Thursday, May 29, 2008

What is love?

A couple of weeks ago I lead communion at my church. This is what I said:

1 John 4:10 starts with the words, "This is love …" so John is about to describe love for us. But first he wants us to know what love is not. "This is love: not that we loved God". So he is saying here that what we feel towards God is not really love at all. So what is love? "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."

Our love for God is actual nothing in comparison to God's love for us. Real love is what God feels towards us; and He doesn't just say He loves us, He demonstrates his love by giving us His Son as a sacrifice.

Whenever we doubt God's love or goodness we simply have to think about the Cross. A God who would freely give up His own Son has to love us. A God who would freely give up His own Son isn't planning to ruin us, His intentions must be good.

As we take the bread and drink the cup, let's remember God's great love for us, that He would give His Son as our sacrifice. And let's open up our hearts to receive that love.

Let's pray:
Father God, We feel overwhelmed when we think about your great love for us. There aren't enough words to express our gratitude. The response you desire is for us to open our hearts and receive your love and so this day we do ... we receive your love. Thank you for sending Jesus as our sacrifice.
Thank you the Cross.
Thank you for your amazing love.
Amen

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 4:49-50

The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live." John 4:49-50

Jesus didn't do what the royal official asked. He asked Jesus to come, instead Jesus gave him a promise. If I was the royal official I would rather have Jesus come than just leave me with a promise. However the child was healed though not the way the royal official expected. I find Jesus quite often doesn't answer my prayers the way I expect!

As we read the Gospels we find there was no one way Jesus answered people's requests. Sometimes it was a word, sometimes it was a touch and sometimes it was a promise. Sometimes there is no record of the person even asking (John 5:6-7). God treats us as individuals.

There is much to be gained from reading testimonies and biographies of other people's experiences of God. Yet I have also discovered it does not mean God will do the same thing in my life as He does in others. We can't put God in a box and say, "You must answer this way". God's ways of imparting healing, guidance and direction are not necessarily going to be the same for all Christians. It is tempting to think God's directives are similar to a doctor's prescription. Doctors have a standard pattern for treating certain aliments, do this three times a day and you will get better. Yet even this is not always effective in the physical, not everyone's body responds the same way to particular medications. Even more so in the spiritual, God does not operate according to a predetermined prescription but rather what is best for each person.

God knows us individually so we can trust that His answers to us are the best.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Spell Checkers

Further to my post yesterday I read this last night in A Big-Enough God and thought it very amusing:

The spell-check programme on my word processor, which I have to say is both pagan and right-wing, does not care for the word 'sacred'. Every time I ran this text through the programme it wanted changed the word 'sacred' to the word 'scared'. I know that feeling, I have it; everyone in the Bible has it - they were always 'sore afraid' when they encounter the sacred: the Ark of the covenant, the burning bush, the angelic messenger, the authentic dream.

The author finishes on a more serious note:

... there is nothing much wrong (indeed there is rather a lot right) with this feeling, with reminding ourselves of the grandeur, the otherness of God, along with the tenderness and generosity. (pg. 123)

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

What I've been reading

I'm currently reading two books and struggling with both of them.

Firstly I'm reading, A Big-Enough God : artful theology by Sara Maitland which is an interesting read though a bit too academic for me. Nevertheless she makes some thought provoking statements like this:

What I'm going to do is tell you a few little stories, which show that scientists, far from pushing us into an apologetic God-of-the-Gaps sheepishness, are in fact opening up for us a vision of God infinitely greater, bigger, cleverer, wilder than our somewhat stunted imaginations have allowed us; a God who is not tamed and constricted by our definitions; a God who challenges us. (pg.50)

Secondly for some light relief I started reading, You See Bones I See an Army by Floyd McClung. However while I believe what he is saying is valid I'm having trouble connecting with it which may just be a cultural thing. Anyway I did like this bit:

Every church is made up of people, and people are fallen. Fallen people hurt and disappoint each other. We make mistakes. We sin. The closer we get to each other, the more we see each other's faults, and the more we can hurt each other. If we seek community with other followers of Jesus without an orientation to forgiveness and mercy, we will experience continual conflict and division ... Idealistic humanists don't do well in community, not because they are not perfect, but because they have not acknowledged their imperfections and received the forgiveness of God. If they have not received forgiveness, they will struggle to give it to others. (pg.25)

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 3:16

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …" John 3:16

Many people say they love someone, but does it show in their actions? If it doesn't show in their actions, it's not love. I read this quote by a psychologist: "If someone's actions repeatedly don't line up with their words, then believe their actions not their words." However with God it does show in His actions, "He gave His one and only Son".

In Ephesians 5:25 Paul gives this instruction: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." Again love is described in terms of action, particularly in terms of sacrifice. If someone is prepared to give up something precious for our sake then we know they really do love us.

God gave up the most precious thing of all, His one and Only Son – that's an enormous action, an enormous sacrifice. We can know beyond any shadow of doubt God really does love us. Furthermore since we have done nothing to earn God's love it also means we can do nothing to lose God's love. At night when the sun disappears from view we do not doubt its power to bring light and keep us warm so there is no need to doubt the warmth of God's love just because we do not always feel it.

Paul tells the Ephesians Christians he is praying for them to know how much they are loved. "I pray that you ... may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love … " Ephesians 3:17-19.

Let's also pray we may have the power to grasp the vastness of Christ's love.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Setback

Last week I received some feedback on the book I am writing which went like this: "The single most important piece of advice I can give you is to craft your illustrations with greater care and detail."

After my initial disappointment I realize this reviewer (whom I have never actually met) was right. I'm not that good at telling/writing illustrations and stories. I don't take the time to build the context and assume people know where I'm coming from. When I listen to other people's stories I often feel impatient wishing they would hurry up and get to the point. It's why I often skip ahead when I'm reading I want to know where someone's going, cut to the quick, get to the point.

A further part of my problem is I'm so accustom to writing articles that are about 300 words long, it is a massive leap to write a book of 50,000 words. I've learnt to condense my thoughts into 300 word blocks which doesn't work that well in a book.

Still it is not all bad news, the reviewer did say some nice things about my work and now I know what to fix, I only have to figure out how to fix it!

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Six Word Memoir

I was tagged by Wendy to participate in the Six Word Memoir meme:

1. Write the title to your own memoir using 6 words.
2. Post it on your blog.
3. Link to the person that tagged you.
4. Tag five more blogs.

This is not six words and it is not even original but then I don't believe John meant it to be exclusively his own:

A disciple whom Jesus loved
I'm now supposed to tag five other people but since I don’t like to tag people, if you are interested in this topic, consider yourself tagged.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 2:3-5

Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." … His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you". John 2:3-5

When Mary told Jesus there was no more wine he was not motivated to act. Yet Mary instructed the servants to, "do whatever he tells you". This was to become Jesus' first miracle so Mary had no historical grounds to believe Jesus would perform a miracle. Yet instinctively she knew Jesus could help.

However Jesus' response seems out of proportion to the need. Running out of wine at a wedding was a major social embarrassment but surely not serious enough to warrant a miracle? Jesus' first miracle wasn't to save someone from dying or heal someone with an incurable disease. That would come later. His first miracle was to turn six jars containing about 100 litres of water each into wine. This was an enormous quantity of wine. Furthermore it wasn't just wine but the best quality wine and this wasted on guests who it seems had already had enough to drink (v.10).

Two things stand out to me in this story. The quantity and quality of the wine speak of God's abundant provision. He doesn't just meet our needs. He wants to provide more than we can handle. Secondly it wasn't the size of the need that prompt Jesus to act but the size of Mary's faith. When we are prepared to trust the outcome to Jesus, not really knowing what He will do, we open the way for God's abundant provision.

Yet often we have limited outcomes in mind. We have expectations of how God ought to do to solve our difficulties. We would rather God solved our problems quickly and quietly but what if God wants to do more than we can handle?

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Seeing/Believing

I read this today on my desk calendar: To believe only what you see is to assume, say, a star is the same size as a frog. P.K. Shaw

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Never forget the Source

I have been going to a Bible study group where we are doing a study of David. The first study was about the fact that David never forgot where he came from. His family was not in line for the throne and even if they were he was the youngest of eight brothers. Yet God picked him out of obscurity and anointed him to be king. David never forgot it and it kept him humble. "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?" 2 Samuel 7:18

About the same time I read this: Never get so dazzled by success that you forget the source of everything you have, or become so caught up in your blessings that you fail to acknowledge the One who blessed you.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 1:21

They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not". "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No". John 1:21

The Pharisees questioned John the Baptist as to who he was. The Pharisees were asking about Elijah because it was prophesied that Elijah would come before the Messiah appeared (Malachi 4:5). Surprisingly John says he is not Elijah. However in Matthew 17:11-13 we find Jesus revealing John the Baptist was "Elijah". Yet John didn't know it. Sometimes you can be doing exactly what God wants without even realizing it.

Prophesy is best understood in retrospect. Rarely do we understand what God is doing while we are in the middle of a situation. We are required to be faithful and trust God with the outcome. Later we look back at what God has achieved.

It wasn't long before John found himself languishing in a Roman jail. He had devoted his life to following God's call and now it all seemed to have gone horribly wrong. He was sitting in jail wondering where he missed God, where he had been mistaken, where it had all gone amiss. John who had been so sure God had told him Jesus was the Messiah sent a message asking if Jesus was the Messiah or should he expect someone else? (Matthew 11:3) John thought the Messiah would rescue him from prison but John discovered God does not always respond the way we expect.

The view from prison created serious doubts in John's mind. The view from difficult circumstances often creates serious doubts in our minds too. Sometimes we simply have to continue on the path we believe God has told us to take not knowing what the outcome will be, yet having faith God can be trusted to bring about His purposes.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Measuring goodness


The other day I watched, "Chocolat" on DVD. From a Christian point of view it raises some interesting thoughts. The most significant line in the movie comes at the climax of the film where the young Catholic priest says:

We can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Book Review : The Shack


The Shack by William Young (Windblown Media, 2007) is a novel, written as if it were a true story. The story begins three or four years after the death of Mackenzie Phillip's youngest daughter who was abducted and murdered. Mackenzie is stuck in his grief and loss when God intervenes and takes him on a healing journey. It is a fascinating journey with many surprises along the way. It addresses the age old question of why a loving God allows suffering. It is written to deliberately shatter religious stereotypes and will no doubt offend some, especially if it is made into a film as planned.

William Young's understanding of God's purposes plus his creativity and imagination make a powerful and moving story. The book contains many insights which may be missed as the story is engrossing and cleverly written. Its message is deeply challenging, showing us how we often miss God in our daily lives because we cling to our independence and semblance of control instead of fully trusting in the intrinsic goodness of God and His unconditional love for us.

I enjoyed the book immensely. It made me re-evaluate my perception of God and consider again the depths of God's sacrificial love for me

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