Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 4:7

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? 1 Corinthians 4:7

We live in the New Testament era and it is so easy to take God for granted. We expect God to overlook our misdeeds, to comfort us when we are in trouble, and give us grace regardless of our behaviour. We cheapen God’s grace when we underestimate our sin. Matthew Jacoby in Thrive (10 March 2010) wrote this concerning the flood in Genesis 6 & 7: “Grace is favour for those who deserve judgment. But grace has no meaning unless we understand clearly the judgment of which we are deserving. This is what the flood show. It demonstrates the justice of God in response to sin.”

We deserved death but God shows us grace. Some Christians complain that the Old Testament is too violent yet much of it is God’s just response to a world corrupted by sin. God wiped out entire cities and nations because their depravity was so overwhelming. Not even children were spared because they would perpetuate the cycle of sin. We take grace for granted when we don’t consider the depth of our sin compared to the height of God’s holiness.

Paul writes to the Ephesians: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). When we understand the enormous gift of God’s grace, we realize we have nothing to boast about, our very life is a gift because we deserved death. The appropriate response is to be so overwhelmed with gratitude that we lose all desire to sin.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

*In awe of the One who gave it all

I recently led communion at my church. This is what I said:

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

In the same way that God spoke light into existence, God makes his light to shine in our hearts. We don’t make light. God does. It was God’s decision and initiative to create light and likewise it is his decision to reveal himself to us. We only know God because he allows us to know him, we only know he loves us and cares about us because he has revealed himself to us.

It is a pretty awesome thought that the God who put all the stars in place, and made the whole universe chooses to make himself known to us. After all God is under no obligation to tell us anything about himself. He could have just have easily chosen not to reveal himself to us. Our knowledge of God is the result of his gracious decision and desire to have fellowship with us.

From the beginning of Genesis throughout the entire Old Testament we see many times and in various ways God’s desire to have fellowship with his people and then we come to the New Testament.

Hebrews begins with these words: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus, himself, said: Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).

Still it wasn’t enough for God to reveal himself to us, he also wanted a relationship with us. And so Jesus not only showed us the Father, he also showed us the Father’s heart towards us by dying in our place.

Let's pray:

Father God,
Thank you Lord for choosing to reveal yourself to us. We understand that you didn’t have to do this. You could have left us in the darkness of our sin. However in your great love for us, you shone your light into our hearts and made a way for us to reconciled to you through Jesus’ death on the cross.

As we take the bread and wine today I pray that we will wonder afresh at the depths of your love and compassion for your people and I pray that we will respond by giving you our hearts. Amen

*From The Stand by Joel Houston

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review : Have a little faith

Mitch Albom tells a good story and Have a little faith (Sphere, 2009) is not only a good story but a true one. It begins when Mitch is approach, after giving a speech, by his childhood rabbi who asks if he will do his eulogy. Mitch is rather surprised but agrees. However he realizes if he is to do his eulogy he will need to know him as a person instead of just his childhood rabbi. And so begins an eight year relationship which is life changing for Mitch. He discovers amongst other things that his old rabbi is genuine, honest, humble, God believing, hard working, a faithful carer of his flock, and a bad dresser!

While telling this story, Mitch also weaves into the narrative the story of Henry Covington. Henry is a reformed drug addict who is now the pastor of a church basically made up of homeless people. Henry’s church is in Detroit where Mitch also lives. It seems Mitch’s relationship with the rabbi has pricked Mitch’s conscious so he gets involved in helping this church as they aid the homeless.

As the book draws to a close Mitch makes the common author error of telling too much. Rather than leave these two stories side by side and let the reader make up their own minds about the validity of each person’s faith, Mitch decides to share with us his own opinions and strongly implies that all faiths are the same. A conclusion I cannot agree with. This detracted from my enjoyment of an otherwise entertaining story.

P.S. Mitch says he never knows why his old rabbi asks him to do his eulogy, and yet he makes a point of telling us that the rabbi asked him this question after he heard him give a speech. The reason is simple the rabbi wanted a good public speaker to do his eulogy and after hearing Mitch on radio I would say he was ideal.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 3:3

You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? 1 Corinthians 3:3

We can test how worldly we are by whether or not we are jealous, and whether or not we quarrel. We would all like, no doubt, to be addressed as spiritual, but if we quarrel or become jealous we are “mere infants in Christ” (v.1).

It is an interesting test for how spiritual we are. We tend to look at how much of the Bible someone knows, how long they have been a Christian, how well they pray but no, the test is whether our faith has effected our behaviour. As children grow we expect their behaviour to change. Likewise as Christians grow we expect their behaviour to become more Christ-like. We can’t say—that’s just the way I am. Whatever is wrong with our lives God can fix, if we allow him to do so.

In this passage we find that the Corinthians have been quarreling over leadership preferences. Of course we are all going to have our own preference when it comes to preaching styles, leadership styles, speaking styles. Yet these differences should not divide us. Paul tells them that their leaders are “only servants, through whom you came to believe” (v.5). Even though someone may have had a big impact on our lives, even leading us to faith, that person is still only a servant whom God empowered. Sometimes God will even allow us to become disillusioned with those who led us to Christ in order that our faith rests on him and not on a person or church.

Paul teaches the Corinthians one plants, another waters, “but God made it grow” (v.6). We can assist the growth process by resisting the temptation to quarrel over incidentals.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rewards and punishments

Some time ago, (before I started blogging) I read, Punished by rewards : the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise and other bribes by Alfie Kohn (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). It has since been republished a couple of times. When I read it, I was fascinated and it seemed to me to accurately portray the problem with relying on a system of rewards and punishment to motivate people. Kohn summaries the reward and punishment system in six words: "Do this and you'll get that," (Kohn, 1993, p. 3). Often when I read a secular book I think to myself if this is really true the principle would be somewhere in the Bible.

Lately I’ve been reading Larry Crabb’s new book, 66 Love letters. Each chapter is about a book of the Bible and the chapters follow the order of the Bible. It is fairly heavy going and it will take me a while to finish, however today I read the chapter on Judges. If you are familiar with the book of Judges it is a fairly depressing account of how God’s people continually went through a cycle of behavior which went like this: God’s people disobey him, they are oppressed by their enemies, God’s people cry out to God, God sends a deliverer who defeats the enemy, there is a period of peace before God’s people again disobey him and so the cycle continues. In reference to this, Crabb writes, “…no system of reward and punishment changes what’s really wrong with people (p.29). The reward of peace did not keep God’s people from disobeying God and neither did the threat of punishment. It only worked in the short term, and this is also Alfie Kohn’s point.

To look at what really changes behaviour is not my point here but rather to emphasis the fact that rewards and punishments don’t create long term changes.

(If you want to know what does change human behaviour, check out this devotional thought which I wrote last year.)

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review : Speak up with confidence

Speak up with confidence (NavPress, 2007) by Carol Kent is a well written, easy to read book which contains many practical ideas for the would-be speaker. It is divided into six parts which are: Do I have potential for speaking? How do I prepare a talk? How do I deliver a talk? What do I speak about? How do I get organized? and Where do I go from here? As a Christian speaker, Carol also addresses her subject from a Christian perspective which I found particularly helpful.

Carol employs many illustrations from her own life and others, so not only does she explain what works for her but also gives suggestions which have worked well for others. Overall it is a very helpful book.

I’ve read a number of these types of books: here and here and here. Many of the same topics are covered by these authors with each one adding their own slant.

One interesting aside is that Carol Kent first wrote, Speak up with confidence in 1997. It was republished in 2007. In 1999 Carol Kent’s son was arrested. This information has been added in a couple of places in the 2007 edition but without any further details. Being a curious person I did a search on the internet to find out the details and discovered her son was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. I also learnt that she has told this story in two books called: When I lay my Isaac down and A new kind of normal. I have read the previews for both of these books and imagine they would be very challenging and emotionally draining books but nevertheless worthwhile reads.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 2:9-10

However, as it is written: "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

Often we quote this verse without the final phrase—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. God desires to communicate with us; he wants to reveal to us his plans, and purposes. Paul is saying that because we have God's Spirit we can know God's thoughts (v.11-12) and furthermore we have the mind of Christ (v.16). How awesome is that!

Yet frequently we are quick to go along with human wisdom without first checking with God for His insight into a situation. In the previous verses Paul has been explaining the difference between human wisdom and the wisdom that comes from the Spirit. God imparts his wisdom to us via his Spirit living within us. However this requires us to be discerning. Not every thought that pops into our heads or our hearts is from God’s Spirit. We have to learn to distinguish God’s thoughts from our own and one of the most important ways we do this is by reading God’s Word.

However more than just reading God’s Word we need to study it so that it impacts our lives. By using a Bible reading method like S.O.A.P. that includes journaling, we are committing to paper not only our observations, but an application and a prayer that are personal. We allow God’s Word to penetrate pass our minds into our hearts.

Proverbs 6:6 tells us to learn from the ant. Ants teach us that doing a little often is very effective. Likewise when it comes to studying the Bible doing a little often is also most effective.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

I love books!

I bought this bag when I was on holidays recently. I didn't buy it because I wanted the quotes to be taken literally but rather they convey the fact that I really do like books.

As long as I can remember I have always loved to read. In fact at one point in my life reading became a form of escapism. I can remember feeling disappointed when I finished a book because it meant I would have to face the real world again.

Books have enriched my life and taught me more than I could have learnt by experience alone. They have truly changed my life and I don't just mean Christian books. I don't have a problem reading books written by people who have a different belief system to me. In fact I often find it fascinating reading about their views, as it makes me reflect more deeply on my own.

So...read any good books lately?

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review : Celebration of Discipline

Celebration of discipline by Richard Foster was first published in 1978 and has been republished several times, most recently in 2008. For a book to remain in print for over 30 years is quite amazing.

In his book, Foster covers 12 disciplines which have been practiced from the earliest days of Christianity and still believed to be important for spiritual growth. The 12 disciples are: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. These are not presented in a legalistic manner; neither does he suggest following these exact disciplines is the only way to spiritual maturity. Rather they are presented as aids and tools to be used in the way the individual finds most beneficial. Furthermore Foster also suggests variations within each discipline of how they might be employed. Of course, taking on a new spiritual discipline is never easy to maintain but Foster encourages people to persevere even if there is little benefit to begin with.

Foster looks at these disciplines from a different perspective to the norm and makes them sound like fun rather than a chore. His last chapter on celebration was particularly encouraging as he pointed out that joy was the whole point of engaging in these disciplines.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 1:14-17

I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:14-17

“I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.” I love the personal note that Paul adds here. God allows Paul’s personality to show through his writing. Yet, isn’t it interesting that Paul doesn’t remember who he baptized? Especially as it seems he didn’t baptized many people. However Paul gives the reason—Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. He was focusing on what Christ called him to do.

Paul wrote to the Philippians: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (3:13-14). Paul didn’t just say this because he thought it was a good idea but he practiced what he preached. Likewise we too need to focus on those things God has called us to do.

We may not be called to preach like Paul, but God has gifted us to serve. Sometimes the things God calls us to do may not be as obvious as preaching or may not seem as significant but so often we underestimate our contribution. Jesus said, “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).

Let’s not become comfortable with past successes or past acts of service but rather focus on what lies ahead.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Everything’s alphabetic these days!

This is a photo of Voltaire and Rousseau's, a second hand bookshop 5 minutes from Glasgow University Library. When I look at this photo I think, “Oh yes, I remember why I don’t like second hand bookshops!” I feel almost claustrophobic just looking at the photo. Yet I do love books and enjoy my job as a librarian. I have been in my current position for two and a half years and in that time I have made considerable changes in my library so that the books are tidy and in strict alphabetical order.

When my children were little we would watch Mr. Squiggle, a puppet who drew pictures with his pencil nose. However being a puppet he was operated from above, beyond the range of the camera. This meant he mostly drew his pictures upside down and often would say, “Upside down! Upside down! Everything's upside down these days, Miss Jane.”

Sometimes I think of Mr. Squiggle when I walk around the library but it comes out this way: Alphabetic! Alphabetic! Everything’s alphabetic these days!

P.S. I did not take the photo and credit belongs here:

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Book Review : Jesus wants to save Christians

Rob Bell & Don Golden bring a fresh perspective and many insights to Biblical passages in their book, Jesus wants to save Christians (Zondervan, 2008). While I may not agree with everything in their book, I enjoy the way Bell & Golden make me think outside the norm. It is good to have my thought patterns disturbed from time to time, and look at Bible stories from another angle. An example of this occurs in the first chapter when they are discussing empires. Generally we identify with the Israelites slaving under Egyptian oppression. However Bell & Golden describe the West which shows we are more like the Egyptians protecting our own comforts and building our own empires, then we are like the Israelites. Not that we don’t have difficulties but generally we are more interested in defending our own interests than hearing the cries of distressed people.

The book has political and social implications but rather than leave us overwhelmed with the big picture of what needs to change. The authors bring it down to a personal level where I can be like Jesus in my own arena of influence.

Overall a thought provoking book that is worth a read.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Devotional Thought : James 5:16-17

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. James 5:16-17

What does it mean to “pray earnestly”. The Message reads, “prayed hard”. How does one pray hard?

Recently I read that it means sincere and focused, which raises some interesting questions. Am I sincere when I pray? Do I really mean what I pray? Is my heart really in it or am I just going through the motions? I have to admit I’m not as sincere in my prayers as I would like to be. Then there is focused. Do I really concentrate when I pray or is my mind wandering? I find the temptation for mind wandering is even greater when I am praying with someone. Sometimes my mind is more focused on what I am going to be praying than agreeing with what someone is currently praying.

At such times I am grateful to God for Hebrews 4:15-16 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus knows how I feel. He knows my weaknesses.

However I also know that Elijah was “just like us” and he was able to pray earnestly. The solution is to “approach the throne of grace…so that we may…find grace to help us.” Even in our praying God will give grace to help us if we ask.

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