Monday, May 29, 2006

Devotional Thought : 1 Peter 3:7

'… as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life … " 1 Peter 3:7

Recently, I was listening to the song, "Once Again" by Matt Redman. It is a song we have sung on a Sunday morning. The words that particular struck me were, "Many times I've wondered at Your gift of life".

Each Sunday morning we have the opportunity as we share communion to wonder again at God's gracious gift of life. As we wonder do we ever think with a sense of deep gratitude, "I can't believe it!"; "I just can't believe that God would do this for me." Are we ever staggered at the magnitude of the sacrifice? Are we ever overwhelmed by the love of God?

The song goes on to say, "I'm humbled by your mercy and I'm broken inside." God's severe mercy has a habit of humbling us in a way punishments and reprimands never do. Punishments often seem to be an ineffective way of changing behaviour. So many criminals re-offend, often it is the same children in trouble at school, often parents repeat the same reprimands to their children. But when we fully realize that we are recipients of the most undeserved mercy and grace, we are humbled and changed on the inside.

When David experienced God's forgiveness he wanted to be different, "Create in me, a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). That's the effect mercy is suppose to have on us. Yet when we read the history of God's people in the Old Testament we find that they took God's mercy for granted, with little thought to its enormity or value.

May we not take God for granted but sing with heartfelt gratefulness: "Once again I thank You; Once again I pour out my life."

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Watching somebody love something

I bought a copy of "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003. I haven't really started reading it yet but I just love the author's note:

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn't resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxaphone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

Some years ago I was fortunate to watch people who really knew how to worship God and I learnt to love worshipping God too.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006


I have been reading, Dangerous Wonder by Michael Yaconelli. Colorado Springs: Navipress, 1998. I got it cheap because it is "old".

Early in the book he says this: ... The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn't change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, He changes them into "nice people"… What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God.

I hope to be the sort of Christian who has been unable to get over the grace of God.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Receiving Love - part 2

"Remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: It is more blessed to give then to receive." Acts 20:35

While it is more blessed to give, it is also blessed to receive. Sometimes we emphasize the giving to the exclusion of the receiving. But if there was no one to receive, then the giver would not be blessed either.

Sometimes we are not very good receivers. Compliments, gifts, expressions of appreciation can leave us feeling uncomfortable rather than blessed. Jesus was a good receiver. He accepted the gift of anointing; He accepted a leper's thankfulness; He accepted His Father's affirmation, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" Mark 1:11.

Whereas we are sometimes like the unwilling children Jesus spoke of in Luke 13:34 "I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" Not willing to receive, how sad.

Receiving puts us in the place of vulnerability. Somehow receiving makes us feel we are not complete in ourselves. To need someone's service suggests that we are somehow lacking and inadequate. It might even make us feel incompetent or dependant. Yet Jesus received from others, from His Father and even from angels (Matthew 4:11). We too need to learn to receive. Receive the gift of service others offer us, receive encouragement, affirmation and most importantly we need to receive our Father's love. Not just acknowledge His love with our mind but truly open ourselves up to receiving it into our hearts.

We not only rob others when we will not receive from them but we also rob ourselves of the blessing of receiving.

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Receiving Love - part 1

I have been reading "Receiving love : transform your relationship by letting yourself be loved" by Harville Hendrix & Helen LaKelly Hunt. New York: Artria, 2004. The title caught my eye because some years ago I felt God was saying to me, "Let yourself be loved." So I was curious to see what a secular book had to say about receiving love.

Early in the book they say, "The common wisdom is that romantic relationships would stay happy if people did a better job of giving to each other. But that's not what we've discovered. We've found that many people need to do a better job of receiving the gifts their partners are already offering." pg.17

Their most startling discovery was this: "Our unconscious leads us to a person who offers us the greatest opportunity to heal our childhood wounds … The person we are most attracted to will very likely share some significant traits or characteristics with the parent who gave us the most trouble in childhood. … Unconsciously, we do choose the psychological dynamics that are most familiar to us from our youth." Pg. 55 I've been thinking about whether this is true. It would explain why so many children of alcoholics marry alcoholics – something I've always struggled to understand.

And this is quite thought-provoking: "the things I say about you, say more about me, than you." Pg.62

I must confess to skipping a few chapters but overall it was an interesting book.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Devotional Thought : Matthew 15:22-23

"A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.' Jesus did not answer a word." Matthew 15:22-23

Shortly afterwards Jesus says to her, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Yet interestingly Jesus had already healed the Roman Centurion's servant, even offering to go to his house. Perhaps the ensuing conversation Jesus has with this distressed mother was to draw out her faith.

Whatever the reason for Jesus' hesitation we find that Jesus had no standard operation mode. On occasions when Jesus was asked to come and heal a sick child, sometimes He went as in the case of Jarius (Matthew 9:18:26), sometimes he didn't as in the case of the official's son (John 4:46:54). Sometimes He laid hands on the sick person, sometimes He didn't. We also see Jesus' hesitation to help (John 2:4) at the wedding at Cana and yet He does solve the host's wine problem.

Perhaps the best explanation is found in John 14:31 "I do exactly what my Father has commanded me." Jesus was not following a predetermined action plan but rather He was listening to His Father. Jesus' description of someone born of the Spirit is a description of His own life, "the wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going" John 3:8.

What does this mean for us? It means we can't assume that we know what God will do in a particular situation. It means we don't know how God will work in someone's life. It means it is essential for us to be listening for God's directions.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

7 Biblical Truths You Won't Hear In Church

On the weekend I read 7 Biblical Truths You Won't Hear In Church by David Rich. And actually I have heard most of these biblical truths in church (with one notable exception, predestination). Towards the end of the book Rich says, "I simply want to shed light on truths that rarely get explored," which is a valid summation of the book, but would be a lousy title.

So the 7 truths are these: God doesn't grade on a curve (because God requires perfection); Dead people can't help themselves (about predestination); The 10 commandments were not given to be kept (but rather given to led us to Christ); What you see in the mirror is not the real you (about our identity in Christ); Trying to live for Jesus will only frustrate you (because we trust not try); Prayer doesn't change God's mind (because God is Sovereign not prayer); God keeps Satan on a leach (since Satan has to ask God's permission to do stuff).

I struggle with Rich's thoughts on predestination though he did raise some interesting points. He uses the example of Lazarus and feels Lazarus had no choice when Jesus called him from the tomb. He quotes John 6:37 "all that the Father gives Me will come to Me." But my understanding of true love is that it is given and received voluntarily and therefore we have a choice and a few verses later in John 6:40 we read, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life." Anyway I think I agreed with the other stuff in the book and he presents it in an interesting and down to earth way. It is quite a short book only 150 pages.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Go to the ant

"Go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest". Proverbs 6:6

I heard of a Christian man who took this verse to heart and bought himself an ant farm! He went out for the day and when he returned home he was amazed at how much they had accomplished.

Ants are small "yet they are extremely wise" Proverbs 30:25. They understand if you do small amounts on a regular basis you will end up accomplishing a lot. Furthermore they don't need a commander, overseer or ruler to tell them what to do or to encourage them when they lack motivation. Somehow the coming winter acts as motivation enough.

Unlike ants we seem to be dissatisfied to take on the small jobs or unwilling to make the small changes. We want significant tasks that produce quick results. We become impatient unless we can see something measurable happening. Whether we are thinking of physical activities, emotional maturity, spiritual growth, small steps can make a big difference. Ten minutes a day is 60 hours a year. In ten minutes we could exercise, pull out a few weeds, have coffee with a friend, make a phone call to encourage someone, pray, read, these things done on a regular basis can make a positive difference. As we make small incremental changes in our lives they can add up to a considerable differences over time.

We often think that we can't achieve a great deal. That either our efforts are so small or the task too great but if we "go to the ant and consider its ways" we will become wise as we follow its example.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

The rest of God

While I was on holidays I went to a Christian bookshop where Mark Buchanan's latest book was on sale and since I am a big fan of Mark Buchanan I bought it. Its full title is: The rest of God : restoring your soul by restoring Sabbath. Remarkably this book is very similar to the previous book I read, The Power of Full Engagement. The Rest of God is coming from the spiritual point of view of resting whereas The Power of Full Engagement is coming from a scientific point of view but both are arriving at a remarkably similar conclusion.

Buchanan looks at various aspects of the Sabbath and how it applies to us today. The world has often glorified the workaholic whereas there is an increasing body of scientific evidence to suggest we actually get more done when we take regular breaks. Buchanan points out that it takes faith to rest. We temporarily let go of our responsibilities which reminds us that we are not in charge of running the universe. It reminds us that there are so many things we cannot control and that God can manage without us.

Buchanan also looks at the Bible's instruction to cease work one day a week. The Bible does not define in much detail the word, "work". Perhaps in the culture it was written there was no need to explain it but in our world the word "work" means different things to different people. For some gardening is work, for others it is leisure. For some sport is work, for others it is leisure. For some reading is work, for me it is leisure.

Jesus is our example. He took regular breaks. He never appeared rushed or hassled. He was not pressed into doing what other people expected (Mark 1:36-38). He brought health and wholeness on the Sabbath.

So what does one actually do when one takes a Sabbath rest? Buchanan advice is: "Stop doing what you ought to do. There are six days to do what you ought. … Cease from what is necessary. Embrace that which gives life."

Here is a quote from the concluding stages of the book:

Sabbath was made for man. It was something God prepared long ago, inscribed into the very order of creation: a day when all the other days loosed their grip. They were forced to. It's a day that God intended to fuss over us, not we over it. It was designed to protect us, pay tribute to us, coddle us, in all our create frailty and God-imprinted beauty and hard-won liberty, in our status as men and women whom God made in his own image and freed by his own hand and own blood. It is a father's gift to indulge his children. Pg. 220

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Power of Full Engagement

The Power of Full Engagement: managing energy, not time is the key to high performance and personal renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

I read this book a couple of weeks ago. So now what I write maybe what the book is about, but more likely it is what I now think as a result of reading the book.

You cannot be fully engaged in a task if you don't from time to time totally disengage, and they do mean totally disengage. In other words "take a complete break" no checking emails and mobile phones. The authors put forward arguments from sport and business to support the premise that we need to take regular breaks if we are to be the most productive, which, of course, is a paradox - you get more done if you take time off. These breaks ought to come in various sizes big and small. We work best if we take a small break every 90 to 120 minutes but we also need larger breaks like a day off and holidays.

The authors believe that this is not only true in the physical but also in the mental and emotional areas of our lives. Obviously they give examples of how we can stretch ourselves physically and take a break to recover but less obviously they also give examples of how we can stretch ourselves emotionally and mentally, then also take a break to recover.

I think the book is really aimed at middle aged people although this is not stated. When people first go to work they are motivated by money and the need to support themselves and maybe their partners, children etc. Later when they have got to the place where they are "financially comfortable" it is sometimes difficult to feel the same motivation particularly if they are still doing a similar job. So the "spiritual" part of the book is about being motivated by values, instead of money.

Here are a few quotes from the book:
We take pride in our ability to multitask, and we wear out willingness to put in long hours as a badge of honor. Pg 3

We live in a world that celebrates work and activity, ignores renewal and recovery, and fails to recognise that both are necessary for sustained high performance. Pg. 37

The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset to whiz through our obligations without time for a mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life. Pg. 39

Although this is not a Christian book I hope the application for Christians is apparent.

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