Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 17:17

For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled. Revelation 17:17

God agrees to give the beast power to rule. It is like God agreeing to Satan’s request to stop protecting Job (Job 1:12, 2:6) or agreeing to Satan’s request to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). We are left wondering why God would agree to such a thing.

However we are told God put it into their hearts in order to accomplish his purposes. God is behind the scenes orchestrating events to bring about his outcomes. Very clearly God is in control. Furthermore it appears in this instance in Revelation that the beast which is evil destroys the prostitute who is also evil. It reminds me of some of the Old Testament battles where God confuses Israel’s enemies so that their enemies end up fighting and destroying each other instead of Israel. For example: 1 Samuel 14:15-20, “They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords” also 2 Chronicles 20:22-24.

The most encouraging word in this verse is perhaps, “until”. God has put a time limit on evil. Again this tells us God is in control. Evil does not have free reign but only operates until God’s purposes are accomplished. It is remarkable to us that God can use evil to bring about something good. Yet this is the message of Romans 8:28, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” “All things” includes those things that God agrees to even if the source is evil. We can rest in the assurance that God would never agree to it unless he saw the outcome was for our good.

Next post: Book Review : Surrender All by Joni Lamb

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Voyage that Shook the World

Last week I saw the movie, The Voyage that Shook the World. It is more of a documentary then a movie as it is a biographical look at the life of Charles Darwin, author of “The Origin of the Species”. The main point of the film was to consider the influences and events which shaped Darwin’s ideas. No scientist comes to a research task completely objectively. All of us have preconceived ideas which will influence the way we look at data. Even Christian scientists will look for evidence to support their views. The voyage Darwin took when he was in his early twenties greatly impacted his views. However his grandparents and other background influences were already leading him towards the theory of evolution.

For me one of the most interesting insights was the fact that three of Darwin’s ten children died in childhood and this apparently had a major effect on Darwin. He struggled with a God who would allow such tragedies. So developing an explanation of creation that didn’t require a Creator was attractive to Darwin.

To be struggling with grief and loss and have no explanation is overwhelming. It gives us such a sense of security if we can explain why things happen. Many Christians struggle with this issue too, it requires that we acknowledge we are not in control of our own destiny and that God does not always gives us explanations. However if we have developed a relationship with God we can trust God’s character and that, in the final analysis, is enough.

Next post: Devotional Thought : Revelation 17:17

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review : How to talk so people will listen

Steve Brown has written an easy to read book entitled, How to talk so people will listen (Baker Books, 2003). I enjoyed Brown’s humorous approach to his topic and also his willingness to share many of his own mistakes. He has had a lot of experience in delivering talks as he was a pastor for many years and also a radio broadcaster.

Brown addresses many of the usual aspects of public speaking including overcoming fear, preparing a speech, giving a speech as well as some of less well covered topics like winning an argument, the power of words and psychological blocks to good communication. Brown has a wide range of situations in mind as he writes; everything from a one on one conversation between husbands and wives or a counseling situation, to sermons or speeches made to a large crowd.

By covering such a broad range of topics I felt that Brown was sometimes too brief in his advice and breezed over some important issues. Also as I have mentioned elsewhere when reviewing these types of books , I felt he addresses the topic only from the point of view of an extrovert. However despite these slight criticisms, it was a helpful read.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Devotional Thought : John 17:26

Taking a short break from Revelation

I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them. John 17:26

John 17 is a very special chapter because it is where Jesus prays for us. In this prayer we find that Jesus' chief concern is not to do with our sins or shortcomings or that we get busy doing His work. His chief concern is our relationship with God and with one another. Jesus had taught about God and now He wants future followers to continue to grow in their knowledge of God and His love.

In Romans 5:5 it says, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.” Here is God's answer to Jesus' prayer He has put His love into our hearts. Yet sometimes we are tempted to keep God at arm's length thinking He is displeased with us. But He longs for us to come to Him. When Jesus appointed the twelve in Mark 3:14 his first instruction is that they "be with him". This desire for us to, “be with him” is also expressed in this prayer of Jesus in v.24, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.”

God longs more than anything else to have a close, personal relationship with us. As he said over Jerusalem, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

Today let us be willing.

Next post : Book Review: How to talk so people will listen

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Twitter: what I discover so far…

I signed up for Twitter seven weeks ago and at the time I was told I would figure it out as I went which has been partly true. There are two things in particular that I didn’t expect. One is, I am being followed! Mostly by people who have blogs that I read, but also a few surprises—a skate park in Singapore! By someone who follows over 20,000 people—don’t expect he reads too many of my updates! It becomes apparent fairly quickly that people have a filter system, because no one would have time to read updates from even 1,000 people let alone 20,000. But doesn’t it sort of defeat the purpose of following people if you don’t plan to read their updates? This is something I haven’t figure out yet. Please let me know if you have.

However on the up side I have found an unexpected bonus. I follow people whose blogs I read. Mostly I was reading their posts on Google Reader but I have discovered that when these people post they also put a link in Twitter, often with a bit of a description. This has been very helpful as now I only read those posts I am actually interested in. (So if you are blogging about your dog, sorry, but since I’m not into pets I’m not going to read it!) Also as people recommend other posts, I find I am reading a great variety of posts from a wider range of places which has been great. Another feature I’ve found (though it is actually on TweetDeck and not on Twitter) is I can connect it to my Facebook account and read my friend’s status updates without going into Facebook. In fact it is easier to read these updates on TweetDeck than it is on Facebook. I can also update my own status from TweetDeck.

So with Twitter I am no longer using Google Reader (however I do use Feedblitz for those bloggers not on Twitter) or going to Facebook as often so I have more time to read those posts that genuinely interest me. This has to be a plus.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Review : Tribes

Seth Godin uses the word tribe for a group of people who have a shared interest and a way of communicating. With the advent of online communication the need for people to get together geographically is greatly diminished which also means the potential for anyone to be a leader is greatly enhanced. The purpose of his book, Tribes (Piatkus, 2008), is to demonstrate that tribes need leaders and to encourage people to become leaders in whatever field their interest lies.

Godin explains the changing nature of business in today’s culture and while he doesn’t use the term “generation y” it is clear to me that many of these changes have come about because of the growing number of generation y people who are entering the work force. (Generation y is the term given to people born between about 1980 and 2000.) Generation y people have different values and different points of view which greatly effects their perception of the nature of work and the way to earn an income. If we want to make an impact in today’s changing climate we need to keep pace with the new ideas that are being discussed as there are many opportunities for creative, innovative people. That is, people who are prepared to do things differently to the status quo.

Godin believes now is a great time for anyone to take the initiative and start leading a tribe.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 16:5-6

You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve. Revelation 16:5-6

As I pondered this verse it occurred to me that we greatly underestimate three things: God’s holiness, God’s justice and God’s patience.

The outcomes of God’s judgments as portrayed in Revelation seem horrendous to our modern minds. However it is because we underestimate the enormity of sin in the presence of a holy God. We are surprised by the sudden death experiences of people like Uzzah, Nadab, Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira yet they are reminders that every sin warrants the death penalty. The cross was an enormous price for God to pay in order to forgive us but was completely necessary, such is his holiness.

This verse also tells us God’s judgments are just. We may find them extreme but again it is because we underestimate God’s justice. Evil deserves all the punishments that God will pour out. Currently God’s justice is postponed but it doesn’t mean it is cancelled. The day is coming when He will act and all will acknowledge that God is entirely just.

Furthermore this verse suggests that currently we live in the time of God’s patience. Throughout the outpouring of God’s judgments we find references to the opportunity people have to repent and Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise…He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

While we may struggle with some of the imagery in the book of Revelation, let’s remember God’s awesome holiness, his righteous justice, and his incredible patience with us.

Next post: Book Review : Tribes by Seth Godin

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

On sending self-published books to libraries

It seems to be a common practice for authors of self-published books to send free copies of their books to libraries and in my role as a librarian I regularly receive these kinds of books. I am unsure why they think this is a good marketing ploy. Libraries are not so desperate for new books that they automatically add these books to their collections. All books have to meet the collection criteria of the particular library and generally speaking self-published books do not. If the book isn’t attractive to a publisher than it is probably not going to interest a library. There are two exceptions: one is if the book contains material of interest to the local area and two is if the author is known to the librarian, or known in the area.

Furthermore librarians are notorious bad at publicity so if the author is hoping for some free publicity for their book, they are going to be disappointed. The truth is most self-published books sent to (Australian) libraries will end up in the rubbish bin.

During the week I received a free copy of ,The Six Ways of Atheism : new logical disproofs of the existence of God, self-published by Geoffrey Berg. Apparently he is sending one to every traceable public library in countries where English is the main language. As a librarian, I find this marketing exercise totally pointless. However before throwing out my copy I did have a quick look. I was grateful for the three page summary at the end, it saved me having to read much of it. Geoffrey Berg’s concept of God, like many atheists, was so small to begin with; it wasn't hard for him to prove (to himself) there is no God. If one’s concept of God is no bigger than what you can logically work out yourself, than he isn’t much of a God and certainly not worth worshipping. Fortunately I don’t believe this to be the case. The God I believe in is far greater than anything I can fathom.

Next post: Devotional Thought : Revelation 16:5-6

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Book Review : André Rieu : my music, my life

Andre Rieu’s wife, Marjorie, has written an enjoyable biography of her husband’s life called, André Rieu : my music, my life : how it all began (Hardie Grant, 2008). Throughout the book, she has captured Andre’s voice so well it feels like he is telling his own story.

She has written of Andre’s childhood growing up surrounded by classic music but also includes some of his other loves. Of course, we read of his many hours of music practice but also many other aspects of his childhood. The book contains many interesting insights into what makes Andre such an entertaining musician. It includes people and events that influenced his early life, his determination to achieve his goals, and his courage to trust his instincts. It was also pleasing to read of Andre’s charitable work.

One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was how he began the Johanna Strauss orchestra and the stories of their early performances. In about 1995 Andre managed to arrange for his orchestra to be on television. From that moment success came quickly and the book come to a swift conclusion since Marjorie feels so much has already been written about the orchestra’s successes.

Andre’s desire is to bring joy into the lives of others through his music so that they will enjoy listening as much as he enjoys playing. This is apparent not only in this book but also when you see him play.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 15:2-3

They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds…” Revelation 15:2-3

This is one of several songs recorded in the book of Revelation. The first song in the Bible, “The Song of Moses and Miriam” follows the demise of the Egyptian army (Exodus 15). Then we have the whole book of Psalms, whose words we still use in some of our songs. But why sing?

Singing, if done unto the Lord, is a spiritual activity where we simultaneously express our love and adoration to God. We remind ourselves of God’s attributes. God doesn’t need to be told he is a great God but rather we are reminded, and this helps us keep our own lives in perspective. When we have a correct concept of God’s greatness everything else is less worrying in comparison.

When we sing unto the Lord he draws close to us as we draw close to him. We lay aside our busyness and connect to him in a more focused way. This provides God with an opportunity to speak into our lives and reassure of his love and forgiveness.

When we sing we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Several passages in the Bible make a direct link between spiritual warfare and singing. “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron” (Psalm 149:6-8). Surely these are spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms the saints are warring against.

Lastly when we sing as a congregation it reminds us that large corporate worship is a foretaste of heaven.

Next post: Book Review : André Rieu : my music, my life

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

The writer’s learning curve

A couple of years ago I wrote this about John Piper’s book Desiring God: “Piper uses much Scripture and in depth explanation to describe his beliefs. It seems like he feels it necessary to answer every objection that has ever been raised to his ideas which unfortunately leads to some of his answers becoming long and complicated.”

It occurred to me the other day that I was doing exactly the same thing in the book I’m writing. When I wrote the rough draft a few years ago I felt the need to back up every little thing I said with a Bible verse or a quote from a well known Christian in order to ‘prove’ my point. This made my writing sound academic and ‘preachy’. So in the major rewrite that I’m doing I’m leaving out a number of the more obvious Bible verses and also some quotes.

I suspect the reason I felt the need to put in so many Bible verses was because I was feeling insecure about putting my opinion “out there” and wanted to back up everything I said with Scripture. However these days I’m feeling more comfortable about people disagreeing with my ideas. I guess it’s something blogging has taught me! Also I’ve learnt that when someone disagrees with my ideas it doesn’t mean they disagree with me as a person.

I guess it’s all part of the writer’s learning curve.

Next post: Devotional Thought : Revelation 15:2-3

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Book Review : God's dream team

Using the analogy of the American basketball team Tommy Tenney has called his book, God’s dream team (Regal, 1999). God wants a team of believers who will put aside their own desires in order to bring about his purposes.

Tenney feels the reason we do not see a major move of God in the church today is because God’s people are not accepting enough of others and are too concern with orchestrating their church to do things their way instead of seeking God’s ways. A powerful move of God is only going to happen if we stop pushing our own agendas and start discovering God’s. God wants his people to work together in a spirit of cooperation and tolerance then he will reveal his power. Tenney quotes many Biblical and life stories to illustrate his points and drive home his message.

One of his most powerful illustrations is his telling of the story of Solomon who was confronted with two women both claiming to be the mother of the one baby. Tenney describes the church as the two women fighting over the baby and how believers need to give up what they believe they are entitled to in order to bring salvation to others. Unity is so important we need to give up what is precious to us so God can have his way in our churches.

Overall a challenging and insightful look into our churches

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 14:4

These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. Revelation 14:4

The ones spoken of in this verse are before the throne, having been redeemed from the earth. This reference to virgins in heaven seems to be best understood as being symbolic. This fits with other prophetic writing in the Bible.

Jeremiah describes God’s people firstly as a bride (Jeremiah 2:2) but then as a prostitute (2:20). Jeremiah berates God’s people because they have forsaken God and run after foreign gods (2:25), worshipping wooden idols. He illustrates their faithlessness by using the terms ‘divorce’ and ‘adultery’ (3:6-9). Ezekiel also describes Israel’s heart as adulterous (6:9) and poor Hosea becomes a living object lesson to the Israelites when God tells him to marry an adulterous wife (Hosea 1:2).

God freely employs the intimate symbols of love, sex, and marriage to demonstrate how he feels about his people. When we desires other things, these days it is more likely to be wealth, prestige, or beauty rather than wooden idols, yet if we desires these more than we desire God, we run the risk of being spiritual adulterers. It is powerful imagery and it doesn’t stop with the prophets. Paul explains at length in Ephesians 5 that husbands must love their wives, quoting Genesis 2:24 “the two will become one flesh.” Then makes the astounding statement, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (v.32). We apply this passage to husband and wife relationships but it is actually about our relationship with God.

In symbolic language, God wants us to be virgins! He intents to be up close and personal in our lives and present us “to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27).

Next post: Book Review : God’s dream team by Tommy Tenney

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