Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Devotional Thought : 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life…But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

This is perhaps one of the clearest indications in the Bible as to why we may experience difficulties. In this incident, Paul and his companions experienced difficulties so they would rely on God and his resources. It is a hard lesson to learn because often we think we are resourceful enough not to need help from God or others. The world would tell us we can achieve anything we want, if we try hard enough. But the truth is we are so dependant on God we cannot even take our next breath unless he allows us to do so. Somehow it is in the hard times we realize we are not as competent and self-sufficient as we would like to think. Sometimes God allows difficult circumstances so we trust in God alone.

I read a story about a lady who was giving her testimony to a group of people. It was a sad tale of how she was raised in an orphanage with her hopes of being adopted constantly dashed. As she was telling her story she realized it was moving her audience to tears. “Don’t be upset,” she said, “I needed my past. You see - it brought me to God.”

So often it is the sorrows and hardships of our lives which bring us to a point of seeking God, either for the first time or a subsequent time. C.S. Lewis explains it this way, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world”.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

What I heard this week...

We are not human beings on a spiritual journey but spiritual beings on a human journey.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Everything can change in a day

I’ve been having a few difficulties at my work place lately and one of the things that I have found encouraging is the thought that everything can change in a day. For Esther everything changed when the king could not sleep (Esther 6:1). The following day Haman was hanged and Esther was safe. Everything changed for Joseph when Pharaoh had a dream which his magicians could not interpret (Genesis 41:8). Joseph was called for and he became the prime minister of Egypt in a day. On 14th May 1948 Israel became a nation in a day.

This week we have another example of how everything can change in a day. For the last couple of weeks there has been speculation in the media about the leadership of the Australian Labor party but nothing that really prepared the nation for what happened on Thursday. Wednesday morning Kevin Rudd was prime minister and 24 hours later Julia Gillard had been given the job without even a vote being cast.

Truly everything can change in a day.

I’m not commenting as to whether the change in the government’s leadership is a good thing or a bad thing, I’m just commenting on how quickly it changed.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Not the only unobservant one

My daughter thinks I am unobservant. She came to this conclusion in her final years of secondary school. At that time students were not obligated to wear school uniform. My daughter told me if she were kidnapped I would not know what she was wearing. This is completely true. In my defense I would like to say I do notice things that are important to me and what one wears is not.

I had an incident this week that made me think I’m certainly not the only one who is unobservant. Six months ago we moved the shelves in the library. The non-fiction was on the left as you walked in the door and the fiction was on the right. Now both fiction and non-fiction are on the right. In order to fit all the shelves in the right hand side they were turned 90ยบ. This was a major change and completely altered the look of the library.

However someone came into the library this week, placed a book they were returning on the desk, turned towards the section of the library where the non-fiction use to be, and asked for a book about dog training. As they turned, they were surprised and said, “Oh, you’ve moved the shelves around!”

I didn’t bother to explain they were moved six months ago. After I showed them where the dog books were, I went back to the desk and returned their book. I was almost expecting it to be six months overdue but no, they had borrowed it a fortnight ago!

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 16:9

A great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me. 1 Corinthians 16:9

Great opportunity and much opposition go together. So how do we face opposition?

Jude found himself writing to encourage saints in difficult circumstances (v.3) and this is what he told them: But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life (Jude 20-21). There are four things Jude tells them to do – build, pray, keep and wait.

Firstly we continually build our faith by doing those things which will make us spiritually stronger – reading, studying the Bible and other Christian writings, communing with other Christians etc.

Secondly we pray. We sometimes get weary in praying because we don’t see the results as quickly as we would like. Revelation 5:8 tells us as we pray we make incense. One day God will add fire to the incense and send our prayers back to earth to achieve his purposes (Revelation 8: 5).

Thirdly we are to keep ourselves in God’s love. During times of trials it is imperative that we know that God loves us, that he cares about us and that he has our best interests at heart. God’s love is our security against doubt, depression and fear.

And fourthly we wait. The Israelites were successful in battles when they waited for God to show them the battle plan. Likewise when facing spiritual opposition we can only be victorious if we wait on God to show us what to do and when to do it.

Remember many facing opposition build, pray, keep and wait.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writing to annoy

I read this quote on my desk calendar this week: If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing – Kingsley Amis

I wondered who Kingsley Amis was and discovered this on wikipedia: Sir Kingsley William Amis, CBE (16 April 1922 – 22 October 1995) was an English novelist, poet, critic and teacher. He wrote more than 20 novels, six volumes of poetry, a memoir, and various short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. According to his biographer, Zachary Leader, Amis was "the finest British comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century." In 2008, The Times ranked Kingsley Amis ninth on their list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

His quote reminds me of a quote by Stephen King which I wrote about here. Neither Kingsley Amis nor Stephen King write purely to entertain. Even though they are fictional writers, they want their writings to solicit a response in their readers. They would rather receive an angry response than be ignored.

As a writer this makes perfect sense to me. With verbal communication you receive an instant response, even if it is only through body language. With writing, a lot of time and effort goes into any sort of article and you want to know how people respond to what you have written. So while I am the sort of person who would rather avoid conflict, I also object to being ignored.

Sometimes it pays to write something controversial just to get a response.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Review : Gifted to lead

The strongest argument Nancy Beach makes in her book, Gifted to lead (Zondervan, 2008), is if God has given you the gift of leadership, He expects you to use it – regardless of your gender, race, or age. When God poured out His Spirit at Pentecost, He made no distinction between male and female, young and old, servant and free (Acts 2:17-18). Therefore neither should we. God didn’t make a mistake when He gave women the gift of leadership.

Much of the material in Nancy’s book, she covered at the Gifted to lead conference which I attended in Adelaide at the end of May. At the conference and in her book, Nancy talks about the importance of character, particularly focusing on humility, self-confidence, humour, and integrity. She mentions the helpfulness of self awareness and recommends leaders do some work discovering their own leadership style. However the topic I found most helpful and most challenging was on finding your voice as a leader. Nancy talked about the value of attentive listening, asking perceptive questions, looking for teachable moments, and the need to speak your mind boldly at the appropriate times.

Nancy concludes the book with an expression of gratitude for the multiple options that women have these days. There is no one model that all women must fit into. As women, it is our responsibility to encourage other women to fulfil their God given role, irrespective of the fact that it may be entirely different to the role God has for us.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 15:19

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 1 Corinthians 15:19

It has taken me a long time to understand this verse. When I became a Christian, my life improved so much that it was hard to understand why Paul would say, “if it is only for this life…we are to be pitied…” whereas I was thinking if it is only for this life, I’m still better off. The Christian life yields many benefits – forgiveness, peace, comfort, community, purpose, significance, etc.

When you look at the life of Paul you can understand why he would say, “we are to be pitied”. Since he writes elsewhere, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, …in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles…”(2 Corinthians 11:24-25). His life was one where he was constantly in danger because of the cause of Christ. He lived a sacrificial life in order to spread the gospel. We see many missionaries doing likewise. Less obviously we see Christians in all walks of life making huge sacrifices for the cause of Christ.

Yet Paul doesn’t say, if it is only for this life…I am to be pitied. Or if you are a missionary, you are to be pitied. He applies the verse to all of us. We should all be making sacrifices for the cause of Christ that would not be worth it if this life is all there is. We should all be living in such a way that makes no sense if there is nothing beyond the grave.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Parenting : sow early, reap later

I was thinking recently about parenting. Some parents act like they have 18+ years to teach and train their children but the reality is they only have 12 years. A couple of months ago I read, The principle of path by Andy Stanley. This is what he had to say in this regard (pg.150-151 my emphasis added):

What about the spiritual development of your kids? If you've got kids, this is something you've got to pay attention to. Seemingly few parents do. And the earlier the better. I know too many parents who treat their kids like their automobiles. They wait for the red light on the dash board to light up before giving them any attention. Preventive maintenance will help you avoid emergencies with your kids and your cars. But in both instances, it is something you have to pay attention to. (Not to turn this into a chapter on parenting, but if you’re waiting until your kids are fourteen or fifteen to get them in an environment that will engage them in the development of their faith, you are going to be sorely disappointed in the results. Spiritual development operates like the principle of the harvest. You sow early and reap later. You can’t cram for a harvest like you cram for a test. Adolescence is when parents begin to reap what they have sown. It is not the time to begin sowing. Unfortunately, too many parents don’t pay attention to this aspect of their children’s lives until they have missed the opportunity to do it right. A good student ministry will not make up for years of spiritual neglect. Parental guidance is definitely required.)

I think we see this in the life of Jesus. At 12 he went to the temple with his parents and stayed behind after his parents had left. When Mary found him, she acted like she was still in "sowing mode" but Jesus' response: "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49) suggests that Mary had moved into the "reaping mode" of parenting, where Jesus begins to act independently and take responsibility for his own decisions.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review : The slumber of Christianity

It is Ted Dekker’s belief that Christians in the West are asleep to the living hope that God planned for us to have. Consequently when we compare the lives of believers to those who profess no faith, there seems to be little difference. There is the same level of frustration, the same lack of satisfaction, and the same statistics in the area of relationship failures.

Dekker’s book, The slumber of Christianity (Thomas Nelson, 2005), is intended to be a wake up call to encourage Christians to find the passion that the early Christians had. Dekker believes that the way to ignite passion is to gain the same perspective as these first Christians. Much of the New Testament was written against the backdrop of persecution and difficulties. Yet suffering only encouraged the believers to focus more intently on life beyond the grave. As a result their lives abounded in hope and faith.

It is believed that Paul actually had the advantage of experiencing heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2) and it seems this fueled his passion. Likewise Dekker encourages us to gain a picture of heaven from Scripture and our sanctified imagination that will provide us with clarity of purpose and vision.

I have not read any of Dekker’s fictional novels but I found this non-fiction book an enjoyable read. He has quite a blunt style, sometimes being deliberately provocative in order to make a point.

It is quite ironic that I said in Saturday’s post that I was going to read some slightly lighter material and I ended up reading a book that also discussed death!

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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 14:17

You are giving thanks well enough, but the others are not edified. 1 Corinthians 14:17

Even our thanksgiving ought to be given in such a way as to edify others. Fortunately this is usually the case. When you hear someone giving testament to what God has done in their life, you feel encouraged as well. Their thanksgiving stirs up your faith.

This entire chapter highlights the fact that spiritual gifts are given to edify others and not given for our own enjoyment. In v.3 we read, “for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort”; in v.5 we read, “so that the church may be edified”; in v.12, “try to excel in gifts that build up the church”; in v.26 “all of these must be done for the strengthening of the church”; and in v.31 “so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged”

Sometimes when we read lists of spiritual gifts that are perhaps more demonstrative that we are comfortable with, we may feel intimidated or inadequate. Yet we mustn’t let that distract us from the purpose of these gifts which is to strengthen, encourage and comfort. The attention should not be on the person or the gift but rather on edifying others.

So while God gives spiritual gifts with the express purpose of edifying the church when it comes together, we find that this was not happening in Corinth (v.17) “others are not edified.” It is something to think about in our church. Do we come to church with the aim of encouraging, strengthening, and edifying others? Or do we come to use our gift for our own enjoyment? Or perhaps we feel like we don’t have a gift at all?

Being encouraging, supportive, or simply helpful, actually doesn’t require a gift, but rather an open eye and a sensitive heart.

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Death

What I’ve been reading about death:

The New Testament does not speak of the followers of Jesus dying; they simply fall asleep. In contrast, Jesus’ death is not called sleep. He underwent the full horror that is death and in doing so transformed death, so that for his followers it is no more than sleep.

From Truth Aflame by Larry Hart (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005). Pg 483

I’m now on mid-semester break from my studies so I’m looking forward to reading some slightly lighter material!

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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Three strikes and you're out!

From time to time I have visitors to this blog who hold a different world view to mine. Normally I enjoy these visits (via comments) even though they are often aggressive in their disagreement. However I like the exercise of having my beliefs challenged and having to think through the various arguments that these people present. The thing I have found though is, generally speaking, they present no new arguments as I have read quite widely about differing viewpoints. Interestingly enough I find these people have usually read quite widely about the Christian viewpoint. Consequently after about three exchanges (their comment, my comment, their comment, my comment, their comment, my comment) I find there is no point continuing the exchange. They are not going to cause me to question my beliefs and I have not caused them to question theirs. Therefore I will terminate the conversation after three exchanges. This is my three strikes and you're out policy. Like everyone I only have limited time.

Recently I have had someone come by my blog who would not take “conversation over” to mean what it says. So unfortunately I have had to turn on comment moderation which means I get to see the comment before I agree to it being published. I have done this with great reluctance since there are times when I am away from my computer for a day or two at a time. So I would like to apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause and hope in due course I’ll be able to return to normal commenting.

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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Devotional Thought : 1 Corinthians 13:12

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

This thought is rather like what John writes in 1 John 3:2: “Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.” Living by faith requires that we acknowledge that we only know “in part”. We know we are children of God yet we won't know “fully” until Jesus comes and “we shall see him as he is.”

I only have to look at my garden to know that God’s kingdom has not fully come. I still have weeds! And when God’s kingdom fully comes not only will I not have weeds, but, “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).

Heaven is described in terms of a city. God isn't taking us back to the garden but rather to a "city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). A city with foundations speaks of permanence, of security, and of community. The garden was a graceless state – one wrong decision and Adam and Eve were out of there. Heaven, however, is a permanent destination.

God’s grace is so amazing that we gain more than we lost in the Garden. The forgiven person is better off than before they sinned because God not only forgives us but credits us with righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We start our Christian lives with a righteousness we could never have achieved for ourselves.

However we are not, as Paul says, “already been made perfect.” We still live with the difficulties and inconveniences of a broken world with broken people and nothing works like it should. Nevertheless let’s press on to gain all Christ died to give us (Philippians 3:12).

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