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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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!

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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.

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