Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday's lighter note ...

Read this recently in the Reader's Digest:

When he received a bound diary as a gift, my eight-year-old son was mystified. "Mum, what am I suppose to do with this? The pages are blank."

"You write down interesting stuff that happens to you," I said.

"So it's like a blog...on paper."
~Beverly Taylor

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 4:17

In this world we are like Jesus. 1 John 4:17

How can this be? How can fallen people be like Jesus? The verse is in the context of Christians having confidence on the Day of Judgment. God has so completely dealt with our sins that our standing before Him is the same as Jesus’. The Message puts it like this: “…our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s.” How amazing is that! We have the same standing before God as Christ.

It demonstrates the effectiveness of Christ’s sacrifice. He dealt with our sins past, present and future. Some suggest we start our Christian lives with a “clean sheet” but that is only partly true. God also credits us with righteousness at our conversion, so we start and continue our Christian lives in complete credit (Romans 4). We do not start our Christian life at zero and then spend our time earning “bonus points” for good behavior. We do not “pay our way” since we are already in God’s “good books.”

We live from a place of being completely free from condemnation (Romans 8:1) because not only has Jesus done everything necessary for us to have forgiveness but also he has done everything necessary so we can live from a place of fullness, which is abundant life.

Hebrews 2:11 tells us, “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” We are Jesus’ brothers and sisters because our standing in the world is identical to His. What an extraordinary act of grace for God to take us from our sin stained lives and place us on the same level as His Son, declaring us to be holy. Wow, what a Saviour!

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Book Review : Unchartered

Uncharted (WestBow, 2006) is the second book of Angela Hunt’s that I have read and while I much preferred, The Novelist, it must be said that Hunt is a great story teller. I must confess to enjoying happy endings which Uncharted does not provide, though it doesn’t end without hope. Since this story has been inspired by one of Jesus’ parables it is difficult for me to criticize the ending. The fact is life doesn’t always end happily.

The story focuses on five college friends who reunite after many years of not seeing each other. They plan to travel together to a remote island to complete a service project to honour the memory of a friend. However a storm disturbs their plans and their lives forever.

It took me a little while to connect to Hunt’s characters in this book as they are not people I would generally relate to. However Hunt has a great talent for weaving people’s lives together to create an engrossing story. This story challenges the reader’s beliefs about the way we spend our time and talents. Are we investing in temporal pleasures or in eternity?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

A week's holiday

I'm off today on a week's holiday to visit my adult children, to catch up on some shopping, and generally have a break. I have scheduled some posts for while I'm away and I also expect to get online at times. So you may not even notice that I'm not here!

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 3:12

“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” 1 John 3:12.

The story of Cain is concise and found early in Genesis: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Genesis 5:4-7.

It is not entirely clear from the Genesis account why the Lord looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. However there is a clue in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.”

God encouraged Cain to, “do what is right.” Yet this was prior to the Ten Commandments. So what exactly was “doing right?” God wanted Cain to trust him, to act “by faith.” To bring an offering, or make a sacrifice that demonstrated his reliance on God. God is looking for those who will bring an offering of money, time or talent that demonstrates their trust in God. Cain only went through the motions of belief in God. Not that we could tell this when Cain brought his offering. We could only tell later by Cain’s actions. However God was looking at Cain’s heart.

We are warned not to be like Cain. If we want God’s favor we need child-like trust. By going through the motions we can fool other people but God knows our heart.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Book Review : The Penny

The Penny (Faith Words, 2007) is the story of a young girl, Jenny who is growing up with an abusive father in a run down part of St. Louis. The story begins in 1955 when through a surprising course of events Jenny is befriended by the owner of a jewelry shop, Miss Shaw, who offers her some casual work in her shop. Jenny is both mystified and apprehensive of Miss Shaw who, like Jenny, has many secrets. Jenny also makes friends with a girl, Aurelia, from a Christian family who is part of the coloured community in St. Louis, yet she attends the same school as Jenny. In different ways Aurelia and Miss Shaw both challenge Jenny’s ideas about herself and God.

I enjoyed this book by Joyce Meyer and Deborah Bedford because, despite all the tragic events that happen, it is a story with full of hope and the assurance there is a God who cares. Knowing a little of Joyce Meyer’s own history I’m curious to know how much of the story is autobiographical. I suspect that while the events may be a product of Joyce’s and Deborah’s imagination, the emotional content could well be a true reflection of Joyce’s own journey through pain. Personally I find this validating. Knowing the author of this fictional novel has been through the pain of her protagonist creates realistic hope in a God who works through the most heartbreaking of circumstances.

The book also includes questions for book groups.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 2:16

For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 1 John 2:16

In The Message, Eugene Peterson puts the verse this way, “Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear importance—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him.”

As I was reflecting on this verse I was reminded of one of Joyce Meyer’s talks that I heard recently. Joyce was speaking about the difference between walking in the flesh and walking in the spirit. Our flesh, she explained, is never satisfied, it always craves more—more food, more possessions, more attention. Yet even when we succeed in getting more, we are still not satisfied.

Walking in the spirit frees us from the perpetual cycle of constantly striving for more and instead we learn contentment in what we already have. We are freed from the bondage of having to have our own way.

Jesus taught us in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Denying ourselves is not fashionable. Taking up one’s cross declares death to having our own way. This is directly opposed to the philosophy of the world which would have us believe we are entitled to a life of comfort and ease.

Learning to walk in the spirit is a process. It took most of us well over a year before we could physically walk any distance. It may take much longer to learn to walk in the spirit. However, despite the cost and discomfort, it brings a freedom that is worth the effort.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Book Review : The Thief

The Thief (Arrow, 2006) is another in the series of Quick Reads. This one is by the well known crime fiction writer, Ruth Rendell. The thief is a fascinating character study of a young woman called Polly. Since this is not a Christian book I was surprised to find Christian truths running through the story. It could have easily been titled, “Beware your sins will find you out.” However the most profound lesson of the book is people’s inability to change their behaviour even when the stakes are high. We need our attitudes and motivations to be changed in our hearts and minds, before we are able to change our outwardly behaviour.

Poor Polly did not understand the need for forgiveness. Despite her determination she was not able to stop herself from taking revenge thus ruining her chances of future happiness. A sad story but one containing deep truths.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Devotional Thought : 1 John 1:7

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Under the old covenant God made provision for sins committed unintentionally or in ignorance. Hebrews 9:7 tells us, “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” Since by his death, Jesus replaced the sacrificial system, Jesus forgives the sins we commit unintentionally or in ignorance. In v.14 the writer goes on to speak about the greater provision of Christ saying, "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ … cleanse our consciences."

We live in a state of constant forgiveness. We don't need to make mental lists of all our wrongdoings or our wonder if there is something we have forgotten to confess. God is always forgiving us. In the above verse we are told, "If we walk in the light … the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." If we have committed to living openly and honestly before God then we are walking in the light. Therefore we are continually being purified from sin. I have heard it called, “up to the minute forgiveness.”

Of course, if God convicts us of a particular sin we need to confess it and repent but generally we simply rely on Jesus’ atoning work in our lives. God has gone to extraordinary lengthens to ensure our consciences are clean. He forgives us of things we are not even aware of. God has dealt with our sins past, present and future so that we can live free of guilt.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Book Review : Chickenfeed

Chickenfeed (Allen & Unwin, 2006) is another in the series of Quick Reads. This one is by Minette Walters and is based on the true story of the "Chicken Farm Murder", which took place in Blackness Road, Crowborough, East Sussex, in December 1924. Like others in the Quick Reads series it can be read in about an hour and gives a taste for the writer’s style without having to commit to reading a longer book.

Minette Walters has imaginatively filled in the details of the Chicken Farm Murder around the actual facts of the case. She has depicted her characters well and caught, on paper, the build up of frustrating circumstances that led to the death of a young woman. In so doing she has constructed a scenario different to the one the jury believed. We are left wondering if justice was really done in this case? Walters, of course, had access to modern schools of thought on such issues as mental health and criminal psychology which were unavailable to the jury.

It is a well written and researched story. Walters is known for her skill in writing crime fiction but here she has been able to take a true story and remind us that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Free ebook

I have put together a free ebook comprising the 21 devotional thoughts I wrote from the Gospel of John. The inspiration for these thoughts came from my other blog, The Bible Study Place as a few of us looked each week at a chapter from John’s Gospel. These devotional thoughts then appeared here on my blog between May and September 2008, as I wrote them each week for my own church newsletter. I have now slightly edited them and put together an ebook. Permission is granted to the owner of the ebook to copy contents, provided such action is not for sale or any commercial gain. Please email me requesting the link to download the ebook. It is also available on CD. If you live in Australia I am happy to post it to you free of charge. If you live elsewhere please contact me requesting postage details.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Book Review : All the days of my life

All the days of my life (Ark House, 2008) is a sequel to Jo-Anne Berthelsen first book, Heléna and continues the story of her life. The story begins in the aftermath of World War II with Heléna’s journey from a displaced person’s camp in Europe to a migrant camp in Australia. We are told this story is inspired by the real experiences of a post-war Czech immigrant to Australia and therefore provides historical insights into the plight of displaced persons.

While immigrants were generally relieved to leave behind the trauma of war and the upheaval of political systems, they encountered many difficulties in coming to Australia. The language barrier was huge as was the lack of recognition of their skills and abilities. Nevertheless through this story we see how many of them faced these trials with grace and faith in God. For Heléna in particular, it was not an easy path as she encountered more grief and loss in her new country.

It is not necessary to have read Heléna to enjoy this story as all you need to know about Heléna early years is woven into the story line. It is a moving story which provides many insights into handling grief and loss and stirs up feelings of gratitude for those of us who are blessed to live in Australia.

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