Thursday, April 30, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 7:1

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth… Revelation 7:1

About four hundred years, this verse was used as ‘proof’ the world was flat. Likewise Matthew 4:8, “Again, the devil took him (Jesus) to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” Also verses like Psalm 19:4-6 which refer to the sun rising at one end of the heavens and making its circuit to the other. However the world is not flat.

Then there was the person who complained to me that the Bible was not accurate because in 1 Kings 7:23 (LB) we read, “Then Hiram cast a round bronze tank, 7½ feet high and 15 feet from brim to brim; 45 feet in circumference.” This implies the circumference of a circle is 3 times its diameter whereas it is approximately 3.14 or pi.

The notes from the Life Application Study Bible explain the expression “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). “The Bible is not a collection of stories, fables, myths, or merely human ideas about God…The writers wrote from their own personal, historical, and cultural contexts. Although they used their own minds, talents, language, and style, they wrote what God wanted them to write. Scripture is completely trustworthy because God was in control of its writing.”

The Bible is a history of God’s dealings with his people and God employs all types of literary aids to get his message across—parable, analogy, hyperbole, poetry, symbolism, word pictures. God inspired a wide variety of people over a long time span to write historical accounts, poems and letters to explain the relationship God wants with his people. God did not give us scientific blueprints or mathematical formulas. After all he’s trying to tell us he loves us!

Next post: Back from holidays

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Book Review : The Tipping Point

The Tipping point : how little things can make a big difference by Malcolm Gladwell (Abacus, 2000) is a collection of stories and research outcomes about the rather strange phenomenon which causes something which was on a gradual increase or decrease to suddenly peak or plummet. An outbreak of disease can suddenly become an epidemic, crime figures can jump or fall for no apparent reason, fashion trends can suddenly take off. Gladwell takes a closer look at many of these incidents to determine what it was that caused the situation to suddenly reach a tipping point and create an outcome that was out of proportion to what you would expect.

As I said previously it took me quite a while to read this book as it is mind stretching to be presented with so many incidents where situations develop in unanticipated ways. Gladwell employs a range of terms to help explain what he has discovered. These include the connectors, the mavens, and the salesmen who are people who have an unusual effect on situations; plus the stickiness factor which refers to the ability to continually repeat outcomes so products or services become surprisingly successful. As Gladwell examines situations where these people or products/services operate he notices predictable trends.

If someone with a new product or service can learn the lessons of the tipping point and harness its power, it will work to their advantage.

My next post: Devotional Thought : Revelation 7:1

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Book Review : The Listener

Terri Blackstock has written a short fictional tale called The Listener (WestBow Press, 2000). It tells the story of a man who, for two weeks, is able to hear people’s spiritual needs. Consequently this gives him the opportunity of speaking deeply into people’s lives. It also births within him a desire to tell people about Christ who can meet all of their needs. We are told many, perhaps too many, stories of people who come to Christ through this man’s gift and of others who came to Christ because of this man’s friends who, although they did not have his gift, caught his desire to see others come to Christ.

The main purpose of this story is to show that people, who appear to have their lives under control on the outside, can be crying out on the inside. Daily we walk past people in desperate need, yet we are not aware of it. The second point of this story is it doesn’t take much effort to show an interest in people and to act kindly towards them and we may be surprised at how open they are to the Gospel. While I think this second point was a little overdone in the story, it is nevertheless a good point.

My favourite scene in the story is when the main character, Sam, is in an elevator with a young man with Down’s syndrome. Sam hears this man thinking, “Wish I’s a real person”. Sam says to him, “Jimmy. You are a real person”. It is not clear to Sam whether his words had any impact on Jimmy, but it really doesn’t matter. Sam’s affirmation was pure gift and reminds us of how simple it is to say a word of encouragement.

Next post: Book Review : The tipping point

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 8:4-5

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth… Revelation 8:4-5

Mark Buchanan writes about prayer in his book, Your God is Too Safe. He has already referred to Revelation 5:8, “they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” saying sometimes it feels like our prayers are nothing more that sweet perfume. They make a nice smell but do they achieve anything? Then he writes about the above verses:

“The perfume becomes bombs. The long wait is finally interrupted, and everything is altered. At a point beyond our choosing, beyond our ability to predict or control or delay or hasten, the sweet but inert fragrance of all the prayers we've sent heavenward is ignited with holy fire, and sent hurtling back to earth. The status quo is forever shaken, split open, reordered. The demons flee. The blind see. The dead arise. As He did with Elijah, the God who is not safe answers with the fire from heaven, and Baal loses.”

We are called to be faithful in prayer, to be perfume makers because one day the perfume becomes bombs and our prayers are going to have far more impact than we could have imagined. Sometimes our prayers are too small. We pray for small improvements but maybe God wants to drop a bombshell and totally reorder the whole situation. Maybe God doesn’t want a small improvement but rather he wants to change the status quo forever.

However the significant phrase is, “at a point beyond our choosing”, the timing is always up to God and in the meantime we are encouraged to pray.

Next post: Book Review: The Listener

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Book Review : The new rules of engagement

As I have said elsewhere I heard Michael McQueen speak on this subject and bought this book, The new rules of engagement : a guide to understanding & connecting with generation y by Michael McQueen (Nexgen Impact, 2007). The subject matter is divided into three convenient sections. The first section describes the different perspectives of the main generations that make up the 20th century. In the second section Michael writes about what he calls paradigm rifts. These are areas where the previous generations see things very differently to generation y. There are eight areas that are highlighted. The final section contains strategies to communicate more effectively with generation y.

Michael does a good job of explaining why generation y think the way they do. His explanations are clear and concise. He includes stories and examples of situations that cause concern to three main groups of people that are dealing with this generation on a daily basis. These are parents, teachers and employers. In the final section Michael has also noted which chapters in particularly are more pertinent to parents, teachers or employers. So it is not necessary to read the whole book in order to isolate the information that is relevant for your needs.

As a parent of three generation y children I found Michael’s book very helpful and I now have a greater understanding of how my children think. Unfortunately though my children are on the older end of this generation and it would have been more helpful if I had read it 10 years ago. However he only wrote the book a year or so ago!

Next post: Devotional Thought : Revelation 8:4-5

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Holidays!

I’m going to the coast for a couple of weeks to have a break and visit my kids. I have read quite a few books lately that I haven’t posted about yet so while I’m away I have scheduled some of these plus some devotional thoughts that I hope you will enjoy in my absence.

Next post: Book Review: The new rules of engagement

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Naomi's time of trial

I have been leading some studies on the book of Ruth lately and although it is an old story it is a story of how to respond in faith during times of trial.

Naomi found herself economically and spiritually bankrupted on the death of her sons who died without fathering any children (heirs). Her retirement plans were in tatters, without an heir she was left without the one thing that really mattered. There was nobody to raise up an heir to her husband’s name and this was the greatest tragedy imaginable. The most important thing to a family in Israel was to have an heir who would inherit the land – it was God’s land that they were holding for him. If they didn’t have any sons, then their name would cease to be, it amounted to being annihilated. Naomi was left in a foreign country without husband or sons and without hope of ever having a son to continue the family name. She returns to Bethlehem a bitter woman. Ruth accompanies her yet what benefit is there in having a Moabite for a daughter-in-law? However only about a year later the women of Bethlehem tell Naomi that Ruth is better to her than seven sons! (Having seven sons was considered the perfect family.) God can bring about blessing from the most unexpected places if we trust him.

In times of trail we remind ourselves that God is working behind the scenes for our good. God was undetected as He orchestrated the events of Ruth's life. She happened to find herself working in Boaz’s fields. When she told Naomi about Boaz’s kindness towards her, Naomi responds, “The Lord bless him!” Against all odds a relative of Naomi’s husband shows an unexpected interest in her daughter-in-law. Even through her difficulties Naomi can't help but see the hand of God. Do we so readily see God’s hand in all our circumstances?

Then, at the appropriate time, Naomi must take action. She sends Ruth to Boaz to ask if he will fulfill the role of a kinsman-redeemer. God requires that we too take action. As we trust God, he will make it clear to us what action we need to take. Perhaps there are people in our lives we need to ask for help.

There were more difficulties in Ruth and Naomi’s situation which Boaz promises to resolve if he is able. Ruth is told to wait and Naomi must wait too. Waiting is such hard work! However as we trust God with all the circumstances of our lives he will bring about his good purposes.

There are many lessons from Naomi’s story. However the thing that kept Naomi going in her time of trial was an unshakeable belief that God was controlling all her circumstances and that he can be trusted even in the bad times.

This is part of a synchroblog about faith in these hard times - looks like being a small synchroblog this month:

Beth Patterson: Hope and other non-sequiturs
Ellen Haroutunian: Finding hope when the money is gone
K.W. Leslie: Tough times... when your sense of proportion is out of whack

Next post: Holidays!

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 10:4

I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” Revelation 10:4

I quite like watching Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Good mysteries end with the bad guy being exposed, the good guys being exonerated and justice being done. It is irritating when the last instalment is delayed and we are left with an unresolved mystery. However as Christians we live every day with an unresolved mystery—we believe in a good and powerful God yet daily we see tragedies that God could have prevented. If we want to have peace it is necessary to accept that some things will remain a mystery, God is not going to tell us everything. This verse in Revelation makes it clear that some things are kept from us.

We are waiting for the final instalment. Yet we can live comfortably with this mystery because we know a greater mystery—why would God send his only Son to die for sinners? It is a mystery that causes us to sing: “I know not why God's wondrous grace to me he has made known or why...He redeemed me for his own...but I know whom I have believed.”

In the film, Keeping Mum, Rowan Atkinson plays the part of a minister who delivers a surprisingly good sermon on God's mysterious ways. He quotes from Isaiah 55, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” then remarks “God is saying, 'I’m mysterious. Live with it!'“

This Easter, though sometimes God seems mysterious, our confidence can rest in God’s character. We know God is an all good God, who is full of compassion and grace. We also know, in his time, he will indeed reveal the final instalment.

Next post: Naomi's time of trial

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Needing Grace

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to lead communion at my church. I decided to use this story which I read on Jeff Goins’ blog. It is the story of a group of teenage convicts playing football against other high school teams. The coach asked people in the community to come and support these teenager convicts as they played. After I told the story and spoke about grace, I said this:

It's a beautiful picture of what God does for us. God cheers for us, even though we have no right to expect it. We’ve failed to measure up to God’s standards for our life, nevertheless he is on our side, cheering and supporting us. When we experience grace like that it causes us to change. It’s not punishments and rules that make us change but rather it is grace that changes us from the inside out.

My intention in telling the story was that people would identify with prisoners. How it would have felt for the first time ever to have people cheering and supporting them. I suspect though it may have been more comfortable for my hearers to identify with those doing the cheering. We tend to think of ourselves as good people who help others. Yet we are also people in need of grace.

It reminds me of the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the story, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” But did he mean, “go and show mercy” or “go and receive mercy”? You see, the original question was, “who is my neighbour?” and the eventual answer, that Jesus tricked the ‘expert’ into saying was, my neighbour is the one who showed mercy (Luke 10:37). Consequently I am to love the one who shows mercy to me because really, it is me in the ditch needing help. (For a fuller explanation of this treatment of the Good Samaritan see Mark Buchanan’s book, The Holy Wild, pg. 113-116)

The point is, I too need grace to be shown to me and that is a good thought to ponder this Easter.

Next post: Devotional Thought on Revelation 10:4

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

My stress-free job

Working in a country public library must be one of the most stress-free jobs in the world! I have worked in other types of libraries which have various stresses. For example I worked in a university library for a year and during that time came across three students in tears mostly because they had left assignments to the last minute and now the books weren’t available. I also came across some very angry students. The angry ones were generally upset about their overdue fines which started accumulating from the day they were late at the rate of 20c per day per item. While that doesn’t sound a lot, students tend to borrow a lot of books at once. So if you borrow 10 books and you are five days late you quickly have a bill of $10. And if you had a debt of $10 you weren’t allowed to borrow any more books. So there was some stress working in a university library. I have also worked in school libraries. Working in a school environment is automatically stressful! Enough said.

Then I worked for a time in public libraries in metropolitan areas. While there weren’t as many stresses as a university library there was still the problem of people with overdue fines, people trying to steal books and students doing research assignments with short time frames. Plus the general stresses of working for bosses who had their own particularly idiosyncrasies. Then I moved to my current position—a librarian in a country public library. Most of customers read for entertainment and recreation so if a book is unavailable, missing or delayed it is not a big deal. Our non-fiction section is for general interest and not intended to support research so I don’t have stressed out students. I am the only library worker in the building. My boss is 120k away so I’m pretty much free to run the library the way I like. We only charge overdue fines if we have to send a reminder letter. These are sent from head office and you only get one if you are two weeks late. I do have a couple of more difficult customers but every job has their share of those. So overall it is a very stress-free job and I love it.

Next post: Needing grace

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 6:10-11

They called out in a loud voice, “How long, sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood? … and they were told to wait a little longer.” Revelation 6:10-11

This verse reminds me of the hymn, The Church’s One Foundation:
Yet saints their watch are keeping, Their cry goes up: How long?
And soon the night of weeping, Shall be the morn of song.

Generally speaking we are not good at waiting. We think nothing is happening while we wait or that we could be doing something more productive instead of waiting. Yet God sees waiting quite differently. He sees that we are strengthened spiritually as we wait. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Our waiting is not wasted if we are waiting on the Lord because we are growing stronger.

The Hebrew word for “wait” in this passage can also refer to the process of making rope. Making rope is a process of adding strands and twisting them together, the more strands the stronger the rope. The more we learn the ‘process’ of waiting on God by binding ourselves to his purposes and his timetable the stronger our faith.

If we wait for a bus, we wait expectantly, looking for the bus to come, believing it will come, even though it may not come when we think it ought to. Likewise as we wait upon the Lord, we wait expectantly, eagerly looking for God. His intervention may not happen when or how we would like, but we know that God will indeed come and make a difference in our situation.

Next post: My stress-free job

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Engaging Generation Y

On Tuesday night I went to hear Michael McQueen speak on the subject, Engaging Generation Y. I found it fascinating to hear about each generation’s perceptions on life. Each generation has had different influences war, depression, working mothers, technology etc. Consequently they have come to different conclusions about a variety of issues. Michael discussed six areas in particular when they are noticeable differences between the way parents/teachers/employers think and the way young people think. As he spoke about these six areas Michael had two pair of glasses, he had one pair of glasses on for when he spoke about the parent’s point of view and then he changed glasses when as he spoke about the young person’s point of view. It had the effect of emphasizing that our points of view are like a lens we look at life through and because someone else is looking through a different set of lens doesn’t make them wrong. The six areas he spoke about were: the concept of truth, assumptions of respect, communication, the value of patience, the future and learning. He then gave some suggestions of ways to better connect with generation Y.

I was supposedly born into the baby boomers generation, however because I was born in England and immigrated to Australia when I was six there were influences in my early life that often makes me respond more like someone from generation X. For example I can’t remember not having television. Most of my peers can, because television didn’t come to Australia until much later. The schools I went to encouraged students to question everything which I did. Rote learning was being phased out, though I was thankful to learn multiplication tables by rote. Interestingly, I met someone who felt they were more of a baby boomer though they were born into generation X because of the influences that were present in their early life.

I have bought Michael’s book, The new rules of engagement : a guide to understanding and connecting with generation Y and hope to read it in the next week or two. Michael also has a website called:Nexgen Group.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Book Review : The Art of Talking to Anyone

Recently I read, The Art of Talking to Anyone by Rosalie Maggio (McGraw-Hill, 2005). Being an introvert I tend to read these sorts of books from time to time in the hope of finding some ideas that will turn me into a scintillating conversationalist! (Probably not going to happen!) The problem with these types of books is that they are written by extraverts for extraverts and consequently don’t address the problems introverts often face in conversations. About 20 years ago I had someone say to me, “You don’t volunteer much, do you?” I was stunned; it hadn’t occurred to me that I was supposed to volunteer something. My mind was thinking, you mean you want me to say something? What would you like me to say? I had no idea, so of course, I didn’t say anything which seemed to confirm this person’s conviction—nope, she doesn’t volunteer much.

So I read these types of books in order to figure out what it is I’m supposed to volunteer. This particular book is jammed packed with practical suggestions and examples of things to say as well as more general advice. I did pick up some helpful thoughts and ideas. The book covers a wide range of conversational situations from business meetings to romantic encounters. It includes not only things to say but things you should not say and what to do if you accidentally say them. Plus there are ways to start and end conversations and most things in between.

There is a short section entitled; Do you fail to finish your sentences? This unfortunately is something I often do. I get half way through a sentence and I’m suddenly attacked by two (or more) different thoughts jumping into my brain at the same time. I don’t know which thought to go with so I stop mid-sentence. By the time I’ve decided which thought I want to run with someone has taken the conversation somewhere else. (If anyone else has this problem and has managed to solve it please let me know, actually if anyone else simply has this problem let it know. It would be encouraging to know, I’m not alone!) This section in the book is sadly lacking any helpful advice apart from don’t do it. Otherwise though, the book is full of good advice and suggestions.

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