Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Sacred Diary

The sacred diary of Adrian Plass aged 37¾ by Adrian Plass. (HarperCollins, 1987.)

For a very long time I just didn't get Adrian Plass. Other members of my family would be almost rolling around the floor laughing, while I just shook my head in disbelief. Obviously there was something here I was just not getting. So I made my second attempt to read "the sacred diary" determined this time to finish even if I thought it was completely ridiculous. I mean it is only 156 pages how hard can it be? I waded through about the first 100 pages when suddenly Plass said something quite insightful, in the guise of something that happened to him. I was shocked. I was looking for humor, not insight. As I read on I began to find more insight and at last humor. I wondered if the insightfulness was there in the first 100 pages. Maybe I was so locked into my preconceived ideas that I missed it or maybe Plass needed 100 pages to build a framework for his insights. I don't know, but it gave me a new understanding of the book.

It seems to me that Plass believes most Christians to be completely shallow, self-absorbed and unthinking in their beliefs about God. In order to make his point, Plass describes himself as if he too is like this, which is why I initially had so much trouble with the book thinking – surely no one could be so egocentric. Mind you my daughter's response, when I pressed her to tell why she found the book amusing was always, "I know people like that". Scary thought that.

Plass knows getting people to laugh at themselves is often a more effective way of changing their behaviour than confrontation.

Here is a little story from the book:
Thursday May 22nd
Strange moment at work today. Glander came across to me and said sneeringly, "You know that loony mate of yours who was at the party – Thynn, his name is?
"Yes?" I said, surprised.
"Well," said Glander, "a friend of mine told me that, not so very long ago, he saw Mr. 'Christian' Thynn, very much the worse for wear, being peeled off the pavement outside the Plough and Bottle, by a couple of the lads in Blue. I thought as he's such a good friend of yours and supposed to be one of Jesus' little sunbeams, perhaps you ought to know about it." …
I said, "I did know about that, Everett. Leonard's one of my best friends, so I hear about most of what happens to him. He's got a problem with drink. I've got a problem with getting things twisted up and making mistakes. All of us in the church have got problems. We're not very good people. But God keeps on forgiving us. Does anyone forgive you for what you do, Everett?
Can't believe I said all that! Expected Glander to laugh his head off, but he just frowned and grunted and went back to his desk. Came up to me at the end of the day and almost apologized!

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Monday, June 26, 2006

The compassionate and gracious God

"And he (the Lord) passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin …'" Exodus 34:5-7.

Here we have God's description of Himself and the first thing He says is that He is compassionate. From there He wants us to know He is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love … I wonder if these were the first thing you learnt about God?

The dictionary definition of compassion is: "Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it." (yourDictionary.com)

Bruce Marchiano, the actor who played Jesus in the Matthew video describes compassion like this: "I understood what the word "compassion" means when it comes to Jesus Christ. I understood that it isn't just feeling sorry for people; it's a heartbreak so intense, so deep it's like your gut is getting ripped open. It is a heartbreak that screams in utter agony for the needless, pointless pain of people – people who need only turn to Him."

This isn't just a general description of how God feels about people. It is a description of how God feels about you and me right now. He feels whatever we are going through and He seeks to relieve our pain. Yet often our pain seems more comfortable than the cost of allowing God into the deep recess of our hearts to do His healing work. We get used to emotional pain. We learn to live with it.

We need to turn our thoughts to God, focus on His compassion and graciousness and allow Him access to our hearts. Then we will find peace and healing for our souls.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

In the footsteps of Jesus

I've been wanting to read, In the footsteps of Jesus by Bruce Marchiano (Harvest House, 1997) for quite a while and just recently I bought a copy.

Bruce Marchiano was the actor who played Jesus in "The Gospel according to Matthew" which is a word for word account of the book of Matthew. This book is the story of that experience. It was a daunting experience – trying to capture what Jesus was really like on film and knowing that your version of 'Jesus' could influence people's perception of Him. Consequently it caused Bruce to pray like He had never prayed before. He learnt so much about Jesus during the three months of filming and the seven weeks of preparation that it was a life-changing experience. He tells the story in a moving and impacting way. He makes Jesus personal.

In the book Bruce answers a number of questions that he found he was often asked including: How did you get the role? What does it feel like to play Jesus? Why another Jesus movie? What makes Matthew different? What's the most significant thing you learned through the whole adventure?

The thought that stands out to me the most was how Bruce decided to play Matthew 23 where Jesus calls the Pharisees, hypocrites, brood of vipers, white washed tombs etc. As he was praying about this scene and also an earlier one in Matthew 11 he felt that Jesus' anger was born of love – anger born of a broken heart. Jesus loved the Pharisees but their behaviour broke His heart.

I was wondering what Bruce was doing now since the film was made in 1993 and this book published in 1997. I discovered that he has a web site and that he is working on producing "The Gospel according to John" and there is even a blog!

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Introvert Advantage

The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney (Workman, 2002) is a fascinating book if you are an introvert! The author explains how being an introvert actually makes a difference to how your brain functions. She has researched many academic studies which show how the brain uses different pathways. From this research she explains the practical difference this makes in daily life. So on the one hand the book contains serious research material and on the other it makes application of this material to everyday life. I found it very helpful to understand how my brain is processing information and why some things are more difficult for me than for extroverts.

Marti emphasis how being an introvert can be advantage if you learn to work with your introvert tendencies rather than trying in fit in with a generally extrovert world. I learnt how I can make decisions in keeping with being an introvert that won't leave me feeling overwhelmed or exhausted.

There is probably not a lot in the book if you are an extrovert, unless you are married to an introvert or have children who are, or unless you are just a curious person who likes to understand other people.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Devotional Thought : Matthew 12:13-14

"Then He said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' So he stretched it out and it was completely restored … But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus." Matthew 12:13-14

The Pharisees thought it was wrong to heal on the Sabbath; but it was ok to plot murder! In their defence the Pharisees would probably quote Numbers 15:32-38 which is the story of a man put to death for collecting fire wood on the Sabbath. Yet in that case, from the context (v.30-31), the man was defying God and despising His Word.

Michael Yaconelli in "Dangerous Wonder" states that, "It was Jesus who taught us how to break the rules. It was Jesus who touched lepers; against the rules. It was Jesus who broke the Sabbath; against the rules. It was Jesus who forgave people of their sins; against the rules. (Adulterers were to be stoned, not forgiven.)". Jesus knew when and where to break the rules because He lived in a dependant relationship with God.

The Law was only ever intended to lead us to Christ, "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" Galatians 3:24. Yet so often the Law has been used to drive people away. People who felt they could never measure up, who felt they had failed too badly or were too tired to try anymore. The Law was meant to lead us into the same dependant relationship that Jesus had with God. So that we would be "doing the will of God from your heart" Ephesians 6:6 and not from a rule book.

When we understand our relationship with God, we know that God is pleased with us simply because we are His child and not because we "keep the rules".

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Getting Published

Yesterday morning I went to a "Literary Event" which was rather surprising because normally I would be in church. However the town up the road was holding a Winter Arts Festival and there was a session on "Getting Published". So I went. It was very interesting but somewhat depressing as it is very difficult to get published in Australia. The supply of publishable material is large and the market is small. I had hoped they would talk more about online publishing. Anyway they gave me a few ideas and a few web sites to check out.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Lost Women of the Bible

I must confess after reading the first three chapters I nearly gave up on Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis James. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, but I'm glad I didn't. The author had been brought up with the following life plan, "I would be the next in a long line of women devoted to husband, home, and hearth, volunteering countless hours of ministry in the church. Everything I heard and observed within the church and read in books addressed to young Christian women reinforced these ideas." But it was ten years after completing college that she eventually married and she experienced further delays before becoming a mother. Consequently she had to reconsider her "life plan" and questioned God's real intention for women. In the first three chapters she discusses identity with reference to Eve, Mrs. Noah and Sarah. For myself I didn't find this particular interesting but it was probably a case of "been there, done that."

I started skipping around the chapters and read about the women of Philippi which I found most interesting. In Acts 16 Paul goes to Macedonia and plants a church largely made up of women and later he writes to them (Philippians). We may get upset about gender imbalance in the church but Paul didn't. I then read about Mary, Jesus' mother and Mary Magdalene who was chosen to be the first eye witness to the resurrection. Then I was blown away by the story of Tamar. The Old Testament honours Tamar. People named their daughters after her, she is mentioned in the genealogy that leads to Jesus and her name was used in a blessing at Boaz and Ruth's wedding. We consider the story to be rather unsavoury since Tamar dressed up as a prostitute in order to become pregnant by her father-in-law. The Bible honours her because she sacrifices her wishes in order to preserve her husband's seed. This has a profound effect on Judah. Early in Genesis we see him instrumental in getting rid of Joseph and in the end it is Judah who is prepared to lay down his life for Benjamin.

Next I read about Esther, Hannah and Hagar. Hagar couldn't have had things much worse she was a gentile, a woman and a slave but God allows her to name him El Roi – the God who sees me. Hannah ultimately wanted to stop Peninnah (her husband's other wife) laughing at God and Esther wanted to save her people. The author agrees with me (!) that "Esther's story wasn't a fairy tale. It was, in reality, much closer to a nightmare." (Though I don't agree with her in regard to Esther being too passive and concealing her Jewish ancestry. Afterall Jesus didn't reveal His true identity for 30 years.)

Ten amazing women who act as role models in advancing God's Kingdom. Well worth a read.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A "God" moment

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." 1 Corinthians 13:12

On Saturday morning two of my children were traveling from where they live to watch a football match, about a 2 hour drive which passes through the small town where I live. As there were others going to the match as well they decided to rendezvous in our town at the only petrol station. Since they were only going to be in my town for 5 minutes they didn't bother to tell me they were stopping. It just so happened that I need to go to the supermarket that morning and my husband needed petrol … Consequently we met them at the petrol station and 5 minutes very quickly became 10. (As a little aside, normally on a Saturday morning my husband would go to the supermarket for me but we were having visitors for lunch ...)

God and parents know, but children don't know quite so well, that there is nothing quite like seeing someone face to face. Phone calls, email, SMS, MSN, blogging aren't the same as face to face meetings. You lose all the body language when you can't see someone and you lose all the inflection when communication is written down. So God arranged for me a little face to face meeting with my kids to bless my heart.

God is waiting for a face to face meeting with you and me. At the moment no matter how clearly we may think we hear from God we always lose something in the communication. We only see "as in a mirror" but the day is coming when we will see face to face and then we will really know. Really know how much we are loved, how much we mean to God and how much He wants to be with us.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Dangerous Wonder

I finished reading, Dangerous Wonder by Michael Yaconelli. (Colorado Springs: Navipress, 1998) and several thoughts particularly about the Pharisees have stayed with me.

Yaconelli states that, "It was Jesus who taught us how to break the rules. It was Jesus who touched lepers, against the rules. It was Jesus who broke the Sabbath, against the rules. It was Jesus who forgave people of their sins, against the rules. (Adulterers were to be stoned, not forgiven.)" I think the important word here is "how" – how to break the rules. There are times and places where we need to keep the rules (whether the rules are cultural, legal, spiritual) and there are the times and places where it is ok to break the rules. The difficult is knowing the when and the where and of course this is why it is important to have a dependant relationship on God.

Yaconelli talks about the Pharisees desire for predictability and comfort. "The Pharisees wanted Jesus to be the same as they were. His truth should be the same truth that they had spent centuries taming. But truth is unpredictable. ... People do not like surprises – even church people – and they don't want to be uncomfortable. They want a nice, tame Jesus."

Of course it is easy for us to talk about the problems with the church or the problem with Christians but it is difficult to come up with solutions. Yaconelli has a few thoughts about this and I liked this one": "If we truly want to hear God, if we truly want to hear Him speak, then we need to take the time to savor Him. To immense ourselves in our Father and bask in the intoxicating presence of God's speaking voice – this is prayer. Prayer is savoring God . Savoring is immersing ourselves in His presence, hearing Him with all our senses."

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