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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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

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