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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