Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review : Lost angel

Lost angel by Mike Doogan (Hale Crime, 2007) is another book I took away on holidays because one of the subject headings listed was Christian fiction and again I’m wondering why. The story was set in a somewhat Christian community in Alaska. The main character was not a Christian even though he occasionally went to church and said a couple of prayers. Each chapter starts with a Scripture verse however; I don’t think any of these things makes it Christian fiction. The story could just have easily been set in any tight knit community. There was no strong Christian message, and the descriptions of the prostitution activity in the nearby town were way too detailed for a Christian novel.

On the upside it was a clever murder mystery and I did enjoy the unravelling of the clues, with its many twists along the way. Mike Doogan also did a great job of creating the atmosphere of Alaska, one felt cold just reading the book! Doogan created believable characters and an interesting story with the option of more mysteries for his detective to solve in future books.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Best wishes for a very happy Christmas.

I’ll be catching up with family for a few days and will be off line until the middle of next week.

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Devotional Thought : Romans 10:20

And Isaiah boldly says, "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me." Romans 10:20

Sometimes we think we were the ones who were seeking after God. The reality is we only find God because he was first looking for us. This is portrayed so well in C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel, The Silver Chair. The story begins with Jill Pole hiding from school yard bullies. She is helped by Eustace Scrubb, who suggests they call to Aslan, the lion who represents God, with the intention of getting away from the school yard bullies. Shortly after calling for Aslan, Jill and Eustace find themselves in the magical world of Narnia. Jill meets Aslan who tells her that he has called them from their own world to complete a task. Jill is greatly puzzled and says, “It was we who asked to come here.” However Aslan responds by saying, “You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you.”

It is God who takes the initiative and "finds" us. It is not us who "find" God. We respond to him, often before we are even aware he is seeking us. It was God who came to us as, “Immanuel”. It is God who allows us to hear his voice calling. God finds us like the farmer finds the lost sheep, like the woman finds the lost coin, and like the father who looks, waits, and runs to his lost son. He finds us because he is actively looking for us. He doesn’t wait until we are good enough or desperate enough. He is always actively pursuing us, not just to save us from our sins, but to have an ongoing relationship with Him.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review : How Jewish is Christianity?

I decided to read, How Jewish is Christianity? 2 Views on the Messianic Movement by Louis Goldberg editor (Zondervan, 2003) because I am interested in Jewish history. I recently completed a church history subject yet discovered the subject matter quickly moved away from Jerusalem and focussed on Rome. I was left wondering but what was happening in Jerusalem? This book provided me with some of this history but this was not the main focus of the book. The book largely concerns itself with whether it is legitimate for Messianic congregations to exist. There are convincing arguments on both sides of the debate.

Some of the arguments for them not forming separate congregations are that they are likely to fall into legalism. Yet this is a danger for any congregation. Another argument is that they are meeting solely to please themselves without considering the needs of outsiders. Again this is a danger for any congregation. In the end it seems to me that it really doesn’t matter. If people want to congregate in Messianic gatherings why try to stop them? They will face the same challenges as well as some unique problems yet if they can meet and deal with these they can be as much a part of what God is doing in his world as any other congregation.

I was glad I persisted and finished the book although at times it got bogged down with tedious arguments because it gave me some interesting insights into Jewish thought and practice.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Last 15 of 45 life lessons by Regina Brett

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come...
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.

I think 40 is quite an interesting thought. They say that we marry people who are like our parents in some way because we are use to their problems. And I especially like 34 :)

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

What I've been reading...

I flicked my way through, Why I stayed by Gayle Haggard. It is an autobiographical account of her relationship with Ted Haggard who was the senior pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. The book begins when Gayle first meets Ted, continues through to his confession of sexual immorality in 2006, and concludes with the place they have come to in life and in ministry.

I find the church culture described in these types of books so different to Australian church culture that I have trouble being able to relate. There are times when I just don’t understand what they are expressing. Maybe it is just the size of American churches compared to Australian churches. Anyway I must confess to not reading the book thoroughly so I’m not writing a ‘proper’ book review.

However Gayle did share one insight I found particularly helpful. She said that she processes things mentally before she processes them emotionally and I suddenly realized that I do the same thing. Often when something disagreeable happens I find myself coping quite well at the time but two days later I can be very depressed about it. Being an introvert it always takes me longer to process things as I tend to be more thorough in my thought processes so maybe this is also part of being an introvert or maybe it’s just idiosyncrasy!

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 9:5

Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Romans 9:5

Christmas is a good time to remind ourselves that Jesus had a human ancestry and was fully human yet he is also fully God.

However I often come across people who see Jesus as possessing righteousness and wisdom but otherwise an ordinary man, perhaps divinely appointed by God but certainly not divine. They would say that Jesus never says, "I am God."

Jesus lived in a Jewish culture and therefore addressed his comments to a Jewish audience. The reason Jesus often hid his identity was because the Jews held many incorrect preconceived ideas of the Messiah. To fully understand what Jesus was saying we need to look at how his audience understood him. For example in John 8:58-59 we read: "'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham was born, I am!' At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself…" The penalty for blaspheme was stoning. Again in John 10:30-33 we find a similar claim and a similar response from the audience: "'I and the Father are one.' Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, 'I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?' 'We are not stoning you for any of these,' replied the Jews, 'but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.'"

Jesus’ humanity and divinity is an important issue because John tells us in 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 1:7 that anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God. Our very salvation depends on us believing in Jesus being fully human and fully God.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Second 15 of 45 life lessons by Regina Brett


16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

I use to say 26 to my kids especially when they were agruing about whose turn it was to sit in the front of the car! and other 'important' issues. I also like 22 and 29.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 8:23

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:23

What we experience now is only the firstfruits of the Spirit, but one day we will experience the whole crop! As 1 John 3: 2 tells us “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.” We live between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’.

Now we are children of God and we experience some of the blessings of God’s kingdom but not all. We see glimpses of God’s kingdom. We see some healings, some miracles but we know that not everyone is healed, not everyone who needs a miracle receives one. Our gardens still have weeds! However these firstfruits should encourage us to believe and pray, “Your kingdom come” because we desire to see more and more God’s kingdom forcefully advancing and impacting our world for good (Matthew 11:12).

Meanwhile we groan inwardly as we wait to experience all that God has for us. We groan because we are often overwhelmed with the consequences of living in a broken world and our inability to make an impact in the face of so many difficulties. Yet we can have hope because we know God has so much more to reveal. “‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

While groaning is our inward expression, hope is our outward expression. Hope doesn’t deny the world’s brokenness, but looks forward to the receiving the full harvest of God’s promises.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

First 15 of 45 life lessons by Regina Brett

Regina Brett is 90 years old and came up with these life lessons. I find it interesting to discover what conclusions people come to in their latter years. By the time someone is 90 they have usually work out what is really important and what is not.

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.

In this section my favourties are No. 2 & 13.

Anyone else care to share a favourite?

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Book Review : Lessons in letting go

Corinne Grant’s book, Lessons in letting go (Allen & Unwin, 2010) was not what I expected. About 20 years ago I met Corinne and her family and for about a year my family rented a house that had been Corinne’s grandparents’ home. Over the years I have vaguely kept track of Corinne’s career and I have seen a couple of her appearances on TV. Amongst other things Corinne is a stand-up comedian, actor, and a writer. So I was expecting her book to be a collection of funny stories about the useless stuff we keep.

Instead it was a deeply personal biographical account of her compulsive hoarding behaviour. It was interspersed with humour but it was difficult to laugh until the latter part of the book because there was such a sense of pain in her words. Perhaps this may not have been the case if I hadn’t felt such a personal connection to the places and people she wrote about.

I did enjoy the book and it does contain a lot of useful lessons in why we hang onto to things when really we ought to let them go. Personally I hoard books even though I know the only time I will take them off the shelves is if we move. Corinne’s book made me realize the reason I keep them is for emotional reasons not rational ones. Yet it is not until we identify these emotional reasons that we are freed to get rid of our junk.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 8:5-6

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6

Clearly what we set our minds on is our responsibility. Sometimes we blame this on the flesh, the world or the devil. We think we can’t stop the thoughts that come unwelcome into our minds. But as someone once said, “You may not be able to stop trouble coming but you do not have to give it a chair to sit on.” Likewise we may not be able to stop wrong thoughts dropping into our minds but we do not have to dwell on them. What we think about is a choice we make.

Sometimes we excuse our tendency towards wrong thinking and worry by thinking that we need to dwell on situations that require us to make decisions and while this may be true we also need to take a break. One of the ways God allows us to take a break from our pressing concerns is by giving us a Sabbath. A day where we can turn off from our daily concerns and focus on the abundant blessings we have received from God and will receive from God in his coming kingdom. By making a weekly habit of taking time out to set our minds on what is true, noble, right…(Philippians 4:8) our minds are refreshed and renewed.

With our minds refreshed and renewed we are better able to set our minds on what the Spirit desires, which is life and peace, and less likely to be drawn into dwelling on the desires of the sinful nature.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review : Sabbath

In his book, Sabbath, Dan Allender (Thomas Nelson, 2009) seeks to change our thinking about the Sabbath. He writes to discredit the idea that the Sabbath is a day to escape or “veg out” in front of the TV/computer or a day to involve ourselves in activities that are a mere distraction from the daily grind.

Allender has a much higher view of the Sabbath. That it is not a duty to keep it but rather a delight. “The Sabbath was made for man.” It is a gift from God. Yet it is a gift we seem to have no idea what to do with. Many of us overwork ourselves on six days and are then so exhausted on the seventh we spend the day in lethargy and weariness telling ourselves we are having a “day off”. This is not God’s intention.

Allender sees it as a day that needs to be planned in advance so we can decide how we can best enjoy the day. He says, “What would you do for twenty-four hours if the only criteria were to pursue your deepest joy?” Many of us have no idea. Somehow pursuing our deepest joy is a scary thought. Life has brought us many griefs and disappointments so we have become reluctant to pursue joy. So the practices contain in this book are not easy to incorporate into one’s own life because it requires a major shift in one’s thinking.

Allender writes to encourage and inspire us towards taking up God’s gift of the Sabbath and to this end he employs a number of word pictures, allegories and stories. I found this easier to grasp in the latter half of the book where he provides practical examples of how he and his wife spent their Sabbaths.

A thought provoking book.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Conventional behaviour = Despair

I have been reading Sabbath by Dan Allender (Thomas Nelson, 2009) and I'm posting a couple of paragraphs about what Allender describes as conventional behaviour. This quote is in the chapter called, Sabbath Play: Despair surrenders to joy on page 138. It is difficult to explain how this quote fits into a book about Sabbath so I’m not even going to try. (Read the book if you would like to know!) Allender believes that conventional behaviour is a form of despair. Here is the quote:

Conventional behavior is living life as a prepackaged, paint-in-the-numbers craft kit. It requires no creativity of hope, only dutiful obedience to whatever “truth” or “leader” or “truth leader” that enables one to escape the onus of freedom. This can occur among liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, anarchists, skinheads, gay-rights activists, and gay opponents. It involves any form of dogmatism where the party line is uncritically accepted as the superior truth to all other claimants.

Often the “truth” provides a set of parameters that shape nearly every dimension of life, including dress code, acceptable art, and use of time and money. The benefit is that the adherents get to live vicariously through the lives of their heroes rather than getting dirty in a game that requires deep-rooted hope to play. In many ways, those who are happy to be blind live the deepest form of hopelessness, because they have not even identified their fear of hope.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Review : Heaven Lake

I'm enjoying my last few days of holidays and found another wifi connection. Prior to my holidays I was looking for some books to take away with me. I don’t read a lot of fiction probably because I don’t like to read straight romance, or books with excessive sex, violence or bad language. So I typed Christian Fiction into my local library catalogue search. Heaven Lake by John Dalton (Scribner, 2004) was one of the books it pulled up. However it is certainly not what I would call Christian Fiction. It contained sex, violence, and bad language but perhaps more worrying the main character, Vincent, loses his faith! Surprising, with all this in mind, it was quite an interesting insight into human nature (except for the 80 odd pages I skipped when Vincent journeyed from Taiwan to north-west China which became a bit tedious).

Vincent was a zealous young missionary sent to Taiwan but he was ill prepared to meet the challenges of living in a foreign culture with little support. I would certainly like to hope missionary organizations do a much better job of preparing missionaries than what this fictional account suggests. It becomes obvious early in the book that Vincent is headed for trouble when his relationship with his hometown girlfriend is described. The seeds of Vincent’s failure were sown here, long before he left home. Once loneliness kicks in he is easy prey for a schoolgirl’s propositions. With his ministry in tatters he sets off on a completely new journey and matures in his understanding of people and himself.

I suspect John Dalton would not like his novel being described as Christian fiction as it would direct the book towards the wrong audience. However the book tells us much about John Dalton’s own spiritual journey through Vincent. It would be extremely difficult for an author to write so accurately about issues of faith without personal experience. So one is left to assume that Vincent’s disillusionment with faith is also Dalton’s. I hope that in time Dalton may come to a better understanding of God's ways.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 7:4-6

Still on holidays but on a Library's Wifi. Aren't libraries wonderful?

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ…But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. Romans 7:4-6

"You also died to the law." This sentence is past tense. It happens when we accept Christ. No longer do we live by the law – a list of rights and wrongs, we have been released from this legalistic way of living. Now, there are no rules, as it says in Colossians 2:20-21: "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'?"

The reason we are able to live a righteous life without rules is because of who we belong to. Romans 8:4 also tells us: "That you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead." We belong to Christ. Alternatively in Colossians 2 we are told who we don’t belong to, the world. Our behaviour is determined by who we belong to. If we are committed to Christ we can live "in the new way of the Spirit" that is by being in tune with God's spirit who writes his laws on our hearts.

Furthermore the Colossians 2 passage goes on to tells that the rules of the world, "lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." There is no sense trying to strengthen our inadequate will power. We don’t have the ability to live righteous lives without God’s enabling.

So let’s acknowledge we belong to Christ and allow him to teach us the "new way of the Spirit."

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 6:21-22

What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. Romans 6:21-22

There is a benefit to us when we commit to God – holiness and eternal life. At first glance we may not consider holiness a benefit. In our world holiness is made to sounds dull and boring as if we are missing out on a good time. However Jesus was the holiest person who ever lived and he certainly wasn’t dull. His first miracle was at a party where he turned water into wine and enabled the party to continue.

Still we would probably prefer God to give us happiness as a benefit of committing to him and God does want us to be happy. Yet God knows we will never be truly happy until we are holy. While we are self-centred rather than other-centred, we won’t stay happy for long so God acts to make us holy. However this is a process, which is why Paul expresses the benefits as leading to holiness. We don’t get holy overnight! Furthermore God needs our cooperation if we are to become holy. While God woos, convicts and challenges he doesn’t override our free will.

The end result is eternal life. This is not something we get when we die, it starts now. John 17:3 tells us: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God.” We can know God now, and experience eternal life now, because we have Christ living in our hearts.

It is also important to note that holiness and eternal life are benefits, not entitlements.

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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Holidays

I have been busy this week getting organized for a couple of weeks holidays so I’ll be missing from here for a short while. I plan to post my devotional thought on Romans 6 before I go. We are planning to catch up with family and friends; do a bit pre- Christmas shopping as well as some sight seeing.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 5:17

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Romans 5:17

We can reign in life because of God's abundant provision of grace – grace that is not barely enough or sufficient but abundant and also because we have been given the gift of righteousness. God’s righteousness is a gift because we were not able to earn it. He freely gives it to us through Jesus.

The New Living Translation puts it this way: "for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ."

To reign in life is to live in triumph over sin and death. This doesn’t mean that sin and death have been eliminated, at least not yet. However it does mean we are not paralysed by our sin since we know we have been enabled to live victoriously in the presence of sin and death. Even if there are times when we feel weighed down by our shortcomings we know that this is only temporary and ultimately we will triumph.

This promise is "for all who receive it." We are not good receivers. To receive means to acknowledge we need God’s abundance grace, we need God’s gift of righteousness. We can’t do it on our own. Our own resources are inadequate to "reign in life" so we need to come to God and allow him to empower us, not as a once off event but often.

Many years ago Annie Hawks wrote these words: "I need thee, O I need thee; every hour I need thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee."

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Always a remnant

Today I finished my church history subject. The book we studied was: Shelley, B. Church History in Plain Language. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008 and this is a little piece I wrote about the Middle Ages.

All through the Middle Ages, as the popes were becoming more corrupted by power and money, God still had those who were faithful to Him. There were those like John Wyclif who were prepared to speak out against the unbiblical teachings of the papacy and those like John Hus who were prepared to lay down their lives rather than deny the truth.

God always has a remnant that is faithful to Him. During the darkest periods of church history when there was so much corruption and heresy in the church, there were always some who understood God’s truth. This is a great encouragement to us today when there seems to be so much apathy in the church. We may feel like we are the only one in our community who is going on with God but this isn’t so. God has many who are faithful to Him.

"Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me"? And what was God's answer to him? "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace (Romans 11:3-5).

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thankful for the rain

I read this on the web today: "The drought in New South Wales has officially ended after more than nine years, with none of the state's regions drought-declared. At the height of the dry spell in 2003, 99.5 per cent of New South Wales was in drought."

I personally find the whole climate change issue overrated – not non-existent, but certainly overrated. The photo here is of our local weir which a few months ago we were told would probably never be full again or that it would take a decade to fill. Yet here it is about 95% full. For some reason the long term cyclic nature of our weather patterns is ignored.

So while the floods caused a great deal of damage it is lovely to see everything so green, paddocks with grass, water in dams and for that I am thankful.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 4:4-5

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God ... his faith is credited as righteousness. Romans 4:4-5

It seems rather obvious but when we are employed we receive a wage. As Paul explains we don’t consider the money a gift. After all we have given up our time and put in some effort in order to do the work so we expect a wage. It is the employer’s obligation to us. In using this illustration Paul is seeking to make it clear that we do not work for our salvation. Salvation is a gift – not something we are owed because of the time we give up or the effort we put in. It is a gift we receive when we trust God.

Later in the chapter (v.13-16) Paul talks about the difference between a contract (or law) and a promise. In a contract the two people involved each contribute something. When you buy a house one person agrees to hand over a certain sum of money and the other person agrees to hand over the house. Both parties contribute something of equal value. But in a promise one person agrees to something without the other person contributing anything. It is God who makes the promise agreeing to grant us salvation without us making a contribution. Verse 16 says "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring".

In both these illustrations Paul wants us to see that we receive salvation by faith. We cannot earn it or buy it. Yet perhaps what God asks of us is harder. He wants us to trust, believe, and accept.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Using our freedom to serve in love

I was reading something I wrote a while ago and decided it was worth revisiting. My thoughts were about spontaneous favours vs forced favours based on this verse from Philemon: "But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced" (v.14).

I made these comments: Paul didn't want to presume upon Philemon's kindness. We do others a disservice when we presume upon their kindness or put them under some sort of obligation to assist even if it is for the cause of the gospel. We may see a great opportunity to advance the kingdom but we mustn't pressurize fellow believers into in doing a kindness for someone without their freely given consent. It is God who convicts, challenges and guides His children, not us.

However sometimes I find people’s comments are more interesting than what I write (!) and this was one of the comments:

I came to this realization within the past year and it has alleviated much stress in my marriage when this principle is practiced by both parties. "I would love it if you would help me out by doing this thing for me. But if you do not, I recognize that it is your choice and I still love you and accept you either way and there are no hard feelings." When a person comes at me from this place, my heart's reaction, almost every time, is to then use my freedom to serve them in love.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 3:20-21

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. Romans 3:20-21

The purpose of the law is to make us conscious of sin. God knew we would never be able to keep the law, but we did not. Throughout the Old Testament we see the Israelites attempts to keep the law and how miserably they failed. Even the Jews who were working hard to keep the law in Jesus’ times and Paul’s time failed miserably too. Paul wrote: As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (Romans 2:21-24)

So the purpose of the law is to show us that we need a Saviour. We can’t achieve God’s standards of holiness by our own efforts. The law leads us to Christ. Paul speaks about this in Galatians 3:24: "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." Christ was the only one who was able to keep the law and we are made righteous by being "in him". This was always part of God’s plan which is why "the Law and the Prophets testify" to it.

Once we have found our righteousness in Christ through faith, we continue the way we began. Paul asks the Galatians "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" (Galatians 3:2). We received the Spirit by believing so we continue to live by faith. We don’t rely on observing the law for our justification because we know we simply can’t do it.

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Friday, October 08, 2010

Do it again, Lord

In August 1727 a prayer meeting began with 48 people, 24 single men and 24 single women. It was a 24 hour prayer meeting where they took turns praying around the clock. This prayer meeting lasted for over 100 years and changed the world. The prayer meeting was at a Moravian Church in Herrnhut. Over the years the church would sent out thousands of missionaries and see many come to faith, though the church at Herrnhut would never grow particularly large.

The Moravians had a profound effect on John Wesley. He met them on a boat as he sailed to Georgia in 1736 and was impressed with their faith during a violent storm. Later when Wesley returned to England in 1738 he attended one of their meetings in Aldersgate Street where his heart was “strangely warmed”. He later went to Herrnhut and although he was impressed with many aspects of their Christian life style, he also found them self-righteous and didn’t like their leader, Count von Zinzendorf!

Nevertheless by a small number of people making a commitment to pray the Moravian Church touched the lives of thousands, including John Wesley who in turn touch thousands more. The ongoing results of their prayers affect the church today. The Moravian church and its leadership were not without fault yet God was able to use them mightily to grow His kingdom.

So often we underestimate the power of prayer because we don't see immediate results. However when we consider the long term impact of this small country church our faith will be built up and we will pray, "Do it again, Lord, please do it again."

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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 2:4

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? Romans 2:4

I really enjoy reading Romans in the Message and this is how Eugene Peterson translates 2:4, “Or did you think that because he's such a nice God, he'd let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he's not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.”

God's kindness is meant to cause us to change. Often we use nagging, threats, or punishment as a way to change behaviour. While these may bring temporary change they will not change someone’s attitude and therefore will not bring lasting change. God wants lasting change. He wants to change our hearts, knowing that once our hearts are right our behaviour will follow.

Jesus was very hard on the Pharisees because they only cared about outward appearances and he had this to say about them: “In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28).

God’s way of changing people is to show them kindness when they have done nothing to merit it. We cannot justify ourselves before a holy God, not with our penance, or our performance, or our sacrifice. When we are confronted with God’s amazing grace and fully realize that we are recipients of the most undeserved mercy, we are humbled. Humbled because we know we have not done anything that is worthy of God’s favour and then…we change. Change because we are so grateful and want to please the One who has shown us such great love.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kindred Spirits

I’ve been studying church history lately and I surprised to say it is a lot more interesting than it first appeared. (See here).

Perhaps because along the way I have found some kindred spirits. Luther, for example, never wanted to leave the monastery – I totally get that. Instead he was thrust into a teaching position and birthed the reformation.

Then when I was on holidays earlier this year I bought a bag, photo here. The bag has a quote on each side. One of the quotes was: When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes. The quote is by Erasmus. I have recently discovered that Erasmus was a Christian, a writer, and a scholar during the time of the reformation.

And then the other day I read this: Years later, looking back over his career, Calvin observed, “Being by nature a bit antisocial and shy, I always loved retirement and peace…But God has so whirled me around by various events that he has never let me rest anywhere, but in spite of my natural inclination, has thrust me into the limelight and made me ‘get into the game’ as they say.” *

Likewise God has made me ‘get into the game’ despite my natural inclinations.

*Shelley, B. Church History in Plain Language. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008: 256-257

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Devotional Thought : Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20

The reason men are without excuse is explained further in the next chapter: "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law… show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness…" (Romans 2:14-15).

I read the testimony of an atheistic scientist who believed in evolution. The thing that brought him to faith was that, as he studied animals and people, he saw that people had an innate sense of right and wrong irrespective of their culture. He saw the "moral law" was written on people’s hearts and it brought him to faith because he could not explain this scientifically. He knew it had to be a God-thing. Likewise God has given everyone the opportunity of coming to faith. He has revealed himself through creation and through the "moral law".

However not everyone responds which causes us grief and even more so, causes God grief. Such was God’s desire for a restored relationship with us that He sent his own son, to take the punishment of our sins. He left nothing undone in his attempts to draw us back to himself. He longs to be gracious to us (Isaiah 30:18).

Yet he will not override our free will. So He woos us, not overwhelming us with His power—never manipulating or domineering us, never using coercion or bribery. Consequently it is not only easy for non-Christians to ignore Jesus, but sometimes it is easy for us as Christians to ignore Jesus continuing desire to be in close relationship with us.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

What I've been reading...

"You will be graced with the disaster your soul requires to find its way home" by Tim Farrington in A Hell of Mercy.

This is a similiar thought to Hannah Hurnard in her book Hind’s Feet on High Places where she describes God’s love as "beautiful but it is also terrible—terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved."

God is more interested in our sanctification than we are. But God knows we can't be really happy until He has made us holy.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 13:11

Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

These are some of Paul's final instructions to the Corinthians. He sums up with these four things: Aim, Listen, Be, Live.

Aim for perfection: In other versions perfection is translated strengthened, mature, or made what you ought to be. So we are aiming to grow and be all that God intends us to be.

Listen to my appeal: It is not enough to simply aim for maturity. Paul gives good advice through these two letters to the Corinthians but it needs to be more than just words on a page. It is as we take the Word of God and apply it to our lives that we will become spiritually mature.

Be of one mind: Also translated as, be agreeable. There was a sign hung in my home as I was growing up which said, “Why be disagreeable when we just a little effort you can be a real stinker!” Instead, why not make the effort to be agreeable? We don’t always need to have our own way. We can compromise and know that in God this is not weakness or loss but maturity.

Live in peace: This is a choice we need to make, to live in peace and not be agitated by circumstances. Our circumstances may not be peaceful but we can choose to have peace in them by holding onto God’s peace.

Paul concludes his letter by urging us to on to maturity. It has been said the real test of maturity is how well we get on with others. So let’s prove our maturity by aiming for perfection, listening to God’s Word, being agreeable, and living in peace.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

My new computer

This blog is onto its third computer. My old computer is still alive and well, though it has slowed down somewhat (I’ve heard that 1 year in computer years is equivalent to 30 human years!). My old computer is going to a new owner (my husband) so it is not leaving home. So I get the joy (or not) of learning Windows 7 and one day, when I have it all figured out, I’m guessing I’ll get the joy of teaching my husband – so he may have ulterior motives in getting me a new computer!

So where is everything?! Fortunately I’m still using my old software so not everything has changed. Still it does remind me of going to a supermarket when they have rearranged the shelves and you can’t find anything – I wish they wouldn’t do that.

I have a lot of favourite programs for updating my website, fixing my photos, scanning, so I’m still in the process of uploading all of these, which is a real pain. But on the upside I can now watch things on YouTube – well, I think that is an upside…

Another new thing I’ve learnt this week is how to type a fish:

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Martin Luther

Last night I watched a documentary about Martin Luther. I would not have liked to have met Luther. He was very intense and "in your face." I would have found him quite overwhelming. I'm sure it was his ambition "to live a quiet life" (1 Thessalonians 4:11) however God had other ideas. Whilst living as a monk those in authority over him decided he was being too introspective so they gave him a teaching appointment. Luther, like everything he did, threw himself into it with 100% effort, which meant he spend a lot of time studying Scripture in order to teach it. Of course, in time, he realized "the just will live by faith" (Romans 1:17) not by obeying church rules or performing rites. The reformation was born.

Still Luther carried a lot of baggage from a strict upbringing and an anti-Sematic culture. Some say it was the seeds of his ideas that led Hitler to abuse the Jews in the Second World War. So in some areas his teaching was quite unbiblical, which makes me wonder how much baggage am I carrying? If Luther for all his good teaching could still be very wrong in some areas then how many of my ideas about God, the church, the Christian life, are cultural, rather than Scriptural?

Fortunately God isn't finished with us yet and we are all a work in process. We are constantly being transformed by the renewing of our minds as we allow God to challenge our ideas. This happens as we exposed ourselves to the Word of God, to prayer, and to listening to other Christians (present and past).

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 12:19

…and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 2 Corinthians 12:19

Strengthening sounds like something that you would do at the gym. When we lift weights at the gym we are strengthening our physical muscles. Here Paul speaks about strengthening our spiritual muscles.

Several times in the book of Acts we read statements like: He (Paul) went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (Acts 15:41) and in Corinthians: But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26). And in the above passage Paul is explaining that he is not preaching for his own benefit but for theirs, because he wants them to be strengthened.

We are strengthened when we engage in spiritual practices, and like going to the gym there is variety. Sometimes there is a need to focus on a particular practice for a season. Other times we just need to be consistent. Other times we may need to look at fresh ways to connect with God and consider a spiritual practice that we have never tried before.

Richard Foster lists 12 spiritual practices in his book, The Celebration of Discipline, which are: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. Other people add things like: sharing in community, sacred meals, observing the Sabbath, liturgy.

The practice that Paul focuses on here is the strengthening that comes from listening to God’s word being proclaimed. It encourages us and builds us up in the faith. Like going to the gym we don’t always see immediate results, it is a process. Yet in time, as we integrate God’s word into our lives, we can expect to see growth.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Are you envious because I am generous?

This is part of what I preached last Sunday:

Let’s take an example from church history. You are probably aware that in the early centuries of the church there was quite of lot of persecution of Christians. Not all of the persecution lead to martyrdom. One particular emperor only wanted to discredit Christians and not make them into heroes. So he arrested them, sent them into exile, confiscated their property, threatened them, tortured them and generally made their lives very uncomfortable.

Many Christians refused to deny Christ even under severe torture but some did deny him. These Christians were excommunicated from the church and considered to be lapsed Christians. During the persecution church membership had become very rigid because they didn’t want people joining the church to spy on them and then reporting them to the authorities.

In about 260AD a new emperor came to power and under his reign the church enjoyed freedom from persecution. Now many of these lapsed Christians wanted to be readmitted into the church.

This created a major problem. Should these lapsed Christians who had denied Christ be readmitted or not? Should they be allowed to participate in communion? Should they have to prove their commitment to Christ in some way? Should they be re-baptized? How would you feel? Supposing you had held out under torture and you were at a church meeting in 260AD Would you vote for them to be to be readmitted and be on equal standing? These people were not wanting to be leaders or anything they just wanted to come to church and take communion. So would you welcome them back with open arms?

Many of the bishops at the time felt these people could only be readmitted into the church and receive communion after performing a series of acts of penance. So the church created a graded system of penance. So depending of how easily you gave in while being tortured depend how long you were excluded from communion. Then the lapsed Christians also would have to prove their sorrow by coming before the congregation in sackcloth with ashes on their head. This practice pretty much continued in various forms until 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the church door.

Do we see Jesus treating Peter this way? Peter denied Jesus three times and although death was a possibility, he wasn’t actually being tortured at the time. I wonder how long the bishops would have made Peter wait until they allowed him to take communion again? Are we envious because God is generous with his grace, with his forgiveness, with his favour? God doesn’t make us wait until we have shown ourselves to be sufficiently sorrowful. God says, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Of droughts and flooding rains

In 1904 Dorothea Mackellar wrote a poem called, My Country. In it she compares England with Australia. She describes Australia as a land "Of droughts and flooding rains"; not much has changed in 100 years! It is a poem that resonates with me because I was born in England and understand the comparison.

On the weekend we experienced flooding rains after being in drought for many years. There had been quite a lot of rain in the last couple of weeks so the ground was already damp which created the ideal conditions for a flood.

For me it created an interesting set of circumstances. My pastor husband was away conducting a wedding and had asked me to preach, just preach, nothing else. I’m not an experienced speaker so I had prepared well in advance and was all set to go. Then it rained, big time. Many of the people who attend our church live on the other side of a major river. The river flooded (see photo, that's the road in the foreground). On Sunday morning about an hour or so before church I learnt that about half our congregation would not be able to make it so there would be no musicians, no sound person, no communion leader, no Bible reader, no Kids church, no helpers…

I sensed God was asking me "to step up to the plate." So I did. I asked for a few volunteers but did quite a few things myself; including some things I've never done before. The congregation was about half its normal size and they were very gracious. It will be a Sunday I’ll remember for a long time.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 11:19-20

You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 2 Corinthians 11:19-20

The tone of Paul's writing in this passage, tells us that Christians don't need to put up with this sort of behaviour. Christians are not to be door mats!

When the Jews accused Paul of being a troublemaker and stirring up riots, he was brought before Festus. It appeared that Festus was going to give in to the Jews demands and send Paul back to Jerusalem. The Jews were planning to assassinate Paul on the way. So Paul did the only thing left to do:

Paul answered: "I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!" (Acts 25:10-11).

As a Roman citizen who believed his civil rights were being violated, Paul had the right to appeal to Caesar and Paul did not back down from doing so. There is "a time to be silent and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7). There is a time "to turn the other cheek" and there is a time to "appeal to Caesar". It requires godly wisdom to know which is best in any given situation. It is always right to love and forgive our enemies, yet this does not turn us into door mats who cave into everyone’s demands.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Is Jesus God?

I believe Jesus was fully God and fully man, two natures in one person. The Nicene Creed expresses Jesus' divinity like this: "being of one substance with the Father" (in Greek – homoousios) and his humanity like this: "who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man." So I believe Jesus was God in the flesh. Kevin Connor quoting Herbert Lockyer in All the Doctrines of the Bible puts it this way: "At His incarnation, Christ added to His already existing divine nature a human nature and became the God-Man. At our regeneration, there was added to our already existing human nature, a divine nature and we thus become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4)*. This tells us that Jesus was, and is always, God, even during his time on earth.

However I often come across people who hold a view where they see Jesus as possessing righteousness and wisdom but otherwise an ordinary man, perhaps divinely appointed by God but certainly not divine. They say that Jesus never says, "I am God."

I would encourage such people to read the Gospels in context. The reason Jesus hid his identity for much of his life is because of the incorrect preconceived ideas the Jews had of the Messiah. Jesus lived in a Jewish culture and therefore addressed his comments to a Jewish audience. To fully understand what Jesus was saying we need to look at how his audience understood him. For example in John 8:58-59 we read: "'I tell you the truth,' Jesus answered, 'before Abraham as born, I am!' At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself…" The reason they picked up stones was because Jesus was claiming to be God and the penalty for blaspheme was stoning. Again in John 10:30-33 we find a similar claim and a similar response from the audience: "'I and the Father are one.' Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, 'I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?' 'We are not stoning you for any of these,' replied the Jews, 'but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.'" Ultimately the Jewish authorities pressurized the Romans to crucify Jesus because of his claims to deity. (See Matthew 26:64-66 Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered.)

This is an important issue because John tells us in 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 1:7 that anyone who denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God. Our very salvation depends on us believing in Jesus’ divinity. Yet I don’t find this hard to believe when I read the Gospels and see Jesus; when I read the Old Testament and read the Messianic prophesies; and when I read the epistles and see the teachings which are there.

*Conner, K. The Foundations of Christian Doctrine. Sovereign Word: Melbourne, 1980: 163

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Two things that stand out to me: Firstly we are in a “fight” and secondly our weapons have divine power. The “fight” is about arguments, knowledge, and thoughts so it is a battle that takes place in our minds. The divine power of our weapons tells us that we can win this fight.

What goes on in our mind is very important in spiritual terms. Our thoughts, our focus, our attitudes significantly impact how we live. If we are focused on all that is wrong in the world we will be weighed down and discouraged. However if we focus on God’s mighty power, his purposes and plans for the world, we will have hope.

This verse tells us that we don’t win the battle in our minds by our own efforts. We need the divine power that is available to us through Christ. God has made sure we are fully equipped to handle every situation. Yet we need to draw on his resources by faith, believing that God will supply all our needs. Often we don’t feel able to control our thoughts. They seem to bombard us and overwhelm us. But God’s promise is: God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).

As we believe God has equipped us, despite how we feel, we will learn to focus our mind on: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… (Philippians 4:8).

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Good Samaritan

We often read the story of the Good Samaritan as if the man who was robbed and beaten was the despised Samaritan and the man who helped was just an ordinary person like us. We read the story and come to the conclusion we are to help those in need, even those who we don’t like. When Jesus says, "Go and do likewise", traditionally we have taken it to mean we are to help those in need, even despised Samaritans. However if that was really Jesus’ intention he would have told the story with the Samaritan being the one who was robbed and beaten and an ordinary Jewish person helping him. What if, Jesus meant go and receive mercy, instead of go and show mercy?

Furthermore if we read Luke 10:37 we realized that Jesus has made the answer to the question: "Who is my neigbour?" to be: "My neighbour is the one who has mercy." And since it is my neighbour we are talking about, he/she is showing mercy to me. Jesus effectively tells the expert in the law that he can’t justify himself (v.29) and needs mercy. This man, like all of us, need to love the One who will show us mercy.

With thanks to Mark Buchanan who points this out in his book, The Holy Wild Sisters: Multnomah, 2003. pgs. 113-116

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 9:8

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

All grace...in all things...at all times…having all that you need. God gives us grace so that we will "abound in every good work." He blesses us so we will be a blessing. If we only want to be blessed to relieve our pain or for our own pleasure, it’s not enough. God’s plan is for us to channels of God’s blessing not reservoirs. However to be channels we must first receive from God.

Watchman Nee writes: "God is so wealthy that his chief delight is to give. His treasure-stores are so full that it is pain[ful] to him when we refuse him an opportunity of lavishing those treasures upon us. …It is a grief to the heart of God when we try to provide things for him. He is so very, very rich. It gives him true joy when we just let him give and give and give again to us. He wants to be the Giver eternally, and he wants to be the Doer eternally. If only we saw how rich and how great he is!"*

God wants to give us his grace, but as I wrote last week, we are often reluctant receivers. In John 7:37 we read, "Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.'" To receive the first thing to do is acknowledge our thirst, our need, our reliance on God. Secondly believe that God will supply us with "living water" that is grace, as we need it and not to be stockpiled. Thirdly "drink" that is be willing to receive.

*A Table in the Wilderness by Watchman Nee (February 19th). Victory Press, 1969

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Busy week

I’m glad to be home. In the last six days I have spent 13 hours driving. This is rather unusual for me as a lot of weeks I don’t drive at all. I’m fortunate enough to be able to walk to work.

I had a very enjoyable time at ladies retreat. The theme was, “Journey with God” and we spent time thinking about our spiritual journeys. As I reflected on mine, I was encouraged by God’s provision and faithfulness to me over many years. It spurred me on to believe God for the future.

Today was also Election Day. In Australia we have compulsory voting. Some Americans, I know, find it odd that we make people vote. However we really don’t…we only make people turn up at a polling booth and have their name crossed off. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say we have, compulsory showing up days!

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ladies Retreat

I’m off again to the Ladies Retreat that I went to last year. I wrote about it here. Last year the retreat was an amazing blessing so I’m looking forward to going again and catching up with those I met last year. So I’ll be missing from here for a few days.

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Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 8:13-14

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality. 2 Corinthians 8:13-14

Politicians and governments often want to legislate for equality but it doesn't work. It only works when people voluntarily give of their "plenty" and receive for their "need". There are two parts, first it is necessary to have those who are willing to give of their plenty. But secondly it is necessary to have those who are willing to receive for their need. We often assume there is no equality because people are unwilling to give but maybe this is only partly true. Sometimes people are unwilling to receive.

Are we good receivers? Compliments, gifts, expressions of appreciation can leave us feeling uncomfortable rather than blessed. Receiving puts us in the place of vulnerability. Somehow receiving makes us feel we are not complete in ourselves. To need someone's service suggests that we are somehow lacking and inadequate. It might even make us feel incompetent or dependant.

Jesus was a good receiver. He accepted the gift of anointing; He accepted a leper's thankfulness; and He accepted His Father's affirmation, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased".

We may need to learn to receive. Receive the gift of service others offer us, receive encouragement, affirmation, and most importantly receive our Father's love. Not just acknowledging His love with our mind but truly open ourselves up to receiving it into our hearts.

We not only rob others when we will not receive from them but we also rob ourselves of the blessing God wants us to have.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Team Leadership

This week I have been reading some articles about working in a Christian culture and I was particularly impressed with an article about team building by Eddie Gibbs. This is a summary of what he said:

Younger leaders are looking for leadership that is low profile, low budget and low maintenance. Low profile because younger leaders often don’t want to carry the burden of leadership responsibility alone and therefore prefer to operate in a team setting. They don't want or need the prestige of leadership. Low budget because funds in churches are always tight. Low maintenance because younger leaders don’t want to be micromanaged or to have to micromanage others. They are secure in themselves so can trust others to make decisions.

The team concept of leadership is seen in Jesus’ ministry and if the church is going to be effective in the future we need to embrace this style of ministry.

The sentence I found most challenging in the article was this: "No one discovers their true worth outside of community".

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 7:5

For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. 2 Corinthians 7:5

It surprises and encourages me to think of Paul as having "fears within." Then he continues, "But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…" I am thankful for all the “but God” times in my life. Those times when God has intervened in my life and turned things around, even though sometimes it is only my perspective that is turned around!

Quite often in the Bible we come across this little expression "but God". In 1 Samuel 23:14 we read, "Day after day Saul searched for him but God did not give David into his hands." Saul chased David for many years and the reason he was never able to track him down was because "God did not give David into his hands." God interrupted the normal sequence of events.

In a sense sending Jesus was God's biggest interruption. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We all deserved hell but God interrupted the just consequences of our actions by sending Jesus to take the punishment in our place. It was God's initiative to send Jesus and interrupted history forever.

Our own testimony should include "but God… ". Once my life was heading in a certain direction "but God" interrupted. As we grow as Christians we find more of God's interruptions. Once we acted in a worldly way, "but God" gives us His spirit. Once we thought in a worldly way "but God" gives us the mind of Christ.

How grateful we should be that God takes the initiative and interrupts our lives.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Leading as an Introvert

I have been reading a series of articles called, Leading as an Introvert, and finding them very helpful. One article in particular was especially enlightening, it was called: What Introverted Leadership Looks Like : know how to lead others according to your strengths by Adam S. McHugh. I've quoted a couple of paragraphs here. The first one is about communication.

An indispensable instrument in the toolbox of an introverted leader is "over-communication." The "over" in this strategy will only be perceived by introverts; to extroverts this is just "communication." Aware of our proclivity for enigmatic silence, introverted leaders act in love and understanding toward extroverts when we practice communication that is unnatural to us: we give more feedback and affirmation than we think is necessary; we repeat ourselves, even several times when making an important point; we contort our faces and gesticulate; and we sometimes give expression to incomplete thoughts to let extroverts know that we’re engaged in the conversation.

I laughed when I read this because it is so true. I hate repeating myself, but I have also found, like this paragraph says, that it is necessary to do what he says – repeat myself, contort my face and gesticulate – especially when dealing with a group of extroverts.

This second paragraph I thought was interesting not so much for what it had to say about introverts but for what it had to say about the shift in leadership paradigms.

Postmodernity has precipitated shifts in our leadership paradigms. In modernity, a hierarchical model of leadership was normative, and people separated themselves from others through expertise and position. Postmodern culture facilitates more egalitarian and collaborative forms of leadership and ministry. A successful postmodern leader will motivate others through relational skills and persuasion, not position and decree. Leadership in postmodern culture is not appointed by the Powers-That-Be; true leadership is given by a community to those people who have earned their trust and respect.

As he says there has been a major shift in the way leadership is understood and those of us who are my age and older need to realize that the hierarchical model of leadership just won’t work any more. So as introverts (and extroverts) we have may have to learn to adjust our leadership style.

The article is available as part of the downloadable book, Leading as an Introvert at Building Church Leaders. There is a cost involved.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 6:16

As God has said, "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." 2 Corinthians 6:16

God's continuing purpose from Genesis to Revelation is to "live with them and walk among them". We see it in Genesis 3:8 when God was walking in the garden. We see it in Revelation 21:3, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." And we see it in between – Ezekiel 37:27; Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38. Even the first thing Jesus said when he called his disciples was that they might be with him (Mark 3:14).

God’s promise is not only that He will be with us but that He will never stop doing us good: "They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them..." (Jeremiah 32:38-40).

Of course, we don’t always see it this way. We tend to see anything as 'not good' if it interrupts our plans—regardless of whether our plans are for the rest of the day or the rest of our lives. But our perspective is small and limited to this time zone, and to this earth. It was said about Enoch that he "walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away" (Genesis 5:24). God has a greater plan which is to walk with us and live amongst us, both now and forever.

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

One of us

Moses said, "Now show me your glory" (Exodus 33:18) and Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8). People have always wanted to see God, always wanted a God with “skin on”, which is probably why people made idols so they could see the god they were worshipping.

In the incarnation God answers the desire of people’s hearts. Jesus answers Philip by saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). I don’t think we appreciate how amazing this is. The writer to the Hebrews explains it this way, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being… (Hebrews 1:3). The exact representation of his being!! Relationship is everything to God. His desire to be with his people was so great that he became human. When we live isolate lives and cut ourselves off from other people we became less than God intends us to be.

Joyce Meyer and others have commented that one of the major tests of spiritual maturity is not how much we know, but how well we get on with others. God puts us in families made up of many different personalities in order that we grow spiritually. It is a steep learning curve but God is the perfect teacher because He’s been here and knows what it is like to be in relationships with less than perfect people.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review : Punished by rewards

I first read, Punished by rewards : the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise and other bribes by Alfie Kohn (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) about 6 years ago. I recently reread it as a result of some other reading that I had been doing, and I wrote about this here.

Generally speaking the world operates on the system, "Do this and you’ll get that." So we use rewards and punishments to entice children, students and employees to perform. Kohn, however, objects to the use of rewards and punishments and explains his position by saying, "The trouble with rewards is not that we hand them out too easily; it is that they are controlling, ultimately ineffective, and likely to undermine intrinsic interest" (pg. 115-116). Kohn includes much research to back up this statement. He also explains why we continue to use rewards and punishments in the face of overwhelming research that says they are not effective in the long term. Kohn explains, "Extrinsic motivators are hard to discredit, not only because many people have no idea what to do instead, but also because they get the job done" (pg. 160). So in the short term extrinsic motivators do work but they cause long term problems because they result in people losing interest in the assigned task.

Kohn particularly addresses the use of rewards and punishments in the home, in the school and in the work place, giving examples of the research that has been done in these areas. He believes we need to take more time in communicating the purpose of a task, developing skills, encouraging an atmosphere of learning, and fostering a commitment to good values rather than take taking short cuts through the use of rewards and punishments.

I found this to be a fascinating look at the way we discipline, educate and instruct people and well worth a read.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 5:1-4

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven… Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling… For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling… 2 Corinthians 5:1-4

Paul described his life as living in a tent because his longing was for his heavenly dwelling. However in the western world in the 21st century we seem to get so comfortable with our "tent" (v.4) that we forget it is only a tent. The familiar gives us a sense of security. Our wellbeing is often connected to our routines which make us feel comfortable. Yet God sees the things of earth as temporary and passing away.

Personally I don’t like tents or camping. I like hot running water, flushing toilets, soft beds, and a roof. I don’t understand why people forgo these pleasures and call it a holiday! A tent speaks so much of something transitory. It has no foundations, no permanence, and generally living in a tent is short term. From God’s perspective our time on earth is short term. Eternity is a lot longer than the 70 or 80 or 90 years we expect to spend on planet earth. What we see is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. This knowledge enabled Paul to make amazing sacrifices and kept him going in the midst of immense opposition.

When we consider we are mere tent dwellers it affects our attitude to things on earth. Minor irritations are easier to overlook, disappointments don’t devastate us, and setbacks aren’t overwhelming. Our priorities are changed. People’s eternal futures become more important than our temporary accomplishments.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Early Literacy

Yesterday I went to a workshop focusing on early literacy. The presenter was Dr. James "Jim" Thomas from Texas and he was excellent. Part of the role of librarians is to encourage literacy amongst young children which is done through story time programs. Jim explained our role as getting children ready to read. Therefore it is not our job to teach letter sounds etc. but he did outline six things children need in order to be ready to read. These are: print awareness, vocabulary, letter knowledge, narrative skills, phonological awareness, and print motivation. Print awareness is knowing how to handle a book and knowing that letters/words mean something. Vocabulary is knowing that everything has a name. Letter knowledge is knowing the name of the letters and being able to recognize them. Narrative skills is the ability to describe events and tell stories. Phonological awareness is recognizing rhyming and similar sounding words. Print motivation is about developing a child’s interest in reading and books.

Jim went to a lot of trouble to find out Australian terms and expressions. However I was quite amused when at one point he was recommending a book. He said there was nothing American about it. However in the text of the book the author had rhymed the letter Z with tree!

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

In the light of eternity all our troubles are “light and momentary”! For Paul his light and momentary troubles meant being “hard pressed on every side…perplexed…persecuted…struck down” (v.8). To view these as “light and momentary” is crazy if this life is all there is, however as Paul goes on to say, “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”.

We like to put down roots, and find security in things like getting married, and owning a home. We like the security and the comfort of being able to organize the future. We like permanence in order to make long term plans. These things are not wrong in themselves but they proved inadequate when they became the basis for our security.

When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, my sense of security was completely shattered. The things that made me feel secure; marriage, family, and a home were the things I was in danger of losing. After he recovered, I was not the same. I decided never again to put my security in things that were temporal. God desires that I live like a visitor, expecting me to trust him with my future and sometimes he teaches me this by removing my earthly securities.

I heard this recently, “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey but spiritual beings on a human journey.” Our true home is beyond this world. This perspective loosens our hold on earthly things so we can live with eternity in mind.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Impact 2010

On Thursday I attended Impact 2010, the Public Libraries NSW Conference jointly hosted by Upper Murray Regional Library and Riverina Regional Library in Albury. There were many good speakers reflecting on the value of libraries to their communities. Anthony Roberts (shadow minister for citizenship, volunteering and the arts) stated that research has shown for every $1 spent on public libraries there is a return of $4 to $8 in economic and social benefit to its community. Bob Carr (former Premier of NSW), a keynote speaker said, “we must think at all times of young people who don’t grow up with books.” There were several speakers who spoke about recent innovations including ebook collections, the use of Flickr for photographic displays, and the online delivery of the library course.

Sarah Garnett, founder of the Benjamin Andrew Footpath Library, also spoke and told the story of how the library began and how it has now grown into a charity. She emphasised the value of literacy and told several stories which reflected the difference the library has made in people’s lives, particularly in terms of their self-esteem and social skills.

Generally speaking librarians don’t make the best public speakers and going to library conferences can be a bit of challenge for this reason. However with the wide variety of speakers and topics, this turned out to be a very worthwhile day.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review : All she ever wanted

I always enjoy Lynn Austin’s books. She is a great storyteller basing many of her stories on historical facts. The characters and situations she creates are so believable, you forget you are reading fiction. All she ever wanted (Bethany House, 2005)tells the story of three gene rations of women who mostly lived in America in the 20th century. Rather than start at the beginning, Austin chooses to start at the end of the story with the current generation and work backwards from there. This has the interesting effect of meeting some rather obnoxious characters early in the book and then discovering some painful events in their past which led to their unpleasant behaviour. One is left to wonder how often we do this in life. We meet people who are decidedly disagreeable and we form poor opinions of them. Yet we really don’t know what pain and suffering they may have endured through no fault of their own which has led to them being the way they are.

Lynn Austin, through the use of fiction, also explores the corrupting power of wealth. Several of her characters are wealthy but they use their financial position to oppress and take advantage of the poor and unskilled. It is a sad commentary on human nature. However, while there is a tragic side to much of the book, Austin also provides moments of light relief through the use of good humour as well as some mystery with a murder to be solved.

Overall a good read.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 3:3

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:3

Our Christian lives may reflect someone else’s input into our lives – their writing on our hearts, as it were, but I wonder how many hearts have we written on? Have we sown in a positive way into other people’s lives?

God sees great value in using role models to teach others. In 1 Corinthians 10:6 we read: Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. And then in v.11, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.

Modeling can be a more effective tool than teaching. A church community provides the opportunity to rub shoulders with people who think differently to us and thus 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. As Christians mature in their faith they are called not only to teach but also called to live out their Christian faith, their love, their values, their way of life (Titus 2:7-8). This is a serious challenge since we live in a world where young people in particular are desperately lacking good role models. Yet it is not always a role we are eager to embrace. Often we feel inadequate as role models and may not want to see our church family as models. We may prefer our Christian lives to be a private affair. However God challenges us through Paul to be living letters from Christ.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Knots Prayer


Dear God:
Please untie the knots
that are in my mind,
my heart my life.
Remove the have nots,
the can nots and the do nots
that I have in my mind.

Erase the will nots,
may nots,
might nots that may find
a home in my heart.

Release me from the could nots,
would nots and
should nots that obstruct my life.

And most of all, dear God,
I ask that you remove from my mind,
my heart and my life all of the 'am nots'
that I have allowed to hold me back,
especially the thought,
that I am not good enough.
Amen

Author Known to God

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Book Review : In defense of Israel

John Hagee is very passionate in his support for Israel and her people. He has spent much time researching his book, In defense of Israel (FrontLine, 2007) and for the most part I found it to be instructive. However in the second half of the book I felt his passion as a preacher took over and he repeated many of the arguments he had already made. Nevertheless I found the book a fascinating insight into Jewish people and Jewish history. Not that I agreed with everything he said but it did give me much food for thought and increased my understanding of the whole Middle East situation.

Hagee has spent much time and effort supporting and honouring Jewish people, especially through the establishment of, Christian United for Israel and by organizing the, “Night(s) to Honor Israel”. He writes with much zeal and conviction for these projects. Hagee spends a very long chapter explaining his understanding of Romans 9-11 where Paul shares his feelings about Israel’s history and future. Hagee disputes the belief that Christians have replaced the Jews in God’s purposes. This teaching is apparently widespread in the US, though not here, in Australia.

One of the most interesting conversation Hagee relates is between himself and a Jewish rabbi. Both believe they will see the Messiah walk the streets of Jerusalem, however as Hagee said, at that point one of them is going to have to make a major adjustment to their theology!

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 2:15-16

For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 2 Corinthians 2:15-16

God spreads through us “the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ” (v.14) whether we are aware of it or not and therefore He can declare that we are the aroma of Christ regardless of where we are and who we are with. As Paul says, who is equal to such a task?

Even Moses knew, thousands of years ago, there ought to be something different about God’s people and in the wilderness we find him saying to God, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16). Indeed, apart from the Presence of God, what will distinguish us from anyone else? Moses realized the thing which sets God’s people apart is not outward observances of rituals, being law abiding citizens, or even helping people in need. The thing which sets us apart is the Presence of God or the “fragrance of Christ” radiating from our lives.

So it ought to be apparent to others that we have a source of power in our lives that is not natural, but rather supernatural. It is a power which causes us to be more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient, to show more kindness, more integrity, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and be more self-controlled (Galatians 5:22). Is my life radiating these things? Or is my life indistinguishable from those people who are hard working, respectable members of my community?

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Church history

I’ve just finished reading 500 pages of church history. I don’t know how I managed it! It is soooo dull and depressing! There have been so many conflicts, wars, blood shed in the name of Christianity that I can well understand why some who read history end up having such a negative attitude towards the church. Even some of the great Christian leaders of the past had a few strange ideas. The world has never seen the church being all it is suppose to be, except perhaps in the first few years after Jesus left. However even then disputes arose (Acts 6:1). Yet amazingly the church has survived despite the many attempts to wipe it out.

Why God chooses to use a broken, battered, opinionated people, called the church, to be his instrument to a broken, battered, opinionated world, is beyond me. Sometimes God’s ways are beyond fathoming! Furthermore God plans “to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27). That God is able to do this is truly a miracle!

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