Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 Samuel 30:8

So David inquired of the Lord, saying, "Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?" And He answered him, "Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all." 1 Samuel 30:8 (NKJV)

For me the most interesting word in this verse is the word "all". God told them they would recover all the enemy had taken and, of course, they did.

Often I hear people taking about past events with an attitude that says they will never completely recover. Events such as abuse or suffering or great loss, some feel the pain of these past events has been so traumatic and the pain so great that complete recovery is impossible. The enemy would reinforce this belief and tell us our lives are irreparable.

We may have scars from past events but scars are painless. Scars are merely reminders they don't stop us from performing in the future. If our scars are hindering us then we still need God to heal us. There is a lot more that can be recovered.

But recovery is difficult. We need to acknowledge the depth of our pain. We need to consider what we contributed to the event and ultimately we need to forgive those concerned. Generally it is a process and healing is gradual. However there is a lot more healing available in God then we generally avail ourselves of. Often we don't want to do the hard work of working through the issues.

In Matthew 5:3-10 we are given God's prescription of the attitudes we need to adopt to experience His blessing in our lives. As we adopt these attitudes we will experience more and more healing in our lives.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Australian Open Tennis

Tonight is the final match of the Australian Open. I enjoy watching tennis and look forward to it each year. I also look forward to it being over and getting my life back from the TV set! I don't watch a lot of TV during the year but in January I make up for it. It's fortunate the Open is played during January where people are either on holidays or in a holiday frame of mind if they are working. Come February everything that was in recess, including church activities, starts up again so watching tennis is a nice way to relax before the year really starts.

I have never really played tennis myself apart from the occasion 'hit' so it's a little surprising that I like to watch it. It is not so much the physical aspect of the game that I take pleasure from, though some of the shots are really amazing but it is the mental side of the game I find fascinating, especially with a scoring system that is so bizarre. I find it inspiring watching the determination of the players. (I like watching cricket for similar reasons because despite being a team sport it is very much made up of individual performances, since everyone has to bat. The final day of a golf tournament has a similar appeal.)

I've seen players keep going when they aren't playing well, when it is hot and sometimes, when they are injured. Time and time again I've watched players staring defeat in the face and yet they never give up. Sometimes they still lose the match, but sometimes they find another way to win or their sheer persistence and determination wears down their opponent.

I find lots of parallels between sport and the spiritual life.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Book Review : Star Sullivan

More from my holiday reading:

Maeve Binchy has written Star Sullivan (Orion, 2006) as part of a series of books called, Quick Reads, which are books that are about 100 pages long. These books provide the opportunity for readers to gain a small taste of the writing styles of different authors without having to commit to reading several hundred pages. This is ideal for people like me who are picky about the type of fiction they like to read.

I very much enjoyed Star Sullivan which is basically a character study of a young girl, nicknamed Star. Star is portrayed as a kind hearted girl who wants to help others. However as the story progresses we realize that her motives for helping others is actually selfish. She just wants to avoid conflict and so rescues people from the consequences of their actions. Eventually she is force to face the negative consequences of her rescuing attempts and realizes that she is only creating more difficulties for the people she cares about.

The story ends with a more mature Star who allows people the freedom to deal with their own problems rather than interfering in an attempt to keep the peace.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Book Review : Hidden in Plain Sight, pt 2

Mark Buchanan believes we often miss the obvious teaching in Scripture because we are expecting something complicated or obscure whereas the path to a more fruitful satisfying Christian life is not hidden but obvious hence the title of his latest book: Hidden in plain sight : the secret of more (Thomas Nelson, 2007). Buchanan writes mostly about Peter using many incidents from the three years he spent with Jesus, along with the instructions in Peter's letters. In particular he devotes a chapter to each of the seven virtues that Peter records in 2 Peter 1:5-7. These are goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. He expands on their meaning and includes other Scriptures to reinforce the teaching in these verses.

In the first few verses of Peter's second letter he tells his readers we have "everything we need for life" therefore we ought to "make every effort to add to your faith" which may sound like a contradiction. However Buchanan explains it is like being given everything you need to build a house, that is all the materials and equipment, but you need to make an effort to actually build the house. Likewise God has given us everything we need but we are also required to make an effort.

I have enjoyed all of Buchanan's books and this is no exception. He brings fresh insights and great stories to his writings.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Book review : Hidden in Plain Sight, pt 1

While on holidays I read several books including, Hidden in plain sight : the secret of more by Mark Buchanan (Thomas Nelson, 2007). Here's a quote that really confirms my own thoughts (and also, I think, explains the whole book of Job, as well as a whole lot more, particularly in regard to suffering):

The godly live with an awareness that the real drama takes place elsewhere, in a realm beyond the visible the world. The main audience is cosmic, not earthly, angelic and demonic, not human. They believe that we are engaged in something much bigger than ourselves, bigger than earth can contain, bigger than mere humans can comprehend. They believe that their lives sometimes make little sense to the neighbors, or even to themselves, but that there is a throng of heavenly hosts watching with riveted, vested interest. The godly live in a way that makes angels cheer and demons quake.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Holiday Photos

Some other things I got up to on holidays. Playing hopscotch with a statue! and checking out the beaches.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hopman Cup

I took this photo during the deciding mixed doubles final with Serena Williams and Marty Fish at the far end playing Jelena Jankoviv and Novak Djokovic from Serbia.

I enjoyed the tennis at the Hopman Cup although the final was a bit of an anti climax as the Serbian team were somewhat restricted by injuries but put up a good fight nonetheless. There are plans to build a new stadium for this tournament modelled on the one they use at the Australian Open as the Hopman Cup is one of the lead up event for the Open. The new stadium will be much bigger and have a retractable roof. The reason I was keen to go to this tournament is that it is played under cover (since it is the middle of summer here) and it is a small event. (For the sake of comparison at the final of the Hopman Cup there were about 8,000 people, other matches were about half this, except for when the Australians were playing. On the first night session of the Australian Open the crowd was 14,000 - did I mention I don't like crowds!) So by building this new stadium they will effective eliminate the main reasons for me wanting to go! So I'm glad I went this year, I probably won't go again. I saw some well known players as well as some "lesser lights". There were some really good matches even though it was the first outing of the season for many of the players.

The Australian Open is now on. However I will try to spend some time around here catching up on everyone's news and not spend all of my free time watching TV!

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Devotional Thought : Psalm 55:12-13

This is the last in a series of 8 devotional thoughts about David. It looks at how the eighth beatitude, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness", is seen in David's life and considers David's reliance of God in times of persecusion.

"If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship". Psalm 55:12-13

It is hard to take when it is a friend turns against you. David experienced this and so did Jesus. At such times we need to have a deep conviction that God is in control of the situation. In I Samuel 23:14 we read that, "Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands". The word "but" in this context is very reassuring. God intervened. God is in control.

David writes this about the Lord in Psalm 18:17-18 "He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support" (Psalm 18:17-18). Again it is the Lord who intervened. This time strengthening and upholding David. Both these readings refer to the time when Saul was pursuing David and making life very difficult for David. Both verses contain the word ...but... telling us that God stepped in. God would not let David be defeated.

Knowing God is in control gives us the courage to keep going in tough situations even if it is our close friends that turn against us, run us down or simply refuse to stand up for us. Out of his experiences with Saul, David was able to write "In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do me?" (Psalm 56:11) May it be our testimony too.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Devotional Thought : 2 Samuel 9:1

This is the seventh in a series of 8 devotional thoughts about David. It looks at how the seventh beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers", is seen in David's life and considers David's peacemaking ability.

David asked, "'Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?'" 2 Samuel 9:1

It was customary to kill anyone left in the previous king's family so they would not be a threat to your reign. Yet here David does the exact opposite and arranges for Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son, to eat at his table. When David asked the same question of Ziba, Saul's servant, he changes "kindness" to "Gods' kindness". David had a heart to bring peace and show God's kindness to those undeserving of it. Mephibosheth describes himself as a "dead dog" but David had him seated at the king's table. Before we accepted Christ we could also be described as "dead dogs" but God brings us to His kingly table and "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

Not all David's attempts at showing kindness were successful. 2 Samuel 10:2 tells us, "David thought, 'I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me'." But this act of kindness is misunderstood and led to a battle. God's unending kindness towards us is also misunderstood and His gift of peace is not always accepted. Sometimes people think God's kindness makes Him soft so that He will let everyone into heaven, failing to understand that God is being patience giving everyone the opportunity of responding to the gospel. "God's kindness leads you towards repentance" (Romans 2:4).

Sometimes our attempts to show kindness and bring peace will also fail or be misunderstood. However this should not deter us as it doesn't deter God. "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Devotional Thought : Psalm 19:12-13

This is the sixth in a series of 8 devotional thoughts about David. It looks at how the sixth beatitude, "Blessed are the pure in heart", is seen in David's life and considers David's desire to have pure motives.

"Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me." Psalm 19:12-13

"Hidden faults" and "wilful sins" covers both the known and the unknown. In Leviticus there was a sin offering for both intentional and unintentional sins. Here we see that David wanted to have a pure heart before God and he understood that he was not always objective enough to discern his own faults.

To deal with sin we need to acknowledge it, confess it and repent. In order to deal with "hidden faults" we first need God to show us what our hidden faults are. David also wrote, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts" (Psalm 139:23). It is important that God does the searching. It is very easy to deceive ourselves into thinking our motives are pure but God can reveal to us our true intent.

Sometimes we can be busy pursuing a particular course of action and it may not even occur to us there is a problem with our attitude. For this reason part of our prayer time should be spent listening to God. In times gone by a prayer called the examen was prayed at the end of the day which required a person to think through the day with God and let him bring to mind any wrong thinking or attitudes as well as obvious sins.

It is challenging to let God search us, to purify not only our actions but the intentions of our heart, allowing God deal with both our "hidden faults" and "wilful sins". Will the next verse in Psalm 19 also be our prayer? "May the words of my mouth and the medication of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord."

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 Samuel 17:28

This is the fifth in a series of 8 devotional thoughts about David. It looks at how the fifth beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful", is seen in David's life and considers David's willingness to forgive.

"When Eliab, David's oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, 'Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle'." 1 Samuel 17:28

No reason is given for Eliab hostile reception of David. David had been sent by his father with provisions of food. David's response, "Now what have I done?" suggests this was not the first time his brother had been hostile towards him. There are other verses in the Old Testament that suggest David did not receive strong support from his family. Consider these two lines from Psalms that David wrote: "I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother's sons'" (Psalm 69:8) and "Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me" (Psalm 27:10).

We can only guess at the possible reasons for the tension. It seems that David had a strong faith from an early age and perhaps this made the family uncomfortable. Perhaps they didn't think David as the youngest should have been anointed by Samuel. Yet even in that incident David was not initially invited to the meeting with Samuel and Samuel had to ask Jesse, 'Are these all the sons you have?' (1 Samuel 16:11). Interestingly enough when David was sent by his father to visit his brothers a shepherd was found to mind the sheep (17:20) but not when Samuel visited.

While David must have had disappointments with his family, it didn't affect him in a negative way. David learnt to forgive those closest to him and move on. We need to do the same.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Devotional Thought : Psalm 63:1

This is the fourth in a series of 8 devotional thoughts about David. It looks at how the fourth beatitude, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness", is seen in David's life and considers David's desire for God.

"O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water." Psalm 63:1

David says he is thirsty for God in a land where there is no water. It sounds like David wants God more than he wants water. We need water on a daily basis do we desire God on a daily basis? Elsewhere in the Psalms we read, "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (Psalm 82:1-2)

How hungry are we for God to be impacting our daily lives? How thirsty are we for "the spring of living water" (Jeremiah 2:13) to be flowing through our lives and touching others? Our passion for God becomes a desire to do His will (Psalm 40:8).

We see this in David's life. In 2 Samuel 5:18-25 David inquired of the Lord regarding attacking the Philistines for the second time. David didn't take for granted that what God had told the first time would apply the next time. Such was David's desire to do things God's way.

God testified concerning him David: "I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do" (Psalm 13:22). That's an amazing testimony, David will do everything God wants him to do. David desired to do God's will even though there were times when he sinned still in David's heart the desire was there to do God's will. Are we as keen to do God's will?

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