Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Book Review : Jesus Take the Wheel ch.8

Chapter Eight: Key #7 What being a passenger is all about—find joy on the journey

God wants us to experience joy as we go through life. By focusing on God and developing a dependant relationship on him through prayer we can have a life of joy. At those times when we have difficulties we can turn to God for comfort and compassion. His forgiveness is always available to us and his word helps our faith to grow. Other things that will bring us joy are sharing our faith with others, giving, and taking time to appreciate God’s creation.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Devotional Thought : Jonah 1

Over the next few weeks I'd like to share some thoughts that occurred to me while studying the book of Jonah at the Bible Study Place.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord… Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah had a good reason for running away. He did not want Nineveh to repent. These people were Israel's enemies. They were a brutal and violent people bent on war. They were a threat to Israel’s survival as a nation and Jonah wanted God to wipe them out. History would later prove Jonah's fears justified. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria which attacked Israel and took its people into captivity.

So when we look at Jonah’s disobedience we must not overlook his motives. Don’t we want God to wipe out those things which would defeat us and take us captive? God's ways are not our ways. He does not always response to things that threaten our peace and security the way we would like. Sometimes God requires us to face our enemies and tell them the truth.

Our enemies are unlikely to be a nation bent on overthrowing us but we have spiritual enemies that are just as eager to destroy our peace and security. Enemies that would tell us we are not good enough, not gifted enough, or not sin free enough for God to be interested in. However the truth is God’s grace is sufficient for all our shortcomings.

It requires faith to march into the enemy’s territory and announce the truth of God’s word. It requires patience and persistence to believe God’s word in the face of opposition. Yet ultimately our enemies, whether physical or spiritual, will be forced to surrender. James 4:7 tells us, “Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone who passes by here a lovely Christmas. I will be away for a few days catching up with family.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Devotional Thought : Luke 1:31-33

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most high.” Luke 1:31-33

Consider this abbreviated version of that first Christmas in the words of Phillip Yancey: “An angel appeared to some teenage girl who then got pregnant without ever having had sex and traveled on horseback to Bethlehem where she spent the night in a barn and had a baby who turned out to be the Saviour of the world.” How do we celebrate an event like that?

In order to make Christmas more meaningful, some like to feed the homeless which is a good thing to do, though I don't actually see Jesus as being homeless or even poor. He slept in a barn because there was no room in the inn not because his parents had no money. By the time the Magi arrived he was living in a house (Matthew 2:11).

Mary and Joseph only brought a pair of pigeons to the purification ceremony but their finances would have been strained. They had just married in difficult circumstances, they had to make an unexpected and slow trip to Bethlehem, and the temple charged exorbitant prices. It is true that the family lived in an oppressed country with heavy taxes but it also seems that Joseph owned his own carpentry business.

If we think of Jesus as “homeless” or “poor” it removes him from our circumstances. We take away from his incarnation and his identification with us when we try to make out that Jesus was different to us.

How do we celebrate Christmas? By celebrating the relationship we now have with Jesus and rejoicing that he was prepared to be just like us.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Book Review : Jesus Take the Wheel ch.7

Chapter Seven: Key #6 Stop clinging to the steering wheel—cling to God

How easy it is to become distracted from our focus on God and look to other things to meet our needs. However clinging to God and relying on Him to meet our needs, whatever the circumstances, will lead to peace. Again Migdon turns to the example of Moses who learnt to cling to God in difficult times as well as seeking a closer relationship with him in the easier times. Migdon also looks at Hezekiah who grew up in a godless society yet chose to follow God’s ways and turned the nation back to God.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review : Living Apocalypse

I found, Living apocalypse : a Revelation reader and a guide for the perplexed by Gregory Laughery (Destinee S.A., 2008) to be a very helpful study of the book of Revelation. It is only short (200 pages) yet gives a good overview of the book, highlighting the major events and teaching. I particularly enjoyed Laughery’s knowledge of Old Testament prophecy and other Old Testament references that he brought to the reader’s attention. These references were connected to the various aspects of John's vision and obviously influenced John a great deal as he wrote.

I appreciated Laughery lack of dogma. Much of the teaching in Revelation is presented in symbolic imagery which is not easy to understand and therefore I think it is important we are not rigid in our beliefs about Christ’s second coming. Laughery presented various points of view concerning “end time” events as well as his own without being critical of those who differ.

Being a complex subject I found it helpful that Laughery included many “general reviews” along the way. These provided some respite from the heaviness of the topic and a refresher of the material already covered.

I plan to study Revelation at the Bible Study Place next year and plan to use this book as a resource.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Devotional Thought : Matthew 25:30

“And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 25:30

It is interesting to compare the parable of the prodigal son and this parable of the talents. Whereas the younger son received no rebuke for wasting his father's inheritance on wild living, the man who had buried his talent received what we would think is an unusually severe rebuke. We would be more inclined to be compassionate with this man as he hadn't done anything illegal, immoral, or unethical. The church may applaud people who avoid wrong doing but the absence of wrong is not enough to earn God's approval.

The parable suggests his master would have been satisfied with even a small return, just interest, so there was no sign he was a “hard man”. The servant's laziness suggests he actually thought his master was “soft”. He expected his master to be lenient and let him get away with his inaction. This parable has worrying implications for those who think they will go to heaven because they haven’t done anything particularly “bad”.

When confronted with the incredible holiness of God, we realize we have greatly underestimated God's standards. People who think good people go to heaven have no understanding of how holy God is and have reduced God to a mere teacher who “grades on a curve”. A teacher who “grades on a curve” reduces the pass mark to enable a set number of students to pass which means students’ results are graded against each other and not against a predetermined standard.

God does not reduce his standards in order for us to “pass”; rather we “pass” by receiving Christ's forgiveness. The younger son received his father’s robe, ring, and sandals and in doing so accepted his father’s forgiveness.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Abraham Lincoln

Some time ago I wrote about the time Abraham Lincoln freed a slave girl. At the time some of my American friends told me they had never heard this story. It appears today in the daily devotional, The Word for Today, albeit briefly, in the last paragraph. Just so you know I'm not making it up! Here's the

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book Review : Jesus Take the Wheel ch.6

Chapter Six: Key #5 When the four car pile-up happens—peace in the trials

In this chapter Migdon looks at the trials Jesus faced during his three years of ministry. His family and friends at Nazareth tried to throw him off a cliff; the Pharisees were hostile; others called him a glutton and a drunk and demon possessed; many refused to listen to him. However through all these trials and others—the temptation in the wilderness; Gethsemane; Peter’s denial and Judas’ betrayal—Jesus focussed on God. Knowing that Jesus has been though many of our trials, is a great encouragement to us and we can use our experiences to encourage others.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 3:1

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us" 1 John 3:1.

As a child I watched "I Dream of Jeannie". Larry Hagman played Major Nelson who found a genie that could grant wishes with the blink of an eye. Nelson could have wished for material possessions, riches, fame yet he chose not to. Whereas his friend, Major Healey tried to make the most of the opportunity. By the time the series ended Nelson and Jeannie have fallen in love and married but Jeannie knew he loved her for who she was, not what she could do for him.

Jesus could be a magic genie to us, God has the power to grant any of our wishes even to the extent of riches and fame, like He did for Solomon. But God wants us to love Him for Himself and not what He can do.

Yancey writes, "I believe that God insists on such restraint because no pyrotechnic displays of omnipotence will achieve the response he desires. Although power can force obedience, only love can summon a response of love, which is the one thing God wants from us and the reason he created us."

A God who makes our lives comfortable and easy may have many followers but would we really love Him? Would we even bother to develop a relationship with Him? Our free will is very important to God, so He woos us, not overwhelming us with His power—never manipulating or domineering us, never using coercion or bribery. It is not only easy for the non-Christian to ignore and reject Jesus, it is also easy for the Christian to ignore Jesus in their daily lives.

Yet surely this is how we wanted to be loved. Appreciated for what we do but loved for who we are.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Synchroblog : "…and here’s a photo of one I made earlier."

Photos are wonderful things. My parents are coming to stay over Christmas, (we may not be here when they arrive,) and they wanted to know how big our fridge was. So I took a photo, downloaded it to my computer and sent it in an email. They live about 500 miles away and in a blink of an eye I can show them my fridge!

Darkness and light are like photographs we use to explain spiritual truths. They are tangible concepts we understand. We know what it is like when there are power cuts at night. We know the effect of one small candle in a room full of darkness. Light is so powerful that during the black outs in England in World War II it was even forbidden to smoke outdoors at night. Since a pilot flying overhead could see the light from a lone cigarette. When we want to explain spiritual truth we turn to the concepts of darkness and light, like we would show a photo to portray what something looks like.

As I was thinking about darkness and light I remembered this conversation between a professor and a student (apparently, Albert Einstein). It did the rounds on the internet a while ago:

“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.”

Paul writes, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life (Philippians 2:14-16). God’s desire is for us to be like stars shining against the darkness, obvious to all those around us that we are Christians. Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). But he also told his disciples, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). We now have the responsibility of being light to the world—bringing love and faith where there is none.

This post is part of a synchroblog on the topic: Darkness and light as spiritual motifs. You can read posts from other synchrobloggers by click on the links:

Susan Barnes at ...and here's a photo of one I made earlier
Phil Wyman finds Darkness: a Thin Place for the Soul
Adam Gonnerman on being "In Darkness"
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Jeff Goins is "Walking in the Light with Jesus"
Ellen Haroutunian finds Holy Darkness
Bethany Stedman thinks Light is Coming
Julie Clawson walks through Darkness and Light
Kathy Escobar will Take a Sliver Anyday
Joe Miller thinks you can Discover Light in Darkness
Beth Patterson talks about Advent: Awaiting the Ancient and the Ever New
Liz Dyer says What the Heck
Sally Coleman muses about Light into Darkness
Steve Hayes with the Lord of the Dark
Josh Jinno with Spiritual Motifs of Darkness and Light
KW Leslie contrasts Darkness versus blackness
Erin Word writes Fire and Sacrifice

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Book Review : Jesus Take the Wheel ch.5

Chapter Five: Key #4 Rely on your driver—trust, acknowledge, and rely on God

When Moses was faced with the Red Sea in front of him and the Egyptians behind him, he chose to trust God. God orchestrated this difficult situation to reveal His glory. Moses encouraged others in giving God the glory for their deliverance from the Egyptians and thereby focussing the attention on God and not on himself. In this chapter Migdon encourages us to trust God in difficult situations and rely on His perfect plan. Remembering our faith in God will also positively affect others.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Book Review : A proper pursuit

A proper pursuit by Lynn Austin (Bethany House, 2007) is a very entertaining book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It is the story of a young woman, Violet, who had recently finished her education at a School for Young Ladies and returns home to find her father announcing his engagement. Violet was unaware her father had divorced her mother some years earlier, after her mother had left them when Violet was nine. Violet is shocked and immediately resolves to go to Chicago to find her mother. Violet’s grandmother and great aunts live in Chicago and at this time, 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition was being held in Chicago. It is on this pretext Violet is able to stay with her relatives. However Violet’s grandmother and three sisters all have their own agendas for Violet.

Violet’s grandmother works for various charitable projects in the slum areas of Chicago and encourages Violet’s involvement. One of Violet’s great aunts takes her visiting in the hope she will find a husband amongst the rich elite. Another aunt, a single lady, hopes to get Violet involved in the Suffrages. The third aunt, who suffers a little from dementia, tells her to make sure she marries for love. Violet must make a decision about where her future lies.

Lynn Austin has done a great job of writing a subtly Christian novel. A proper pursuit is neither preachy nor predictable yet it contains a clear challenge to follow God’s ways.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Devotional Thought : Revelation 21:22

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. Revelation 21:22

I’m sure there are many looking forward to the day when there is no longer a temple—no longer an institutional church. For while churches are intended to be communities of healing and restoration, they can also be places that cause great pain. Christians have often been accused of “shooting their own wounded.” So what was God thinking?

God created us for fellowship with Himself and with one another. He wants us to grow in love and patience as we learn to share with a wide variety of people. People who we wouldn’t volunteer to spend time with, people whose perspectives are wildly different from ours, and people we may not even like. It is still God’s intention that “they (believers) may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me (Jesus)…” (John 17:23).

In Luke 4:16 we read Jesus went to Nazareth “...and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom". While his sermon made them furious v.28 there is no indication that he tried to change the synagogue procedure. There is no ideal church model. Jesus desire is, however, to change his people so that they become “a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27).

From the writings of Ezra Taft Benson:
"The Lord works from the inside out.
The world works from the outside in…
The world would mold men by changing their environment.
Christ changes men, who then change their environment..."

God is in the business of changing us from the inside out until the day when there is no longer any need for a temple.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Book Review : Jesus Take the Wheel ch.4

Chapter Four: Key #3 Listen to Your Navigation System—listen and follow God’s Direction

Obedience to God sounds somewhat negative to our modern ears yet obedience to God is simply following guidance from the wisest Counsellor who has our best interests at heart. Migdon shows us through the life of Moses how God used the ten plagues in Egypt to teach Moses obedience and strengthen his faith. God doesn’t expect perfection from us and we will make mistakes. However Jesus is able to help us and strengthen us as we seek to follow God’s direction.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Devotional Thought : Jude 25

“To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” Jude 25

Jude, at the start of his letter says, “I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that the Lord has once for all entrusted to us, his people” (v.3). He concludes by saying, “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (v.24).

There is an interesting tension between these two verses. Jude is saying we need to contend for our faith and yet it is God who keeps us so we are ultimately presented faultless. If God is going to present us faultless why contend for our faith?

Since we know full well we are not faultless on our own account, it requires faith to trust God to present us “without fault and with great joy”. If we are led astray by individuals who “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality” then we eventually get to the point of where we, “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord” (v.4) and we have no faith at all.

However when our faith is in God’s sustaining power than we have no fear of being led astray. We build up our faith by praying and by being open to receiving God’s love (v.20-21). It is when we think we are strong in ourselves that we are in danger of being led astray, since it is then we are not trusting God.

It is only from a position of trust in God that we are able to extend mercy and grace to those who are struggling (v.22-23), without being led astray ourselves.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Book Review : Jesus Take the Wheel ch. 3

Chapter Three: Key #2 Ask for directions—gain wisdom from God’s helpers

There are several times in Moses’ life when God sent him helpers. Aaron, when Moses confronted Pharaoh; Aaron and Hur, when the Israelites fought the Amalekites; and Jethro, when Moses needed advice about delegating responsibilities. Likewise God sends us helpers and we need to be willing and open to accept their help. Moses was a reluctant leader who willingly shared the leadership with others. He didn’t seek prominence. This was one of the reasons God was able to powerfully use him.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Bible on your desktop

There are lots of emails doing the 'rounds' on the internet but I came across one the other day that I have found to be good value. It is a table of internet links to BibleGateway.com where there are individual links to every chapter of the Bible. (This must have taken someone serious time!) By keeping the page on my desktop I can open it, click on a particular chapter, and it opens the appropriate page in BibleGateway in the New International Version (providing I'm connected to the internet, of course). At this point I can change the Bible translation if I want to.

If you would like this table please send me an email and I'll forward it on. Also there were about six broken links in the original email that I received which I've since fixed. So if you have a copy but would like a new copy just ask :)

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Devotional Thought : 3 John 4

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 4

In Luke 15:7 & 10 we are told there is rejoicing in the presence of angels over one sinner who repents. Here John tells us that his greatest joy is to hear people are continuing in their faith. While it is good to be excited over people coming to faith, it is even more exciting when we see people growing in their faith and walking in the truth.

In the parable of the sower we notice that there were four types of ground that the seed fell upon; the path, the rocky places, amongst the thorns, and on good soil. In three out of four places the seed came up. However the seed that fell on rocky places and the seed that fell among the thorns did not continue. It is only the seed which fell on the good soil that goes on to produce a crop.

It is not enough to make a good start. If our lives are going to produce a “crop” we need to continue in the face of trouble and in the presence of “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19). In Jesus’ explanation of this parable we find that in all four situations they “hear the word” but only the good soil accepts it or “embraces it” (The Message).

If we are going to continue in our faith and bring great joy to others then God needs us to be like the good soil which embraces his word. We do this by learning more of God’s word and applying it to our lives.

So are we embracing God’s word or merely giving it mental consent?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Book Review : Jesus Take the Wheel ch. 2

Chapter Two: Key #1 Which driver is most important? Selfless life

Using the example of Moses, Migdon discusses our tendency to take matters into our own hands as well as our desire for recognition from others. Knowing God had called him to deliver his people, Moses’ first attempt resulted in murdering an Egyptian. He then spent 40 years in obscurity shepherding sheep, learning God’s way of doing things. Likewise God purifies our motives so our goal is revealing God’s charactor, and not self-recognition.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Book Review : Cape Refuge

Cape Refuge (Zondervan, 2002) is a Christian fiction mystery novel by Terri Blackstock. It is set near Savannah in Georgia and begins with the tragic murders of Thelma and Wayne Owens. The murder weapon belongs to their son-in-law, Jonathan and he is immediately arrested. The Owens had been running Hanover House, a halfway house to shelter those who need a place to stay while getting their lives back on track. So numerous questionable characters have stayed there but are any of them capable of murder?

The future of Hanover House is also thrown into turmoil. The Owens have two daughters, Blair, who is completely uninterested in her parent’s life style and Morgan, Jonathan’s wife who is overwhelmed with the turn of events. Combined together these events make for an interesting story with many twists and turns before the culprit is revealed. Terri Blackstock has chosen to write this story with a Christian backdrop, raising the question of why God would allow Christians to die prematurely and brutally. While no answers are given we are able to identify with Blackstock’s characters as they struggle with their grief and wrestle with the problem of suffering.

Cape Refuge is written in an unusual genre which gives Blackstock the opportunity to discuss the deeper issues of life and death. An enjoyable read.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Devotional Thought : 2 John 12

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 2 John 12

Even today with all our instant messaging, with emails, SMS’s, online conversations, there is still nothing like a face to face visit (which is why we take holidays to visit our kids!). God knew this too. He had used people like Moses and the prophets to bring his messages. Many of these prophets wrote down their messages but God always knew a face to face meeting would be necessary. So He sent Jesus. “…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… The Son...is the exact representation of God's being” (Hebrews 1:2-3).

Famous people are often encouraged to write autobiographies and painters produce self-portraits. The idea being that people that don't have the opportunity to meet them in the flesh will be able to read about them, or view their paintings, and know what they were really like.

When God wanted to show us what He was really like He sent a self-portrait - Jesus. Jesus confirmed this in John 14:9 saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

God has gone to enormous lengths so we can really know Him and be in relationship with Him. His consuming passion, from Genesis to Revelation is to have a close relationship with us because He loves us. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by a God who loves like this. So we want to keep God a safe distance away, at arm's length. We forget that He is our heavenly Father who cares deeply for us. He wants us to receive His love, and let ourselves be loved.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book Review : Jesus take the wheel ch.1

Chapter One: Ignition: Who is at the Wheel?—Be a Humble Passenger

This chapter looks at humility and Migdon focuses our attention on children. There are many child-like qualities that God wants us to emulate. Children understand they have no power or influence of their own; they trust instinctively; they are generally teachable; they don’t hide their motives; and their dependency doesn’t embarrass them. Of course, the challenge is for us to adopt these child-like attitudes.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Long Books

I don’t like long books. How weird is that? I love reading and read a lot but when I’m presented with a long book (over 400 pages) I hesitate. I like to read a book within a couple of days so I don’t lose momentum. If I put a book down for a few days it is hard for me to reconnect with it; often I don’t even bother. Consequently I will wait until I know I’m going to have free time before starting a book so I can finish reading it within a couple of days. This means I generally start a book on a Friday night or Saturday so there is enough time for me to finish it before I start work again on Tuesday (I work part-time and don’t work on Mondays). While this approach works well with most fiction books it does have drawbacks when I’m reading non-fiction. Sometimes I read so quickly I lose the impact of the author’s insights. I don’t have time to think about and apply the author’s teaching because I have already moved onto to his next thought. To rectify this I do one of two things. I will read the book through quickly as per normal but then I will go back and reread those chapters which I need to think about more carefully. Alternatively I will make a disciplined attempt to read the book in sections over a longer period of time.

Recently I was given a copy of “Jesus Take the Wheel : 7 keys to a transformed life with God” by Stuart Migdon and I have decided to take this second approach with reading his book. It has nine chapters so my plan is to read one chapter per weekend. It will be interesting to see if I can work my plan.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 5:4

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:4

Often, it seems like faith is such a weak and foolish thing, yet we know: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:28).

Our faith in God is like a child’s faith in their parent. When I had children, I wanted to be the kind of mother who took my children’s questions seriously. A noble goal, but very quickly I made an interesting discovery. Children are big enough to ask questions, long before they are big enough to understand the answers. Sometimes I was disappointed that I could not explain things in ways they could understand, but I noticed that it did not bother them. They accepted the fact there were things they did not understand. Likewise children do not worry about paying the bills or fixing the car. They simply trust their parents to take care of them.

This verse is telling us when we exercise child-like trust we achieve a significant victory. By exercising faith we are demonstrating our belief in an all wise, good, and loving God. We accept there will some things we do not understand. When we have child-like trust we do not need all our questions answered; all our uncertainties dealt with; or all the evidence to be in.

Still it is not easy to trust. Sometimes we feel like God is somehow cheating on us and deliberating keeping information from us. When we find ourselves in those situations, where God doesn’t seem to provide satisfactory explanations, then it’s time to remember we are His children. We can trust God, just like our children trust us.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Synchroblog : Give someone else a turn!

One of the largely undervalued aspects of leadership in churches, is the need to train others. When we look at Jesus’ leadership model we notice he regularly gave leadership roles to the seemingly unqualified.

In Luke 10:9 we see Jesus sending out the seventy to announce, "the Kingdom of God is near you." Previously when the twelve were sent out they were "to preach the kingdom of God" which is interesting because when we look at Acts 1:6, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” It shows the disciples were still thinking of a physical kingdom and did not really understand the true nature of God’s kingdom even though they had been preaching about it.

Furthermore would we have chosen uneducated fishermen, quick tempered brothers and a dodgy tax collector to be the leaders of the church? It seems Jesus regularly appointed people to positions who we would consider incompetent. Remember Jesus also had the disciples, including Judas, healing the sick and casting out demons. Unfortunately in churches we tend to wait until someone is mature and their ability is fully developed. Or perhaps our reasons are more selfish. Are we afraid we will miss out on opportunities of using our gifts and abilities if we encourage others?

Sometimes Christians, who should know their worth is in being God’s children, seem to find their worth in their performance. They refuse others the chance of being involved because they don’t want to step aside. They may justify themselves by saying others are inept or unreliable when all they really are, is inexperienced. This would soon be rectified if they were given some opportunities. I’ve heard people commenting with pride that they have been playing the piano, or printing the newsletter, or handing our song books, or whatever, at their church for 10…20…25 years. I feel like saying, “How sad that you couldn’t find anyone to train.”

We need to stop clinging to our area of ministry and start looking for someone who needs an opportunity, particularly a young person. Young people often leave the church out of boredom. They were never asked to make any meaningful contribution and consequently never felt like they belonged. I’ve seen 14 year-olds lead worship, play the piano, teach Sunday school, and pray in public. They may not do it as well and their efforts may not be as polished but often they do it with a great heart. And isn’t heart attitude more important than performance?

Maybe our real fear is that someone will do it better than us, or differently, and we may never get asked again. Regardless of our reluctance, others need the chance to test their abilities, stretch their faith and discover which area of service God wants them in. We also need to bear in mind that Jesus was a whole lot less worried about failure than we are. At Jesus' arrest when Peter cut off the ear of the high priest's servant, Jesus touched him, and healed him (Luke 22:51). Jesus still has the power to fix and heal the mistakes we make.

So it’s time to give someone else a turn!

This post is part of a synchroblog on the topic of "Leadership". You can see the posts from the other synchrobloggers by clicking on the links below:

Jonathan Brink - Letter To The President

Adam Gonnerman - Aspiring to the Episcopate

Kai - Leadership - Is Servant Leadership a Broken Model?

Sally Coleman - In the world but not of it- servant leadership for the 21st Century Church

Alan Knox - Submission is given not taken

Joe Miller - Elders Lead a Healthy Family: The Future

Cobus van Wyngaard - Empowering leadership

Steve Hayes - Servant leadership

Geoff Matheson - Leadership

John Smulo - Australian Leadership Lessons

Helen Mildenhall - Leadership

Tyler Savage - Moral Leadership - Is it what we need?

Bryan Riley - Leading is to Listen and Obey

Liz Dyer - A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Polls...

Bill Ellis - Leadership and the Re-humanizing of the World

Ellen Haroutunian - A New Kind of Leadership

Matt Stone - Converting Leadership

Julie Clawson - Leadership Expectations

Kathy Escobar – I’m pretty sure this leadership book won’t make it on the bestseller list

Bethany Stedman - A Leadership Mosaic

Sonja Andrews - Leadership In An Age of Cholera

Lionel Woods - Why Diverse Leadership is Good for America

Steve Bradley - Lording or Leading?

Adam Myers - Two types of Leadership

Fuzzy Orthodoxy - Self Leadership

Tara Hull - Leadership & Being A Single Mom

Joe Speranzella - Leadership: This Election and Social Justice

Beth Patterson - Leadership: being the river

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday's lighter note ...

Read this recently in the Reader's Digest:

When he received a bound diary as a gift, my eight-year-old son was mystified. "Mum, what am I suppose to do with this? The pages are blank."

"You write down interesting stuff that happens to you," I said.

"So it's like a blog...on paper."
~Beverly Taylor

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 4:17

In this world we are like Jesus. 1 John 4:17

How can this be? How can fallen people be like Jesus? The verse is in the context of Christians having confidence on the Day of Judgment. God has so completely dealt with our sins that our standing before Him is the same as Jesus’. The Message puts it like this: “…our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s.” How amazing is that! We have the same standing before God as Christ.

It demonstrates the effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice. He dealt with our sins past, present and future. Some suggest we start our Christian lives with a “clean sheet” but that is only partly true. God also credits us with righteousness at our conversion, so we start and continue our Christian lives in complete credit (Romans 4). We do not start our Christian life at zero and then spend our time earning “bonus points” for good behavior. We do not “pay our way” since we are already in God’s “good books.”

We live from a place of being completely free from condemnation (Romans 8:1) because not only has Jesus done everything necessary for us to have forgiveness but also he has done everything necessary so we can live from a place of fullness, which is abundant life.

Hebrews 2:11 tells us, “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” We are Jesus’ brothers and sisters because our standing in the world is identical to His. What an extraordinary act of grace for God to take us from our sin stained lives and place us on the same level as His Son, declaring us to be holy. Wow, what a Saviour!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Book Review : Unchartered

Uncharted (WestBow, 2006) is the second book of Angela Hunt’s that I have read and while I much preferred, The Novelist, it must be said that Hunt is a great story teller. I must confess to enjoying happy endings which Uncharted does not provide, though it doesn’t end without hope. Since this story has been inspired by one of Jesus’ parables it is difficult for me to criticize the ending. The fact is life doesn’t always end happily.

The story focuses on five college friends who reunite after many years of not seeing each other. They plan to travel together to a remote island to complete a service project to honour the memory of a friend. However a storm disturbs their plans and their lives forever.

It took me a little while to connect to Hunt’s characters in this book as they are not people I would generally relate to. However Hunt has a great talent for weaving people’s lives together to create an engrossing story. This story challenges the reader’s beliefs about the way we spend our time and talents. Are we investing in temporal pleasures or in eternity?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

A week's holiday

I'm off today on a week's holiday to visit my adult children, to catch up on some shopping, and generally have a break. I have scheduled some posts for while I'm away and I also expect to get online at times. So you may not even notice that I'm not here!

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 3:12

“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” 1 John 3:12.

The story of Cain is concise and found early in Genesis: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Genesis 5:4-7.

It is not entirely clear from the Genesis account why the Lord looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. However there is a clue in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.”

God encouraged Cain to, “do what is right.” Yet this was prior to the Ten Commandments. So what exactly was “doing right?” God wanted Cain to trust him, to act “by faith.” To bring an offering, or make a sacrifice that demonstrated his reliance on God. God is looking for those who will bring an offering of money, time or talent that demonstrates their trust in God. Cain only went through the motions of belief in God. Not that we could tell this when Cain brought his offering. We could only tell later by Cain’s actions. However God was looking at Cain’s heart.

We are warned not to be like Cain. If we want God’s favor we need child-like trust. By going through the motions we can fool other people but God knows our heart.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Book Review : The Penny

The Penny (Faith Words, 2007) is the story of a young girl, Jenny who is growing up with an abusive father in a run down part of St. Louis. The story begins in 1955 when through a surprising course of events Jenny is befriended by the owner of a jewelry shop, Miss Shaw, who offers her some casual work in her shop. Jenny is both mystified and apprehensive of Miss Shaw who, like Jenny, has many secrets. Jenny also makes friends with a girl, Aurelia, from a Christian family who is part of the coloured community in St. Louis, yet she attends the same school as Jenny. In different ways Aurelia and Miss Shaw both challenge Jenny’s ideas about herself and God.

I enjoyed this book by Joyce Meyer and Deborah Bedford because, despite all the tragic events that happen, it is a story with full of hope and the assurance there is a God who cares. Knowing a little of Joyce Meyer’s own history I’m curious to know how much of the story is autobiographical. I suspect that while the events may be a product of Joyce’s and Deborah’s imagination, the emotional content could well be a true reflection of Joyce’s own journey through pain. Personally I find this validating. Knowing the author of this fictional novel has been through the pain of her protagonist creates realistic hope in a God who works through the most heartbreaking of circumstances.

The book also includes questions for book groups.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 2:16

For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 1 John 2:16

In The Message, Eugene Peterson puts the verse this way, “Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear importance—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him.”

As I was reflecting on this verse I was reminded of one of Joyce Meyer’s talks that I heard recently. Joyce was speaking about the difference between walking in the flesh and walking in the spirit. Our flesh, she explained, is never satisfied, it always craves more—more food, more possessions, more attention. Yet even when we succeed in getting more, we are still not satisfied.

Walking in the spirit frees us from the perpetual cycle of constantly striving for more and instead we learn contentment in what we already have. We are freed from the bondage of having to have our own way.

Jesus taught us in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Denying ourselves is not fashionable. Taking up one’s cross declares death to having our own way. This is directly opposed to the philosophy of the world which would have us believe we are entitled to a life of comfort and ease.

Learning to walk in the spirit is a process. It took most of us well over a year before we could physically walk any distance. It may take much longer to learn to walk in the spirit. However, despite the cost and discomfort, it brings a freedom that is worth the effort.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Book Review : The Thief

The Thief (Arrow, 2006) is another in the series of Quick Reads. This one is by the well known crime fiction writer, Ruth Rendell. The thief is a fascinating character study of a young woman called Polly. Since this is not a Christian book I was surprised to find Christian truths running through the story. It could have easily been titled, “Beware your sins will find you out.” However the most profound lesson of the book is people’s inability to change their behaviour even when the stakes are high. We need our attitudes and motivations to be changed in our hearts and minds, before we are able to change our outwardly behaviour.

Poor Polly did not understand the need for forgiveness. Despite her determination she was not able to stop herself from taking revenge thus ruining her chances of future happiness. A sad story but one containing deep truths.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 1:7

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Under the old covenant God made provision for sins committed unintentionally or in ignorance. Hebrews 9:7 tells us, “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” Since by his death, Jesus replaced the sacrificial system, Jesus forgives the sins we commit unintentionally or in ignorance. In v.14 the writer goes on to speak about the greater provision of Christ saying, "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ … cleanse our consciences."

We live in a state of constant forgiveness. We don't need to make mental lists of all our wrongdoings or our wonder if there is something we have forgotten to confess. God is always forgiving us. In the above verse we are told, "If we walk in the light … the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." If we have committed to living openly and honestly before God then we are walking in the light. Therefore we are continually being purified from sin. I have heard it called, “up to the minute forgiveness.”

Of course, if God convicts us of a particular sin we need to confess it and repent but generally we simply rely on Jesus’ atoning work in our lives. God has gone to extraordinary lengthens to ensure our consciences are clean. He forgives us of things we are not even aware of. God has dealt with our sins past, present and future so that we can live free of guilt.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Book Review : Chickenfeed

Chickenfeed (Allen & Unwin, 2006) is another in the series of Quick Reads. This one is by Minette Walters and is based on the true story of the "Chicken Farm Murder", which took place in Blackness Road, Crowborough, East Sussex, in December 1924. Like others in the Quick Reads series it can be read in about an hour and gives a taste for the writer’s style without having to commit to reading a longer book.

Minette Walters has imaginatively filled in the details of the Chicken Farm Murder around the actual facts of the case. She has depicted her characters well and caught, on paper, the build up of frustrating circumstances that led to the death of a young woman. In so doing she has constructed a scenario different to the one the jury believed. We are left wondering if justice was really done in this case? Walters, of course, had access to modern schools of thought on such issues as mental health and criminal psychology which were unavailable to the jury.

It is a well written and researched story. Walters is known for her skill in writing crime fiction but here she has been able to take a true story and remind us that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Free ebook

I have put together a free ebook comprising the 21 devotional thoughts I wrote from the Gospel of John. The inspiration for these thoughts came from my other blog, The Bible Study Place as a few of us looked each week at a chapter from John’s Gospel. These devotional thoughts then appeared here on my blog between May and September 2008, as I wrote them each week for my own church newsletter. I have now slightly edited them and put together an ebook. Permission is granted to the owner of the ebook to copy contents, provided such action is not for sale or any commercial gain. Please email me requesting the link to download the ebook. It is also available on CD. If you live in Australia I am happy to post it to you free of charge. If you live elsewhere please contact me requesting postage details.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Book Review : All the days of my life

All the days of my life (Ark House, 2008) is a sequel to Jo-Anne Berthelsen first book, Heléna and continues the story of her life. The story begins in the aftermath of World War II with Heléna’s journey from a displaced person’s camp in Europe to a migrant camp in Australia. We are told this story is inspired by the real experiences of a post-war Czech immigrant to Australia and therefore provides historical insights into the plight of displaced persons.

While immigrants were generally relieved to leave behind the trauma of war and the upheaval of political systems, they encountered many difficulties in coming to Australia. The language barrier was huge as was the lack of recognition of their skills and abilities. Nevertheless through this story we see how many of them faced these trials with grace and faith in God. For Heléna in particular, it was not an easy path as she encountered more grief and loss in her new country.

It is not necessary to have read Heléna to enjoy this story as all you need to know about Heléna early years is woven into the story line. It is a moving story which provides many insights into handling grief and loss and stirs up feelings of gratitude for those of us who are blessed to live in Australia.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 21:22

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” John 21:22.

Peter had asked Jesus about John, saying, “What about him?” This verse is Jesus’ response. Interestingly in the following verse John feels it necessary to go to great pains to make it clear that Jesus didn’t say he would not die.

It is very easy for us to get caught up with what Jesus is doing, or not doing in someone else’s life and avoid what he wants to do in ours. Sometimes God asks people to go to places like bars and nightclubs that he specifically directs others to stay away from. Sometimes he prompts people to see movies that he directs others not to see.

The idea that God asks different things of different people is somewhat foreign to us. Perhaps it is because as parents we have similar ideals for all of children. We would like all our children to be productively employed in a worthwhile pursuit. God also wants all his children to be productively employed in a worthwhile pursuit. However sometimes his definition of what is productive and worthwhile is vastly different to ours. We tend to look at success in worldly terms while God looks for success in spiritual terms.

Job achieved a great spiritual success when he endured great loss and hardship. Isaiah achieved spiritual success when he preached for 40 years to an unresponsive people. In the midst of their struggles Job and Isaiah were not considered successful people.

These verses from John 21 teach us that what God asks of us maybe entirely different to what God asks of others. Our job is to follow his leading in our lives and not compare our responsibilities to those of others.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

How blogging changed me

During last week’s Synchroblog, I visited a number of blogs which I hadn’t been to before. Somewhere in the process I came across a question along the lines of, how has blogging changing you?

My first reaction was surprise. I started blogging over three years ago and I never expected it to change me. However as I thought about it I realized it had. Blogging has exposed me to a far greater range of theological perspectives than I could have ever experienced in my day to day life. Not every Christian thinks like I do. I have had people disagree with me! LOL! Yet in a way this surprised me too. I often find in my daily life, if people disagree with my views they smile politely and change the subject. Rarely will people engage with me in a discussion where our views differ. I have often wondered why this is so? People tend to see me as a quiet and gentle person so I’m not sure if they think they will upset me if they disagree or if it is just not politically correct to disagree.

Anyway, I love the freedom the blog world provides for people to say what they really think and not just say what they think I want to hear. Consequently I have had some of my beliefs challenged. I have even had to change my mind about some beliefs, even ones I had set in concrete! Others beliefs I have had to question whether I believe them because they really are in the Bible or because they are merely church traditions. This process has enriched and deepened my faith because now I better understand why I believe what I believe. I think the whole blogging thing has made me more open to the myriad of different ways God works in a person’s life. I have learnt time and time again not to put God in a box of my own understanding.

So thank you to all you bloggers out there, for widened my understanding, deepening my appreciation of God’s ways, and for your willingness to engage personally and honestly.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 20:22

"And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" John 20:22.

This verse leads to an interesting question, when exactly did the disciples become Christians? Here, where Jesus breathed on them in order to receive the Holy Spirit, when they were first called three years earlier, or at Pentecost? As you think about this, consider also, the disciples were preaching, healing the sick, and casting out demons some time prior to this incident.

Our journey of faith travels past many milestones where God shows up sometimes in surprising ways. There is no reason for us to be sitting around waiting for God to do something supernatural in our lives. If we have responded to God’s call on our lives we need to be moving forward in those areas we already know God would have us travel. God will equip us further as we progress on our spiritual journey.

This verse reminds us we need to be open to what God might do and not have our ideas set in concrete, thinking now we are Christians, God hasn't anything further for us. God may want to equip us for something we don’t feel ready to do. I’m sure the disciples didn’t feel like being “sent” (v.22); at this point they were still meeting behind locked doors.

The next verse goes on to speak about forgiveness. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (v.23). Jesus immediately connects the Holy Spirit’s work with forgiveness. If we do not forgive we are holding onto someone’s sins which will hinder the Holy Spirit’s working in our own life.

I wonder if Thomas missed out, or did Jesus breathe on him later?

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book Review : Escape

Escape (Viking, 2007) is the autobiographical account of Carolyn Jessop's escape from a radical polygamist cult. She was born and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints, an offshoot of the Morman Church, and lived in a small community near the Arizona-Utah border in America. At eighteen she was forced to become the fourth wife of a man thirty-two years her senior. He was very influential in the cult. Over the next fifteen years Carolyn had eight children during which time the cult became more and more extreme in its beliefs thus restricting their behaviour even more. In the end Carolyn fearing for her life and the life of her children escaped but then nearly lost her children again in the custody battles that followed.

Many of the situations Carolyn describes in this story are frightening. The conditions Carolyn and many other women and children lived in can only be described in terms of mass domestic violence and cruelty. Much of the abuse was physiological and emotional though some situations did get physically violent especially towards the children. Also distressing was the financial control, medical neglect and lack of assess to medication. To think that many still live in such conditions is appalling.

Jessop gives us a brief history of how the community’s belief structure evolved and how it changed under different leadership. At times the story does get a bit long winded yet much of is necessary to explain the depth of abuse and degradation that went on inside the cult. Carolyn was fortunate in her early years of have spent a year away from the community and at other times managed to have some interaction with the “real” world. Others within this community have been even more isolated and therefore more vulnerable to being brain washed from its leaders which is deeply disturbing. Carolyn own history is heart wrenching. She was physically abused as a child. Her last few pregnancies were life threatening and one of her children suffers from a disabling illness. Yet despite living in an enormous family she received practically no support.

It is not an easy story to read and at times it is quite bizarre. Yet it is a story of great courage and resourcefulness. Carolyn is now living in safety and freedom which she greatly cherishes.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Synchroblog : Growing Up

When we look at how we mature in a physical sense we gain clues as to how we are to mature spiritually. When babies are born they are completely selfish. They do not think about the needs of others, or the need for patience and tolerance, or the inconvenience they are causing by waking us in the night. Their crying is their only means of communication and they will use it often and loudly to let us know their needs are not being met. This is completely acceptable behaviour in babies but not in adults, teenagers, children, and generally not even in toddlers. However, becoming mature doesn’t mean finding more sophisticated ways of getting our needs met.

We expect and train our children to be less demanding of their own needs and therefore less selfish as they grow. This doesn’t mean we want our children to become doormats and cave in the demands of others but simply we train them to be more considerate and tolerant. Likewise as we grow spiritually we become less demanding of own needs and less selfish. It is reasonable easy to be put aside our own needs when we are dealing with strangers in the supermarket or elsewhere. However the real test of maturity is with people we constantly have to deal with in our homes or churches.

When a baby comes into a family, it is the parents who make the adjustments. They buy childproof locks for the kitchen cupboards, they put dangerous cleaning agents on higher shelves, and they move precious ornaments to safer places. In the same way the family of God needs to make the adjustments for the baby Christians. So who are the baby Christians? Most Christians make a commitment to God in their teens or early twenties. For that reason churches need to be making adjustments so those in that age group can have their needs met. Not a happy thought for many older Christians.

We should not be asking spiritual babies to make sacrifices. Consequently if we are over twenty-five we are the ones who are suppose to be mature and therefore most called upon to make sacrifices. "… because he (Jesus) laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" 1 John 3:16. Mature Christians are the ones who lay down their preferences for the sake of their brothers, that is, other Christians. Sometimes, rather surprisingly, this is easier with the big things. We might make a big financial sacrifice to help overseas missions or we might make a big sacrifice in terms of time to help a struggling family get better organized. Yet we are also called to make sacrifices in the daily decisions of our lives. The question needs to be asked, what am I laying down for "my brothers" in my own family? And in the life of my church community? Laying down our preference for the style of church service we prefer is one practical way we could make this sacrifice.

One of the evidences of spiritual maturity is sacrifice. We sacrifice not because we are doormats or want to avoid conflict but because we are motivated by God’s sacrificial love.

This post is part of a synchroblog on the topic of "Discussing Maturity in the Light of our Faith". You can see the posts from the other synchrobloggers by clicking on the links below:

Phil Wyman at Square No More with "Is Maturity Really What I Want?"
Lainie Petersen at Headspace with "Watching Daddy Die"
Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head with what's inside the bunny?
John Smulo at JohnSmulo.com with "Christian Maturity"
Erin Word at Decompressing Faith with Long-Wearing Nail Polish and Other Stories
Beth Patterson at The Virtual Teahouse with "the future is ours to see: crumbling like a mountain"
Bryan Riley at Charis Shalom with "Still Complaining"
Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church with "Maturity and Education"
KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent with "Putting the spiritual infants in charge"
Bethany Stedman at Coffee Klatch with "Moving Towards True Being: The Long Process of Maturity"
Adam Gonnerman at Igneous Quill with "Old Enough to Follow Christ?"
Joe Miller at More Than Cake with "Intentional Relationships for Maturity"
Jonathan Brink at JonathanBrink.com with "I Won't Sin"
Tracy Simmons at The Best Parts with "Knowing Him Who is From the Beginning"
Joseph Speranzella at A Tic in the Mind's Eye with "Spiritual Maturity And The Examination of Conscience"
Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes with "Vulnerable Maturity"
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules with "What I Wish The Church Knew About Spiritual Maturity"
Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations with "post-enlightenment Christians in an unenlightened South Africa"
Steve Hayes at Khanya with "Adult Content"
Ryan Peter at Ryan Peter Blogs and Stuff with "The Foundation For Ministry and Leading"
Lew A at The Pursuit with "Maturity and Preaching"
Kai Schraml at Kaiblogy with "Mature Virtue"
Nic Paton at Sound and Silence with "Inclusion and Maturity"

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 19:15

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Casesar,” the chief priests answered. John 19:15

In 1 Samuel 8* Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king. Samuel knew it was not what God wanted but the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they rejected me as their king” (v.7).

The Israelites rejected God as their king and here the chief priests reject Jesus as their king. I remember reading someone's response to Jesus' Kingship which went something like this: "I don't mind Jesus being King as long as I'm Prime Minister". However Jesus is not a ceremonial King. He is Lord. The word for Lord in the Greek is the same word as the word for owner. Jesus is our Owner as Paul reminds us, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price" 1 Corinthians 6:19. Today we still find people rejecting Jesus’ Kingship, both inside and outside the church.

Since Jesus is King he has plans, a timetable and an agenda which will bring about God's purposes. However His plans are not like my plans. My plans are small, short term, stress relieving plans design to make my life more comfortable whereas God's plans are to restore, redeem and to recreate the world. My comfort is not high on God's agenda! He wants me to grow more Christ-like even if I just want a quiet life. However God's purposes are not thwarted by my lack of interest. He continues to work in my life bringing people and situations across my path designed to shape me into the person he wants me to be and he will continue to do the same for you.

*Thanks Jon for pointing out to me the connection between these two verses.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Book Review : The Novelist

The Novelist is the story of a Christian mother and writer, Jordan, who decides to spend a semester teaching a community college class on the topic, “An Introduction to Novel Writing”. Jordan decides the best way to teach the class how to write a novel is to actually write one over the course of the semester and engage her students in the progress. The book she writes for her students is unlike anything she has ever written before as it is more personal and more Christian in nature. The script of this book is included in “The Novelist” as it is interspersed between the happenings in Jordan’s real life and often parallels her life. At this time Jordan’s life is taking a rather traumatic turn as her son’s behaviour causes her more and more concern.

Consequently, The Novelist is cleverly written as we are treated to two stories in one book. The pacing and timing of going from Jordan’s story to her real life is dealt with very well. Angela Hunt’s also does a great job of describing Jordan’s conflicts with her troubled son. Jordan wrestles with the Sovereignty of God but eventually comes to a deeper understanding of God’s purposes and to a place of peace.

It is an absorbing story and as an added bonus, while we are reading how Jordan teaches her college class, we learn how to write a novel!

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 18:11

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” John 18:11.

Just prior to the soldiers arriving Jesus had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). In response to his prayer an angel had appeared from heaven and strengthened him.

These verses show us Jesus’ willingness to obey his Father’s will even, when it clashed with his own desires. He kept on praying until he was willing to lay down his life. It was not something he did lightly or something that was out of his control. He had been fully aware the time would come for him to lay down his life and foretold it in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus doesn’t just say he loves us but demonstrates it by his willingness to lay down his life. When I think of the cross and the significance of the events that took place there, I am overwhelmed with a God who loves like that. It makes any sacrifice on my part seem small and inadequate.

These verses also show us the Father’s response to his prayer; he sent an angel to strengthened Jesus. God does not always rescue us from difficult circumstances. More often he equips us to cope in the circumstances. It necessitates a willingness on our part to receive God’s comfort and support. We will not find God’s comfort if our prayers are solely focused on God removing “the cup” from us. However as we are open to God, we will become more aware of his presence coming to us to strengthen and comfort us in our times of trial.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Book Review : The Road to Malambanyama

The road to Malambanyama is Phyllis Beattie’s diary notes of the seven months she spent in Africa with her husband, Andrew. Upon Andrew’s retirement as an accountant, they volunteered to help with the distribution of grain to drought affected areas of Zambia, overseeing the Australian government’s funding of this project and the Australian Baptist World Aid’s administration of the distribution.

The value of this book lies in the fact that it is a diary. It is not the highlights of the trip or an overview; it is not romanticized or fictionalized. It is a real life, day by day account. Consequently we are given insights into the normal daily events of life in rural Africa. The job Andrew and Phyllis are asked to do is only half the story. Not only are they involved in the distribution of grain and arranging the deepening of wells; they also undertake a number of other jobs not listed on their job descriptions. As they had access to a vehicle they were often the taxi and errand runner, plus the emergency medical transport at any hour of the day or night. Then there were days where nothing happened—bad weather, broken equipment, bureaucratic red tape, and fluctuating power supplies cause many delays and sometimes there was literally nothing to do.

Since this book is written as a diary it is immensely practical and conveys the real feel of a mission situation. Anyone contemplating going on any kind of overseas mission should read this book!

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 14:1

"Trust in God; trust also in me." John 14:1

Twice in this chapter Jesus gives the directive, "Do not let your hearts be troubled" (v.1 & 27). The second time he adds, "And do not be afraid." Jesus gives us the responsibility of not allowing our hearts to be troubled or afraid. However He doesn't leave us floundering He tells us how to not be troubled. "Trust me", he says. Sounds simple enough but we soon find it is easier to be troubled than to trust.

When we trust in God, we are not actually trusting God to remove all our difficulties. Rather we are trusting him to be our sustainer in the difficulties. We are trusting God to give us the wisdom and guidance to know what to do in any situation believing He is in control of all our circumstances.

There is a famous scene from the C.S. Lewis', The lion, the witch and the wardrobe where Mr. Beaver is talking about Aslan, the lion who represents God. Lucy is a bit concerned about meeting a lion and asks if he is "quite safe". Mr. Beaver responds, "Safe? Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn't safe. But he's good."

We would like God to rescue us from our troubles but God has not promised us a life of safety. He has promised us His presence, His grace and His wisdom. He has also promised never to leave us or forsake us and that is enough.

We trust God, not because he is safe or promises us a life of safety but because he is good. We trust in the character of God, knowing an all good God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our capacity or tried beyond endurance. He knows what we can bear.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

What I've been reading ...

Over the weekend I read, The Novelist by Angela Hunt. It is a cleverly written book which I’ll review later but for now I want to share this quote with you. My hope is that you will think about the times you have felt this way and feel comforted knowing that others have felt the same.

Hunt has the protagonist, a Christian mother struggling with her troubled son say, “How many times in the last few days have I looked toward heaven and demanded to know why I’ve been dealt such a difficult hand? … I don’t know. I don’t understand. And I don’t like not knowing and not understanding. I want the details to be spelled out; I want the boundaries of my life path painted in fluorescent orange with easy-to-read road sings along the way.” Pg. 257

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Long Preparation, Short Performance

The Olympics has kept me from my usual book reading the last couple of weeks. This is the first Olympics in a very long time that we did not have any children at home and I found it much harder to keep up with the favourites, the Australian athletes, the number of medals etc. Still it was good to see a number of Aussies doing well and I liked the gymnastics whoever was performing.

It got me thinking about the years of preparation that go into the Olympics, and then it is all over so quickly. Makes me think that God also takes a lot of time preparing us for our role(s) in life and sometimes those roles may not last very long either; yet they are important in the larger scheme of things, but we may not realize it at the time. In fact we may never realize it this side of heaven.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 17:3

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” John 17:3.

This is an interesting definition of eternal life—knowing God. The definition that is more likely to spring to our minds when we think of eternal life, is heaven. Yet maybe even our definition of heaven isn’t big enough. In the gospels the phrase kingdom of heaven seems to be the same as the kingdom of God, meaning God's reign is heaven. This means heaven more than just a place. Heaven is where God is in charge, where his will is done. We pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We are praying earth will be more like heaven. We are praying for God to reign on earth.

Eternal life is not just something we get when we die, it starts the moment we become a Christian. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). From the moment Jesus comes into our lives we begin to experience eternal life. Jesus described it as water “… but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

As we thirst after God and grow in our love and knowledge of him, we experience more of Jesus. We become more aware of his reign in our own lives and we want his reign to be more evident in others as well as in the world.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Book Review : The Waterdogs

The Waterdogs (Ark House, 2004) is the first of a three books series. It tells the story of a Christian school teacher who moves to a small town in the Mallee district in Victoria, Australia. She is a city girl who learns to adjust to life in this farming district and along the way uncovers something of her own history. The book has a great plot and is an interesting read. However I often found the dialogue contrived. The author, Jennifer Moore, seems to be cramming too much into the conversations. My only other criticism would be in regard to a letter the main character receives about two thirds of the way through the book. The reader is not given enough hints as to the contents prior to her receiving it so it does not create the intrigue the author intends. Apart from these minor criticisms it is very pleasant to read a story with a Christian base that is set in Australia, and in my own home state. A rare find indeed!

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 16:33

“Jesus answered … ‘In this world you will have trouble’” John 16:33.

I wonder if the disciples were shocked when Jesus said this? After all, by this time they had seen Jesus perform many miracles—water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, people healed, and raised from the dead. Why would the disciples expect trouble when God could work miracles? Furthermore Jesus had told them to ask “for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

The real key is in the first half of the verse, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” In Jesus we have peace. We don’t necessarily have peace in our circumstances but we can always have peace in Jesus. God could prevent difficulties but rather he chooses to let us experience His peace in the midst of them. Being at peace in a difficult situation is a miracle in itself because it shows the world we are trusting in God; it also adds to the devil’s demise. When we trust God in difficult circumstances we demonstrate our belief in something greater and more enduring than temporary relief from our problems. We believe God is doing a work that has eternal consequence. We are relying on Paul's words which tells us, “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Nevertheless it is important for us to believe God not only has the ability to perform miracles but does perform miracles from time to time. This gives us the faith to know God is indeed powerful and compassionate. However, whether God intervenes directly in our circumstances or not we know, “his works are perfect, and all his ways are just” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Let’s choose to trust Him and avail ourselves of His peace.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Have you read ... ?

I read 2-3 books per month so it is difficult to remember where I read something. At the moment I am trying to find a story I read, maybe ten years ago, I want to cite it in my writing. These days I try to keep track of stories and illustrations that I might want to quote at a later date but back then I wasn’t writing much so it didn’t occur to me to keep records. Anyway I was wondering if there is someone out there in cyberspace who might have read the same story and can give me some clues as to who wrote it. Here’s what I remember:

There was a man whose life was chaotic because of various addictions. He was trying to get his life back on track. One day he was sitting in an arm chair reading the Bible when he felt God say to him, “if you were never able to move from this chair and do another thing for Me, I would not love you any less than I do right now.” He suddenly realized he did not have to do things to earn God’s approval. Ultimately it was this realization that gave him the strength to break his addictions.

Of course, with the passage of time, my mind may have added or subtracted from the original story. About the time I read this story I was reading a lot of Neil Anderson's books. However I have checked many of his books and couldn't find this particular story. If you have any ideas please leave a comment or send me an email, thanks.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 15:14-15

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master's business. John 15:14-15.

It is a remarkable position God puts us in, no longer called servants but friends. Elsewhere we find we are no longer orphans but God's children. In Hebrews we read, "Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters (2:11). "We are not only God's friends, but Jesus' brothers and sisters by divine intervention. Not by anything we have achieved but rather because God has chosen to make us holy. Thus we are in God's family alongside Jesus who is also holy not because God made him holy but because He always has been. Earlier in John we find, "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you" 14:20. So we see God places us in this privilege position.

From this position God wants us to know His "business". Jesus tells us "everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." Some days we may think we haven't a clue as to what God is doing. However we do know about God's long term plans. We know God's purpose is to bring people into a closer relationship with Him. We know God's purpose in sending Jesus was "to destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8). We know God is working towards a culmination where everyone will acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord (Philippians 1:11).

While we may not know the day to day details of God's plans, we can trust Him because we know the end result is good.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Book Review : The film club, pt 2

As promised a couple of quotes from, The film club.

I identify with this first quote because I often like to know how a movie or a book ends before I see it/read it and it doesn't spoil it for me if I know how it ends.

(Regarding movies) … the second time you see something is really the first time. You need to know how it ends before you can appreciate how beautifully it's put together from the beginning.
~ The film club (Ebury Press, 2008) by David Gilmour pg. 44

I identify with this second quote because I have had teenage sons!

In response to his father's question, "What the hell were you thinking?" Gilmour writes this about his son: "He didn't answer. You could see he was racing around inside his head, ripping open doors and cupboards, looking for the right thing to say."
~ The film club (Ebury Press, 2008) by David Gilmour pg. 56

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Book Review : The film club

The National Post describes David Gilmour as "a brave writer and a brave father". I would have to agree. In his book, The film club (Ebury Press, 2008), Gilmour tells the story of how he allowed his son to drop out of high school on the proviso he watched three films a week of his father's choosing. The book covers the three year period Gilmour and his son watched movies together. Fortuitously during this time Gilmour was experiencing a career shift and had spare time on his hands. Gilmour had at one time worked as a film critic for a television show, he knew about films. The films he chose were mostly classics of one sort or another. Gilmour knew about the plots, the sub-plots, the directors and even the camera men. Watching movies with his son soon became the back drop for a multitude of conversations about life, work, women, drink, drugs, sex and in the process his son grows up.

Not only is Gilmour brave in allowing his son to drop out of school, he is also brave in sharing his story publicly. He tells the story well, sharing his reservations and doubts in an honest and slightly humorous way. He is not afraid of sharing his embarrassments and his own failures. Thereby making a story which is easy to relate to, especially if you have ever been the parent of a teenage boy.

Tomorrow I'll share a couple of my favourite lines.

Please note since I usually review Christian books, I just want to make it clear this is not a Christian book and as such contains bad language and bad morals – but nevertheless it is a great story!

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 14:11

"… or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves." John 14:11

Jesus' miracles were object lessons he used to encourage faith. Jesus wanted people to consider His miracles so they would believe in Him. Previously Jesus said to the Jews, "even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father" (10:38) also "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe" (11:14-15). Miracles are signs which point to God. They tell us about His compassion, His power and His grace.

Seeing miracles will not necessarily create faith. In Exodus 14:31 after the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea on dry land, we read the people put their trust in the Lord because they had seen "the great power of the Lord displayed". However three days later, in Exodus 15:22-24, the people grumbled because of lack of water. This is one of the many times when the people of Israel saw God's miracles and then forgot. They didn't allow God's miracles to teach them God could be trusted to take care of them.

Moses was different. He saw what God did and consider it. Moses trusted God in the hard times because He had learnt from the miracles he had seen. In Exodus 33:13 Moses had prayed – "teach me your ways" and in Psalm 103:7 we see this answer, "He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel". This verse tells us Moses knew God's ways, the people of Israel only ever knew God's deeds. They didn't allow God's deeds to teach them God's ways.

Far better to know God's ways than only his deeds.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Book Review : The Living Church

John Stott is a well respected pastor and teacher. In his book, The living church (Inter-Varsity Press 2007), he presents his ideas on church. He very obviously loves the church. I found it refreshing to read about the strengths of traditional churches when there is so much negative talk about the church today. Stott does not white wash current church problems but rather paints a picture of what the church can be.

Stott covers all the essential ingredients of church life giving insights from Bible passages. I particularly enjoyed his emphasis on worship and the fleshing out of his statement, "worship is the church's preeminent duty". Stott also believes in the value of small groups where people can experience true fellowship. Towards the end of the book he discusses the church as salt and light. This was by far the most challenging chapter as he points out if society is becoming corrupt it is because the church is not being salt and light to its community. Stott includes several appendices which are largely autobiographical. Stott had his 80th birthday in 2001 and these appendices provide further insights into his thinking.

Overall I found this to be a very hopeful and encouraging book.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 13:35

I wrote something very similar when I wrote about Mark 3:16 some time ago but I thought it was worth a rerun.

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

When we look at the twelve disciples Jesus chose it quickly becomes apparent they were not naturally going to love one another. In fact they had every reason to disintegrate into factions. Jesus chose several to be disciples who were Zealots. Zealots were a political group who believed the best way to be free of Roman oppression was through armed revolt. Zealots hated the very presence of Romans in their land and hated those who cooperated with them … like tax collectors.

When Jesus appointed the disciples he actually chose two people called James. There was James, the brother of John, and James, the son of Alphaeus. Bible historians believe this second James was also a Zealot. In Mark 2:14 we discover Matthew, the tax collector, is also the son of Alphaeus. It is quite likely James and Matthew were brothers. However they are never mentioned together perhaps because they were diametrically opposed to each other.

Not only did Jesus have Zealots and tax collectors as disciples but also a couple of fishermen in need of anger management (Luke 9:54) and one who was so quick to speak he didn't always know what he was saying (Mark 9:6)! Yet Jesus managed to galvanize this group by focusing on the thing they had in common. They all wanted to see God's kingdom come and were prepared to put aside their prejudices and agendas for the sake of the kingdom.

God continues to choose people who do not naturally work well together. The challenge for us as God's people is to show our love for one another by putting aside our prejudices and agendas for the bigger purposes of God's kingdom.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Book Review : You see bones : I see an army

Floyd McClung has lived and ministered in many different geographical settings around the world. From his experiences McClung wishes to pass on many of the life-lessons he has learned in regard to the church, leadership and mission. His book, You See Bones (David C Cook, 2007), is divided into five parts which corresponds to his five core beliefs. These are: Simple church; Courageous leadership; Focused obedience; Apostolic passion and Making disciples. These issues are relevant and important to the Christian church and should be given much thought.

McClung believes in a simple church model which is low maintenance and easily reproduced. While this is a good idea it does not suit all cultures which McClung does acknowledge. Nevertheless we do need to consider whether our situation would be better suited to a simple church model and would this be more effective in terms of reaching people outside the church than what we are currently doing.

McClung moves on to talk about leadership. His concerns lie in the area of the authority, privilege and status we give our leaders in the West and how this lines up with the servant leadership that Jesus taught. Next McClung writes about those things which distract us from God's mission and those we need to do to stir up our passion. Finally McClung writes about making disciples. The model Jesus gave us of making disciples means as well as teaching others we need to be giving leadership opportunities to new believers maybe even seekers.

Overall I found McClung's writing to be challenging and inspiring.

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