Monday, December 31, 2007

Devotional Thought : 1 Samuel 27:1

This is the third in a series of 8 devotional thoughts about David. It looks at how the third beatitude, "Blessed are the meek", is seen in David's life and considers David's preparedness to accept God's agenda and timetable.

"But David thought to himself, "One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines." 1 Samuel 27:1

In this verse we see that David is feeling discouraged by Saul continued attempts to kill him. Prior to this there have been two incidents recorded where David had the opportunity to kill Saul. "Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe." (1 Samuel 24:4) and "So David took the spear and water jug near Saul's head, and they left" (1 Samuel 26:12). David had already been anointed by Samuel and knew that God wanted him to be king and he had ample opportunity to bring it about. Yet David knew it would be wrong to take matters into his own hands and kill Saul. David said, "The Lord himself will strike him (Saul); either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord's anointed" (1 Samuel 26:10).

This is such a different attitude to the one Abraham had in Genesis 16:1-3. Abraham took circumstances into his own hands and had a child by Hagar, in order to bring God's promises into existence by human means. Abraham created much hatred and tension because he didn't wait for God's timetable.

David became king in God's time and according to God's agenda. In Psalm 27:14 David encourages us to "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." How encouraging it is to reflect on David's experience of having to wait to be made king when we need to wait for God's timing.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Devotional Thought : Psalm 109:6

This is the second in a series of 8 devotional thoughts about David. It looks at how the second beatitude, "Blessed are those who mourn", is seen in David's life and considers David's emotional honesty.

"Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand". Psalm 109:6

David was never afraid to express his emotions to God as many of the psalms would indicate. This one in particular David is not afraid to tell God exactly what he thinks God should do with this "wicked and deceitful" person". David goes on, "may his days be few" ... "may his children be fatherless" ... "may a creditor seize all he has" ... "may no one extend kindness to him". David is obviously very angry with this person and he is not hiding it.

There are other incidents in David's life where he shows his emotions. He wept many tears over his friendship with Jonathan as seen in 1 Samuel 20:41, "Then they kissed each other and wept together - but David wept the most".

David wasn't afraid to show his emotions but Christians I find are often more guarded. God knows how we feel whether we choose to tell Him or not and nothing we feel ever comes as a surprise to Him. Opening ourselves up to God with our negative emotions gives God the opportunity to pour His comfort and healing into our lives. If we don't admit we are mourning or hurting we can't receive His comfort.

Somehow we have a strange idea that we as Christians we need to always appear like we have no problems. But God never said we wouldn't have problems He promised His presence, strength and grace to be with us whatever we were going through. If we put on a happy face we often come across as not being genuine. Jesus never faked it. He admitted to anguish, sorrow, hunger, thirst, tiredness. We need to follow his example and be emotionally honest.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Devotional Thought : 2 Samuel 7:18-19

This is the first in a series of 8 devotional thoughts about David. Each thought is loosely based on one of the beatitudes, looking at how each of the beatitudes were displayed in David's life. The first one looks at humility in line with "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

"Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? ... Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord?" 2 Samuel 7:18-19

This prayer of David is a response to Nathan's report where God makes this promise to David, "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me, your throne will be established forever" (v.16). David is amazed God would bless him like this.

David never forgot where he came from. Remembering where we have come from tends to make us either humble or proud. Humble if we recognize God's hand or pride if we think we have achieved in our own strength. David acknowledges all he is and has is the result of God's will and purpose (v.21).

David humility was evident too earlier in his life when his mighty men broke through Philistine lines to drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23:15-17). But David's men didn't realize that David request for this water wasn't to be taken literally. David would not drink the water his men brought for him and poured it out before the Lord. His response made seem ungrateful but he didn't want his men unnecessarily risking their lives for him. In pouring out the water before the Lord, David is saying only God is worthy of the sort of risk his men took. I am just a man like you.

David was God's anointed king and David knew he had not got there by his own good management or good deeds. It was God's appointment. We too need to remember all we have, even our next breath, is the result of God's blessing on our lives.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas

A few weeks ago I wrote my annual Christmas letter to family and friends it started like this:

I thought I would send my Christmas letter early this year to let you know our change of address as well as the many other changes in our lives this year. Our family has grown from five to seven with two marriages, we have all moved house and most of the family has had a major change of occupation – which is rather a lot of changes for one year!

So it has been a jam-packed year and I am really looking forward to a break. In January this year we arranged to have three weeks holiday directly after this Christmas (which is the summer school holidays in Australia). This was unusual for us since these days we don't have children at home, but we had decided to go to Perth for the Hopman Cup (tennis tournament). Therefore I'm not going to around here much over the next few weeks. However I wanted to keep posting to my blog during this time so I have revamped a series of devotional articles I wrote about David. Some time ago I was studying the Beatitudes and figured if David was a man after God's own heart then the beatitudes should be evident in David's life. My plan is to post one of these thoughts every 3 or 4 days providing I am able to find an internet connection. Well, that's the plan …

Best wishes for Christmas to all who come by here.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Devotional Thought : 1 Timothy 3:16

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body … 1 Timothy 3:16

At Christmas we celebrate Jesus coming in a body as a baby. Yet if we stop and ask why, we face a great mystery. Why would God pinpoint a time in the history of the world to send His Son from the glories of heaven to a world wrecked by sin? It is not a question with a straightforward answer.

God's investment of time and effort on the human race seems completely unwarranted. The cost is high – the life of His Son and the returns seem low – so many rejected Him then and they reject Him now. We conclude it is because of God's great love yet we need to pray for the power "to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" Ephesians 3:18. For such love has no parallel in human history.

How do we explain to a disbelieving world that there is a God who loves so deeply? A holy being who would dare to come to earth and be treated so poorly without retaliation. A majestic being who would identify so totally with his creation and suffer massive humiliation. A divine being who could demand allegiance but instead prefers to woo his creation.

In the film, Keeping Mum, Rowan Atkinson plays the part of a minister and delivers a surprisingly good sermon on God's mysterious ways. He quotes from Isaiah 55, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" then Atkinson remarks "God is saying, 'I’m mysterious. Live with it!'"

The only thing to do with such mystery is to marvel. This Christmas lets marvel again – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Devotional Thought : Colossians 2:23

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Colossians 2:23

Paul is referring to "human commands and teachings" and hits on the reason why man made rules are so attractive - they have the appearance of wisdom. They appear to be spiritual. They appear to be beneficial. We think by legislating for good behaviour we are promoting God's cause. However God has a higher goal.

Consider the impact of rule keeping on people's lives. If we manage to do what we perceive as good we easily become proud and self-righteous. If we fail to do what we perceive as good we condemn and disqualify ourselves. Neither outcome is what God intends. Man made rules turn out to be grossly lacking in value.

I read this quote by Dwight Edwards recently: The key to the Christian life is not obedience to God's standards. That statement may sound like out-and-out heresy to you, so let me hasten to say that obedience to God's standards is a hugely important part of Christian living. One cannot honestly read the New Testament without coming to this conclusion. But in true spirituality, obedience to God's standards is the by-product and inevitable result of something that's centrally more important …God's foremost calling for your life is a passionate and deepening love affair with His Son. When this is in place, God's standards will take care of themselves.

We need to place the priorities where God places them. Not on an outward adherence to standards of behaviour that has the appearance of wisdom but rather on an heart relationship with Jesus where His love permeates everything we do.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Book Review : Shattered Dreams, pt 2



Larry Crabb draws on the story of Naomi from the book of Ruth as a backdrop for his book, Shattered Dreams : God's unexpected pathway to joy (WaterBrook Press, 2001). Naomi returns to Bethlehem with her dreams of domestic bliss in tatters. Her husband is dead and so are both her sons. Yet we find God is still working in her life and by the end of the story she is a contented grandmother. Crabb writes about why God allows our dreams to be shattered and about His purposes when we go through times of suffering.

Knowing how I felt when my own dreams have been shattered it was encouraging to reflect and realize God has indeed been doing a work in my life during those difficult times. God's goal is to help us towards a deeper relationship with Himself whereas we would simply like a comfortable pain free life. When God does not relieve our pain in the way we think He ought it pushes us on a journey towards a more authentic faith. Our pain no matter how excruciating is only temporary in God's larger scheme of things. Crabb tells many stories of people he has met plus incidents from the Bible to explain his message.

A bit heavy going at times but overall a good read.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Devotional Thought : Colossians 1:15

He is the image of the invisible God. Colossians 1:15

This thought is repeated in the next chapter v.9 "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" and again in Hebrews 1:3 "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being."

Sometimes we struggle with this. We view Jesus as kind and compassionate but we read the Old Testament and conclude God is stern and callous. Yet Jesus is the exact representation of God. How can this be?

Shortly after becoming a Christian I was encouraged to read the whole Bible in my first year, which I did. I remember reading the prophets but because of my lack of knowledge of Jewish history I incorrectly assumed that God's people were constantly being sent into exile. It seemed to me that God was constantly warning them and they were not responding. In my mind's eye I saw God's people walking back and forward across the desert being taken into captivity and then being released. It was years later that I learnt there were only two exiles and each group of God's people was only exiled once. I was surprised. It made me realize how compassionate and merciful God was – just like Jesus.

Our minds seem to gravitate towards occasions in the Old Testament where God enact His judgement. We are shocked with the brutality of His actions because we overlook His deep offence at people's sin. We are so accustom to our sins and His forgiveness that our minds fail to notice the more numerous times where He shows mercy.

A day is coming when we will again see God enact His judgement. However we can trust in God's character, He will act justly but He is also compassionate and merciful.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Book Review : Shattered Dreams, pt 1

This morning while working at the library I found Larry Crabb's book, Shattered Dreams (WaterBrook Press, 2001) on the shelf which was a surprise. (Not many genuine Christian books find their way onto the shelves of an Australian public library). So I borrowed it and at lunchtime I read the introduction. This is part of what I read:

We have our own ideas about what a good God should do in the middle of our circumstances, ideas that stretch all the way from opening a space in a crowded parking lot near the mall's entrance to funding our ministry dreams to straightening out our kids to giving us a negative biopsy report. It's those ideas that get in the way of our realizing what goodness really is … The highest dream we could ever dream, the wish that if granted would make us happier than any other blessing, is to know God, to actually experience Him. The problem is that we don't believe this idea is true. We assent to it in our heads. But we don't feel it in our hearts.

Crabb begins his book by saying there are three ideas that fill his mind as he writes. These are:
1. God wants to bless us
2. The deepest pleasure we're capable of experiencing is a direct encounter with God
3. God uses the pain of shattered dreams to help us discover our desire for God, to help us begin dreaming the highest dream.

So far Crabb has aroused my curiosity, let's hope he delivers.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Devotional Thought : Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right … if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things. Philippians 4:8

We see a small example of this in Hebrews 11:19 where Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. Abraham had never seen God raise the dead but he was thinking about what was true about God. Nothing is impossible to God so Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.

In difficult times it helps to focus on those things God can do rather than on all the problems. God can raise the dead; He can calm the storms; He can make time stand still; He can create everything or anything out of nothing; He can restore the years the locusts have eaten away. Nothing is too difficult for God. He can make a way when there appears to be no way.

Paul gives us good advice in this verse from Philippians. Think about the positives. It helps encourages our faith and promotes creative ideas. If we think something is a lost cause our minds don't even consider a positive outcome.

If we need to forgive someone, we can think of the positives. Often people who hurt us have no idea they have done so, it helps to say, like Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34)."

If our prayers seem unanswered, we can remember trials come so that our faith may be proved genuine (1 Peter 1:7). So we think about the truth that God has something good in mind. God is treating us like true sons and not illegitimate children (Hebrews 12:8).

So today I would encourage you to think about those things which are true, noble, right and generally positive.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quote : Definition of Faith

Contrary to popular teachings, the Christian idea is not about faith in a bunch of 'doctrines' dreamt up by early church daddies, but in the closeness of Jesus, in the goodness of people despite our badnesses, in the conviction that despite all the evidence to the contrary, at some point God will sit everyone down and say, "Look, I can explain everything."

Quote from The Church English Dictionary by Martin Wroe, Adrian Reith & Simon Parke (Minstrel, 1991)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Devotional thought : Philippians 3:15

And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Philippians 3:15

I love the way Paul leaves it up to God to make things clear to those who think differently when so often we feel the need to correct them.

The fact is people do think differently. We grow up in different circumstances, have different experiences and therefore have different perceptions. Sometimes it is just a difference about what is important; sometimes the difference is merely superficial; sometimes it is only a matter of emphasis. These things need not cause conflict if we leave the issue up to God to make things clear as He sees necessary.

Only a few verses later Paul is pleading with Euodia and Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. We are not even told what they disagreed over, it was not important. We will have differences but they need not divide us. Throughout the letters in the New Testament we find many exhortations to love one another and to live in harmony. We can only do this if we put aside our need to be right and not take it upon ourselves to correct others who we perceive as less knowledgeable.

There are other places where Paul does bring correction, rebuke and instruction. There is a time to do this when the truth of the gospel is comprised. Yet too often we are quick to jump in and correct when given time and nurture God Himself will make the issue clear to others.

We need to trust God. We don't need to take upon ourselves the role of policeman over the non essentials of our faith, remembering also that God may need to make things clear to us too.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Tomorrow we vote

I really am breaking new ground. Not so long ago I was writing about football and now politics! What next?

Tomorrow is the federal election in Australia (which will determine amongst other things whether John Howard stays Prime Minister). In Australia voting is compulsory which I think is a good thing. If it wasn't I probably wouldn't vote – it is such a bore! I think the best parliaments are the ones where the governing party has a very small majority. It means that they actually have to listen, even cooperate sometimes with the opposition party as opposed to what they normally do which is denounce them. However it is very hard for me to vote in such a way as to bring this about.

If it wasn't compulsory and I didn't vote I would feel guilty because a lot of women fought very hard so I could vote and I do appreciate their efforts. It is interesting though that feeling guilty would not be enough to make me do what I perceive as the 'right' thing. Guilt, punishment, reprimands do not make us do the 'right' thing. We only 'go and sin no more' (John 8) when we understand we are deeply loved and don't want to cause grief to the One who loves us.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Devotional Thought : Philippians 2:6

Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Philippians 2:5-6

I'm often surprised by people in society who 'grasped' at the tiniest bit of power, influence or control because it makes them feel important. I'm thinking particular of people who cling to official positions in social groups, like sporting clubs, service organizations etc. purely for the sense of worth it gives them. Sometimes it even happens in churches. Whereas Jesus didn't need to 'grasped' onto anything, not even real power – equality with God – because Jesus didn't need recognition from people to feel significance.

The next verse in Philippians 2 tells us, he "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant". We see this in John 13 where Jesus washes his disciples' feet. The incident begins this way:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God so … he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet (John 13:3,5).

It was because Jesus was so secure in the knowledge of who He was, where he had come from and where he was going that He could lay aside His status and serve others from a heart free from manipulation without expecting anything from them – not even appreciation.

Likewise if we want to be like Jesus and serve the way He did we need to be secure in our relationship with God. We need to know we are significant because we are His children. We need to know He values us for who we are not what we do. We need to know we are greatly loved so we can serve from a heart of love free from manipulation.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday's lighter note

I haven't posted one of these for a while however I did find this rather amusing:

When we married, my wife kept her maiden name. Although it is pronounced exactly as it's spelled – Verderosa – it frequently presents a stumbling block to telephone salesmen and other who don't know her.
On one such call, I was addressed as "Mr Verdonga." Sensing my displeasure, the salesman asked, "Did I pronounce your last name correctly?"
"No," I replied.
"How do you pronounce it?" he asked.
"Scott," I told him.
After a moment of silence, he said, "Gee! It's certainly not pronounced like it's spelled, is it?"

- Frank Scott (Readers Digest)

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Devotional thought : Philippians 1:9-10

Currently I'm studying the book of Philippians at the Bible Study Place so you can expect some more devotional thoughts from that book.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best ... Philippians 1:9-10

This is part of Paul's prayer for the church at Philippi. Paul connects growing in love with knowledge and depth of insight. This leads to an increase in discernment.

In the physical we see as children grow their ability to discern grows. They begin to recognize dogs as distinct from other four legged animals, than as they get older they begin to recognize different breeds. Teenagers, especially boys, begin to appreciate the differences between different makes and models of cars, whereas to a small child they are all just cars. Likewise spiritually as we grow we become more discerning. Romans 12:2 points out that it is as our minds are renewed we become more discerning and are "able to test and approve what God's will is".

Discernment is important when it comes to loving others. Christian love is not blind! Sometimes the most obvious way to help someone may in actual fact not be the most loving. With our children we know that it is not always helpful to rescue them from the consequence of their actions or to give them what they ask for. We know that sometimes you have to be tough to be loving. The same is true with adults that we are trying to help sometimes we have to allow people to feel the pain of their situation before we can help them.

Paul's prayer acknowledges that our love needs to increase in wisdom so that our loving deeds will be beneficial to those on the receiving end and not an enabling to allow them continue in unhelpful ways.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Book Review : Direct Hit part 2


Direct Hit: aiming real leaders at the mission field (Abingdon Press, 2006) is a very hard hitting book as Paul Borden explains how to bring significant change to churches which are not growing and therefore not fulfilling God's purposes. He sees the church as God's primary tool for making individual disciples and for changing entire communities. He uses some surprising analogies to make his point. One is of the dysfunctional church being like an alcoholic. Another is using the battles in the Old Testament as a picture of the sort of struggles that happen when a pastor tries to bring new life to a dying congregation.

Borden explains in some detail (particularly in the appendixes) the process he takes a church through in order to bring it into health. He asks whether the pastor is willing to resign. He asks board members if they want to hold onto their positions and watch their congregation die. He explains these questions are necessary because it has generally been under their watch that the congregation has declined.

While the book's primary audience is pastors it provides startling insights into the difficulties faced by pastors and church leaders who want their churches to grow.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Book Review : Direct Hit part 1

I've been reading, Direct Hit by Paul Borden (Abingdon Press, 2006) and I will be writing a book review in a few days but in the meantime here's a taste of what he's on about:

Despite all the rhetoric, most congregations do not want to pay the cost of change. They usually want the results of change but are unwilling to do what it takes to get the results. The price is too high.

To begin with, nearly everyone in the U.S.A. (and in many other countries) comes to church as a consumer asking the question: "What will you do for me?" The consumer does not ask what he or she can do to help. The consumer expects to have expectations met; if they are not met, a consumer will either go somewhere else or will shop shopping. Consumers who are already in the congregation are not going to change to meet the needs of the consumers yet to come, as long as their needs are being met. Most small congregations are closed small groups. In these groups, social and some spiritual needs are met for those already inside, but there is little or not interest to reach out to those outside the group.

Another reason congregations do not want to pay the cost of change is that most believe God created the Church, and their congregation in particular, for them. … They do not see their congregation as a mission outpost designed to reach lost people; rather, they believe it exists as a place where the converted may be safe from the larger, evil world. Pg. 96-97

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Finished Moving

We finished moving yesterday and are still surrounded by boxes - mostly full of books! At least all our stuff is in the one place. I am still having trouble with our internet connection which means I get to read some posts but don't get time to comment very much. Hopefully it won't be much longer before I'm fully online.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Book Review : Tough Sayings from a Tender Heart

I haven't been reading many books lately but I continue to read Every Day With Jesus (a daily devotional by Selwyn Hughes). The latest one called, Tough Sayings from a Tender Heart has been particularly enlightening. Hughes looks at ten tough sayings of Jesus that causes people to be shocked or offended. He explains what they meant to the first hearers and what they mean for us today.

1. "… unless you can eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." John 6:53
2. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26
3. "… the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent take it by force." Matthew 11:12 NKJV
4. "But I am among you as one who serves." Luke 22:27
5. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Luke 9:23-24
6. "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20:16
7. "Love your enemies." Matthew 5:44
8. Jesus' comments about Elijah and Elisha. Luke 4:24-30
9. Jesus' comments on piety and traditionalism. Mark 2:18-28; Luke 11:37-54; Mark 2:13-17; Mark 11:15-18
10. Jesus' comments about money. Luke 16:13-15; Luke 12:15-34

The sayings speak of Jesus' challenge to put Him first in our lives – above family, money, possessions and to extend compassion to foreigners, neighbours and enemies.

Matthew 22:37-39 (greatest commandment) pretty much sums it up.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Devotional thought : Isaiah 54:5

For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is his name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. Isaiah 54:5

Some people think Christians have made up the idea of God to explain things they don't understand or simply to believe in something beyond themselves. However if human beings were going to create a god they would have made him lenient, indulgent and benign. A god who would let them do whatever they wanted with few consequences. This is not the God we find in the Bible. Though he is rich in mercy and grace, we find consequences and we reap what we sow. Though he loves us greatly, He does not indulge our wimps or overlook our faults.

The truth is the God of the Bible is not what we want Him to be. The God we find in the Bible is more holy and righteous than we could ever have imagined. He is wiser and more insightful than we could comprehend. He is far too involved in our lives yet loves us more than we have ever experienced. How could we have made that up?

Sometimes though, we do find ourselves believing caricatures of God, clinging to distortions because they make up feel more comfortable. For example if life appears to be falling apart, it is easier to believe God is disinterested than to believe He is deeply concerned but seemingly doing nothing. It is easier to believe God is powerless in the face of suffering than to grapple with His apparent absences.

However God will not change to fit our ideas so we need a Biblically accurate picture of what God is really like. A picture that includes not only his mercy and love, but also His immense holiness and ultimate Sovereignty.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Glorieta 12 months on …

Glorieta Christian Writers Conference is happening as I write. I attended last year and I was thinking about how far I had progressed since then in my dream of having a book published. Not very far actually. Though I am about to have one of my book reviews published in a small circulation magazine. I have managed to put together some magazine articles which I'm about to submit. It took a long time to get my head around writing for magazines because I actually don't like reading magazine articles! I have asked someone to critique some of my work and I continue to write devotional articles and book reviews which means I am constantly practicing my writing skills. I've also read a lot about being published. So while it is not as much as I was hoping for, it is not all bad.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Devotional Thought : Proverbs 25:2

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. Proverbs 25:2

Prior to reading The Language of God by Francis Collins I was very much a creationism but now I'm in a quandary. Collins argues very convincing for evolution and since I'm not a scientist it is difficult for me to know how strong his evidence really is.

Therefore I found one of his most telling arguments comes out of history rather than science. In 1633 Galileo was tried and placed under house arrest. His publications were banned all because he believed the world revolved around the sun. At the time the church believed that the sun revolved around the world and quoted the following Scriptures: Psalm 93:1 "The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved"; Psalm 104:5 "He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved" and Ecclesiastes 1:5 "The sun rises and the sets, and hurries back to where it rises". Only in 1992, 359 years after Galileo was tried, was an apology issued by the Pope. People came to believe the world revolved around the sun in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and Francis Collins believes a similar thing will happen with evolution.

Francis Collins is a good spokesman. He has excellent credentials as a scientist. He can address issues from an evolutionary point of view and challenge the likes of Richard Dawkins for which I am grateful.

For myself, I think I need to be careful. I cannot speak categorically on things I know so little about. The Bible was never intended to be a science book and often uses poetry, word pictures and allegories to make a point. I do know that, "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1) I just don't know how He did it or how long He took!

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Book Review : The Air I Breathe


In his book, The Air I Breathe, (Multnomah, 2003) Louie Giglio discusses the worship that occurs in a church service and worship as a lifestyle. He explains why both are important. Sometimes the word, worship can be confusing since we use it to mean slightly different things. Giglio explains worship in a church service is mostly about our words while worship as a lifestyle is about our actions. It is crucial that our words and our actions concur. No point telling God how important He is to us if our lives don't show it. Giglio also points out everyone worships something or someone. Whatever we give our time, our money, our energy to is what we value and therefore what we worship. In concluding Giglio gives suggestions for drawing closer to God by focusing on his attributes, not just for fifteen minutes a day but as an on going attitude throughout each day. At the end of the book he includes questions that can be used in group discussion.

While this is only a short book, 120 pages, I found his thoughts on this subject very helpful to understanding more about worship.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Devotional Thought : Mark 13:18

More thoughts from Mark.

Pray that this will not take place in winter. Mark 13:18

This was part of Jesus' response to his disciples when they asked Him about the timing of future events. Regardless of whether this particular instruction was about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 or to an event still to take place, it is still an informative directive. Jesus didn't say pray this will not happen but rather pray that this won't take place in winter. In the context if one needed to flee the city it would be better if weather conditions were mild.

The verse indicates that our prayers do impact circumstances. While God is Sovereign and running the world according to His agenda, our prayers do have an effect. Our prayers can rearrange events to our advantage. The verse teaches us that God cares about every aspect of our problems even the weather. So even when bad things happen we can still pray that God will minimize the difficulties. We may wonder why Jesus didn't say pray God's people would be spared hardship. Suffering is not an easy thing to accept when we know God is powerful enough to prevent it. However God has something bigger in mind than for us to live trouble free lives. While a painless life would be wonderful it would not achieve all God's purposes for us.

In the long term God is making a new heaven and a new earth and then we will know, "no more death or mourning or crying or pain" Revelation 21:4. While we wait in anticipation of that time we remind ourselves that "what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" 2 Corinthians 4:18 and we pray for the best possible outcomes.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Book Review : Holy Discontent


Bill Hybels writes Holy Discontent(Zondervan, 2007) in his usual keen and eager way. While he makes a very good point that our God given callings often arise out of our frustrations with the status quo, I'm not convinced it is quite as simple as Bill would like to make it. It often takes years to figure out exact what our niche is in the Christian life. Years that are not wasted but used by God to build skills and abilities so we can accomplish the task God has for us. Sometimes it is not until we are retired or our children have left home that we realize what God has been building into our lives and therefore what we have to give. While Bill does touch on this point his enthusiasm to motivate people into their area of ministry at times strikes me as a bit premature. However he also makes a good point that exposing ourselves to a wide variety of opportunities can hasten the process of finding the particular ministry God wants us to be involved in. Overall though I did enjoy the book and Bill tells some good stories to illustrate his points.

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

40 years is a long time


I don't normally post about sport, especially football but I'm going to make an exception since Geelong, the team that I have been following for the last 42 years finally won the AFL (Australian Football League) premiership last Saturday. (The last time they won a premiership was in 1963. I wasn't living in Australia then, besides which I probably would have been too young to remember anyway!) In those 42 years that I have been following, Geelong lost five grand finals. One particular player played in four losing grand finals – how disappointing would that be! Anyway on Saturday his two sons were in the Geelong team so he experienced success at last, even if it was through his kids.

I can't think of anything particularly spiritual to say about this except I couldn't help but think of Moses wondering around the wilderness for 40 years – that's a long time.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Devotional Thought : Mark 12:14 &17

A thought from Mark 12 which comes out of the study on Mark over at the The Bible Study Place

"Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" … Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." Mark 12:14 &17

The Pharisees were expecting a yes/no answer. Jesus however gives a principle and lets them work it out. This is often how God works. We would like a yes/no answer. Is it ok to watch this movie? Should I attend this event? Am I allowed to go out with this person? In these situations God rarely gives yes/no answers because He has already given us principles and He expects us to think through how to apply them.

The principles are found in verses like Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world; John 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. God knows giving us a principle rather than a yes/no answer is bound to cause conflict because Christians are going to come to different conclusions as to what is acceptable behaviour. So why does God operate like this?

God doesn't want robots who obey orders without thinking. He wants friends (John 15:15) who will talk/pray/think things through with Him. Also more mature believers should be better equipped to handle situations where a new believer may struggle or fall into temptation. Therefore God may send one believer into a less than helpful atmosphere to be a witness whereas He may deter another believer from going to the exact same venue.

Consequently we can't insist other believers adhere to our conscience on these sorts of issues. We need to spend time talking/praying/thinking through what God is saying to us remembering it may be different to what He says to someone else (John 21:22).

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Book Review : The Language of God


Francis Collins, writer of The Language of God : a scientist presents evidence for belief (Free Press, 2007) is a highly competent scientist who works in the field of medical genetics. He was head of the Human Genome Project. He is also a committed Christian and in his book he shares his personal journey from agnostic to atheist to faith. He writes to challenge Christians to seek the truth science teaches about God's world even if this upsets their preconceived ideas. Collins is a profound believer in evolution and presents convincing evidence from genetics to support his views. He feels evolution, 'far from standing in the way faith, reveals a universe of ever greater ingenuity and sublety'. In the past teaching about evolution has excluded God whereas in Collins' book he explains why evolution requires a creator. Collins also discusses other topics including: Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creationism, genetic diseases, stem cell research and cloning.

While Collins feels science is the only legitimate way to investigate the natural world he also believes that science is not enough to answer all the important questions about life. This is one of the main reasons he came to believe in God. Science could not offer him a satisfactory explanation to what he describes as the Moral Law, that sense of rightness and wrongness that seems to be universal amongst humans but rarely observed in animals.

This is a very worthwhile book coming from such a distinguished scientist and devout Christian. It will cause many (including me!) to rethink their beliefs about science.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Devotional thought : Romans 12:15-16

I've been thinking again about social capital.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:15-16

The term "social capital" has become popular among social analysts to explain the value of community, connectedness and a sense of belonging. It is something God knew long before we coined a term for it. We read in Genesis 2:18, "It is not good for the man to be alone." God had created light, sky, land, vegetation, sun, moon, fish, birds and animals. All the resources necessary to sustain life yet He saw it wasn't enough. We need relationships with people.

I read recently about an Australian girl who visited a community of people in Mexico who were very poor in terms of money but very rich in terms of social capital. They valued belonging to a community where they felt connected. Celebrations, weddings, birthdays and religious occasions were important to them because of the relationships they have with each other. They were very accepting and tolerant of others. They lived in "harmony with one another" and didn't need to be told to "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn", it was already part of their culture.

Still in Australia we tend to value things in terms of their monetary value. We don't usually consider how we spend our time and money in terms of social capital. Research however shows that people with high levels of social capital are healthier, less prone to depression and live longer. Governments are now looking at ways to increase people's social capital.

God in his wisdom has placed us in a community of believers so that we might enjoy an abundance of social capital.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Book Review : The Leading Edge


The Leading Edge by Jack Hayford (Charisma House, 2001) is a collection of twenty-four articles originally written for the magazine, Ministries Today. Each chapter is one magazine article and therefore complete in itself. This means the book does not have to be read in order but rather you can read the chapter which is relevant for you at the moment. The downside is the book does not flow from chapter to chapter which is a little disconcerting if you want to read the book from cover to cover.

Jack Hayford has written these articles from his wealth of experience as a pastor and leader. His wisdom and common sense approach is edifying and encouraging. He tackles many of the difficult problems that present in churches today including the place of prophecy, immorality amongst leadership, deliverance ministry, clergy salaries, worship and other more general leadership topics. Some chapters are about his own personal Christian life and he shares candidly about his own prayer life and spiritual growth.

This book provides a beneficial overview of many of the issues that confront churches and while Jack does not always provide specific answers to every challenge he does provide much guidance and direction for leaders.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Busy Busy ...

Life is proving to be somewhat hectic for me at the moment. Learning a new job and driving six hours (round trip) every weekend to catch up with my husband is proving rather tiring. So if I'm not around here much you'll know why! Hopefully things will settle down in a while.

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Devotional Thought : Numbers 20:11

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. Numbers 20:11

Moses was at this point disobeying God who had told him to speak to the rock not strike it. Nevertheless God blessed the community by providing water. It can be somewhat confusing to us when God blesses disobedience. In Jonah we find the sailors who throw Jonah overboard had an encounter with God. An encounter they would not have had if Jonah had obeyed God and gone to Nineveh in the first place. "At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him" Jonah 1:16.

How do we explain a God who blesses our disobedience? We see it in our day when a prominence Christian is exposed for being involved in immorality. Often it turns out that the situation has been going on for some time and during that same period of time people have been blessed by the person's ministry. How do we explain that?

It speaks of the enormity of God's grace, kindness and patience towards us. However we are told not use the grace of God as a license for sin because if we do we deny Jesus is Lord of our lives. "They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" Jude 1:4. If we become involved in activities we know are not honouring to God we deny his presence in our lives even though God may still be blessing us or our ministry.

God did not allow Moses to lead the people into the promised land which reminds us not to take the grace of God for granted.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Book Review : Reading Magic


Mem Fox is passionately about reading aloud, particularly to very young children and in her book, Reading Magic : how your child can learn to read before school – and other read-aloud miracles (Pan Macmillan, 2001), she provides much evidence to back up the benefits of this practice. While teaching your child to read before they start school might be the motivation for some to read this book, it really isn't Mem's prime objective. Rather her objective is to cultivate in children a love for language and stories as well as encouraging the joy of a shared experience in this instance a shared book.

By reading aloud to young children we teach them the significance of the printed word. The letters and words on the page of a book are not irrelevant symbols but they have meaning and purpose. By reading we expose children to a far greater vocabulary then we employ in casual conversation and we expose them to a world that is far wider than the one they experience. She challenges her readers to read 1000 books to their children before they start school (or the same book a 1000 times as it apparently makes little difference). Perhaps a daunting task but not when you consider you have about five years in which to do it.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Arrived

I started my new job and I'm currently experiencing 'information overload'! As there is lots of stuff I need to learn. Looks like I won't have my own internet connection for a few weeks so I'm also going through withdrawal! Hopefully I will be able to keep posting but perhaps not as often.

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Devotional Thought : Revelation 2:17

I initially wrote this thought a while ago but have revamped it with some ideas that came out of the synchroblog on prayer.

I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. Revelation 2:17

This verse reflects God's Father-like character. After all we choose names for our children and often we put a lot of thought into what we will call them. Similarly God chooses names for us, since we are born again into His family. Not in some haphazard kind of a way but rather with the heart of loving Father. How amazing is it that God has chosen a separate name for each one of us, a name that is a secret. Imagine that, sharing a secret with the all knowing God! This speaks to us of God's desire for an individual personal relationship with each of us. He doesn't want to know us in a second hand way. You can't really know someone well if you only spend an hour or so a week with them. Neither do you get to know someone in an earthly relationship by saying the same thing at the same time every day to them or by only ever presenting a list of failures or requests.

God's desire is to know us in a deep and intimate way. Humanly speaking we get to know someone by sharing with them the deep and personal things that are going on in our lives. Likewise we get to know God better when we share those things with Him. Often we don't because we rationalize He knows everything anyway. However our relationship with God grows when we actually talk to Him about what is going on in our lives as scary as that might be.

Our relationship with God is unique. I hope you treasure your relationship with God as much as He treasures yours with Him.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Moving part 2

On the first Friday of our two weeks away, I went into the library and I met someone I knew. She told me the librarian who had been there for the last 7 years had resigned and in fact that Friday was her last day. She then bemoaned the fact that they wouldn't be able to get another librarian and said, "Who would come here for 15 hours a week?"

I thought to myself, "Wow, that's interesting." I thought I should at least look into it. So I started looking for the job advert. I looked on the library website, on the shire website and even on Google but I couldn't find it. I looked in the local newspapers but still couldn't find it. I figured it hadn't been advertised yet. I didn't feel I could ask at the library because I knew the people who worked there. I belong to a library group that collates library job adverts from the internet and sends them out as emails. So I figured I would just keep checking my email and their website. I wasn't planning to do anymore about it.

On Saturday we were invited out to tea and I met a girl who worked at the Community House, where they run short courses. The Community House was the old bank manager residence and was the house we lived in. She invited me to look at the changes they had made to the house and I made an arrangement to drop in on Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday morning I walked into the Community House and discovered that the librarian also worked there part time. She started talking about the library. She volunteered the information that the library job was 17 hours. 17 hours because there are a couple of extra hours to write reports etc. on top of the 15 hours the library is open. When she said 17 hours it was at that point I knew I had to apply for the job. The reason being was when I first started my current job it was only a few hours a week. I was looking for more hours but wasn't sure how many. I remember thinking how could God give me what I wanted if I didn't know what I wanted? About this time we went to see a friend of ours who is a financial planner. Based on his figures I had worked out that I wanted to work 17 hours a week. Interestingly the library job position does not specifically say 17 hours and I would not have known it at that time if the librarian hadn't volunteered this information.

At this point I ask the librarian if the job had been advertised and she told me it had been advertised in the local newspapers. It occurred to me that it must have been the previous week's paper so I went to the newspaper office and got the old copies and found the advert only to discover the applications had shut on the previous Friday. By this point I was so sure God wanted me to apply for the job I rang them up and asked if I could still put in an application. She said I could but I needed to get it in by the next day. Now I had not purposely taken my resume with me, I was not planning to apply for a job! However in January I had bought a laptop because my computer kept crashing and I had taken my laptop with me. My resume was on my laptop. I subsequently got the job and it looks like my husband will also get a job in the town.

For me there are at least three 'God' events in this story(there are others but it would take too long):
1. If I had not been there the week the librarian finished I would not have known about the job. They never advertised the job on their own web site.
2. I asked God for 17 hours work and the job is 17 hours.
3. I don't really like working in school libraries so this is actually the only job in the town that I would really want.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Moving part 1

Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

I start a new job on Monday and I will be moving on the weekend which is quite unexpected. My husband is coming too! but that will take a few more weeks.

I mentioned recently that I have been away to my favourite place in the state. Actually it is my favourite place in the whole country!

We lived there from 1989 to 1993, not only is a very pretty place but I also loved the people there. The population is about 1200 and it is quite isolated, over an hour to the next biggest town. Originally we went there when my husband was working for a bank but while we were there he began studying for the ministry. We left when he was called to pastor a church. I never thought circumstances would ever work out so that I could live there again and even now I'm amazed and also feeling very blessed. It is quite a long story how this came about. I'll post about it tomorrow.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Devotional thought : Genesis 16:13

This thought ties in with the book, Paper Dolls, which I read recently.

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me' Genesis 16:13.

Twice Hagar leaves Abraham's family and finds herself in the desert. The first time she runs away she is pregnant and meets the angel of the Lord who tells her to go back to Sarah. The second time Sarah tells Abraham to get rid of her (Genesis 21:10). Hagar finds herself in the desert with her son and no water. But again the angel of the Lord speaks to her, she is lead to a well and is promised that her son will become a nation.

It was common for Jewish men to thank God they are not a gentile, a woman or a slave so Hagar couldn't have had things much worse as she was all three. However God allows her to name him El Roi – the God who sees me. She was told to name her son Ishmael which means God hears. We have a God who sees and hears even the cries of a Gentile female slave.

In Psalm 10:15 we read, "Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out". There are many crimes in our world "that would not be found out". Crimes like domestic violence and sexual abuse. Secrecy is an integral part of such crimes. Yet we can rest in the assurance that an all-knowing, caring God does know. He may not act immediately (21:16) but he will act.

God knows all about whatever situation we may find ourselves in whether we created the problem like Hagar (16:4) or it was created by others like Ishmael (21:9). God sees, hears and understands. What a blessing, what a comfort.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Feeds

I've been learning a little about rss feeds lately and have signed up to FeedBlitz. If you would like to receive an email when I post rather than just dropping by please enter your email address (just below today's quote).

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Book Review : Paper Dolls


Diyanne Podhaczky has written and published Paper Dolls, an autobiographical account of her abusive childhood and her eventual healing through God's power and grace. These books are very difficult to write and often difficult to read. On the one hand you don't want to go into the horrific details of the abuse and on the other you don't want to whitewash the facts. Diyanne has managed a good balance in this regard.

One of the other difficulties is that it is easier to outline the physical aspects of the abuse but rather more difficult to explain God's healing. Diyanne's explains God's healing in terms of wholeness, acceptance, peace and freedom but without concrete examples you wonder what difference this has made in her daily life. The same is true of counseling. How do you explain the changes in perspective and in thought patterns when really all you have done is talk? Physical healing is easier to document. Emotional and physiological healings are harder to record and verify. Nevertheless Diyanne's exuberant testimony to God's work in her life provides evidence of a deep emotional healing.

Diyanne's story is not an easy one to read but one that will encourage others in similar situations.

P.S. It is clear that God has also done an amazing work in her husband, Michael's life and maybe one day he too will tell his story.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Synchroblog : How do you pray?

This is my contribution to the synchroblog proposed by Erin from Decompressing Faith If you would like to read other blogger's contributions on this subject go to Erin's post for a list of links.

If I were to describe prayer in my life in one word it would be "messy" which is somewhat of an embarrassment since in nearly every other area of my life I am organized and I do like to be organized. I like having a routine and I like having things structured. So why can't I organize my prayer life? I think there are two reasons.

Firstly every time I manage to maintain any kind of structure, that is a list of people/situations to pray for it is not long before I start feeling like a Pharisee – proud and self-righteous – for being such a "good" Christian. This is not a good outcome! so I stop praying (at least in any organized way).

Secondly praying is scary. John Powell had this to say in his book, Happiness is an inside job, "At first none of us wants to admit it, but we are all afraid of getting too close to God. A thousand questions and doubts flood into us at the very thought of being close to God. What will God say to me? What will God ask of me? Where will God lead me? The unknown is always a little frightening. And in this case, the stakes are high. My whole life is involved …" I think this is why I find it difficult to sit still when I'm praying. (Maybe I think God will find it harder to 'hit' a moving target! as illogical as that is.)

More confessions: I like to pray as soon as I wake up but often fall back to sleep. My church has a prayer room and sometimes I would go there on the way home from work but I'd often fall asleep there too.

On the up side I do pray (or just talk to God) as I go about my day and I often think about God, more so when I am at home then when I am at work. I try to maintain an attitude of "looking to God". Sometimes I use the Lord's prayer or Jabez's prayer or one of Paul's prayers (eg Colossians 1:9-12) as a sort of framework. I have also determined not to feel guilty about my disorganized prayer life as I don't think this is what God would want and guilt only makes me pray less not more.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Updating web site

I launched my web site about six weeks ago and have received some positive feed back. I also received some constructive suggestions for improvements which I have been working on. The suggestions fell into two main areas: content needing to be more focused and less white space which included eliminating the need to scroll to find links.

I have been working on these suggestions and hopefully you'll notice some improvements next time you visit, let me know. White space is a tricky issue as it varies depending on your screen's resolution but hopefully I have found a good balance. I have also moved some links for my older devotions and book reviews from my blog to my website.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Devotional Thought : Nehemiah 5:15

But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Nehemiah 5:15

The Pharisees created detailed lists of acceptable behaviour for those who wanted to follow God. Jesus was not impressed. He said to them, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are." Matthew 23:15

Nehemiah had a simple standard of behaviour, "out of reverence for God". No long winded lists, no legalistic attitude but a sincere reverence for God. He wanted to please God in the way he lived, out of a sense of gratitude not obligation. We may have different ideas about what constitutes "reverence for God" and these ideas may vary from culture to culture but what God is looking for is our heart attitude. Are we seeking to please him? It does not concern God so much what we do as to why we do it.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding" Psalm 111:10. The "fear of the Lord" is not a fear of what God will do to us if we disobey but rather it is the "reverence" that Nehemiah talks about. God does not want us obeying him in order to earn "brownie points" or to avoid punishment. However he does want us to obey him out of respect for his omniscience, believing that he indeed does know what is best for us.

Our attitude should be one of living in a way that is pleasing to him, remembering his precepts are for our benefit.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Book Review : The Colour of Courage


The Colour of Courage : two years by packhorse along Australia's National Trail by Sharon Muir Watson (Muir Publications, 1999) is the story of a once in a lifetime trip, beginning at Cooktown in northern Queensland on 12th May 1989 and ending at Healesville just north of Melbourne on 3rd March 1991. Sharon Muir Watson and Ken Roberts were the first people to undertake to travel the entire Bicentennial National Trail as it was so named in 1988 when the trail received a grant from the government. It was promoted as a recreational trail for horse riders, bushwalkers and cyclists. The trail is over 5000 kilometers in length. It winds its way along the Great Dividing Range down the east coast of Australia.

The book highlights many of the difficulties these two riders had, firstly in navigating the trail in its infancy with incomplete maps and secondly due to Sharon and Ken's inexperience in traveling long distances on horseback. Nevertheless it becomes an amazing adventure as their endurance levels are pushed to the limit and their survival skills severely tested. The book contains a lot of information for future riders but much of this was lost on me as I know so little about horses. I had hoped for a little romance in the book since Sharon and Ken only met a week before they began the ride and they are still together today!

Overall though it is a fascinating tale of a great journey.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

I'm back

... and if you are curious about my son's wedding click here

It was a good day, the sun shone and everything went off smoothly.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Devotional Thought : Revelation 21:10-11

And he … showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. Revelation 21:10-11

Recently I read this statement, "The story of mankind starts in a garden but ends in a celestial city. He is not just saved but is promised a state of glory." (The Gumtree Pulpit by Geoffrey Johnstone, 2007)

Do we realize the extravagance of God's grace? Grace so extravagant the forgiven person is better off than before they sinned. God not only forgives us but he restores us. He heals us of those things that cause us to sin and we are changed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Heaven is described in terms of a city. God isn't taking us back to the garden but rather to a "city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). A city with foundations speaks of permanence, of security, and of community. We are gaining more than we lost. The garden was a graceless state – one wrong decision and Adam and Eve were out of there. Heaven, however, is a permanent destination.

Nevertheless the garden plays an important part in the purposes of God. In order for us to know the depths of God's love and grace it was first necessary for us to know the magnitude of God's holiness and therefore the severity of his justice. God was then able to respond the way he always wanted to with love and grace. There was no way we could appreciate God's amazing love and grace until we knew the devastation of sin and the cost to God of reconciliation.

Be staggered afresh today by the overwhelming grace of God.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Personality quizzes

I really don't have the time to be doing these quizzes but I do enjoy them!

Click to view my Personality Profile page

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Social Capital

I've been rather busy of late. I have a son getting married on Saturday and a few other things happening in my life at the moment so things might be a bit quiet around here for a week or two.

I have had a couple of interesting discussions recently about "social capital". It was not a phrase I was familiar with but I gather it refers to the value of things like community, connectedness with family and friends, belonging to a group, relationships and celebration. In Australia we tend to value things in turns of their monetary value whereas social capital is about these very valuable things money cannot buy.

I read recently about an Australian girl who visited a community of people who were very poor in terms of money but very rich in terms of social capital. She came away wondering, who is really poor? And I wonder the same thing.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Devotional Thought : 1 John 4:16

This thought is not mine. It has been around on emails and internet sites in various formats. Nevertheless I thought it worthwhile to post here. I don't know the original source or even if the story is true (if anyone knows, please let me know).

God is love. 1 John 4:16

One day, a professor of a university decided to defy his pupils. He asked, "Did God create everything that exists?"
A student answered bravely, "Yes, He did."
"Everything?" asked the teacher.
"Yes, everything."
"In this case, God also created evil, correct? Because evil exists." said the teacher.
To that, the student had no answer and remained in silence. The teacher was delighted at the opportunity to prove one more time that faith was only a myth. Suddenly, another student raised his hand and asked, "May I ask you a question, professor?"
"Of course."
"Does cold exist?"
"Of course", answered the professor. "Did you never feel cold?"
"Actually, sir, cold does not exist. According to studies in Physics, cold is the total and complete absence of heat. An object can only be studied if it has and transmits energy and it is the heat of an object that transmits its energy. Without heat, the objects are inert, incapable to react. But cold does not exist. We created the term cold to explain the lack of heat."
"And darkness?" continues the student.
"It exists", replied the professor.
"Again, you’re wrong sir, darkness is the total absence of light. You can study light and brightness, but not darkness. The prism of Nichols shows the variety of different colours in which the light can be decomposed according to the longitude of the waves. Darkness is the term we created to explain the total absence of light."
And finally, the student asked, "And evil, sir, does evil exist? God did not create evil. Evil is the absence of God in people’s hearts, it is the absence of love, humanity and faith. Love and faith are like heat and light. They exist. Their absence leads to evil."

Now it was the professor’s turn to remain silent.

The name of the student was, Albert Einstein.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Amazing Grace



This movie is still being released in various parts of Australia so if you planning to see it and haven't done so yet you may want to give this post a miss.

I enjoyed this movie very much. It is an inspiring story and the movie makers have done a good job capturing Wilberforce's fight for the abolition of slavery.

One of the difficulties of turning a true story into a movie is the chronology. Do you start at the beginning and proceed according to the natural timing of events or do you start somewhere else and employ flashbacks? Amazing Grace does make use of flashbacks which I found a little disconcerting but overall worked reasonably well.

During the film I was reminded of something I read by Brian McLaren. He was speaking about the way Jesus was able to surprise his opponents. The Pharisee often tried to corner Jesus with difficult questions or situations and Jesus was always able to respond in a way they did not expect. We see this in the way he handled the women caught in adultery, paying taxes to Caesar and questions about marriage at the resurrection. McLaren's point was, that as Christians, we should be looking to do the same thing whereas often we respond with the standard 'fight' or 'flight' response of the world.

In this movie after years of campaigning the slave trade is dealt a death blow when through Wilberforce's initiative a bill is passed in parliament that required ships to display their own country's flag. Through this seemingly innocuous piece of legislation the owners of the slave ships were deprived of protection and the slave trade began to crumble. Two years later Wilberforce was able to have his bill for abolition of slavery passed.

Often as Christians we tend to take things head on (fight) or ignore a situation because it is too hard to change (flight) whereas if we seek God for solutions he may show us other options where we can confound our opponents without using violence or ignoring problems.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Book Review : God's Unfolding Purpose

It always surprises me when I re-read a book many years later and discover that it doesn't say what I think it says! Does anyone else have this experience?

Nevertheless God's unfolding purpose : a guide to the study of the Bible by Suzanne de Dietrich (Westminster Press, 1957) presents a good overview of the Bible. It is not a long book (287 pages) so is not an in depth exploratory of the Bible but rather provides an outline of the main themes. From Genesis through to Revelation we see God had a purpose to have a people for his own, a people of faith not of works and not of law. Initially this was to be the Israelites but now it is the church. The book looks at the exodus, settling in the promised land, the exile and the return to their homeland as the major events of the Old Testament. The significance of these events in terms of God's purpose is explained. Moving onto the New Testament the incarnation, the birth and continuance of the church become the major themes, ending with the final triumph in Revelation.

The book is well set out with every chapter begins with a summary and it moves along in a logical manner. The book contains many Biblical references so it can be used for a more extensive study.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Devotional thought : Ephesians 1:5

In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will. Ephesians 1:5

In the Old Testament we find that God predestined the Israelites to be his people. "Out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites" Exodus 19:5-6. However it was not enough to be chosen. They still had to exercise faith in God to be made righteous.

Paul writes in Galatians 3:8 "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: All nations will be blessed through you." So although the Israelites were chosen to be God's people it was God's intention to bless all nations through them. They were to be his witness and his instrument of blessing. We see this often in the Old Testament. Ruth and Rahab were not Israelites but came to be included with God's people; Jonah is sent to Nineveh and other prophets are sent to Egypt and Edom. Being predestined was never meant to exclude others.

In the New Testament the church is now God's chosen people. "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1 Peter 2:9). God has predestined the church and likewise it is God's intention to bless all people through the church. The church is God's body in the world to reach out to all people. Being predestined still doesn't mean excluding others. Rather it should motivate us to fulfill God's intention of the church being his witness and his instrument of blessing to the world.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Back home


I've been on a 'working holiday' to my favourite place in the state and while I did have internet access it wasn't quite as convenient as being at home. This is one of many photos I took. The snow is a little difficult to see but it is there.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Quotes from God's Unfolding Purpose

I plan to write a book review about a very old book I've been reading called: God's unfolding purpose : a guide to the study of the Bible by Suzanne de Dietrich (Westminster Press, 1957) but for now I'll just post a few bits that I found interesting.

This divine sovereignty, seen from our human perspective, has two aspects – one of wrath, and one of mercy. Only in eternity will we fully understand that these two aspects are actually only one, and that God's justice is simply one aspect of his love. pg. 112

It is enough for us to know that he (Jesus) consented to this last and ultimate humiliation, and as a result we feel ourselves bound to this church of his, no matter how wretched or disappointing it may be. (And who of us has not been disappointed or led astray by the deficiencies, the narrowness, and the divisions of the visible church?) pg. 205

The entire Biblical revelation affirms that salvation is by grace. … But this revelation is so utterly contrary to the natural heart of man that it must be emphasized again and again, for man always keeps trying to achieve salvation on his own resources. Nothing is so humiliating to his pride as to owe everything to the grace of God alone, and to be able to live only on the basis of his pardon. pg 232

The amazing mystery of the divine wisdom, as we have seen several times already, is that God's plan of salvation is always unfolded by means of feeble instruments – through the poverty of words, through the dense veil of the flesh, and the stammering witness of a faithless people. God wanted it this way! He desires that his power be made known through weakness. He placed the torch of faith in our weak human hands, to make it quite evident to everyone that salvation does not come from us, but from him. This body, the church – divided, stained, bruised, responsible through the course of twenty centuries for many crimes – is nevertheless his body, the body of the Lord in glory, the body for whose life he let himself be crucified. Who, therefore, knowing that, will dare to repudiate the church or to separate himself form it? For this sick and bruised church is also the glorious and triumphant church that will reign with him in eternity! pg 249

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Devotional Thought : Mark 1:45

This thought was prompted by some of Wendy's comments during the discussion at the Bible Study Place on Mark 1& 2. Thanks Wendy.

Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. Mark 1:45

This verse refers to the leper that Jesus healed. Jesus had sent him away "with a strong warning: See that you don’t tell this to anyone." However the healed leper "went out and talked freely". His disobedience caused Jesus to change his plans, he could no longer enter a town openly. In v.45 the word "yet" suggests ultimately though God's plans were not thwarted (Job 42:2).

It reminds of a story I heard of a pastor's daughter who became a drug addict. Years later she became a Christian and became involved in a ministry to drug addicts. Her father made the comment it was never God's intention for her to become a drug addict but having chosen that path God was still able to use her wrong choices to bring hope and healing to others.

Earlier in the same chapter Jesus had commanded demons to be quiet (v.25 & 34) and they obeyed him so it interesting that demons had to obey Jesus but the leper did not. God has given humans a free will so we can obey/disobey him whereas the demons do not have the same choices.

This incident speaks to me of the Sovereignty of God. He is in charge. He commands demons but gives man a choice yet even in that He is powerful enough to override the results of our disobedience and bring about His purposes anyway. This is not a licence to be disobedient (Jude 1:4) but rather an encouragement to know we cannot derail God's plans.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Book Review : The Gumtree Pulpit


Geoffrey Johnstone can tell a good story and his self-published book, The Gumtree Pulpit, is an easy to read group of stories. His laid-back style and uncomplicated faith make his stories straightforward, interesting and often humorous. They have a subtle point to them which he connects to themes in the book of Romans. I would have liked a bit more depth and application of these points but nevertheless he does seek to show this in the introductions to the stories, which are letters addressed to his daughter Cara. This is a novel way of introducing his thoughts.

The overall tone of the book is upbeat and positive. He sees the God of the Bible as a God of love and grace. I particularly liked his chapter on forgiveness. God's grace is so extravagant the forgiven person is better off than before they sinned. God not only forgives us but he restores us and we are forever changed. "The story of mankind starts in a garden but ends in a celestial city. He is not just saved but is promised a state of glory."

I found the book hopeful and encouraging.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Devotional thought : Hebrews 12:7

Endure hardship as discipline … Hebrews 12:7

Hardships come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from minor annoyances – car breakdowns, uncooperative bosses and inclement weather to huge Job-like disasters. Often we think of hardship as something to be avoided at all costs and something to pray against. However this is not how God sees hardship.

God allows hardships to come across our paths as a discipline. In v.11 God freely admits that, "no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful." Yet we are told to look to the results, "a harvest of righteousness and peace" but only to those "who have been trained by it." Hardships give us the opportunity to learn, to grow and change but if we resist the discipline we miss the training and the rewards.

The writer to Hebrews is not telling the readers anything new here. Deuteronomy 8:5 states, "Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you." This is not a happy thought we don't relish the idea of discipline or the idea of being treated like a child in need of discipline.

However we are also told God only disciplines those he loves (v.6). Therefore we need to consider the big picture of God's purposes, he only allows those hardships which will be of long term benefit to us. "God does not waste suffering, nor does he discipline out of caprice (unaccountable change of mind). If He ploughs, it is because He purposes a crop." (J. Oswald Sanders, from the foreword of Green Leaf in Drought).

Remembering long term gain in times of hardship is not easy as our emotions want instant answers and instant relief but we can trust in God's character and rely on His goodness.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Away from home

I'm going to be away from my home base for two weeks but I have been led to believe I will have internet access!

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Book Review : Faith & Duty


(John Anderson was the leader of the Australian National Party and Deputy Prime Minister for many years until 2005.)

My initial impression as I started to read Faith & Duty : the John Anderson story by Paul Gallagher (Random House, 2006) was how often tragedy had struck John Anderson's life. His mother died of cancer when he was three, his sister died during a backyard cricket match when John accidentally hit her with a cricket ball, and he lost his youngest son at six months through major health problems. John's father's life was equally tragic losing a wife and a daughter. He also suffered from war injuries, physically and emotionally.

Nevertheless this is not a sad book but rather the genuine account of a man's life. John is portrayed as a man of integrity and faith. A faith that was born as a result of his sister's death and carried him through the many trails of political life. I must admit to skimming over some of the political issues in the book due to my general lack of interest in politics however I still found it interesting to read about people who have made up parliament.

Paul Gallagher writes in an easy to read manner and tells John Anderson's story with truth and compassion.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Devotional thought : Hebrews 12:22

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly. Hebrews 12:22

This verse is in stark contrast to the preceding verses where scenes about God giving Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai are described in a terrifying way. These types of passages cause some to conclude that God in the OT is harsh and severe while God in the NT is full of mercy and compassion.

However even in the OT God is full of mercy and compassion. The law and punishments God outlined to Moses seem severe and harsh because we underestimate God's holiness. God's people need to know he is holy and just. Every sin is worthy of the death penalty (Ezekiel 18:4 & 20). Any time someone didn't die because of their sin they were being shown mercy. Punishments were generally not carried out to their full extent (eg. David and Bathsheba should have been stoned) because God kept on showing mercy. God was also looking forward to the day when Jesus would take upon himself the entire penalty for sin.

When someone experienced God's punishment like the sudden deaths of Uzzah, Nadab, Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, we are surprised because we take God's mercy for granted. Yet these incidents serve as reminders that every sin is worthy of the death penalty. They are reminders of how much mercy we receive. There are many examples of God's mercy throughout the OT. Countless times God warned his people before he reluctantly sent them into exile; God forgave Nineveh much to Jonah's displeasure (Jonah 4:2); Ruth was included in God's people even though she was a Moabite (Deuteronomy 23:3).

God doesn't change. He is still merciful and compassionate.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

I have a dream ...

Like most writers I have a dream of being published. But these days if you want to be published you must do more than just write, you must also advertise and so … drum roll please … I have launched my own web site:
http://www.susanbarneswriter.com



I completed a (2.5 hours x 8 eight weeks) web design course a couple of weeks ago and after a lot of work and much tweaking, I uploaded the site. I have moved many of my devotional thoughts and book reviews from my blog to the web site, though my most recent ones are still on my blog. I have also upgraded my blog.

Like many writers I am also an introvert and don't readily volunteer personal information so having a web site is moving right out of my comfort zone. I hope you visit the web site and let me know what you think. Please also tell me if you find any 'typos' or anything that doesn't work or is unclear.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Upgrading template

This weekend I will be upgrading my blog template and making a few other changes. Hopefully this will not be too stressful though I don't find it very encouraging when Blogger says:
you will lose many of the changes you previously made to your template.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Book Review : Green Leaf in Drought


A couple of months ago I wrote about my reluctance to read books about missionaries. The other day I came across Green Leaf in Drought by Isobel Kuhn which I read 25-30 years ago. I remembered this book had greatly impacted me at the time so I decided to read it again to figure out why this missionary book had this effect on me whereas others don't.

Isobel Kuhn has written Green Leaf in Drought (OMF, 1986) from material supplied by Arthur and Wilda Mathews who were missionaries in China in 1950 when the communists assumed power. Right from the outset Isobel has used Scripture passages to enrich the story. The title of the book comes from Jeremiah 17:8 – He shall be as a tree planted by the waters … but her leaf shall be green … in the year of drought… Kuhn employs this verse throughout the book by using the word "drought" to indicate the drying up of the physical resources of the Mathews and the word "green" to indicate their attitude to these deprivations.

Kuhn quotes from the letters Arthur and Wilda wrote during this time and from this we get insights into their thoughts, their prayers and their general state of mind. It is thrilling to see the many different ways God spoke to them and taught them spiritual truths in a very difficult situation. Kuhn's conclusion is enlightening as she looks at God's deeper purposes for this couple's suffering.

Though my situation is vastly different to the Mathews, I could relate to the book because it focused on God.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Devotional thought : Hebrews 11:7

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

Noah's faith condemned the world because they had the same opportunity as Noah but did not act upon it. Noah did not set out to condemn the world but rather it was the necessary outcome. By building an ark he expressed faith in God and exposed the lies of the world. Lies like, "it is too hard to live by faith", "it is too hard to do what God asks" or "God doesn't care whether I live by faith or not". When one man, like Noah, lived by faith it left the rest of the world without excuse.

"For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life." (2 Corinthians 2:15-16) When we live by faith we are the "aroma of Christ" and that means to some people we will be the "smell of death". To the world that Noah lived in, he was the "smell of death". As we live out our faith others will be convicted because we will inadvertently expose the lies they currently believe about God.

On the other hand we will be the "fragrance of life" to other Christians. We will affirm their faith and be an encouragement to them, often without a word. Knowing someone else is pressing on in their Christian walk is deeply encouraging, especially when we see them growing and changing.

Let's live by faith and be the "aroma of Christ" to those around us.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday's lighter note

"With friends like these ..." was the first thing that came to mind after reading the Friends of Animals raffle ticket I'd just bought.

It said I could win one of the following prizes: a large box of chicken legs, a smoked ham, eight T-bone steaks, six kilos of sausages or a box of pork chops.
- Michael Frendak (Readers Digest)

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Book review : Forever Ruined for the Ordinary


Joy Dawson has a large speaking ministry with Youth With A Mission. She has written, Forever Ruined for the Ordinary : the adventure of hearing and obeying God's voice (Strand, 2006) largely from her own experiences of hearing from God. I don't doubt any of her experiences but would have to say that her way of hearing from God is different to mine. The impression Joy creates is that she is constantly waiting before the Lord for very specific directions, often about which speaking invitations to accept and what message God wants her to bring. Perhaps if I had this type of ministry I would find it necessary to do this too. Yet I don't see the apostle Paul receiving his guidance in this way. In Hebrews 13:23 there is no sense that Paul is being guided with every single detail of his itinerary.

Towards the end I felt the book got a little bogged down in the area of obedience. Overall though I did enjoy reading about Joy's experiences, it is always interesting and encouraging to see how God works in another's life.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Devotional thought : Matthew 8:9

For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, "Go," and he goes; and that one, "Come," and he comes. I say to my servant, "Do this," and he does it. When Jesus heard this, he was astonished … Matthew 8:9.

Recently I happened to watch a repeat of a repeat of a repeat of M*A*S*H. In this episode the colonel sent Hawkeye away to attend to a Korean patient.Hawkeye objected because he felt there were more pressing medical concerns at the base.

The colonel ordered him to go. Later Hawkeye realized why the colonel had sent him and said, "Why didn't you tell me?" The colonel replied, "Because when they make you a colonel, they take the bone out of your head that makes you explain orders."

God also doesn't have a bone in His head! When we rightly understand authority we realized that God is under no obligation to explain His actions or lack of action to us. Often, because He wants to treat us as friends (John 15:15), He does let us know but we shouldn't act as though we have a right to know. In the verse above the words of a Roman centurion astonished Jesus. Here was a non-Jewish man who understood authority and rightly applied it to God.

God will always act in a way that is consistent with His character, so He doesn't keep knowledge from us in order to frustrate us. He only keeps knowledge from us if it is in our best interest, perhaps to encourage our faith or because He knows we can only handle so much information at one time (John 16:12).

We need to trust that God knows what He is doing whether He chooses to tell us or not.

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