Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book Review : The Bait of Satan

The Bait of Satan (Charisma House, 2004) was first published in 1994 and has been republished several times since. John Bevere writes in a confronting way and at times he is quite abrupt. I personally would have preferred a more gentle approach. Nevertheless Jesus himself was sometimes confronting and abrupt particularly to the religious people of his day. Likewise I feel Bevere is addressing those people who have spent most of their lives in churches.

The book discusses the whole issue of offense, both how to avoid giving offense and why it is important not to take offense or to hold onto grudges, insults and hurts. He explains how seriously Jesus views unforgiveness and highlights Jesus' teaching in this area. Bevere's most startling claim was God sometimes allows people the opportunity of being offended in order to develop their faith or to move them out of a place where God hasn't directed them.

In regard to not giving offense, Bevere makes it clear that sometimes it will be unavoidable because people were offended with Jesus and therefore they will be offended with us. However there are occasions when we need to put aside our own rights in order not to unnecessarily offend others.

There is much good teaching in this book and Bevere shares many examples from the lives of others as well as his own life. He is not afraid to admit making mistakes which I found encouraging.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 14:27

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." John 14:27

The world gives a fragile peace which requires constant effort to avoid conflict whereas God gives peace as a gift. We don't have to avoid difficult situations or difficult people in order to be at peace. However we can only experience God's peace if we know God is Sovereign and therefore there is no need to worry.

In The Message, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 reads, "Stay calm." Again we can only stay calm if we know God is in control and nothing can happen without His knowledge or permission. However it requires great trust in God to stay calm in circumstances which would normally cause us to panic.

In the Old Testament it is often mentioned that people tore their clothes when tragedy struck. It was a way of expressing grief and distress. But the priests were not allowed to tear their clothes, (Leviticus 21:10). In fact, the priests' clothes were to be made in such a way that would prevent accidental tearing, (Exodus 28:32). Today we are "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) and therefore we have the directive not to "tear our clothes". This means we are not to fall apart emotionally when trouble or tragedy strikes. We need never regard anything as a disaster. We can always cope.

Furthermore as royal priests we can "approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us", (Hebrews 4:16). God is in control. He is not taken by surprise. No problem is too hard for him. Nothing is so distressing that we can't handle it because His grace is sufficient for any crisis. We can stay calm and accept God's peace.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review : If you want to walk on water

John Ortberg in, If you want to walk on water, you've got to get out of the boat (Thorndike Press, 2003) employs the expression "getting out of the boat" to talk about God challenging us to move out of our spiritual comfort zone. Most of the book is based around the story of Peter in Matthew 14 where Peter does for a short time walk on water before calling out to Jesus to save him. Ortberg brings out many good points from this one incident as well as using other stories in the Bible to support his arguments.

I particularly like the way he handles finding your area of ministry. He understands finding your niche can take time as well as a few false starts. He has a lot of helpful things to say and interesting stories to tell. (I was a touch critical of Bill Hybels in Holy Discontent on this point as I felt he made it sound too easy but I found Ortberg's approach more realistic.) Ortberg addresses many of the challenges we face when we venture into new areas of ministry – fear, discouragement, negative opinions from others and various other obstacles. He gives good advice and practical examples in these areas.

This book is like many of John Ortberg's books encouraging, down to earth, full of good stories and easy to read however I found this one more challenging than his others, but perhaps that says more about me than the book!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4

… so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4

The Message puts these verses this way: "Not that the troubles should come as any surprise to you. You've always known that we're in for this kind of thing. It's part of our calling. When we were with you, we made it quite clear that there was trouble ahead."

Paul taught new believers to expect trouble - "it's part of our calling". So did Jesus, He told his disciples quite bluntly, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). The Christian life is not about living in such a way as to avoid trouble but rather having a strength in our lives that keeps us at peace during the trouble. Immediately prior to telling his disciples they will have trouble Jesus says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace" (John 16:33). Notice it is "… in me you may have peace". Not peace in the world but rather we will have the peace of God, "which transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7) regardless of the situation.

If we give new believers the impression their troubles will be over when they become Christians it can destroy their faith when troubles do come. In the parable of the sower those believers who quickly fell away when trouble came are described as having no roots (Matthew 13:20-21). We need to teach them like Jesus and Paul there will be troubles but as believers we have the resources to cope. God has promised His strength, His peace and His presence to enable us to endure any crisis.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review : Conflict Free Living

The title, Conflict Free Living (Charisma House, 2008), implies that one can live without ever experiencing conflict, yet this is not what the author, Joyce Meyer, means. She believes we are meant to live without the conflict of our circumstances entering our minds and heart. If we develop our trust for God sufficiently we can be at peace regardless of the situation. Joyce shares how she has learned to almost always be at peace. She recognizes it is not easy or quick to get to this place but well worth the effort.

The book is divided into three parts. Part one, Identifying the telltale signs, looks at areas where conflict enters our lives. Part two, Healing troubled relationships which looks at acceptance, forgiveness and how to disagree agreeably. I enjoyed part three the most as Joyce looked at, Unleashing God's power and blessing. Where she looks at operating from a position of peace and trust in God. There is an excellent chapter on spiritual warfare which focuses on "submitting to God" rather than the more usual approach of "resisting the devil".

I appreciated Joyce honest approach as she shares some of the mistakes she made both as a wife and mother. I also appreciated the way she acknowledges it is a process and not achieved without growing pains.

Conflict Free Living was previously published as Life Without Strife in 1995, 2000.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 Thessalonians 2:8

... we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well ... 1 Thessalonians 2:8

I read somewhere Philippians was Paul most personal letter yet as I have been reading Thessalonians lately, I disagree. There is so much in Thessalonians which is personal. This is somewhat surprising as it appears Paul only spent a very short time with them (Acts 17:2) yet he has connected with them emotionally as well as spiritually. Later when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the Macedonians (which actually includes both the Philippians and Thessalonians) he said, "And they went beyond our expectations; having given themselves first of all to the Lord, they gave themselves by the will of God also to us" 2 Corinthians 8:5.

God included in the New Testament letters this emotional connection. It demonstrates God expects us to develop strong relationships with other believers. Over the last couple of months Selwyn Hughes' writings in Every Day With Jesus have covered the topic of "The Nature of the Spiritual Journey". One of the steps in our spiritual journey Selwyn identifies is, developing interpersonal relationships. Selwyn writes this, "I regarded other people as the cause of many of my problems. But then I realised that relationships do not so much cause problems as reveal problems." Relationships teach us about our willingness to be Christ-like. Relationships give us the opportunity of expanding our understanding of God.

It is important we share our lives with other believers. However the number of people we can share deeply with, is limited. Nevertheless we need to have a few believers in our lives who are also dear friends. Paul sets the example we are not just to share issues of faith with each other but also our very lives.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

What I have been reading lately

As usual I've been reading Every Day With Jesus by Selwyn Hughes. The last two months he has been discussing, The Nature of the Spiritual Journey. He wrote about eight things which he believes are "The irreducible minimum of what I believe is vital for movement towards God." I found the list quite interesting, hope you do too:

1. Develop Biblical holiness
2. Develop an understanding of suffering
3. Develop interpersonal relationships
4. Learn to live in the light of eternity
5. Learn to live with mystery
6. Develop a clear understanding of repentance
7. Develop a rich devotional life
8. Share your faith

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Book review : People in glass houses

People in glass houses : an insider's story of a life in & out of Hillsong (Black Inc. 2007) is Tanya Levin's perception of Hillsong Church in Sydney. Her impressions are somewhat limited by the fact she only attended regularly for five years between 1985-1989 when she was a teenager. After that she attended spasmodically. Consequently the book has a narrow perspective. It appears her adolescent opinions have been set in concrete and it seems she only looked for information which would confirm those thoughts. Further research mainly focused on a dozen or so people who were disillusioned with the church and unfortunately overlooked the thousands who were happy, including her own parents who have attended for over 20 years.

Tanya's hostile attitude appears to stem from the fact she couldn't manipulate God into running the world the way she wanted. In particular she was immensely disappointed about not getting into a law course at university, despite trying to earn favours with God by prayer and fasting. I am mystified as to how Tanya came to have such a warped idea about God.

I have been to Hillsong a few times when on family holidays. I have read their material. I have family and friends who have attended their conferences. Pentecostal churches do not suit everyone's temperament, they don't suit mine though I enjoy the occasional visit. Tanya seemed to enjoy some time she spent with the Salvation Army and why she didn't continue in that branch of Christianity is another mystery.

The only explanation I found for the apparent cynical tone of the book is a conversation she had with one of the pastors while attending Hillsong. He told her that God wanted to deal with her past hurts and rejections. Tanya neither denies nor explains this yet she certainly writes like someone who is deeply hurt. At one point Tanya writes, "I didn't really know when I had become a Christian" and I wondered, is it because she never has?

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Devotional Thought : Revelation 12:11

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Revelation 12:11

In this verse we are given three ways of overcoming the devil, yet often we concentrate on two, by "the blood of the Lamb" and "the word of their testimony". The third way is not to love our lives "so much as to shrink from death" which we probably associate more with martyrs yet there is an important truth here for us.

We become an easy target for the devil when we cling too tightly to the things of the world. We easily forget this world is not our permanent home and we are only "aliens and strangers on earth" (Hebrews 11:13). We have a tendency to hold onto those things which give us comfort and security, like our homes, our jobs, our friends, our health, our possessions, our ministry at church or in the community. If we want to overcome the devil we need to hold these things loosely. When we are not shrinking from the 'death' of losing things which are precious to us, the devil is defeated. He cannot attack us with the fear of losing things because he knows we have nothing to lose.

Spiritually it is not easy to get to the place where we have nothing to lose. Firstly we need to have a firm belief that God is truly Sovereign. Nothing happens without his knowledge or permission. Secondly we need a strong belief in God's intrinsic goodness. God is good regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Our comfort and security needs to come from knowing we can't lose the thing which is most precious, that is our relationship with God.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

What I like about you

Jim Lehmer, at Lord I Believe, Help My Unbelief has posed the following question:

"If you attend a church (traditional, house church, pub church, whatever), name three things you genuinely like about it. If you don't have a place you call "church" right now then name three things that if you see them in a gathering will tell you that you've finally found what you're looking for."

Last week, during my long drive I thought about this question and came up with these three things that I genuinely like about the church I currently attend:
1. There are people who have a heart for God
This has nothing to do with a person's theological perspective but rather an attitude that recognizes life is about God and His kingdom. It shows itself when people put God's preferences before their own.
2. There are people who have a heart for worship which shows itself through singing worshipful songs
It doesn't particular matter how well they sing/play or what they sing though generally these people like to sing newer songs, probably because one of the ways God speaks to His church is by bring it new songs.
3. There are people who have a heart for the lost
These people will commit to praying for those who don't have a relationship with God and will seek ways to build relationships with them.

Of course some of the people are in all three categories which isn't surprising because they tend to overlap. Others are in none and that's ok too.

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