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.

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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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book Review : Loving your kids on purpose

Danny Silk in his book, Loving your kids on purpose : making a heart-to-heart connection (Destiny Image, 2008), brings a fresh perspective to parenting by encouraging us to parent our kids the way God parents us. Danny spends a good deal of his book explaining the relationship God wants with us. God does not use intimidation, anger, or violence to coerce obedience but rather he wants us to obey him out of love for him. Jesus was upset with the Pharisees because they made a big show of conforming to outward observances without any genuine heart response. Likewise the goal of parenting is building a loving relationship with our children not merely teaching them to conform to a list of outward observances.

Danny makes the observation that the problems we face as parents are universal and are generally fall into one of the following categories: disrespect, disobedience, irresponsibility, tantrums, whining, sibling rivalry, back-talking, bullying, low self-esteem, chores or homework. The universal nature of these problems tells us that this is normal childish behaviour and not the fault of the parent. Consequently it is not the job of the parent to “fix” the child but rather encourage them to learn appropriate behaviour. One of the most powerful things we can do for our children when they are misbehaving is to hold onto our peace and not let their behaviour dictate our response, which he admits is easy to say than to do.

Danny’s honest approach to his subject makes this book easy to read and identify with, often telling stories that are funny as well as instructional. This is a very helpful book, even for those like me whose children have grown, as it contains some valuable insights into our relationship with God.

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