Saturday, January 30, 2010

Up, up and away

Today I'm leaving to catch a plane in order to attend the Doing Church as a Team conference which I posted about last year.

Hopefully I will get the chance to update my blog while I'm away. If not, I'll be back in about 10 days.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Devotional Thought : James 3:1

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. James 3:1

This sentence introduces James’ teaching on the need to control our tongues and the important word here is "presume". It is an easy trap to fall into since we presume so many things in life. In fact in order for us to make sense of life we make assumptions. We assume day follows night, weeks flow into months, year follows year. We assume people will turn up for work; we assume people will relate to us in the way they always have; we assume life will continue in much the same way as it has. When a crisis occurs we go into shock because it disrupts our assumptions. So we slip into the habit of thinking we can make assumptions about each other.

However this is not the case, God is doing an individual work in each of us. Philippians 1:6 tell us, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. God is doing a good work in each of our lives but we can’t presume that we know what God is doing in someone else’s life. When Peter asked Jesus about John, someone he had been in close contact with for three years, Jesus replied "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me" (John 21:22).

Sometimes we feel like we have the perfect solution to someone’s problem but unless it is God-given we haven’t a clue. James tells us not to presume to teach. It requires us to be humble and acknowledge only God really knows what is best for each us.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We are not of those who shrink back

Most years I like to post at least once about the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. This year I watched on television as Justine Henin played in the fourth round. She was down break points and saved them by hitting winners. I’ve also watched other players who, when they are down break points, play conservatively in the hope that their opposition will make an error. I would love to know what goes through Henin’s mind when she faces break points because at such times, she has the confidence to hit the ball with her full force.

Spiritually, it makes me think that when we face difficult circumstances we need to play our best shots; and we can only play our best shots if our confidence is in God. Difficult circumstances should not make us shrink back but rather they present us with an opportunity to express our faith in God. As the writer of Hebrew writes: But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved (Hebrews 10:38-39).

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review : Where is God?

John Townsend is the well known author of Boundaries and therefore brings a wealth of experience to this topic. Where is God? : finding His presence, purpose, and power in difficult times (Thomas Nelson, 2009) is written for people who are currently in crisis and wondering if God even cares. Townsend writes with a great deal of compassion and empathy. He has been through difficult circumstances himself and has sat with many people in the counseling room who face trying situations. So he makes a point of not adding guilt to a suffering person’s problems.

Townsend covers many of the issues that face people in crisis which includes people’s distort view of God, the consequences of living in a broken world, and the value God places of people’s freedom. He also looks at the issue of how God suffers with us, how he works in ways we cannot see, and how difficulties build our character. Townsend places a great deal of importance on the role other people play when we are going through a tough time also giving advice to people who are supporting others in these times.

Where is God? is written in a very caring manner and provides much good advice for those who are facing hard times.

As a book reviewer, I did receive this book for free. However as a personal blogger, I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Devotional Thought : James 2:23

And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. James 2:23

Even in the Old Testament God was crediting people with a righteousness that they could never earn through good works. Yet there are some who struggle with accepting God’s gift of righteousness. Some have turned their backs on the Christian faith and converted to another religion because they were so desperate to contribute something to their salvation. They could not cope with coming to God with empty hands and a humble heart in the knowledge their righteous deeds were like filthy rags in the presence of a holy God (Isaiah 64:6).

We do not earn our way into God’s family. He is a holy God; we are sinful people. God should have nothing to do with us. Yet, because of his grace, he sent Jesus so we could be part of his chosen people. It was an act of unmerited favor which we receive when we commit ourselves to God and He then makes a complete reversal in our circumstances. He puts us in a privileged position—that of being a favored son or daughter of God. When we come to understand the extent of God’s grace towards us, we will feel humble and grateful but it can also leave us feeling helpless and dependent. Grace makes us realize we aren't as self-sufficient as we thought.

Selwyn Hughes, in Every Day with Jesus, wrote this: “There is something about human nature that makes us want to do something to remedy our spiritual deficiencies rather than trust in the grace and power of God.”

However, let us go against human nature, trust in the grace and power of God, and accept his gift of righteousness.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Egypt, Wilderness, Babylon, Canaan part 2

In about 720 BC the northern tribes were exiled to Assyria. These people never returned to Israel as a group. The two southern tribes Judah and Benjamin were exiled to Babylon in about 600 BC.

Jeremiah 29:1-14

It seemed the Jews lived in Babylon with a fair amount of freedom to build houses, get married, and live independent lives. From other historical records we find that as time passed Jewish names began to appear in Babylonian business records.

So after 70 years many Jews were well established in Babylon. In Ezra 1when the decree came allowing the Jews to return, only a very small percentage of the people actually returned. Some records suggest less than 5%. Nevertheless there were some Jews who understood the significance of the land of Canaan. They knew Jerusalem was where God wanted his temple. We read their thoughts in Psalm 137.

How can we sing the songs of the Lord if we are not living where God wants us to live? If we are not living how God wants us to live? How can we worship God in Babylon?

They hung up their harps. Harps were normally played in the temple area when worshipers came to Jerusalem. The harp was an instrument of joy and celebration. People played the harp because they had reason to praise God. But here in Babylon they hang up their harps.

However the majority of Jews had become comfortable with life in Babylon. So when the call came to return, they stayed exactly where they were. They were living in a place where they weren’t suppose to be. Joseph had understood that God had given Canaan to his people. He wanted his bones in Canaan but not these people. God had chosen Jerusalem as the place where he wanted his temple built. It was the place where he wanted his people. But most of these Jews chose to stay in Babylon. They were more interested in their comfort than God’s purposes.

The most prominent emotion of living in Babylon is actually boredom. It’s feeling comfortable with where I am in my Christian walk but bored because I am not where I should be.

How do we leave Babylon?
Firstly we express our sorrow over being in Babylon. We sit by the river and weep. We cry out to God and say, how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?

Secondly we remember that God said, You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. So we seek God. We ask God where we should be? Where should we be in our home life, in our career, in our geographical location? Where should we be in our spiritual lives? Where does God wanted me to be? What does God want me to do?

God always has something more. He doesn’t want us getting bored. He always has something more for us as individuals. He always has something more for us as a church. If are bored we need to ask God what else He has for us. We ask God what his plans are for our life. We ask him for guidance and direction and then we follow. We make Jesus Lord of our life.

Lastly Canaan, our real home. A picture of the Christian who is moving forward in their Christian life, possessing the land, building God’s kingdom.

Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

However that is only half the story. If righteousness, peace and joy were the only emotions we experienced everyone would be living in Canaan. The other feeling is being scared. We have to trust the invisible and believe the impossible.

Noah built an ark in the middle of dry land. Abraham left everything even though he did not know where he was going. Moses left Egypt and chose to be mistreated along with the people of God. Rahab hid the spies. Peter walked on water. It’s scary stuff.

Where are we today:
Are you in Egypt making bricks, but never able to make enough?

Are you in the wilderness, waiting for the next lot of manna to drop from the sky?

Are you in Babylon bored out of your mind with the Christian life?

Or are you in Canaan but wondering why you feel so scared?

Living in Canaan is peace and joy but until we get to that place where we really trust God, really believe that no matter what happens God is all good God who loves us and has our best intentions at heart. Until we get to that place we are going to be afraid. That’s why all through the Bible God’s message to his people is so often, do not be afraid.

Where are we today Egypt, the wilderness, Babylon or Canaan? God will often bring people, circumstances and situations into our life that are designed to get us out of Egypt, to get us out of the wilderness, to get us out of Babylon. However the decision is ours.

Today you can be in Canaan. Today you can commit to God and be about his purposes. Today you can leave Egypt, leave the wilderness, leave Babylon and head for home.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Egypt, Wilderness, Babylon, Canaan

On Sunday I preached a sermon at church which was a bit of first for me. The following is a summary of what I said:

There are the four geographical locations mentioned in the Old Testament where the Israelites spent significant amounts of time:

Egypt, Wilderness, Babylon, Canaan

I shared a few thoughts about each place:

The Israelites went to Egypt when Joseph was in charge and there was a famine in Canaan. They had gone voluntarily and Joseph had promised to provide for them. However Joseph knew Egypt was not going to be the permanent home for the Israelites. Joseph knew that one day God would arrange for his people to return and when that day came, Joseph wanted them to take his bones back to Canaan. This is pretty surprising because Joseph only lived in Canaan for the first 16 years of his life; he spent most of his life in Egypt. Yet he knew that Canaan was his real home.

At the start of the book of Exodus we find the Israelites had become slaves. Living in Egypt had become a life of bondage and for the Israelites that meant making bricks.

Exodus 5:6-18

The Israelites could never make enough bricks, the work was never finished, they were always making bricks for someone else. Never making bricks for themselves, never achieving any sense of achievement but always making bricks for someone else’s benefit.

I wonder if you’ve ever felt like that. You can never do enough to please the foremen in your life. Maybe your foreman is your boss, or your teachers or even your parents and you feel that no matter how much you do it is never enough. It’s never quite good enough, no matter how much effort you put in, it is never enough. Or maybe it is not people but circumstances. Circumstances that make you feel like whatever you do it is never enough. That’s what life in Egypt is like.

The most prominent emotion of living in Egypt is the feeling I can never do enough. It’s the feeling that I’m not good enough. I can never do enough to please God. It’s the sense that God is displeased with me. Even after we become a Christian this feeling can linger with us.

So how do we leave Egypt?
It is recorded in Exodus 2:23 - The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help, because of their slavery went up to God.

So firstly they cried out to God. We too need to cry out to God. We need to acknowledge that on our own we can never do enough. Secondly on the night of their deliverance the Israelites were to take the blood of a lamb and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses. It is a picture of what God for us. By Jesus sacrifice and only by his sacrifice we become holy and righteous in God sight.

The Wilderness
In order to get to Canaan it is necessary to go through the wilderness but we are not supposed to stay there. In Deuteronomy 1:2 we discover that it takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea. However the Israelites ended up spending 40 years in the wilderness…40 years to make an 11 day trip.

Numbers 9:17-23

They sound like a very obedient people. When the cloud moved they moved. When it stayed, they stayed. These people seem quite different to the ones who refused to enter the Promised Land. Yet they had an ulterior motive. The cloud provided protection from the sun during the day and provided warmth during the night. So there was a very good incentive to pack up and move when the cloud moved.

In the long term this is not what God really wanted. It was a mere shadow of how he really wanted to guide his people. Ultimately he didn’t want people who were motivated by their own comfort, by their need of shade or warmth. He wanted people who would follow him because they trusted him, because they loved him, because they believe in his good intentions. God wants people who will willingly follow his plans for their lives knowing that God’s plans probably won’t bring the most comfort but nevertheless believing they are the best plans for their lives.

The most prominent emotion of living the wilderness is immaturity. It’s expecting God to send a cloud or some sort of visible sign to comfort me and direct me. It’s living by what I see God doing and not by faith.

Living in the wilderness is expecting God to run the world the way I want it. It is turning up on a Sunday morning or at Bible study or at youth group and expecting someone else to feed me to drop manna or spiritual food in my lap without me having to study to find it. It is expecting to get water out of a rock—refreshment that I didn’t have to lift a finger to get. It is expecting God to be focused on my needs instead of me being focused on God.

How do we leave the wilderness?
We grow up. We fed ourselves which means we read the Bible regularly. We pray. We come to church not because of what we get out it but we come with the intention of blessing God and blessing others. We remember it is not about us but rather that it is all about Jesus.

Coming up next: Babylon and Canaan

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Review : A Novel Idea

Just for fun I thought I would borrow, A Novel Idea by Aimee Friedman (Simon Pulse, 2006) from my library. It is a young adult novel whose main character, 16 year old Norah, decides to start a book group. I would also like to start a book group for teenagers so I thought it would be interesting to see what that looks like in a fictitious world.

It was a fun read, not to be taken seriously. It was a bit corny, a bit convenient, and altogether unrealistic. If only life worked out that well! Nevertheless it was a light hearted romance with an entertaining main character. Norah starts a monthly book group at the local bookstore in order to boost her extracurricular activities for her college applications (a concept lost on those of us outside the US). The book group attracts a small but unusual crowd who seem more interested in pairing up than actually reading books. With more luck than skill, the book group ends up being a success and Norah meets a literary soul mate.

I don’t read many young adult novels and personally found it slightly disturbing the way 16 year olds were portrayed. Maybe I’m na├»ve but I believe teenagers have more going on in their heads than the self-indulgent picture that Friedman presents.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Devotional Thought : James 1:19-20

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20

Researchers have discovered all sorts of bad things happen in our brains when we get angry. Anger shuts down the creative parts of our brains so we are less likely to be able to solve problems. Unresolved anger impacts our health in negative ways. Here James tells us that spiritually we cannot achieve God’s purposes through our anger. Later in James we discover we achieve the righteous life that God desires through peace: Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (3:18).

Generally we become angry when we are blocked from obtaining something that is important to us. Road rage occurs when drivers are blocked from getting to their destination as quickly as they hoped. Employers become angry when they are blocked in their desire for a promotion, better working conditions, or increased pay. Parents become angry with their children when they block their desire for a harmonious family life.

To hold onto our peace and avoid getting angry it is helpful to think about where we feel we are being blocked. If we have unreasonable expectations, we set ourselves up to have these expectations blocked. If we take on responsibilities that belong to other people, we won’t be able to control the outcome and our desires will be blocked. If we don’t listen to others we may find our plans blocked.

Spiritually, by having a strong belief that God is in control, we know that nothing happens to us without his permission. Even when our desires are blocked, we know God’s are not. We can hold our peace because God’s purposes are bigger than our inconveniences.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

What I read this week...

From Thrive by Matthew Jacoby:

God is the strength of our hearts; like steel reinforcement in concrete which otherwise is brittle and inadequate...

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

The King still has one more move

I love it when Australian sports people snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and it happened this week. Australia played Pakistan in cricket. It was rain delayed yet Ricky Pointing, the captain, still decided to bat even though it was overcast. The Australians were all out for 127, then Pakistan batted and made 333. Australia were 206 behind. Australia batted again, by the end of the third day they were 8 for 286. They were a mere 80 runs in front with only 2 wickets in hand. The next day Australia went on to make 381. Pakistan needed 175 to win. However they were all out for 139. For three days Pakistan had the upper hand but Australia managed to bring off an amazing win.

These kinds of events remind of a story I read about a painting of a chess game. The painting was called, Checkmate. However when a chess master saw the painting he realized there was a problem and exclaimed, “the name is wrong…the king still has one more move!” The analogy is, of course, that God has one more move. His is always the final move. And cricket games like the one played this week remind me that it’s not over ‘til it’s over. It reminds that when I’m facing defeat, God can make a way where there seems to be no way. It reminds that whatever I’m facing, the King still has one more move!

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Book Review : The latent power of the soul

After reading, What the bleep do we know!? I felt constrained to reread, The latent power of the soul by Watchman Nee (Christian Fellowship, 1972). I read this book many years ago yet its message has stayed with me. Nee explains the difference between the soul and the spirit which is important when we look at paranormal experiences because it determines what forces are at work in these experiences.

From Scripture Nee shows that before the fall Adam had a lot more power than we have today. For example the mere fact that Adam was able to name (and therefore remember) all the animals suggests an intelligence way beyond our own (Genesis 2:19). The powers we lost at the fall, which Nee calls soul powers, became latent, trapped in our physical bodies. Rather than restore these powers God wants to give us his power by his Holy Spirit. Whereas Satan wants us to tap into these latent powers by overcoming our physical bodies in order that, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:4).

A lot of the paranormal events we see today are merely the result of people tapping into this latent power which resides in our souls. This is done by many strategies found in the Buddhism, Hinduism, and the New Age movement which seeks to lay aside physical distractions and focus on the power of our minds or souls.

Nee encourages us to “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Colossians 3:5) and instead rely on God’s Holy Spirit.

Watchman Nee originally spoke this message in 1933 yet it is amazingly appropriate for the times in which we live.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Devotional Thought : Ephesians 6:6-7

…doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men. Ephesians 6:6-7

In Samuel 16:6 Samuel is sent to Jesse of Bethlehem because God had chosen one of his sons to be the next king:

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

The Lord looks at the heart. Even after all David’s shortcoming, it is recorded that David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). David’s actions did not always please the Lord but his heart attitude did. Likewise in Matthew 23 we read Jesus being very critical of the Pharisees because they were more interested in appearances than in the condition of their hearts. God is more interested in our attitudes than our actions.

Sometimes our actions fall short of what we or God desires, even on those occasions, we can still please God by having the right heart attitude. On the other hand our actions may be right but our attitude may be wrong. We see from the Pharisees that this does not please God. God wants us to have the right heart attitude in all circumstances.

This particular verse in Ephesians 6 is initially addressed to slaves. Yet it applies to us too. Wherever situation we find ourselves in life, God is concerned about our hearts. What is the condition of our heart? Are we only interested in outward appearances or do we desire to do the will of God from our heart?

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Read the Bible or study it?

I’ve been challenged over recent weeks and months about the need to study the Bible. This may seem rather odd as I do read the Bible regularly and even run an online Bible study. However God has been pointing out to me that there is a difference between reading the Bible devotionally (which is what I do) and actually studying the Bible. If I only want to feed myself then reading the Bible devotionally is fine but if I want to feed other people then I need to study the Bible. This is my other challenge that God wants me to teach others the things he has taught me, but isn’t this the challenge he has for all of us?

though by this time you ought to be teachers…Hebrews 5:12

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2

Consequently I have looking into different options of how I should go about studying the Bible. I did think about reading a commentary but I find them so dull! I am thinking about doing a subject or two at a Bible College, maybe by correspondence or online. I’ll be looking into other options over the next few weeks.

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