Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review : What the bleep do we know?

When I picked up What the bleep do we know!? : discovering the endless possibilities for altering your everyday reality by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente (Health Communications, 2005) at my library I was surprised it was filed under the Dewey number 204 for religious experience, life and practice and not under 530 for Physics. The book does look at scientific evidence for what is generally considered paranormal events; however it is as the authors seek to understand this evidence they turn to the spiritual world for answers.

The early part of the book covers many topics generally found in physics books, quantum theory, subatomic particles etc. It seeks to explain some of the scientific discoveries which make up our physical universe. However scientists have discovered that the world’s make up is not as clear cut as one would expect. When scientists examine subatomic particles, they find they behave in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Furthermore these particles are influenced by forces that scientists can’t explain. So at this point the book moves into discussing how our conscious mind, our thoughts, our ideas, may actually be influencing the behaviour of the smallest parts of our universe, which in turn influence the other parts. Of course, at this point, the book becomes controversial. Scientists are generally not keen to move from a scientific discussion to a more spiritual one. But the lack of explanation for a growing amount of scientific data points towards spiritual answers and this is making some scientists rethink some of their most concrete concepts.

As a Christian I found this book challenging. The authors attempt to explain things in spiritual terms quoting spiritual leaders from a variety of religious faiths, including Christianity, but totally excluding the possibility of a personal God. They see human beings as the pinnacle of creation and imagine the world is all about them, rather than about God and his kingdom. However I did find the factual information presented in this book astonishing. It made me think that God is indeed “more awesome than I know” (from the song, Enough by Chris Tomlin). It also helped me understand that prayer is far more important than I ever realized. We are not merely telling God things he already knows but our prayers are making a real difference in the very fabric of our world.

This book takes you on a remarkable journey, that is overwhelming, complicated, mind blowing, and faith stretching. So if you are up for a faith testing adventure, it is an amazing read.

For a further discussion of the issues raised in this book from a Christian perspective see my post: Book Review : The latent power of the soul.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 4:11-13

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we… become mature...Ephesians 4:11-13

God has provided everything necessary for the church to grow. God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ would mature. The path to maturity is through “works of service”. Works of service covers a multitude of tasks: welcoming, nurturing, helping, leading, singing, playing music, writing, teaching, preaching. It’s good for us to encourage others, especially the young in the Lord, to try different areas of service until they find their gifts, their place in the Body.

Sometimes the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that God gives us, come to us in disguise. They may be people who are not in full time ministry, they may be people who are gifted in artistic expression, and they may even be song writers. Christian songwriters are gifted by God, inspired by his word and by his Spirit. God has much he wants to impart to us and often he does it through new songs. New songs are like fresh bread, fresh manna for our souls. Are we availing ourselves of the opportunity to be built up as we connect to God through these songs?

God’s design is that we grow up into Christ (v.15). God has always something more for us. As parents we notice that our children get bored with those things that amused them when they were younger. Likewise we will get bored spiritually if we do not press on to grow up into Christ.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I'm heading off tonight to spend Christmas with my family. I'll be back early next week.

Hope all who pass by here have a very happy Christmas and I look forward to blogging here again next year.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 5:25

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… Ephesians 5:25

This Christmas as we again think about Jesus coming to earth, let’s reflect on what God endured, because of his love for us. To love is to sacrifice. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Paul tells husbands to love their wives in the same way Christ loved the church—through sacrifice. Wives feel loved when their husbands make sacrifices for them, whether they sacrifice their time, their money, or their manpower, it makes little different. It is knowing one’s husband has put his wives’ interests ahead of his own that makes her feel loved.

Yet these verses are not really about husbands and wives but rather about Christ and the church (v.32). God put our interests above his own. Christ loved us and sacrificed himself for us. Do we love him by living our lives according to his preferences rather than our own? Do we show our love for him by sacrificing our desires, our preferences, our comforts for him? Or do we just give him some time and money.

We are also called to love one another. Often we fail to love well because we don’t want to sacrifice. We prefer to show love in ways that we are most comfortable for us, and cost us little. Then we wonder why others don’t respond, or act appreciatively. They may even complain they don’t feel loved.

To love like Christ asks us to love is impossible without his love first flowing into our lives. 1 John 4: 19 tells us that, “We love because he first loved us.” This Christmas, as we reflect on God’s love and his sacrifice, allow your love for him to grow in response.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

God likes to whisper

Different things I’ve read this week have caused me to come to the conclusion God doesn’t like to shout at his people, he much prefers to whisper. This ought to be a good thing since I don’t like people shouting either. However the down side is it is really easy to ignore someone who whispers, especially if they are invisible as well.

The most obvious example of God’s preference for whispering is Elijah in the cave “…but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 King 19:11-12).

When someone shouts we are forced to take notice. We hear what they are saying whether we want to or not. If they are shouting it is painfully obvious what they want. Often we want God to be like that—obvious. We want him to give us clear direction, to give us a fleece—a sure indication he has spoken. We’d actually prefer God to shout.

Yet our God prefers to whisper his desires to us. When someone whispers we have block out background noises; we have to lean towards the person, we have to concentrate, and we have to listen carefully. It requires time and effort.

This is what God wants. He wants our full attention; He wants us to lean into him; He wants us close enough so he can whisper.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

What I’ve been reading…

I was sent a free copy of Thrive. It is a dated 3-monthly daily devotional written by Matthew Jacoby who was the founder and lead singer of the band Sons of Korah. There is a Bible reference and a short devotional piece for each day from Monday to Friday. Then, there is a weekend reflection to reinforce what you have read during the week. Thrive is an Australian publication written by the pastor of a church I attended many years ago. However we have not met.

For many years now I have enjoyed reading Every Day with Jesus by Selwyn Hughes. Selwyn died a few years ago but the publishers have revamped some of his older editions and continue to publish it. I have also over the years read other devotionals but I don’t like those which are not written around a theme.

The first edition of Thrive is called, The goal is God and is dated Nov 09 to Jan 10. In it Jacoby writes about just three Psalms (130; 73; & 126). He brings a fresh perspective and new insights to these Psalms. He encourages people to have an intimate relationship with God and gives practical suggestions of how to do this.

I’m enjoying reading Thrive and I’m finding it refreshing. I plan to continue reading it next year.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 3:10-11

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:10-11

Here we get a glimpse of God’s eternal plan; the church is to make known the wisdom of God to rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. What an awesome role God gives the church.

God’s plan concerns events in the heavenly realm yet the Bible only gives us glimpses of this realm. We find Elisha in 2 Kings 6:17 praying for his servant’s eyes to be opened “and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha”. We see conversations in Job when the angels and Satan come to present themselves before the Lord (1:6 & 2:1). Yet most of the time we are unaware of what is going on in the heavenlies.

Interestingly this plan of God doesn't say anything about me having a nice, quiet, comfortable life. (What a shame!) His plan doesn’t say anything about me getting all my problems solved or all my questions answered. I read this comment by Dr. Matthew Jacoby, “…He will act according to plan; devised by a mind that is outside of space and time, and for whom this life of ours is but a flash compared with the eternity we will live out with Him.”

God’s plans are outside our space and time. We are part of something far greater than we can see or fully understand. However we are told we are being watched by rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. If we choose to put our trust in an invisible God, we display God’s wisdom to these rulers.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

DCAT (Doing Church As a Team) Conference

I’ve just written two reviews of books by Wayne Cordeiro: Doing church as a team & The divine mentor. Wayne Cordeiro is the pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii which runs an annual conference on themes connected with doing church as a team. Some months ago my husband read these books and felt an urge to attend the 2010 conference which is called: Everyday Heroes. At the time I felt no inclination. My husband thought it would be good to go with some other Aussies church leaders, but of course, Hawaii is a long way from Australia. So when those plans fell through I began to think maybe I should go.

I really needed to know that God wanted me to go; after all this would involve airfares to Hawaii, conference fees, accommodation, food, etc. I began to pray about it, asking God to give me a verse that would confirm his direction. The verse I felt he gave me was from Ephesians 3:20. (I have been studying Ephesians at the Bible Study Place.) “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” Going to Hawaii was definitely more than I had asked or imagined but I was disappointed. I wanted a verse which said, “Go…!” The next day I was reading a devotional thought from, The divine mentor called, The musings of a king, which spoke about God wanting us to know his heart and not wanting to shout at us. It struck me that I was asking God to shout at me whereas he wanted to whisper things into my heart.

So I have made the decision to go to Hawaii! We leave on Saturday 30th January and the conference starts on the Wednesday so we will have time to do some sight seeing. It also works out that we will spend our wedding anniversary in Hawaii.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Book Review : Doing church as a team

In the first few chapters of Doing church as a team (Regal, 2004), the author, Wayne Cordeiro, covers the basics: God has a plan, God wants to use the church to fulfill his plan, God gives gifts to build up the church, each member uses their gifts to serve others. This way the whole church is involved in fulfilling God’s purposes and not just the leader. Then Cordeiro spends some time discussing leadership. Pastors are not meant to carry the burden of pastoring a church alone so he looks at ways of developing leadership. He encourages people to develop godly character, to take risks by using their God given gifts, and to look for opportunities to serve others.

Corderio believes in the importance of motivating others by the use of vision statements and core values. He spends some time outlining how they achieved this at the church where he pastors. He feels by spending time developing these missional statements the church becomes team orientated with everyone focused on the same goal. Corederio concludes the book with ways to nurture the team, how to help people negotiate transition, and ways to change church culture.

Overall this is a helpful book with much good teaching for those involved with church leadership.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 2:4-5

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ…” Ephesians 2:4-5

We don’t often think of ourselves as being in need of mercy. Yes, we need forgiveness; yes we need some grace but mercy…? Convicted criminals need mercy. Murderers, rapists and terrorists need mercy but law abiding citizens like you and me? Surely we don’t need mercy.

However every sin is worthy of the death penalty, such is God’s holiness. In the Bible the most common response, when someone became aware of God’s holiness, was to fall facedown, usually terrified (Matthew 17:6). Yet in our day we seem to have lost our sense of awe and tend to think of God as marginally holier than Mother Theresa.

We also underestimated our own sinfulness. Because we don’t commit “big” sins, we excuse ourselves. We think we are not as sinful as others, forgetting that God “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The sudden death experiences of people in the Bible like Uzzah, Nadab, Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira remind us that every sin is worthy of the death penalty. The agony that Jesus suffered on the cross reminds us how much it cost God to forgive sin. It was an enormous price for God to pay. Yet he thought we were worth it.

By underestimating God’s holiness and our own sinfulness, we then underestimate God’s mercy. God is rich in mercy. He is not stingy or tight fisted. He is more than willing to show us mercy—“because of his great love for us.”

It is not easy to agree with God and say, “I don’t just need your grace, I also need your mercy.” However by admitting our need we become a recipient of God’s rich mercy.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Book Review : The Divine Mentor

In a nutshell, The Divine Mentor (Bethany House, 2007), is designed to encourage people to study the Bible for themselves. However the author, Wayne Cordeiro, does this in creative ways. He speaks about Biblical characters as his friends and mentors who have taught him, warned him, and encouraged him in his spiritual life. Corderio, of course, explains why we should read the Bible for ourselves, why we should do it daily, and why we should write about what we read. Yet by using personal examples and humorous asides, he makes a well-worn topic interesting and convincing. He is not heavy handed or legalistic, but understanding of the reasons why we get distracted from our commitment to study the Bible.

Corderio outlines a particular format which he and his church have found helpful. It uses the acrostic SOAP (Scripture Observation Application Prayer). In the Scripture phase a reading plan is provided which is arranged to cover all the books of the Bible in a year. In the observation and application phase the thought is to choose a verse or a phrase that impressed you and spend some time writing about that verse. Then finally you pray about what you have written. The format is to read for 20 minutes, write for 20 minutes, and if you are doing this as part of a group, you then share for 20 minutes. It is a simple format that is easy to repeat or adapt as necessary.

Corderio’s heart is to encourage God’s people to study the Bible not for information, but for transformation. This is an important point and one that is clear throughout the book. It’s a very worthwhile read.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

There is always a ship going to Tarshish

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah 1:3

When Jonah ran away from the Lord’s directive to go to Nineveh, he decided to head in the opposite direction and as far as possible. Tarshish was a viable alternative. Jonah probably reasoned there were a lot of people in Tarshish that needed to hear about God. Furthermore surely God would want to be kind and compassionate to the people of Tarshish. Any people group was going to be a whole lot nicer than the war loving people of Nineveh. He arrived at the port and found a ship going to Tarshish. How convenient! In Jonah’s day when travel wasn’t what it is now, I don’t imagine that there were ships going to Tarshish every day or even every week. It must have seemed to Jonah that God was releasing him go to Tarshish…

I have seen it happen. An individual or a church is facing a challenge to step out in faith and do something they have never done before, but they pulled back. And lo, and behold, a ship going to Tarshish shows up—a viable alternative. An alternative that is a whole lot safer than the challenge. An alternative that looks attractive, and one that can be justified, but one that will take them in the opposite direction to God’s plans.

Are you being tempted to take a ship going to Tarshish? If so, just remember, ships going to Tarshish end up in major storms.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 1:13

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13

We are included in Christ when we hear and believe. This verse follows the teaching on predestination. We are included in God’s predetermined plans when we respond to Christ and receive him into our lives.

The verses regarding predestination are all plural. Paul is not saying he is personally predestined but rather “us” the church is predestined. The church, Christ’s body, is predestined to be holy and blameless. The church is predestined for adoption to sonship. So when we are included in Christ we are then predestined because we are part of Christ’s body.

Throughout the Old Testament we find that even though God chose the Jews to be his chosen people, he was always making a way for outsiders to be included—even including Ruth the Moabite and Rahab from Jericho in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1). Elsewhere we see God sending Jonah to Nineveh and other prophets to pagan lands. In John 10:16 Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also…and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” Jesus opened the way for Gentiles to be included in God’s family. Later on in Acts 10 we find Peter struggling with this but eventually says, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (v.34-35).

God has made it possible for us all to be included in Christ when we hear and believe since it is not his will that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).

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