righteous person, blameless in fact. He was trusting God and following His direction for his life, he experienced God's default settings like a hedge around him (Job 1:10). But twice God gave Satan permission to mess with the default settings (Job 1:12 & 2:6). This tells us that sometimes we don't experience God's protection and blessing even when we are "doing the right thing". Sometimes this is temporary as was the case with Job but sometimes it can be permanent like it was for John the Baptist. Christop blogs about John in a recent post. Imagine being John the Baptist and hearing about other people receiving miracles while you're stuck in jail and in desperate need of a miracle yourself. Jesus word to John was, "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me"(Matthew 11:6). We are called to trust God regardless of whether we experience His default settings or not.

My conclusion is that God has a tailor made plan for our lives which may or may not include blessing and protection. So if we see Christians who experience a lot of blessing, even in terms of wealth and prosperity, that's ok. The wealthy and prosperous have their own responsibilities and challenges. And if we see Christians who don't experience lots of blessing and protection, that's ok too because God is God and He is in charge.

During this next week I'll be looking at Psalm 17. I'll post about it next Thursday.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

The poor you will always have with you

A lot of the motivation for helping the poor comes from two stories Jesus told, one being the Good Samaritan and the other being the story about the sheep and the goats. In context neither of these stories are actually about helping the non-believing poor.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in order to answer an "expert in the law" who only wanted to defend his own behaviour (Luke 10:29). This "expert" thought he was a good bloke and had done everything necessary to inherit eternal life (v.25) but through this story Jesus effectively tells him, he is in the ditch unable to save himself and in need of mercy (Mark Buchanan in his book, "The Holy Wild" explains this a whole lot better). Nevertheless I am sure if the expert in the law had asked me, "who is my neighbour?" I would have told the story of the Good Samaritan the other way around. I would have the despised Samaritan attacked by robbers and in the ditch and the man bandaging the Samaritan's wounds and taking him to the inn. Then it would make sense to use the story as an example of helping the poor and despised of this world. You see, Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He was the despised One. He was the One who showed mercy and compassion. I am the one in the ditch and in need of help. I'm to love Jesus, the One who shows mercy to me.

In the story of the sheep and the goats there is one word in this story that is consistently overlooked and that is the word "brethren" (Matthew 25:40). "Brethren" it is not a word Jesus uses with unbelievers (see also Mark 3:35). Therefore the story is about supporting other Christians and our responsibilities towards those who know the Lord (see also Galatians 6:10), not necessarily about the poor and needy who don't the Lord.

So I have been looking into the Bible to places where it really does tell us to be concerned about the poor. In the Old Testament history books, God tells His people not to harvest their crops right to the edges so that the poor would have the means of providing food for themselves. This is how Ruth and Naomi survived (Ruth 2:2). In the prophet's writings in the Old Testament, they condemn the oppression and mistreatment of the poor very strongly. Jesus in the Gospels talks about preaching the good news to the poor. Paul is eager that "we should continue to remember the poor" (Galatians 2:10). I found in Psalms and Proverbs lots of general instruction about being generous and kind to the poor, e.g Proverbs 31:20 the virtuous woman who "opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy".

Still I can't help but wonder, do we emphasis helping the poor too much, and at the expense of the other things Jesus told us to do?

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Saturday, August 20, 2005

God gives big dreams

Just spent two days at a retreat. This morning the speaker said, "If your dream is do-able it is not big enough". This was in the context of talking about how God always calls us to do things that we can't do in our own strength.

We looked at the story of Caleb and Joshua and the ten other spies (whose names no one remembers). These ten spies reported, "we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (Numbers 13:33). Yet 40 years later Rahab told the new spies, "I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt … "(Joshua 2:9-10).

We need to remember that when we step out in faith the devil is melting in fear because of us.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On-line study, Psalm 62

I'm going away for a couple of days so I'm posting this a day early. After reading this psalm a couple of times it was tempting to read v.1-2 and skip to v.5-7. V.3-4 seems to be an intrusion, an interruption. As I thinking about this it occur to me that life is often like that. We get to a place in our Christian life where we do find rest in God but something unexpected happens, we forget to trust God and lose our peace. So the Psalmist reminds himself that his hope is in God and tells his soul to again rest in God alone.

There are some good words of advice for our hearts in this psalm. V.8 tells us to "pour out your hearts to Him". David certainly did this. He was never afraid to tell God exactly how he felt no matter how happy, sad or angry he was and God never rebuked him for it. It is not our emotions that cause us problems but what we do about them, pouring them out to God is always a good idea. V.10 tells us "though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them". If we are good stewards of the money God enables us to earn it is not unusual for our riches to increase but the secret is not to lose our focus and make money our aim.

V11-12 tells us that God is both strong and loving. When confronted with the question why does God allow suffering? Some say God is loving but not strong enough to do anything about it. Others say God is strong but not loving enough to do anything about it. Here we see that God is both loving and strong, so much so that in these verses God speaks about them as one and the same. God's love is a strong love, so strong it sent Jesus to the cross.

During this next week I'll be looking at Psalm 112. I'll post about it next Thursday.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Church Culture

Had an interesting discussion about church culture at my Bible study group tonight. Also discussed the question, "what would Jesus do if He came to our church?"

In Luke 4:16 it says, "He went to Nazareth ... and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom". From there Jesus went along with the procedures and practices of the synagogue. His sermon made them furious v.28 but there is no indication that He tried to change the pattern of what they did, but He did confront them over principles.

When I became a Christian I was so rapt to be saved that I would have accepted any type of church structure. I was just so thankful to be a child of God and part of God's family.

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Saturday, August 13, 2005

On writing : a memoir of the craft

A friend went to a creative workshop by Reuben Morgan at the recent Hillsong Conference. Reuben recommended Stephen King's book, "On Writing : a memoir of the craft" saying in contained a lot of good tips for writers if you can handle the swearing. I've never read a Stephen King book before but since I'm interested in writing I decided to give it a go.

I really enjoyed the book (but not the swearing) and now understand why Stephen King is such a popular author, he is a great writer. The book is non-fiction and the first 100 pages or so is autobiographical as he explains how he became a writer. The next part of the book includes many his writing tips for fictional writers but there was a lot that is useful for other writers. Even in terms of the nitty gritty of how to write so many pages.

Apart from the writing tips the thing that really interested me was the obvious Christian influence. I'll include a few quotes to show you what I mean.

From the Foreword:
One rule of the road not directly stated elsewhere in this book: 'The editor is always right.' The corollary is that no writer will take all of his or her editor's advice; for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection … '

Pg. 33 (Childhood) :
On my bureau was a Bible won for memorizing verses in Methodist Youth Fellowship.

Pg. 61 (Talking about getting married) :
And while I believe in God I have no use for organized religion.

Pg. 174 (Talking about writing generally) :
If God gives you something you can do, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?

Pg. 230 (Talking about characters) :
And sometimes the good guy tries to turn away from doing the right things, as Johnny Smith does … as Jesus Christ himself did, if you think about that prayer ('take this cup from my lips') in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Pg 246 (Talking about themes in his books) :
I have many interests, but only a few that are deep enough to power novels. These deep interests include … the question of why, if there is a God, such terrible things happen.

There were others but these were the most interesting.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

On-line study, Psalm 92

V.1-5, & 8 Talk about singing, praising, making music and exalting the Lord and then v.11 talks about seeing and hearing the defeat of the enemy. This reminds me of 2 Chronicles 20:22 "as they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against their enemies." In the Old Testament the enemy was a physical threat. From Ephesians 6:12 we know that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers … authorities …powers … spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." But I believe the same thing holds true, that as we sing unto the Lord we are inflicting damage on the devil (see also Psalm 149:5-9). Singing unto the Lord (as opposed to having a sing along) is important because it is a form of spiritual warfare.

V.4 "For you make me glad". It is not the things of this world that ultimately make us glad, new car, new clothes, new boyfriend/girlfriend etc. but rather it is God who makes us glad for all He is and all He has done.

V.12-15 Contains similar thoughts to Jeremiah 17:7-9 and Psalm 1:3 which are: the trees flourish (leaves are always green, leaf does not wither) and bear fruit (yields its fruit in season). The idea is consistent growth and fruitfulness, which is more than just being faithful. We are expected to keep growing in the Lord, since God has always more things for us to learn and apply to our lives. As we keep growing the fruit of the Spirit will become more obvious. If we are consistent in our walk with the Lord, we will find ourselves having opportunities like Fred did (see previous post).

During this next week I'll be looking at Psalm 62. I'll post about it next Thursday.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

You are being watched

Last night at the Bible study group that I attend Fred shared this story.

Fred at his work place, had worked with a particular person for 18 years and had never witnessed to him, yet he would have known that Fred attended church. One day this man entered Fred's office and unloaded a whole lot of difficulties that he was currenly experiencing then said, "You know God, do you think He can help me?"

("Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." 1 Peter 3:15)

I made the comment, "Do you realize that he had been watching you for 18 years?"

Fred replied, "Yes and isn't that a scary thought".

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Evidence for being a Christian

I wrote this for my church newsletter recently:

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" John 13:35.

Some time ago there was a fad going around which asked the question: If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you? The question was confusing because of the legal implication. It led to thinking about physical evidence whereas the evidence for being a Christian is intangible. Jesus said his disciples would be known for their love.

We would prefer more demonstrative evidence. In the early church they sometimes became distracted with Sabbath keeping, circumcision and dietary laws because these could provide concrete evidence of whether someone was a Christian. In the same way we can become distracted with external activities but this is not the evidence that Jesus is looking for in his disciples.

John Ortberg in his book, "The Life You're Always Wanted" comments that for him being a loving person requires an enormous amount of energy. He realized that if he was serious about becoming a more loving person, he was going to have to get more sleep! We may think the only way to mature as a Christian is to read the Bible and pray, but sometimes we need to do the practical things, like get enough rest.

It is tempting to measure spiritual maturity in concrete terms. How much Bible knowledge someone has, how well they pray but that is not how God measures maturity. The acid test is how loving are we? Paul tells Timothy (I Timothy 1:5) "The goal of our instruction is love." The aim of any spiritual discipline is not that we get on A+ for theology. The aim is that we become more loving.

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Karate Kid

Finished reading "Things Unseen : living in the light of forever" by Mark Buchanan. Mark tells a lot of stories about people he knows but also uses a lot of illusions, often from movies. The illustration that impacted me the most in this book was one from the movie, "The Karate Kid".

Apparently Daniel in the movie wants to learn Karate and asks the Japanese gardener to teach him. In exchange for lessons Daniel must do some chores for the gardener. The first day he has to wax the car, the next day he must paint the fence and the third day he must sand the deck. By now Daniel is upset because he has had no Karate lessons, or so he thinks. In doing each of these chores the gardener has been very particular about Daniel's hand movements. Now the gardener attempts to attack Daniel with Karate moves and each time Daniel is able to block the hit with the waxing, painting and sanding movements he had learnt doing the chores. He had learnt Karate unawares. Mark suggests it is sometimes like that with the things God is teaching us. Often to us the things we must do are repetitive, uninspiring and pointless but God is at work. We are learning spiritual things unawares.

It reinforces to me that so often I know so little about what is really going on spiritually. It reminds me that in Job 1 & 2, Job is never aware of the conversations between God and Satan that takes place there. Even after Job's trails are over when surely it wouldn't have mattered, he still never finds out about these conversations that had had an immense bearing on his life. For me it means because I have such a limited perspective here on earth, I must trust my heavenly Gardener that He knows what He is doing and in time I will find I have learnt spiritual truths unawares.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

On-line study, Psalm 49

I have recently finished reading "Things Unseen : living in the light of forever" by Mark Buchanan (which I plan to blog about soon) and this psalm had amazing similar ideas to what Mark Buchanan was saying in the book.

V.2 & 10 tell us that in the light of eternity there is no difference between rich and poor, high and low so the conclusion is not to be overawed (v.16) by those who have wealth.

In order not to be overawed we need to think like Abraham. Hebrews 11:9-10 "Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents … For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." This is quite amazing since the promised land was the special inheritance God gave to His people but Abraham recognized that eternity was in his heart. Our focus too needs to be more on eternal issues, it is so easy to be caught up with the non essentials. Besides eternity is a lot longer than the 80 odd years we can expect to spend on planet earth.

V. 7-9 How costly to ransom a life yet this is what Jesus did for me. I was reading this prior to going to church last Sunday and thought to myself that it would make a good a communion talk. (Interestingly enough the communion leader didn't turn up. I wondered if this meant anything? Or nothing?)

During this next week I'll be looking at Psalm 92. I'll post about it next Thursday.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Trivia

Today I received in the mail my newsletter from Victorian Library Technicians. There was a report about a trivia night that was held and included two sample questions but NO ANSWERS!

So I was wondering if anyone in blog land knows the answer to these:

The American archives and the Library of Congress feature in which recent movie?

Which singer has just visited Melbourne and has an album where each song has been assigned a Dewey decimal classification number?

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