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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