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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Monday, July 21, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 12:39-40

"For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: He had blinded their eyes … " John 12:39-40

Many struggle with verses like this. To read God would deliberately blind the eyes of people so they could not believe seems not only deeply unfair but also incompatible with a God of love. However we need to look a bit deeper. The Jews didn't bother making the distinction between those things which God initiated and those things which God allowed. The Jews believed completely in the Sovereignty of God and since God created the principle you reap what you sow, they saw God as being responsible for everything, good and evil.

So, if a person deliberately chooses not to believe, the consequence they have chosen is to be blinded. Here this consequence is blamed solely on God because the Jews saw Him as being ultimately responsible. The Message puts another perspective on verse 40, "First they wouldn't believe, then they couldn't ...". They sowed unbelief, they reaped spiritual blindness.

A few verses later we read this in the Message, "If anyone hears what I am saying and doesn't take it seriously, I don't reject him ... But you need to know that whoever puts me off, refusing to take in what I'm saying, is willfully choosing rejection" (v.47-48). Jesus doesn't reject anyone who comes to Him but if we continually and knowingly reject Him, like the Pharisees, we are choosing spiritually blindness.

Whilst I believe in the Sovereignty of God, I like to make the distinction between those things which God initiates and those things which God allows. While I don't always understand why God allows some things to cross my path, I know I can trust in the love and justice of an all good God.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Rickety Bridges

I was thinking about this story recently so I thought I would share it here. It was a story I heard Jean Ratton tell when she was quite elderly but she was still full of the passion that saw her establish Know Your Bible groups throughout Australia. This is the story as I remember it.

One day she was sitting on a hill in Nepal where she worked as a missionary. She saw a farmer walking home after he had been to the market to buy a cow. The cow had a rope around its neck and the farmer was leading the cow by holding the other end of the rope. As the farmer and the cow passed by she felt God impress upon her four things about the farmer and the cow. Firstly the farmer had gone to the market specifically to choose a cow. Likewise we are chosen people. Secondly the farmer had bought the cow for a price. Likewise God has bought us with a price, the precious blood of his own Son. Thirdly the farmer was taking the cow home. Likewise Jesus is taking us home. Now at this point the farmer needed to cross the river. There was a rickety bridge over the river but the cow refused to walk onto the bridge. No matter how much the farmer pushed and pulled, the cow would not walk across the bridge. So the farmer walked the cow down beside the bridge and pushed the cow into the river. Meanwhile he crossed on the bridge all the while holding the rope and pulling the cow to the other side. This was no easy task as the river was flowing swiftly and the farmer had to pull the cow against the current. However they both made it safely to the other side and continued on their journey. Here's the fourth thing she felt God say to her. When you meet difficulties in your life you have a choice. You can trust Me and by faith walk across the rickety bridges that I provide or you can get pulled through the river. Either way I will never let go of the rope. The choice is yours; however you would find life much easier if you trusted me enough to walk over the rickety bridges.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review : Fasting Made Easy

Fasting made easy by Don Colbert, MD (Siloam, 2004) is primarily a book about physical health. It is written by a doctor, Don Colbert, and is a summary of many of his other books about the physical benefits of undertaking a fruit fast particularly as it pertains to finding relief from particular diseases and health complaints. The idea is a two to three day fast, where you only consume fruit and vegetable juices, this cleans toxins from the body. Colbert shares several testimonies and medical experiences confirming these benefits.

Colbert does include one chapter on the spiritual benefits of fasting yet I find this a bit of a stretch because the sort of fast he is advocating does not fit with my idea of a spiritual fast. This is not to say what he is suggesting has no spiritual benefit but rather it is not what I think Jesus had in mind when he talks about fasting. For example there would not have been electric juicers in Jesus' day and this is almost essential if you are going to follow Colbert's instructions. The fruit fast he outlines requires consuming something like six carrots and six apples per day as juice (or the equivalent in other fruit and vegetables). Colbert does discuss a water only fast, which is more what I think the Bible means by fasting, but for only one brief page. Nevertheless I found this to be a very sensible book highlighting the benefits of fasting but also advising people of the need to consult their doctor.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 11:4

When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death ..." John 11:4

It seems from the moment Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick he knew he would live. Likewise just prior to Jesus feeding the five thousand we read Jesus saying to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" Then this explanation, "He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do" (John 6:6). He knew he was going to feed the crowd. It seems there were times when Jesus knew in advance God was going to do something miraculous.

This was not always the case. Jesus didn't appear to know God was going to turn water into wine saying to his mother, "My time has not yet come." Yet He went on to perform his first miracle. Likewise when a Canaanite woman asked him to heal her daughter initially it appeared he wasn't going to saying, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." Nevertheless the girl was healed (Matthew 15:28).

Then there was the time when the woman came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak (Mark 5:27). Jesus realized that power had gone out from him and wanted to know, "Who touched my clothes?" Jesus had not been expecting to heal someone as he walked along.

This is a lesson for us. Sometimes God lets us know what he is going to do, sometimes He does not and sometimes He uses us without our knowing. Living by faith means we don't always know what God is going to do. Neither can we demand He tells us. Our job is to be faithful to what He has told us to do and listen for His voice.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Book Review : A big-enough God

I hesitate to write a book review about A Big-Enough God : an artful theology (Mowbray, 1995) because I have to admit the author, Sara Maitland, lost me quite a few times. Yet there was something delightful about the way Sara writes that made me want to finish reading it. The material in the book was originally put together as four lectures. The four lectures have become four chapters and they seem quite disconnected from each other or maybe I've just failed to see the connection. As I was reading I could imagine Sara delivering these lectures with great flourish, charm and humour which is quite surprising given that I've never heard her speak. She comes at her subject from an artist point of view. She is a Catholic and a feminist theologian which together provides an interesting frame of reference and one that is unfamiliar to me.

The thing that kept me reading was every now and then she would discuss an idea that I found particularly insightful. For example, in the last chapter she was discussing joy and developing the idea God made us to experience joy. When we are feeling miserable we are being abnormal and the thoughts we have are therefore inaccurate. Since joy is normal the thoughts we have when we are in a positive frame of mind are more likely to be true. Meaning, if you are feeling a bit down don't believe your negative thoughts. Remind yourself that you do not think this way when you are happy. I found this to be good advice though not always easy to put into practice.

Overall I was surprised and enlighten to discover that I shared so much common ground with someone from a completely different theological and academic perspective.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 10:27

My sheep listen to my voice. John 10:27

Recently I went to see the movie, Prince Caspian, the second in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Early in the movie Lucy sees Aslan, the charactor who represents Jesus, in the distance but the others don't. When they ask her why they didn't see him, Lucy gives two answers. "Maybe you weren't looking for him," and later, "Maybe you don't want to see him."

These two answers may also be the reasons we don't hear from God as often as we would like. We may not be expecting God to speak into our lives or we may not want him to speak into our lives.

Expectation is closely linked to faith. If we come to a prayer time or even a church service with little expectation God is going to say anything to us, then we are unlikely to experience God's direction or guidance. We know "he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6) rather than the casual enquirer.

Alternatively we may not want God to speak into our lives. John Powell talks about this issue in his book, "Happiness is an inside job". "At first none of us wants to admit it, but we are all afraid of getting too close to God. A thousand questions and doubts flood into us at the very thought of being close to God. What will God say to me? What will God ask of me? Where will God lead me? The unknown is always a little frightening. And in this case, the stakes are high. My whole life is involved."

We need to trust in God's character, knowing He is a good God who loves us deeply. May we learn from Lucy, the importance of both expecting and desiring to hear from God.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Book Review : The Cay

I loved The Cay by Theodore Taylor (Puffin Books, 1969) and recently reread it. I wondered why it appeals to me when I don't relate to either of the two main charactors, Phillip and Timothy. Phillip is a twelve year old white American school boy and Timothy is a black seaman who is about seventy or so. They are shipwrecked on a deserted cay. Timothy actually saves Phillip's life during a storm and dies shortly afterwards. However even before this Timothy made daily decisions which also saved Phillip's life. Phillip had become blind yet Timothy would not let him stay dependant on him. He taught him how to fish, how to catch rain water, how to build a shelter, how to weave a mat and how to attract the attention of passing aircraft. Phillip was not always a willing student. It is only after Timothy's death that it becomes truly apparent how gracious Timothy was. Phillip finds he has many skills that Timothy taught him in order to survive plus many things he would have found it difficult to make, like fishing rods. Following Timothy's death Phillip expected to find two or three spare fishing rods but Timothy had made twelve.

Timothy is a quiet achiever he did not draw attention to all the things he was doing to help Phillip. It wasn't until after Timothy's death that Phillip fully appreciated the extent of his help. Occasionally people are called upon to perform a once in a life time heroic act yet what is more difficult is to make daily sacrifices to help another without drawing attention to yourself.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Devotional Thought : John 9:32

No-body has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. John 9:32

It seems people had been cured of blindness which was caused by disease but not those who were born blind. The man who was healed appears to be a "local" as it wasn't long until his parents were summoned before the Pharisees to confirm the healing. Yet even in the face of overwhelming evidence the Pharisees would not believe.

Believing the man had been healed meant the Pharisees would have to change their minds about Jesus. Believing in Jesus would mean the Pharisees whole social structure would need to change. They could no longer oppress the poor, no longer gain approval for their shallow devotion, no longer put on a show of religiosity, no longer gain financial advantage over others by charging exorbitant prices for temple sacrifices and no longer nullify God's laws by their own traditions.

It would have been a huge reversal for the Pharisees to start acting for the common good rather than lining their own pockets with fame and fortune. It is a reversal that still needs to happen today. On the world's stage the poor are often oppressed and financially disadvantaged by those in power seeking fame and fortune. It is a challenge to Christians as followers of Jesus to find ways to ensure the common good of all.

The Pharisees realized that Jesus was not just about healing a few sick people. Jesus came to challenge their very life style. He came to rearrange their priorities. He came to give them compassion for the poor. Yet they were unwilling. May we be open not only to Jesus' healing ways but also to His challenges to our live styles, to our priorities and to the concerns of His heart.

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