Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review : What the bleep do we know?

When I picked up What the bleep do we know!? : discovering the endless possibilities for altering your everyday reality by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente (Health Communications, 2005) at my library I was surprised it was filed under the Dewey number 204 for religious experience, life and practice and not under 530 for Physics. The book does look at scientific evidence for what is generally considered paranormal events; however it is as the authors seek to understand this evidence they turn to the spiritual world for answers.

The early part of the book covers many topics generally found in physics books, quantum theory, subatomic particles etc. It seeks to explain some of the scientific discoveries which make up our physical universe. However scientists have discovered that the world’s make up is not as clear cut as one would expect. When scientists examine subatomic particles, they find they behave in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Furthermore these particles are influenced by forces that scientists can’t explain. So at this point the book moves into discussing how our conscious mind, our thoughts, our ideas, may actually be influencing the behaviour of the smallest parts of our universe, which in turn influence the other parts. Of course, at this point, the book becomes controversial. Scientists are generally not keen to move from a scientific discussion to a more spiritual one. But the lack of explanation for a growing amount of scientific data points towards spiritual answers and this is making some scientists rethink some of their most concrete concepts.

As a Christian I found this book challenging. The authors attempt to explain things in spiritual terms quoting spiritual leaders from a variety of religious faiths, including Christianity, but totally excluding the possibility of a personal God. They see human beings as the pinnacle of creation and imagine the world is all about them, rather than about God and his kingdom. However I did find the factual information presented in this book astonishing. It made me think that God is indeed “more awesome than I know” (from the song, Enough by Chris Tomlin). It also helped me understand that prayer is far more important than I ever realized. We are not merely telling God things he already knows but our prayers are making a real difference in the very fabric of our world.

This book takes you on a remarkable journey, that is overwhelming, complicated, mind blowing, and faith stretching. So if you are up for a faith testing adventure, it is an amazing read.

For a further discussion of the issues raised in this book from a Christian perspective see my post: Book Review : The latent power of the soul.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 4:11-13

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we… become mature...Ephesians 4:11-13

God has provided everything necessary for the church to grow. God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ would mature. The path to maturity is through “works of service”. Works of service covers a multitude of tasks: welcoming, nurturing, helping, leading, singing, playing music, writing, teaching, preaching. It’s good for us to encourage others, especially the young in the Lord, to try different areas of service until they find their gifts, their place in the Body.

Sometimes the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God gives us, come to us in disguise. They may be people who are not in full time ministry, they may be people who are gifted in artistic expression, and they may even be song writers. Christian songwriters are gifted by God, inspired by his word and by his Spirit. God has much he wants to impart to us and often he does it through new songs. New songs are like fresh bread, fresh manna for our souls. Are we availing ourselves of the opportunity to be built up as we connect to God through these songs?

God’s design is that we grow up into Christ (v.15). God has always something more for us. As parents we notice that our children get bored with those things that amused them when they were younger. Likewise we will get bored spiritually if we do not press on to grow up into Christ.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I'm heading off tonight to spend Christmas with my family. I'll be back early next week.

Hope all who pass by here have a very happy Christmas and I look forward to blogging here again next year.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 5:25

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… Ephesians 5:25

This Christmas as we again think about Jesus coming to earth, let’s reflect on what God endured, because of his love for us. To love is to sacrifice. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Paul tells husbands to love their wives in the same way Christ loved the church—through sacrifice. Wives feel loved when their husbands make sacrifices for them, whether they sacrifice their time, their money, or their manpower, it makes little different. It is knowing one’s husband has put his wives’ interests ahead of his own that makes her feel loved.

Yet these verses are not really about husbands and wives but rather about Christ and the church (v.32). God put our interests above his own. Christ loved us and sacrificed himself for us. Do we love him by living our lives according to his preferences rather than our own? Do we show our love for him by sacrificing our desires, our preferences, our comforts for him? Or do we just give him some time and money.

We are also called to love one another. Often we fail to love well because we don’t want to sacrifice. We prefer to show love in ways that we are most comfortable for us, and cost us little. Then we wonder why others don’t respond, or act appreciatively. They may even complain they don’t feel loved.

To love like Christ asks us to love is impossible without his love first flowing into our lives. 1 John 4: 19 tells us that, “We love because he first loved us.” This Christmas, as we reflect on God’s love and his sacrifice, allow your love for him to grow in response.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, December 19, 2009

God likes to whisper

Different things I’ve read this week have caused me to come to the conclusion God doesn’t like to shout at his people, he much prefers to whisper. This ought to be a good thing since I don’t like people shouting either. However the down side is it is really easy to ignore someone who whispers, especially if they are invisible as well.

The most obvious example of God’s preference for whispering is Elijah in the cave “…but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 King 19:11-12).

When someone shouts we are forced to take notice. We hear what they are saying whether we want to or not. If they are shouting it is painfully obvious what they want. Often we want God to be like that—obvious. We want him to give us clear direction, to give us a fleece—a sure indication he has spoken. We’d actually prefer God to shout.

Yet our God prefers to whisper his desires to us. When someone whispers we have block out background noises; we have to lean towards the person, we have to concentrate, and we have to listen carefully. It requires time and effort.

This is what God wants. He wants our full attention; He wants us to lean into him; He wants us close enough so he can whisper.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What I’ve been reading…

I was sent a free copy of Thrive. It is a dated 3-monthly daily devotional written by Matthew Jacoby who was the founder and lead singer of the band Sons of Korah. There is a Bible reference and a short devotional piece for each day from Monday to Friday. Then, there is a weekend reflection to reinforce what you have read during the week. Thrive is an Australian publication written by the pastor of a church I attended many years ago. However we have not met.

For many years now I have enjoyed reading Every Day with Jesus by Selwyn Hughes. Selwyn died a few years ago but the publishers have revamped some of his older editions and continue to publish it. I have also over the years read other devotionals but I don’t like those which are not written around a theme.

The first edition of Thrive is called, The goal is God and is dated Nov 09 to Jan 10. In it Jacoby writes about just three Psalms (130; 73; & 126). He brings a fresh perspective and new insights to these Psalms. He encourages people to have an intimate relationship with God and gives practical suggestions of how to do this.

I’m enjoying reading Thrive and I’m finding it refreshing. I plan to continue reading it next year.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 3:10-11

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:10-11

Here we get a glimpse of God’s eternal plan; the church is to make known the wisdom of God to rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. What an awesome role God gives the church.

God’s plan concerns events in the heavenly realm yet the Bible only gives us glimpses of this realm. We find Elisha in 2 Kings 6:17 praying for his servant’s eyes to be opened “and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha”. We see conversations in Job when the angels and Satan come to present themselves before the Lord (1:6 & 2:1). Yet most of the time we are unaware of what is going on in the heavenlies.

Interestingly this plan of God doesn't say anything about me having a nice, quiet, comfortable life. (What a shame!) His plan doesn’t say anything about me getting all my problems solved or all my questions answered. I read this comment by Dr. Matthew Jacoby, “…He will act according to plan; devised by a mind that is outside of space and time, and for whom this life of ours is but a flash compared with the eternity we will live out with Him.”

God’s plans are outside our space and time. We are part of something far greater than we can see or fully understand. However we are told we are being watched by rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. If we choose to put our trust in an invisible God, we display God’s wisdom to these rulers.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Sunday, December 13, 2009

DCAT (Doing Church As a Team) Conference

I’ve just written two reviews of books by Wayne Cordeiro: Doing church as a team & The divine mentor. Wayne Cordeiro is the pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii which runs an annual conference on themes connected with doing church as a team. Some months ago my husband read these books and felt an urge to attend the 2010 conference which is called: Everyday Heroes. At the time I felt no inclination. My husband thought it would be good to go with some other Aussies church leaders, but of course, Hawaii is a long way from Australia. So when those plans fell through I began to think maybe I should go.

I really needed to know that God wanted me to go; after all this would involve airfares to Hawaii, conference fees, accommodation, food, etc. I began to pray about it, asking God to give me a verse that would confirm his direction. The verse I felt he gave me was from Ephesians 3:20. (I have been studying Ephesians at the Bible Study Place.) “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” Going to Hawaii was definitely more than I had asked or imagined but I was disappointed. I wanted a verse which said, “Go…!” The next day I was reading a devotional thought from, The divine mentor called, The musings of a king, which spoke about God wanting us to know his heart and not wanting to shout at us. It struck me that I was asking God to shout at me whereas he wanted to whisper things into my heart.

So I have made the decision to go to Hawaii! We leave on Saturday 30th January and the conference starts on the Wednesday so we will have time to do some sight seeing. It also works out that we will spend our wedding anniversary in Hawaii.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Review : Doing church as a team

In the first few chapters of Doing church as a team (Regal, 2004), the author, Wayne Cordeiro, covers the basics: God has a plan, God wants to use the church to fulfill his plan, God gives gifts to build up the church, each member uses their gifts to serve others. This way the whole church is involved in fulfilling God’s purposes and not just the leader. Then Cordeiro spends some time discussing leadership. Pastors are not meant to carry the burden of pastoring a church alone so he looks at ways of developing leadership. He encourages people to develop godly character, to take risks by using their God given gifts, and to look for opportunities to serve others.

Corderio believes in the importance of motivating others by the use of vision statements and core values. He spends some time outlining how they achieved this at the church where he pastors. He feels by spending time developing these missional statements the church becomes team orientated with everyone focused on the same goal. Corederio concludes the book with ways to nurture the team, how to help people negotiate transition, and ways to change church culture.

Overall this is a helpful book with much good teaching for those involved with church leadership.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 2:4-5

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…” Ephesians 2:4-5

We don’t often think of ourselves as being in need of mercy. Yes, we need forgiveness; yes we need some grace but mercy…? Convicted criminals need mercy. Murderers, rapists and terrorists need mercy but law abiding citizens like you and me? Surely we don’t need mercy.

However every sin is worthy of the death penalty, such is God’s holiness. In the Bible the most common response, when someone became aware of God’s holiness, was to fall facedown, usually terrified (Matthew 17:6). Yet in our day we seem to have lost our sense of awe and tend to think of God as marginally holier than Mother Theresa.

We also underestimated our own sinfulness. Because we don’t commit “big” sins, we excuse ourselves. We think we are not as sinful as others, forgetting that God “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The sudden death experiences of people in the Bible like Uzzah, Nadab, Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira remind us that every sin is worthy of the death penalty. The agony that Jesus suffered on the cross reminds us how much it cost God to forgive sin. It was an enormous price for God to pay. Yet he thought we were worth it.

By underestimating God’s holiness and our own sinfulness, we then underestimate God’s mercy. God is rich in mercy. He is not stingy or tight fisted. He is more than willing to show us mercy—“because of his great love for us.”

It is not easy to agree with God and say, “I don’t just need your grace, I also need your mercy.” However by admitting our need we become a recipient of God’s rich mercy.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Book Review : The Divine Mentor

In a nutshell, The Divine Mentor (Bethany House, 2007), is designed to encourage people to study the Bible for themselves. However the author, Wayne Cordeiro, does this in creative ways. He speaks about Biblical characters as his friends and mentors who have taught him, warned him, and encouraged him in his spiritual life. Corderio, of course, explains why we should read the Bible for ourselves, why we should do it daily, and why we should write about what we read. Yet by using personal examples and humorous asides, he makes a well-worn topic interesting and convincing. He is not heavy handed or legalistic, but understanding of the reasons why we get distracted from our commitment to study the Bible.

Corderio outlines a particular format which he and his church have found helpful. It uses the acrostic SOAP (Scripture Observation Application Prayer). In the Scripture phase a reading plan is provided which is arranged to cover all the books of the Bible in a year. In the observation and application phase the thought is to choose a verse or a phrase that impressed you and spend some time writing about that verse. Then finally you pray about what you have written. The format is to read for 20 minutes, write for 20 minutes, and if you are doing this as part of a group, you then share for 20 minutes. It is a simple format that is easy to repeat or adapt as necessary.

Corderio’s heart is to encourage God’s people to study the Bible not for information, but for transformation. This is an important point and one that is clear throughout the book. It’s a very worthwhile read.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Friday, December 04, 2009

There is always a ship going to Tarshish

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:3

When Jonah ran away from the Lord’s directive to go to Nineveh, he decided to head in the opposite direction and as far as possible. Tarshish was a viable alternative. Jonah probably reasoned there were a lot of people in Tarshish that needed to hear about God. Furthermore surely God would want to be kind and compassionate to the people of Tarshish. Any people group was going to be a whole lot nicer than the war loving people of Nineveh. He arrived at the port and found a ship going to Tarshish. How convenient! In Jonah’s day when travel wasn’t what it is now, I don’t imagine that there were ships going to Tarshish every day or even every week. It must have seemed to Jonah that God was releasing him go to Tarshish…

I have seen it happen. An individual or a church is facing a challenge to step out in faith and do something they have never done before, but they pulled back. And lo, and behold, a ship going to Tarshish shows up—a viable alternative. An alternative that is a whole lot safer than the challenge. An alternative that looks attractive, and one that can be justified, but one that will take them in the opposite direction to God’s plans.

Are you being tempted to take a ship going to Tarshish? If so, just remember, ships going to Tarshish end up in major storms.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 1:13

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13

We are included in Christ when we hear and believe. This verse follows the teaching on predestination. We are included in God’s predetermined plans when we respond to Christ and receive him into our lives.

The verses regarding predestination are all plural. Paul is not saying he is personally predestined but rather “us” the church is predestined. The church, Christ’s body, is predestined to be holy and blameless. The church is predestined for adoption to sonship. So when we are included in Christ we are then predestined because we are part of Christ’s body.

Throughout the Old Testament we find that even though God chose the Jews to be his chosen people, he was always making a way for outsiders to be included—even including Ruth the Moabite and Rahab from Jericho in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1). Elsewhere we see God sending Jonah to Nineveh and other prophets to pagan lands. In John 10:16 Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also…and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” Jesus opened the way for Gentiles to be included in God’s family. Later on in Acts 10 we find Peter struggling with this but eventually says, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (v.34-35).

God has made it possible for us all to be included in Christ when we hear and believe since it is not his will that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Review : How to hear from God

In part one of: How to hear from God (Faith Words, 2003), Joyce Meyer writes about learning to listen. God speaks to us in many different ways, through His word, through conviction, through circumstances, through inner peace as well as occasionally through supernatural occurrences. However in order to hear from God we need to expect that God will speak to us. It is up to us to create the opportunity to hear from God by reading the Bible, and spending time in prayer. Often God speaks in a still, small voice into our spirits and unless we take time out from our busy, noisy lives we won’t hear from him. Sometimes it happens that we don’t hear from God while spending time reading and praying yet later that day God drops a phrase or a thought into our minds, seemingly from nowhere. Yet it is because we had spent the time earlier in the day that God is able to do this.

In the second part of the book, Joyce writes about learning to obey. If we are not going to obey God then there is not much point God speaking to us. There are sometimes issues in our lives which hinder our willingness to obey God and Joyce looks at some of these.

While Joyce doesn’t really say anythng that hasn’t been said before, this book was a good reminder to me to be alert for God’s voice and to seek his ways. I enjoy Joyce’s style. It is straightforward, practical, and easy to understand.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why does God allow suffering?

In all their distress he too was distressed… Isaiah 63:9

The most difficult theological question we will ever have to wrestle with is—why does God allow suffering?

I’ve read many stories of people who are disillusioned with God because he did not answer their prayers to heal a loved one, especially when their loved one was a child. Yet I wonder if they have ever thought through the implications of this expectation. If God was obligated to heal every terminal ill child that was prayed for, then every parent, all over the world, would pray for their sick child. Children would never die from disease. This then raises the question how old is a child? Any time someone pre-deceases their parents, we feel there is something wrong with the world and there is. We are still living with the effects of the fall. If God was going to reverse the effects of the fall every time a parent prayed then God would have to be constantly intervening in the world so that children, even adult children, did not die prematurely. Then there are all the tragic accidents, where children (and adult children) die simply because they were in the wrong place and the wrong time—we’d expect God to stop these events from happening too. Then there are deliberate acts of violence against children, we’d expect God to intervene to stop these, as well as all child abuse, child prostitution, child neglect…the list goes on and on. If God did all this we would be no more than puppets in the hand of God.

However God doesn’t want puppets. He gave us a free will. What an enormous price God pays for people to have choices. Enormous because God feels our pain.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Information as power

I was thinking recently about various cults, religions and other groups that control people by controlling their access to information. It is an effective ploy, by limiting access to educational opportunities, or access to the internet, or even access to books, people are deprived of the resources they need to make decisions that will improve their lives and the lives of families. I have read several stories lately of people who have been caught up in cults and other similar groups, and although the circumstances were quite different there was one thing they had in common. These cults or groups did not educate their children past 14 years of age.

Oppressing people by denying them access to information takes many forms. In the dark ages the common people were denied access to the Bible because the church would not make it available in the common language.

If the oppression continues long enough the day will come when the oppressed will rise up with the only thing at their disposal, violence. Some believe that terrorism is a response to oppressing people and denying them access to education/information.

On a personal level, while I don't have many answers for the world situation, I'm engaged in several programs which encourages literacy skills in young children. I see this as important and even life changing. If we teach children the value of reading and learning they will be less likely to fall prey to those who would oppress them.

As adults I wonder how we use information in our daily lives. Do we use information as power? Do I deliberately not pass on information that would be helpful to you? If I know something you don’t, do I use my knowledge to help you or to dominate you? Do I use my knowledge to encourage you or intimate you?

May we be wise and use information to bless others and not as power over them.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Friday, November 20, 2009

Book Review : Desert stone & Headless monk

During my holidays I decided to read a couple of kid’s books for light entertainment. The books were The secret of the desert stone (Word, 1996) by Frank Peretti and The headless monk (Beacon, 1997) by Kel Richards. Both authors are Christian writers and I was particularly interested in seeing how they weave Christian principles into their writing. I enjoyed both stories. They were well written, interesting stories with unpredictable endings.

The secret of the desert stone is number 5 in the Cooper kids adventure series. This story is set in Africa and Peretti has used Daniel 2:31-45 as the inspiration for his story. As such it is very much a Christian story written for Christian kids. Peretti weaves many Christian ideals and thoughts into his story.

The headless monk is a mystery based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It is an intriguing story with several twists and turns before coming to a satisfying conclusion. It is not obviously Christian until the last page where there is a short discourse on forgiveness.

Overall I enjoyed Richard’s story the most, probably because I do like a good mystery and this had all the ingredients of a good mystery. Peretti’s story was more unusual—more into the realms of fantasy which is not my preference. Nevertheless I did enjoy the Christian themes in his story.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Devotional Thought : Haggai 2:4

But now be strong, O Zerubbabel… ‘Be strong, O Joshua… Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work’. Haggai 2:4

“Be strong…and work.” There is a balance here. On one hand we are to be strong in the Lord, relying on His strength and trusting his promise: “For I am with you” (v.4). On the other hand there is work for us to do.

In this instance, God was asking Zerubbabel, Joshua and all the people to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The altar had been built and the foundation had been laid but then Israel’s enemies stirred up trouble. They spread rumours about Zerubbabel and told the new king in Babylon that God's people were trouble makers. The king believed them and God's people were compelled by force to stop building (Ezra 4:23).

Zerubbabel was doing what God asked of him but he was unable to continue. Now 16 years later through Haggai God told his people it was time to start building again. We may wonder why this was so important to God when we read in Acts 17:24: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” Yet in Haggai 1:8 we read, “…build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored.”

The temple played a significant part in Israel’s history and God taught them many lessons through it. Likewise God teaches us through the everyday situations in our lives. God is honoured when we complete the tasks he has for us, even if those tasks don’t seem very spiritual. God does not differentiate between the secular and spiritual. It is all spiritual. So let’s “be strong…and work.”

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Review : Transforming Christian theology

Philip Clayton and Harvey Cox both have new books out and they are taking them out on tour. One of the blog tour stops will be here and now:

Although the title is somewhat daunting, Transforming Christian theology : for church and society (Fortress Press, 2010), Philip Clayton (in collaboration with Tripp Fuller) has written an interesting and easy to read book. Clayton examines the current American Christian culture and it is not a pretty picture. The church in America is not faring well at this time. Most denominations are in decline and some may not survive. He outlines many serious problems with churches; however he doesn't leave the reader to wallow in the difficulties but rather images a way forward. He places the challenge before thinking Christian to move towards a solution rather than complaining about the current state of the church.

As an Australian reader, where the Christian landscape is very different, it is difficult for me to fully connect with all Clayton’s ideas. Also I don't live in, or near a major city where there is a greater diversity of Christian opinions. Certainly they are many similarities between the American Christian culture and the Australian Christian culture but there are also significant differences and it is hard for me to see Clayton’s ideas being accepted in the circles where I move. That is not to say they are not worthwhile but rather just not applicable to me at this time.

In spite of this, I did enjoy reading Clayton's views and I share his concerns about the church. The book provided me with much food for thought and made me look at some of my own assumptions and prejudices. I hope this book stirs up conversations and actions that will ultimately benefit the church.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Friday, November 13, 2009

My bike

About a month ago I wrote about my decision to buy a bike in this post. I now own a second hand bike and can manage to ride about 3k. One of my aims is to build up my stamina to ride 6.5k to a caravan park that is just out of town. It apparently has a shop/cafe where they sell scones and jam and cream which seems a just reward after riding 6.5k! Of course then the aim is ride home again. So it is a matter of consistently riding a little bit further every couple of days.

Many things in life come down to doing little things often. Proverbs 6:6 tells us to "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!" Ants don't get discouraged by their size, or the size of the task. They do small tasks and do them often and it gets the job done. Likewise we need to be persistent in doing the small tasks because they eventually add up.

Watch this space and I'll let you know how I get on with the bike riding...

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Devotional Thought : Haggai 1:10

Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. Haggai 1:10

This is God's word to his people through Haggai and God clearly states, it is “because of you (God’s people)” that the land had dried up.

It is very easy for us as Christians to blame government policies, or moral laxity, or the public’s unbelief in God for drought, bush fires, tsunamis, and other natural disasters. I even read that a prominent Christian speaker was blaming the bush fires on the government policy to legalized abortion.

We like to have tragedies explained. Then we feel like we have some control over our circumstances. It makes us feel safer. However it is not a happy thought that it might be us that is to blame for some adversities! The Bible teaches that it is the responsibility of God’s people to pray if we are to see our land restored (2 Chronicles 7:14).

We deceive ourselves and underestimate God’s holiness if we think we can avoid disasters by our righteous behaviour. Think about Job. “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Yet Job had more disasters in a week than most of us have in a lifetime. His righteous behaviour did not protect him from these happenings. Righteous behaviour ought to flow from our desire to please God and not from an attempt to bribe God into blessing us.

We are not always going to avoid tragedy. We live in a fallen world and God has not yet restored to us all that was lost at the fall. That day is still coming. In the meantime the Biblical directive is to humble ourselves and pray that God will restore our land.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Back from holidays

I had a lovely holiday, catching up with family and friends as well as going to the movies (saw Julie & Julia), doing lots of shopping and going bowling (where I bowled more than 100 which is quite a feat for me!). I also read 5 books (though 2 were junior fiction) and went to some church services of differing denominations which was refreshing. Now I'm busy catching up on emails, tweets, and blogs!

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Monday, November 02, 2009

Gold, Pearl, Precious Stone pt.3

Thirdly let’s think about precious stones
What makes precious stones, precious?
Their beauty: which is why they are used as jewelry
Their utility: They are used in industrial and technological applications.
Their rarity: Precious stones are scarce
Their value: The worth of precious stones is innate (it doesn't represent something else that has value like stocks or bonds) Precious stones are naturally valuable on their own.

The chemical basis for the formation of precious stones is heat and pressure. How does God produce precious stones in our lives?

One way is God takes a group of his own people—fallen, damaged, broken and roughly hewn people—and he has them become a church community!

Churches are different from other social groups. Golf clubs, bridge clubs, community service clubs attract like minded people, whereas churches attract a much broader range of people—the rich, the poor, the intelligent, the not so intelligent, the political right and the political left. No wonder there are some days when we have problems!

So heat and pressure often come to us from our own brothers and sisters in Christ. So how do we deal with other people? Paul has a lot to say about how we should relate to one another. Here’s a few:

Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another
Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love
Romans 12:10 Honor one another
Romans 13:8 love one another
Romans 15:7Accept one another
Romans 15:14 instruct one another
Romans 16:16 Greet one another
1 Corinthians 1:10 agree with one another
Galatians 5:13 serve one another
Ephesians 4:2 bearing with one another
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another
Ephesians 5:19 Speak to one another with psalms
Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another
Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Colossians 3:16 admonish one another
1 Thessalonians 5:11 encourage one another

We won’t produce precious stones in our lives if we isolate ourselves from one another. As we are exposed to the heat and pressure of relationships our lives will produce precious stones that God wants for his city.

So God is building a city. A city with streets of transparent gold, gates of pearls and foundations decorated with every kind of precious stone.

We need to cooperate with God and trust that whatever he brings into our lives will produce gold, pearl and precious stones.

1 Peter 2:5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gold, Pearl, Precious Stones pt.2

Pearls are a unique gem created by a living organism. They are created when a foreign body finds its way into a pearl oyster. The oyster reacts by coating the foreign body with many layers of the pearly substance that gives the pearl its unique appearance and beauty. Pearls are created by irritation.

So, have you been irritated lately?

If God controls the universe, we wonder why insignificant things go wrong for no apparent reason. We get flat tires at inopportune moments. The electric jug burns out three weeks after the warrantee expires. Computers crash the day before assignments are due. If God is interested in the smallest details of our lives we often wonder why don’t our lives run more smoothly. However we live in a fallen world where there are irritations. God wants to turn our these into pearls.

By bringing our frustrations to Jesus we can allow him to transform our irritations into pearls. The other option is to become bitter and blame others or even God for our frustrations. But God wants pearls for his city and he wants to produce them in our lives.

Pearls are of great value to God.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gold, Pearl, Precious Stones pt.1

This is part 1 of my sermon notes. I'd like to acknowledge Frank Viola's book: From eternity to here which helped me in preparing this talk

1 Peter 2:4-5
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ

So for a few minutes we are going to think about being living stones and about being built into a spiritual house.

Revelation 21:9-10
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

Isn’t it interesting the angel said he was going to show John the wife of the Lamb and he shows him the Holy City, the new Jerusalem. God often uses pictures to describe his people. The most common ones are the Bride of Christ or the wife of the Lamb; the Body of Christ; the family of God; God’s building or God’s temple. So John is not just describing a city here. He is describing the people of God.

Revelation 21:11-21
It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates…v.19The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire…the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

Three jewels are mentioned in this passage: gold, pearl and precious stones.

Let’s think about gold for a moment.
• Gold is shiny and is the only yellow metal.
• Gold usually exists as a pure metal.
• Gold does not corrode or stain.
• Gold has a high melting point (1064°C).
• Gold is about 19 times heavier than water (it’s nearly twice as dense as lead).
• Gold is malleable and ductile (can be beaten and drawn out into a wire).
• Gold conducts electricity.
• Gold is soft

Gold is purified and refined by fire. Fire draws out all its impurities thus making the gold pure. When gold is pure, it’s transparent. v.21 The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. Nothing can be hidden in it.

God is building his city with gold, pure gold. We are his city. We are going to go through the fire in order to produce that gold.

About 20 years ago my husband had cancer. Following that time God gave me this verse:

Psalm 66:10-12 p.345
For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.

God allows suffering and difficulties to come into our lives in order to produce gold for the building of his house. It’s a good thing to remember when you are going through a difficult time. God is producing gold. It is also something we need to encourage each other with too. Whatever our difficulties, God wants to produce gold in our lives.

There are lots of verses in the Bible about gold and also about fire this is another:

1 Corinthians 3:9-16 p.686
v.9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building…v.12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work…v.16 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple…

Ok, that’s gold. Next we are going to think about pearls.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Holidays! Holidays!

Over the last few weeks my wonderful stress-free job became stressful! How ironic! A situation arose at work which, of course should not have happened, and caused numerous meetings, emails, telephone calls etc. On top of that I have also been particularly busy with job related stuff. Just goes to show that even with a stress-free job, life happens.

Fortunately some months ago, my husband and I had arranged a couple of weeks’ holiday for late October, which after the events of the last few weeks I’m really looking forward to. I'm planning to do lots of shopping, hence the picture. So I’m not going to around here for a short while. In the meantime I have scheduled three posts which are the notes of my first sermon, which I mentioned in this post.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review : Learn to study the Bible

Learn to study the Bible by Andy Deane (Xulon, 2009) is a great resource for people who want to do some serious Bible study. Andy’s explains that the difference between reading the Bible and studying the Bible comes down to one thing: writing. As we write down our insights, our questions, our responses, we are connecting more deeply with God’s Word. Of course, not everyone wants to put in the time and commitment to do this and those people who do not, would be overwhelmed by a book like this.

The sub-title of this book is: Forty different step by step methods to help you discover, apply and enjoy God’s Word. By describing 40 different ways of studying the Bible it is immediately obvious there are many ways of studying the Bible. By flicking through the various methods that are outlined we can find one that suits us.

Furthermore we don’t have to stick with one method forever. Using a different study method can breathe fresh life into our Bible study times even if we only use it for a short time.

I found the handwritten examples after the explanation of the Bible study method particularly helpful. It was like looking over someone’s shoulder while they were having their own private Bible study time, which is not something you are normally privileged to do.

Here is the web site if you would like more information: Learn to study the Bible

As a book reviewer, I did receive this book for free. However as a personal blogger, I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Devotional Thought : 2 Timothy 4:17

But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength… 2 Timothy 4:17

Likewise the Lord stands by our side and gives us strength to cope with whatever we have to face. If you are anything like me though, you would prefer that the Lord removed the difficult circumstances! However God is more interested in supplying us with his enabling grace than rescuing us from trying situations. He wants us to be strong and courageous in his strength.

Recently in Word for Today (12/10/09) the writer asked this question: “Would I still be anxious if I knew for certain I could handle anything that came up? The answer is no.” We become anxious when we are not sure if we can handle difficulties, situations, or relationships. We see future problems rising up and we feel overwhelmed. God’s solution is to give us grace, one day at a time, like manna.

In Exodus 16, we read about God’s provision of manna. For six days they collected manna, on the sixth day (and only the sixth day) they collected twice as much. On the seventh day, they rested. It sounds simple enough. However I know if I had been there I would have wanted to collect extra manna on those days when I wasn’t suppose to. I would want my own private stock pile of manna. I feel the same about grace. I want God to supply grace before I need it, just so I can be sure it’s there when I do need it. But the stored up manna was smelly by the next day and God doesn’t give grace in advance.

If we want to live without anxiety, we have to trust God, and believe that we can handle anything because he is at our side strengthening us.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The world rewards complainers

Have you ever got an upgrade, bonus or a discount because you complained? It happens, and it happens quite a lot. Perhaps you deserved special treatment, but maybe others deserved it more.

Have you ever given in to your children because they complained? So you let them have the extra lolly, the extra game, the extra five minutes in front of the TV. Maybe later when you had tired, grumpy children you regretted it.

The world often rewards complainers. We might get our own way, we might get an extra helping, or we might receive something which has a limited supply all because we complained. We may have complained about the lack of service, the lack of attention, or the lack of consideration of our needs and we were rewarded. I wonder if it was worth the emotional energy it took?

God doesn’t work like the world. He doesn’t cave into our complaints. We can’t wear him down with our nagging or hope he’ll give in to our badgering. No matter how much emotional energy we may put into our ranting, it will not move God. When we complain about our circumstances, our appearance, or our situation in life we are saying to God that we deserve to be treated better. God is not impressed with our arrogance. The history of the Israelites shows that God was not impressed with their complaints. God rewards those who seek him in faith (Hebrews 11:6). We please God when we don’t complain but rather trust him with the outcome (see also Philippians 2:14-15).

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Review : Get out of that pit

Get out of that pit (Thomas Nelson, 2007) is written in a conversational style and I imagine Beth Moore speaks like she writes. This style makes the book very easy to read and has touches of humor that lighten the serious message that Beth is presenting.

Based on Psalm 40:1-3, Beth defines the word “pit” as anything that makes you feel stuck, like you can’t stand up against temptation, and causes you to lose your vision—your hope for the future.

Beth also describes three paths that lead us into a pit. We are either thrown in, slip in or jump in. From there Beth outlines three steps to take in order to get out of the pit, regardless of how you found yourself there.

Beth confronts Christians and leaves them with no excuses for continuing to live in a “pit” with an unacceptable life style. She cites example after example, including many from her own life, of people who have fought addictions, emotional traumas, relational dependencies, and other type of bondages. Yet they all found freedom in Christ. Her message is highly challenging yet full of understanding and grace.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Devotional Thought : 2 Timothy 3:10

“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings…” 2 Timothy 3:10

I heard a minister speak on this verse just a few weeks after I became a Christian (almost 40 years ago!). Obviously it had a big impact on me.

The minister asked the question: Do you have people around you who know all about your teaching, your way of life…?

Do we even want to have people around us, who know all about our teaching, our way of life, our purpose, our faith, our patience, our love, our endurance, and our difficulties? God has placed us in church communities in order that we will build close relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Then our faith will not be just words but evident in our life style.

God doesn’t want hypocrites. This is the reason Jesus was so critical of the Pharisees. The word “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word which contains the idea of wearing a mask. God wants us so secure in our relationship with him that we do not need to wear a mask. Interestingly, we tend to use the word “hypocrite” for people who try to make themselves look better than they really are. In its truest sense, though, hypocrites are people who present themselves differently than they really are. Consequently we can also pretend to be less competent than we are in order to evoke sympathy and this is no less hypocritical than pretending to be more competent than we are.

It’s a challenge, yet a blessing, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with those Christians who know us best. To let them get to know us so well that they indeed know all about our faith, our patience, our love, and our difficulties.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, October 10, 2009

You can be bored or scared

Last weekend I went on a church camp. This is the third year in a row I have been on this particular camp and each time there has been a bike ride on the Saturday afternoon. There is no age limit on this ride. Some riders in fact travel in a child’s seat on the back of their mother’s bike. Other riders are my age (whatever age that is!). Having watched the riders come and go for the last three years, I finally got bored with watching and decided next time I’m riding. It’s a fairly scary decision, given I haven’t ridden a bike since I got my driver’s license at 18. But the choice is: be bored or be scared.

It started me thinking about an analogy to the Christian life. In the Christian life we can either be bored or scared. Many choose boredom which is why so many church services are so dull. The people have settled for a comfortable, safe version of Christianity where people are never challenged. People never spiritually mature and never move out of their comfort zone. They go through the same routines week after week. Nothing ever happens because they have left God off the agenda and they don’t put God on the agenda because…well, you never know what might happen.

The other choice is to be scared. Following God is scary, it requires us to get out the boat and walk on water. That is, we have to get out of comfort zone and do things we think are impossible for us. God challenges us, stretches us and calls us to do things that we think are way beyond us. The only assurance we have is His presence and He tells us, that is enough.

Personally I've chosen to be scared, which is why, at the church camp, I preached my first sermon—all seven minutes of it! A few years ago this would have been completely impossible but God has been doing a work in my life and He is not finished yet.

So in your Christian walk, do you want to be bored or scared?

There are no other options...

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Book Review : Sing and don't cry

Sing, and don't cry : a Mexican journal (Transit Lounge, 2005) is Cate Kennedy's biographical account of her time with a rural development organization in Queretaro, Mexico called URAC (the Regional Union for the Support of Peasant Farmers). Cate explains in one brief sentence how this came about. "Less than a year ago, restless for a new challenge, Phil and I had applied to do a volunteer stint anywhere in the world, and the dice have rattled in the cup and tossed us here in Mexico." It proved to a life changing experience.

Cate arrives in Mexico barely able to speak Spanish and is initially assigned the task of working with the URAC's community bank program. URAC provides a community bank where members can both borrow and save money. She learns there are five things which are considered essential to life and therefore worth getting into debt for. These are medicine, education, home improvements, fiestas (celebrations) and pilgrimages. These five things form the backbone of the book as Cate discusses them in much detail. The book is filled with vivid descriptions which convey not only the sights and sounds of rural Mexico but also the heartbeat of the place. You feel like you are there.

Cate willingly opens her heart to the Mexican people and in her two year placement learns not only the language and customs of these people but also their values. She finds herself confronted with a value system vastly different to the one she knew in Australia. A value system based on what is sometimes referred to as 'social capital' where community, participation and human contact are considered valuable which is why fiestas and pilgrimages are so important to them.

The overwhelming poverty and lack of opportunities for people, particularly the children is heart wrenching. It makes Cate realizes how wealthy she is monetarily but her real distress is the knowledge she is helpless to bring any lasting change to these people. Negligent governments have enacted policies which have caused much of the poverty and hardship in the country and there are no simple solutions to the immense problems. However the resilience of the people to celebrate and remain hopeful in the face of such depressing circumstances deeply impacts Cate and is reflected in the title, Sing and don't cry.

The book concludes with Cate struggling to readjust to living back in Australia. Walking around her home city, she is depressed by the lack of colour, everything appears so clean and orderly yet there is so little human interaction. The lack of eye contact, the coldness and indifference of strangers all make her feel lost in her own country. She finds it difficult to explain the reverse culture shock she is experiencing and thus it is hard for her to relate to her friends. In the end she comes to an unconvincing peace with her homeland.

Cate Kennedy's Mexican journal is an intense journey into another culture which leaves you with a Mexican taste in your senses and disconcerting questions in your mind as to who is really poor.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Devotional Thought : 2 Timothy 2:7

Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. 2 Timothy 2:7

In Every Day with Jesus (17/09/09), Selwyn Hughes quotes Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones as saying, “Faith…is primarily thinking…and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him.”

This verse from Timothy explains that as we think about faith issues God will give us insights. So it is not just about us using our minds but also about God revealing truth to us.

Sometimes our reluctance to think about our faith comes from a fear we will discover inconsistencies in what we believe. If there are discrepancies between what we believe and the way we act, then we will not mature in our faith until we have worked through these issues. God can handle our doubts. We can bring them to him, and by reflecting on them he will give us understanding.

I have conversed with supposedly thinking atheists only to discover they have closed minds. They simply dismiss anything they disagree with, without even thinking about it. We don’t need to be like them. If we are confident in our faith, we are able to consider opinions that differ from ours. From time to time I read books I disagree with. It helps me understand where others are coming from, but more importantly it helps me clarify in my own mind what I believe and why.

Let’s not be afraid to be thinking Christians. God wants to reveal insights to us and he can only do that as we reflect on our faith.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, October 03, 2009

How many are you?

I posted the following conversation on my Facebook page but I felt it deserved a wider audience so I’m posting it here as well. It’s a conversation I had with one of the kindergarten children on their latest visit to the library.

“How many are you?” she asked me.
“How many, what, am I? I replied a little perplexed.
“How many are you?”
“Well…how many are you?”
“I’m four. How many are you?”
“Oh, I’m more than four. Lots and lots more than four,” which seemed to satisfy her curiosity!

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Book Review : Eats, shoots & leaves

I really enjoyed reading, Eats, shoots & leaves : the zero tolerance approach to punctuation by Lynne Truss (Profile, 2003). I didn’t know punctuation could be so amusing!

Lynne has a delightfully humorous approach to the English rules of punctuation while at the same time pointing out many of the common errors people make. Encouraging people to laugh at themselves is a subtle, but effective way of promoting change. In particularly she discusses the use of apostrophes, commas, semi colons, colons, dashes, and hyphens. I found the book instructive without being pedantic. Lynne tells interesting stories of how the wrong use of punctuation can give an entirely different meaning. She also uses quotes from famous people, historical stories, as well as sign writers to make her point.

In addition Lynne points some of the discrepancies between American punctuation and English punctuation styles which I found particularly helpful as I often finding myself writing for an American audience.

I also found the title very clever. It is based on a joke about a panda which has a double meaning because of the placement of the comma. This fits so well with the tone of the book.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Devotional Thought : 2 Timothy 1:9

“…who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” 2 Timothy 1:9

Christianity is different to other religions. Some religions are based on people performing certain rites and ceremonies. But I wonder why a god would be pleased, or even notice?

Other religions are based on a person’s ability to behave in certain ways, or abstain from certain activities. Again, why would a god be impressed by such activities? These religions are based on a very small concept of god.

The one true God tells us he is not impressed with our good activities— “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and he is not always impressed with our ceremonies—“your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates” (Isaiah 1:13-14). We don’t impress God by our behaviour or our activities. So what does get God’s attention? What did Jesus notice? When Jesus was on earth the thing that impressed him was people expressing faith. People like the centurion (Matthew 8:10-11) and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28).

This verse in Timothy tells us that we are not saved by anything we have done but rather we are saved by what God has done. We cannot impress God by our good works or our performances, but we can honour God by our faith. When we trust in God despite all the obstacles and circumstances, He is pleased.

Satan’s complaint concerning Job was, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). Job continued to trust in God when there was no earthly reason to do so and won a decisive victory over Satan.

Likewise let’s choose to trust God whatever we are called to face.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Football Grand Final

Two years ago Geelong won the AFL grand final after not winning it for 42 years. I wrote about it here. So since I've started a tradition of writing about my team winning football grand finals, I posting about it again today because they won! Last year they made the grand final but lost it, so it was very satisfying to win again today.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book Review : Perseverance

Carolyn Rubenstein has met many young people who have struggled with life threatening diseases. From interviews and testimonies, she has put together twenty of their stories in a remarkable book called, Perseverance (Forge, 2009). Deciding whose story to include and whose to leave out must have been a very difficult decision. The book would have been less emotionally draining if Carolyn could have whittled it down to a dozen. Yet each story has value and tells of amazing courage in the face of devastating health issues.

While the person telling their story is in their early twenties at the time of writing, their experience of cancer happened either as a young child, a teenager, or very recently. For all of them it was a life changing experience that made them reevaluate their lives and their priorities. Often it changed the future direction of their lives, causing them to choose careers helping others, whether that was in the medical field or working with children.

There were recurring themes of learning not to “sweat the small stuff”; of learning to be grateful for things that healthy people take for granted; and the importance of living one day at a time.

Overall it was inspiring to read of young people overcoming enormous obstacles to live full lives.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Devotional Thought : 1 Timothy 6:6

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6

In Philippians 4:12 Paul tells us that he has learnt the “secret of being content in any and every situation,” and here he declares that being content is great gain.

How do we find contentment? Prior to Philippians 4:12 Paul was encouraging his readers to think about those things which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. If we are always thinking about those situations which upset us, and cause us to complain or grumble, we are not going to find contentment. So the first step towards contentment is to guard our thoughts.

Several verses later in 1 Timothy 6 Paul tells his readers, “to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). So the second step towards contentment is to believe that God will provide for us. God is eager to bless us. “He richly provides”. Sometimes He is more eager to bless us than we are to receive. Receiving from God makes us vulnerable and places us in the position of being children who are unable to reciprocate appropriately. We like to think we can provide for ourselves, or at least repay those who help us. However we can never repay God for his generosity towards us.

God’s complaint against the Church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) was that they thought they were rich but from God’s perspective they were poor. God is more than willing to provide, but are we willing to receive?

Perhaps it’s time to revise our thinking. Instead of thinking about what we need to make us content, we would do better to put our trust in God who will “meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Exaggeration promotes fear

On September 12th it was reported in the news that “Melbourne on Saturday recorded its hottest day on record for the first half of September”. What’s with “the first half of September”? After all this was on the 12th just four days short of the second half of September. Perhaps this would have been a fair statement if it happened in the first week of September but really…what’s going on here?

Likewise a big fuss was made in the media in August (Australian winter) when Queensland declared a day of total fire ban due to high temperatures. I have lived in Queensland and I remember going to the annual school sports day in August about 15 years ago. It was really hot. As the only ex-Victorian there, I also remember being the only one surprised about it being so hot.

My point is, if climate change is real why does the media feel the need to exaggerate it?

Of course the media isn’t the only one exaggerating. I know of Christians who also feel the need to exaggerate what God has said. (eg. “Come to Jesus and all your problems will be over.”)

Exaggerating is one my pet hates. I’m not sure why it annoys me so much. Perhaps it’s because I like to live a quiet life (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and exaggeration tends to promote fear and stress. So don’t do it, ok?

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review : Notes from the Tilt-a-whirl

If one listens to an overseas speaker it can take a short while to grow accustom to their accent. I had the same feeling when I began reading, Notes from the tilt-a-whirl by N. D. Wilson (Thomas Nelson, 2009). It took me a couple of chapters to grow accustom to Wilson’s tone and style but it was worth the effort.

Wilson addresses topics that are normally presented in an academic way—topics like creation, the Sovereignty of God, the problem of suffering—but he does it as if he was painting a picture rather than explaining theological subjects. He explores these topics by drawing examples from nature, the animal kingdom, and his own family. Furthermore this book is very well researched. Wilson quotes from various philosophers, authors, speakers, and his illustrations based on the insect world are amazing.

While reading Notes from the Tilt-A-World I felt like Wilson was constantly drawing me to the creative side of my brain by creating remarkable pictures. He teased my imagination with mind boggling questions that would never have occurred to me. Wilson has a way of developing his ideas that is unusual but delightful.

While it is an uplifting book it makes you feel small, yet grateful, in the presence of an awesome God.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Devotional Thought : 1 Timothy 4:12

…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Christians are called to be good role models; and the world is desperately short of good role models. God sees great value in using role models to teach others because modeling can be a more effective tool than teaching. Teaching requires that people are receptive, interested, and paying attention. Whereas modeling is absorbed unconsciously—we learn almost by accident as we watch others live out their Christian beliefs.

I read a quote on a desk calendar which suggested that while children may fail to listen to us; they never fail to imitate us. Likewise we find young Christians in our churches imitating those who are older in the faith. It is God’s design that older Christians set the example.

Furthermore a church community provides the perfect opportunity for Christian modeling to take place. By spending time with people who think differently to us we expand our understanding of what Christian faith looks like in other contexts. We grow in our faith when we have role models of varying ages and from different walks of life. However, it is not always a role we are eager to embrace. We may not feel qualified. It is quite a challenge—we are being watched.

Nevertheless being a role model is a task to be taken seriously. What impression am I giving young Christians if I’m always complaining, or worried, or stressed? What is my attitude telling them about God? To be a good role model doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. Young Christians are not looking for perfection, rather they are looking for signs of growth.

Are we setting a good example, in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity?

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Teaching Kids Church

Tomorrow I finish my second nine week stint in Kids Church. While I do like teaching I'm not sure I'm entirely cut out for 6-11 year olds. Still it has been an interesting time and hopefully I have imparted some truths to these young minds. Tomorrow we are doing a quiz on the various stories we have had during term so I’ll see then how much, or how little they remember! After tomorrow there are three Sundays where we don’t have Kids Church because of school holidays, and then term 4 starts. I won’t be teaching in term 4. I’m looking forward to a break, and also getting my Saturday afternoons back which lately have been spent in preparation.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Devotional Thought : 1 Timothy 3:16

He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. 1 Timothy 3:16

At the end of Paul’s instructions regarding leadership, he concludes with this quote, which was thought to come from a hymn. Discussing leadership in the church can be a tricky issue but ultimately our focus needs to be on Jesus. Paul seeks to direct his readers’ attention onto what’s really important.

It is easy to become distracted in our walk with God. Whether it’s leadership issues, or simply busyness, or attacks of the enemy, and we lose what God refers to as our “first love” (Revelation 2:4). Sometimes it can just seems to happen after we have been a Christian a while. Our focus slowly drifts away from what God has done for us. We begin to focus on what we are doing for God. We expect God to take notice of how much of the Bible we read, how long we pray, how often we attend church, and how much we help others. We expect God to be pleased with all the effort we are putting in on his behalf. But with this attitude we lose our first love.

How do we return to our first love? Revelation 2:5 tells us to “Repent and do the things you did at first.” That is, return to our original focus. God’s grace is not only available to save us but also available so we can live the Christian life. We focus on what God does. We take time to consider how much he loves us and how much he has done for us, and our attention is re-focused on him. The Christian life is “all about Jesus”.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Book Review : Fearless

Max Lucado’s latest book, entitled Fearless (Thomas Nelson, 2009), is being released today and I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy. Lucado wrote the book to encourage us to be: Fearless.

Our fears are many and Lucado works his way through each of them with Scripture, with true life stories, and by providing a spiritual antidote for each one. The chapters that spoke to me the most were: the fear of not mattering, the fear of overwhelming challenges, the fear of worst case scenarios, the fear of violence, and the fear of global calamity. There were many others. I found it particularly helpful the way Lucado was able to isolate each fear and expose the lies that created it. One of the other interesting fears he addressed was the fear of God getting out of my box. God has a habit of shattering our inadequate perceptions of him, which can also be scary.

Lucado is not so naïve as to think all our fears are going to disappear as a result of reading his book. So he provides a discussion guide at the back of the book for either individuals or groups to work through a process of examining our particular fears, exposing them, and battling them.

Like Max Lucado’s other books, Fearless is easy to read, keeps to the point, and is full of helpful teaching and Biblical insights.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Friday, September 04, 2009

Book Review : How to love

In some ways, How to love (Hachette, 2009), is in a similar vein to Gordon Livingston’s other books that I have read (Too soon old, Too late smart & And never stop dancing). They all provide practical advice about life and love. However in, How to love, Livingston is primarily concerned with how to discern who it is best to avoid in relationships and who is safe to trust. So much of the book is devoted to describing the character traits of those people to avoid. Of course, many of these traits are evident in a small degree in our own lives. Knowing how damaging the traits can be in a relationship helps us to avoid them in our own lives.

I do wonder however, how helpful Livingston’s advice is to those who are already in a relationship. We often look at our prospective partner through “rose coloured glasses” and initially overlook potentially destructive character traits. So really the book needs to be read before one meets their prospective partner. Yet, I don’t imagine we are that analytical, we tend to go with our first impression with little conscious thought about a person’s character traits. Nevertheless the book has much value for those prepared to be objective.

The book also has value for non-romantic relationships. Sometimes we are not as discerning as we could be in our choice of friends.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Carrying your own load

My contribution to a synchroblog on Christian Perspectives on Health Care:

A bit of history—as I remember it and as I understand it—Australia has a public health system which was introduced many many years ago when I was working as a bank officer. At the time I also had private health insurance. In Australia most private health insurance is through private companies and not through one’s employer. The public health system is funded by a tax levy and when it was first introduced the cost of my private health insurance fell by almost the same amount as the tax increase. However very quickly the cost of my private health insurance was back at the pre tax levy amount. The reason being, we suddenly had a lot more sick people. A free public health system had somehow created a lot more sick people. Why is that? Furthermore anytime the government pours money into the public health system to reduce public hospital waiting lists the same thing happens—more sick people and little reduction in waiting lists. So even with a public health system we still have people in chronic pain from relievable health problems.

I wrote about my feelings about helping people generally in my previous post based on 1 Timothy 5. In regard to health issues, although I agree in principle with a public health system, I think the only people who should be entitled to completely free health services are those under 18 and those over 65. All others need to make some financial contribution, because we have to bear some responsibility for our own physical state, even if we did nothing to cause its downfall. I would consider this part of carrying of our load (Galatians 6:5), which I also mention in my previous post.

It would also help if people stopped expecting the medical profession to have a magic pill for every ill and ailment—not sure how you legislate for that! I also don’t know how you legislate for people to eat better, smoke less, exercise more, look after themselves, and not rely on medical science to repair their bad health choices. Pouring money into a public health system isn’t going to solve these problems.

I have included some links from other synchrobloggers and will add more as they become available.

Susan Barnes at Abooklook (that’s me): Carrying Your Own Load
Phil Wyman at Square No More: Clowns to the Left. Jokers to the Right. Stuck in the Middle of the Health Care Debate
Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House: Baby Steps Toward More Humane Humanity
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules: A Christian Perspective on Health Care Reform
Kathy Escobar at Carnival in My Head: It's Easy to be Against Health Care Reform When You Have Insurance
K.W. Leslie at The Evening of Kent: Christian's Responsibility to Healthcare
Ellen Haroutunain: Christian Perspectives on Health Care
Steve Hayes at Khanya: Self-evident Truths and Moral Turpitude
Kimber Caldwell at Convergence: Is Health Care a Right?
Lainie Petersen at Headspace: Caring for Human Dignity
Jeff Goins at Pilgrimage of the Heart: A Christian Response to Health Care in America

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Monday, August 31, 2009

Devotional Thought : 1 Timothy 5:3,5,16

I'm posting this thought out of order (as far as the book of Timothy is concerned) as I want to refer to it in my next post, which will be part of a synchroblog on Christian Perspectives on Health Care

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need... The widow who is really in need ...the church can help those widows who are really in need...1 Timothy 5:3, 5 & 16

Three times Paul makes a distinction between widows, and widows “who are really in need”. Widows are helped on the basis of need and the initial responsibility lies with the widow’s family.

This points out a significant difference between the way churches help people and the way government agencies help. Churches are in a position to discern genuine need because they are community based. Therefore the people who attend also associate with each other at other times. If someone is in need, others in the church ought to notice and do something about it. Whereas government agencies aim to help everyone equally and have no foolproof way of discerning true need.

Helping people can be a tricky business; on the one hand we don’t want to neglect those in need. While on the other we don’t want people to become idle and abuse the generosity of others. Paul gives these instructions in Galatians 6:2, “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”. Yet only a few verses later we are told, “for each of you should carry your own load” (v.5). A burden is something that weighs us down and we need help with it, while a load is a person’s normal responsibilities.

God places us in a church family so that we can know each other and care for each other. By spending time with our church family we become aware of each other’s burdens and we find ways of supporting them. God has placed the church in an ideal position to be a most effective helping agency.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, August 29, 2009

How do you read?

If you visit my blog often you will know that I like to read. You may even have picked up that I read quickly. Lately though, I’ve been realizing this is a mixed blessing. When I learnt to read I was a bit lazy and didn’t bother to stop and look up the words I did not know in a dictionary. I also didn’t bother to sound out these words. I didn’t need to know what the words sounded like in order to understand the story. I tend to get very engrossed when I read and I didn’t want to disengage from the book to look up a word. So as long as I could make some sense of the word from the context I just kept going. By not pronouncing all the words in my head I can read much quicker. However as an adult, I am now in the rather embarrassing situation of finding there are many words that I simply don’t know how to pronounce, even though I may know what they mean.

So how do you read? Do you read every word, sounding them out in your head? Or do you read quickly, skipping over everything that doesn’t move the story forward?

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shared Experiences

Yesterday I read these two books to a group of 55 young primary school children. Reading to children is a very worthwhile pursuit. It encourages them to love stories and teaches them to read for themselves. Reading books to children also provides the opportunity for a shared experience. I think the value of a shared experience is greatly underappreciated. We live in a world where we are offered so many choices and therefore we tend to fall into the trap of thinking we always have the right to our preference. Yet this attitude breeds selfishness. Sometimes it is beneficial to deliberately create a shared experience—like reading a book with a child.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Devotional Thought : 1 Timothy 2:1-2

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

If we want to live peaceful and quiet lives it is up to us to pray for those in authority. Paul doesn’t tell us to petition the government, or protest the decline in moral standards, or blame the government for not employing enough police. Rather he places the responsibility on us to pray.

It has always been this way, 2 Chronicles 7:14 clearly states: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” There is a price to be paid if we want God’s blessing on our land. Firstly we are told to humble ourselves and acknowledge we cannot solve our problems with man’s wisdom. God calls us to be “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) and realize we need God’s help. Secondly we are told to pray. Praying takes patience and determination. It is generally not convenient as there is always something else we would rather be doing. Thirdly we are told to seek God’s face. Rather than asking God to bless our plans we are required to find out what God’s plans are and pray that they will come to pass, regardless of our own desires. Fourthly we are told to turn from our wicked ways. Our wicked ways are generally our desires to do things our way rather than God’s.

Do we want to live peaceful and quiet lives? Are we fulfilling our responsibility to pray?

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Saturday, August 22, 2009

There is nothing in the world so damaged...

Last week I watched Appointment with Death on DVD. It was based on the book by Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot solved the crime. Apparently though, there were some significant changes to the plot in the DVD version. It was not a pleasant story. One of the characters, Jinny, had experienced severe childhood abuse and I felt the “flash backs” were overdone. However, at the end of the movie, I nearly fell off my chair when Hercule Poirot consoled Jinny with these words:

There is nothing in the world so damaged that it cannot be repaired by the hand of Almighty God.

Where did that come from? It doesn’t sound like anything Agatha Christie would write. Did a script writer think he ought to add some hope to an otherwise dismal tale?

Anyway it is quite a profound thought and one that requires a step of faith to believe. I must admit I haven’t always believed it but these days I do.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Review : From eternity to here

Frank Viola describes the relationship God wants with his people by putting forward three pictures. These pictures become the three parts of the book, From eternity to here : rediscovering the ageless purpose of God (David C Cook, 2009).

Firstly there is the picture of the bride of Christ. Mostly we are familiar with this picture from Ephesians 5:25-26 “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy…” However Viola starts at Genesis and shows how this thought has been on God’s heart from the very beginning of time. Viola continues through the Old Testament showing how many of the stories we are familiar with fit in with this theme.

Secondly there is the picture of the house of God. Again we are familiar with the Scripture from Revelation 21:3 “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them”. And again Viola starts at Genesis and reveals how God has always desired to dwell with men.

Thirdly there is the picture of the body of Christ and the family of God. These are also well known images and yet Viola is able to bring new insights and further truths to these pictures.

By putting together all these images Viola has given us the opportunity to gaze at the “big picture” of God’s ageless purpose. The book teaches us so much about God’s desire for his people and puts our minor irritations and frustrations into a much better perspective.

This is a great read with so many helpful thoughts and interesting concepts.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Devotional Thought : 1 Timothy 1:5

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5 NAS).

The aim of Christian teaching is not that we get an A+ for theology. The aim is not that we acquire a great deal of knowledge about insignificant details in the Bible like the genealogies (v.4). The aim is that we become more loving. In John 13:35 Jesus didn't say that all men will know we are Christians by our theology, our doctrines, or our preaching but rather people will know we are Christians by our love.

The test of our maturity as Christians is not on the basis of age, intelligence, or how long we have been a Christian. Our maturity is not measured by how much of the Bible we know, or how much we pray, even though these are important disciplines. But the acid test is how much do we love? Are we growing in this area? Are we moving towards the goal of love?

So how do we become more loving? 1 John 4:19 tells that, “we love because He first loved us”. The more we understand how much God loves us, the more we will be able to love others. Paul knew how important this was and prayed that we would have power to comprehend it. He wrote this: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 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 that surpasses knowledge...” (Ephesians 3:17-19).

As we open our lives to His love and allow ourselves to be loved, then we will find our love for God growing and flowing on to others.

Technorati StumbleUpon Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo