Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book Review : Redeeming Love

Francine Rivers was prompted to write Redeeming Love (Multnomah, 1997) after studying the book of Hosea where God tells Hosea to take Gomer, the prostitute as his wife. From this idea Francine has created a story set in the gold rush days of California in the early 1850’s.

The story begins with a little girl, born as a result of her father’s affair with another woman. Her mother is reduced to poverty and dies as a result of neglect. The little girl is sold into prostitution at the age of 8 and named Angel. The reader’s heart is drawn to this little girl and her tragic situation. Then we are introduced to Michael Hosea, a committed Christian, hard work farmer and a solid citizen. He is handsome, kind and likeable. So when these two begin a relationship in 1850, our heart goes out to both of them, and yet they are worlds apart. Through it all, God is never far away working behind the scenes to bring about healing to Angel’s deep pain and emotional trauma.

This is a powerful story and cleverly written. The depth of God’s love is astounding and Rivers brings us face to face with a God who will not let us go no matter what we do to push Him away. It amazes me after being a Christian for decades that I can read a book like this and have my perception of God enhanced, and yet that is what happened. This book has changed me and made me appreciate God’s love afresh.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 21:1-2

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God... Revelation 21:1-2

Here we see the city Abraham waited for, believed for and knew was coming: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). And what an amazing City it will be. It is described as being “decorated with every kind of precious stone”; gold so common that streets are paved with it. Interestingly enough the Holy City comes down out of heaven suggesting that God’s people will live on a new earth rather than in heaven, as tradition would have us believe.

We also have the fulfillment of God’s promise: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31). In Revelation 20:11 John describes it pictorially: “earth and sky fled from his (God’s) presence”. Such is God’s holiness heaven and earth simply dissolve.

While discussing these events Peter asks the question, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” and his answer is “you ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God…we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:11-13).

The world is moving towards a culmination. Since the earth as we know it isn’t permanent we would do well not to get too attached to it. We can take comfort in the thought of a new heaven, a new earth, and a Holy City which reminds us how temporal this world is and motivates us to towards living God honoring lives.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Every Day With Jesus

I have been enjoying reading this month's Every Day With Jesus (a daily devotional) called, Being Real in the Psalms. Selwyn Hughes writes about how God wants us to be real. If we are experiencing negative emotions we might as well admit it, since God knows anyway, and this is what the Psalmists does. Yet we are much more reluctant. I suspect we don't even want to admit negative emotions to ourselves. We like to see ourselves as competent and in control, however our emotions betray us. It should be a relief that we don't have to pretend to have life all worked out, yet sometimes we wonder if we allow people to see us as we really are, would they still like us? Even if they don't, we know that God does. He knows the worst about us yet loves us anyway and we can rest in that knowledge.

So far Selwyn has covered anger and is currently discussing fear. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this edition.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review : The Jesus Paradigm

David Black, in The Jesus Paradigm (Energion Publications, 2009), holds up the word of God and shows us how far we have drifted from New Testament teaching. This generally has not been a deliberate act of turning away by Christian leaders or Christian politicians. In fact, it has often come about by good intentions, gone badly wrong. In response to this situation, Black issues a strong call to Christians to stop looking for answers in the political arena and return to the basic teachings of Jesus.

Black is a theologian who acknowledges his own personal struggles with applying New Testament teaching to his life in practical ways. His testimony is a great encouragement to all Christians to pursue God’s ways rather than our own comfort. It does not make for easy reading but is a timely reminder to those of us who call ourselves Christian.

As an Australian reader, who doesn’t take a lot of notice of American politics, it was hard for me to understand all of the issues the author raises, but it was clear to me that in many areas the church has moved away from its Biblical foundations. Of course, there are always exceptions and I don’t think the situation is quite as bad in Australia. Nevertheless The Jesus Paradigm is a good wake up call for Christians everywhere.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 20:7-8

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations… Revelation 20:7-8

How is it possible, after Jesus has reigned for a thousand years, that Satan is able to deceive the nations?

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul warns about those who “gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” and talks about those who “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

The truth isn’t always palatable and sometimes we prefer to come up with our own ideas rather than believe the truth of God’s word. Believing myths is easier and often more comfortable because they are based on worldly ideas we can see and hear. Likewise we may prefer to listen to teachers who we already agree with, rather than be challenged with a different perspective. This is especially true if the teaching is in an area of our life that brings painful memories to the surface. We may prefer not to deal with the memories of our past sins or the memories of those who have sinned against us. We can easily become comfortable in our Christian walk and gather around those who only say what we want to hear.

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to guide us into all truth (John 16:15-16). Selwyn Hughes pointed out recently in Every Day With Jesus (14/06/09) that we can fall into the trap of overemphasizing those truths we are comfortable with and underemphasizing those truths which challenge us. As a result we become lopsided Christians.

However if we remain teachable, by remaining open to all of God’s word, we can trust that God will not allow us to be deceived.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Knowing God

Following last week’s synchroblog on syncretism I’ve been pondering the fact that some people think I have a small view of God because I won’t add good things from other religions to my faith. In order to explain my position I’ll share this thought (which is not my own, it’s in the Bible). If a husband said to his wife, go and have affairs with other men because that will enrich our relationship, we would rightly question, not only his sanity, but whether he really loved his wife, and that is how I feel. Asking me to add other beliefs to my faith is like suggesting I become an adulteress. It shows a lack of understanding that I have a relationship with God, and don’t merely adhere to a set of beliefs.

I’ve also heard it explained this way. If a person read a biography about someone before they met them, it would be completely different from the experience of actually meeting them. Reading a biography is knowing about them, but meeting them is knowing them personally. Unfortunately our English word, to know, doesn’t make the distinction between these two knowings. If my faith was merely a matter of knowing a lot of facts then it would be a minor thing to add or subtract other beliefs. But it is not. My faith is based on knowing God personally. Reading the Bible helps me understand God better but it would be very dry if I didn’t actually know God personally.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review : Swords of the Six

Swords of the Six (Flaming Pen, 2009) is Scott Appleton’s debut novel, a prelude to a promising series, called, The Sword of the Dragon. In this book we are introduced to an intelligently crafted and highly imaginative world of dragons, fairies, sea serpents and other amazing creatures. Appleton is able to create tension and intrigue thereby drawing the reader into this fantasy world. There are also many beautiful scenes and Appleton’s skill as a writer is obvious as he weaves his tale of loyalty and treachery.

The story centers on the great white dragon’s six daughters who are dragons, yet appear in human form. Having dragon blood gives them magical powers of healing and mind communication, which the daughters are barely aware of until their father sends them on various missions. During these assignments circumstances conspire which require the girls to work together and use the gifts which are part of their dragon heritage. There is much conflict in terms of sword fights as well as emotional trauma as the powers of evil seek to overthrow the power of love, justice and mercy. The story ends with a platform built for future adventures into the elaborate world of the great white dragon, mystical beings, and magical swords.

For those who love to spend time in another world, this is a great way to do it.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Synchroblog on Syncretism

My Sunday post Our Uncomfortable God was actually apart of the July synchroblog on syncretism. Other synchrobloggers are:

How to Cook Up a Personal Jesus by Matt Stone
How to be a Syncretist by Ellen Haroutunian
Synching on Syncing by Phil Wyman
Does interfaith dialogue lead to syncretism? by Liz Dyer
The man in the moss by Steve Hayes
Syncretists I have dealt with by K.W. Leslie

Book Review, Swords of the Six, still coming

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 18:4

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues. Revelation 18:4

The plagues, which are described in Revelation 16 are quite horrendous and serve as a reminder of what God has saved us from. Living in a fallen world and mixing with sinners every day it becomes easy to take sin for granted. We lose sight of the immense holiness of God and tend to only think of sin in terms of murder, theft, or immorality. We tend to measure sin by how much it affects other people when we ought to measure sin by how much it affects God. No sin committed against us is as great as the sin we have committed against a holy God. Luther believed if the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves; than the greatest sin was to fail to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our greatest sin is our failure to love God as he deserves.

We are also reminded how “mighty to save” our God is. God doesn’t forgive us for 80 or 90% of our sins and leave us to atone for the rest by abstaining from certain activities, making sacrifices, or condemning ourselves. Christ’s blood is powerful enough not to almost save us or barely save us but rather completely save us; none of our well meaning activities could ever do that.

Paul writes, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1. We are assured of complete forgiveness because of Christ.

Next Post: Book Review : Swords of the Six by Scott Appleton

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Our Uncomfortable God

The God of the Bible is not a comfortable God. He claims to be an all powerful, loving God yet He will not guarantee us a pleasant life. Little wonder the Israelites in the Old Testament were drawn to other gods and why today we are tempt towards other schools of thought. If God is not going to make my life easier, why should I take a leap of faith?

When it comes to most things in life we want to know, what’s in for me? Putting aside our agendas to pursuit an unsure path is a huge risk and one we don’t take lightly. We may look at history and consider the damage brought about by religious zealots who thought they alone had a monopoly on truth. We may look at science and wonder if one day all the miracles and mysteries of life will be solved through scientific exploration. We may contemplate the illogicalness of believing in a God who would take the initiative to be involved in humanity. We may question the sanity of a Jewish carpenter claiming to be God. We may decide the most rational thing to do is conclude there are many paths to God and its best to be tolerant of other people’s belief. After all it is safer not to upset those whose religious tendencies move them towards violent behaviour.

So we adopt the thinking that if someone can manage a reasonably comfortable 70 plus years on earth they have done well. Yet so many spend all their energies just surviving life’s difficulties, trying to eek out a living, and not become overwhelmed by their daily worries. One is incline to think, is that all there is to life? What relevance is any god to the daily grind?

The problem with this approach is that the whole focus is on us and our limited view of the world. But supposing it is not about us? Supposing human life is not the pinnacle? What if there is an unseen spiritual world that is more enduring than what we see. Life can make sense once we stop believing we are the centre of attention. Once we stop looking for ways to entice God to bless our plans and start wondering what God’s plans are for the world, for this community, and for my life.

Once the focus is off ourselves, we may begin to see things a whole lot more clearly.

Next post: Devotional Thought : Revelation 18:4

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Book Review : The Bible Jesus Read

I first read, The Bible Jesus read (Zondervan, 1999) by Philip Yancey some years ago and I remember really enjoying Yancey’s thoughts on the book of Job. This time through, however, I found Yancey’s thoughts on Ecclesiastes and the prophets to be the highlight. Yancey is able to bring out different aspects of these Old Testament books which help the reader to a better understanding not only of the book but also of God.

Yancey picks some of the more difficult Old Testament books to tackle: Job, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and various prophets. He explains a little of their background, their context, and their importance to the modern reader. Yancey does this, not in the dry manner of a commentary, but in his usual, easy to read conversational style. Sometimes we forget that God didn’t dictate the Bible to a scribe yesterday morning but rather over a long period of time God inspired different authors to write history, poetry, prophesy, and biography. The Bible is a collection of books which together give us an understanding of God and his ways. No one book gives us the total picture. In fact, taken in isolation, one book can give us a lopsided view of God. The Old Testament is probably the only book most of us read which was written prior to this century (or even this decade), so it is very helpful to have some insight into these books in order to understand their importance.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Devotional Thought : Revelation 19:7

For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. Revelation 19:7

The idea of the church being a holy bride is also the picture Paul employs in Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Christ’s role is described as making her holy and blameless and in Revelation we see that “fine linen…was given her to wear”. The bride’s role (or the church’s role) appears very passive. She is cleansed and clothed but not by her own efforts. It emphasizes that we are not made able to make ourselves acceptable by our own efforts. We are reliant on Christ to do for us what we can do for ourselves, that is, make ourselves clean in the sight of God.

However our role is not completely passive, because God won’t cleanse us or clothe us without our willing cooperation. We would not appreciate a spouse who is domineering or controlling, who demands our loyal and love. Likewise God values our freedom of choice. Greg Laughery, author and director of L’Abri, describes divine love this way: “Loving someone so much that you give them the freedom to not love you in return may be the closet we ever come to divine love.”

God loves us so much he gives us the freedom not to love him in return. Yet his desire is for us to be in relationship with him, cleanse and clothed, without stain, wrinkle, or any blemish.

Next post: Book Review : The Bible Jesus read by Philip Yancey

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

My week

It’s been a busy week as our church hosted some young people who, along with some of our own, ran a school holiday program for kids. (Currently our school children are on a mid-semester break.) The program ran from 10am to 3pm for five days with games, craft activities, Bible stories etc. While attendances weren’t as high as we hoped, valuable conversations were had and relationships were built. I didn’t have an “official” role but nevertheless I seem to get caught up in all the activity. So I haven’t had much time to keep up with Wimbledon but with the exit of Llyeton Hewitt, Sam Stosur and Ana Ivanovic it became a bit dull for me anyway. Though I do hope Roger Federer wins.

During school holidays the library where I work is quieter (who can read when the kids are home!). We have also had some welcome rain which has kept people home. During the week, I had the opportunity of visiting the Mother Goose Program which our Shire runs. I told the Mums and babies an oral story which was a first for me. It seemed to go quite well.

So that’s my week, hope you had a good one too.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Book Review : Surrender All

Joni Lamb has written an inspiring and encouraging book entitled, Surrender All (WaterBrook Press, 2008). Joni is executive producer and host of a daily talk show on Christian television network, Daystar Television, which she and her husband co-founded. This role has given her the opportunity to interview numerous guests and hear their testimonies of how God has worked in their lives. It is from these testimonies, and her own, that Joni has written this book.

Joni’s underlining theme is that by surrendering our lives to God we can live a life of peace and contentment. This is not an easy thing to do and Joni shares her own struggles as well as the struggles of others. I enjoyed Joni’s honesty and openness as she shares her own journey and hopefully this will motivate others to live a life surrendered to God.

Joni devotes a chapter to each of the areas of our lives where we are particularly reluctant to give up control: marriage, children, career, health, friendship, daily life, loss, and failure. We tend to hold tightly to the reigns of control not realizing how willing God is to take the stresses from us if we will trust him, knowing that his plans for us are good. Many of the stories Joni shares are truly amazing as we hear of God’s miraculous interventions in people’s circumstances when they were prepared to accept God’s plan for their life. Joni concludes the book with the ultimate surrender, Jesus’ death on the cross. Though, as Joni points out, Jesus’ real struggle happened in the Garden of Gethsemane as he wrestled with God’s plans and purpose. It is in response to Jesus’ sacrifice for us that we surrender all to him.

(Australian readers may struggle with the overtly American nature of this book.)

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