Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

Wishing all my readers a very merry Christmas. I'll be visiting family for the next ten days so won't be posting here. I'll also be playing with my Christmas present - an iPad! Hope you have also have a blessed time. See you in 2012.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Reflection : There should be more dancing

This book provides some interesting insights into growing old. Margery wants to continue living in her own home until she dies but her failing health meant others were pressurizing her into moving to a place where she could be cared for.

The fact is we will all grow old. If we don't make decisions regarding our living arrangements while we can, then others will eventually make them for us. And they may be decisions we don't like. For Margery, at the end of the book, she ended up with a reasonable compromise, but for how long? If her health continues to slide will she be forced to move?

Other insights Margery provides into old age, were the comforts of routines, the ordinary and the predictable. While we are young we enjoy the challenges of change and variety but when we aged we find comfort in the familiar. But we can't inflict this restriction on the young. Mostly Margery did this well. While she disagreed with many of her children's decisions she rightly kept her opinions to herself.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review : There should be more dancing

There should be more dancing is a mildly amusing story by Rosalie Ham about old age. The main character is Margery Blandon, a woman of strong principles but rather naïve. She is an elderly widow who has lived in the same house for decades with mostly the same neighbours. Consequently everyone knows a great deal too much about everyone else. Margery has three adult children who have not turned out as well as she had hoped. Although she cares deeply for them, she rarely shows it in ways her children appreciate.

Rosalie Ham cleverly shows two sides to Margery’s character. The unemotional apparently nonchalant side that Margery’s friends and children experience and the internal side where she is a caring mother who grieves the loss of her twin sister who died when Margery was young.

Rosalie writes in an easy to read, enjoyable style and manages to keep the reader guessing as to what Margery’s future holds, which turns out to be rather an anti-climax but completely realistic. The story explores the long term effects of unresolved grief and loss in childhood which leaves ongoing repercussions in Margery’s life.

While there was nothing particularly startling in the story, it was well written enjoyable tale.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What I've been reading...

During the week I have been reading Matthew Jacoby's writings on Genesis. I found his thoughts, based on Genesis 12:2 in regard to Abram becoming a great nation quite interesting:

God promises to make Abram into a great nation. This nation would be the nation of Ancient Israel who would indeed be great. However their greatness would be of a particular type. For in terms of political strength they would never be anything like the great empires of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome...But the Jewish people would leave a legacy that would change the world. Though they would not be the most politically powerful nation they would certainly be one of the most influential nations the world has ever seen. Their ideas, inherited through divine revelation, would shape world history more than the ideas of any other people group.

God fulfills his promises but often not in the way we expect.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 13:36-37

For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. Acts 13:36-37

God chooses to use people to do the many different tasks that he wants completed. God doesn’t have to use people. After all he could have created robots or puppets but rather he gives us the privilege of being involved in his plans. Since God’s plans are eternal we are involved in something that has lasting significance. We can “leave our mark” on the world by being connected to the One with who has already left, and continues to leave, His mark on the world.

The tasks God gives us are not impossible. In this chapter we read that “As John was completing his work...” (v.25) and “David had served God’s purpose in his own generation” (v.36). John the Baptist and David completed the tasks God gave them to do. Vastly different tasks but both God initiated tasks. Not always done perfectly, David made many mistakes in his personal life. Yet God looked at his heart and said, “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do” (v.22).

John the Baptist had moments of doubt. He testified that Jesus was the Son of God, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me…” (John 1:32-34). However later he was not so sure: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). Yet ultimately John completed the task God gave him.

Likewise, we can complete the tasks God gives us.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 12:2,7

He (King Herod) had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword (Acts 12:2). Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists” (Acts 12:7).

It seems that when King Herod seized Peter he had every intention of putting him to death like James “but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (v.5). The church had probably prayed for James too. Sometimes it feels like our prayers are ineffective. Nevertheless though they prayed earnestly they obviously weren’t expecting Peter to be released so miraculously (v.15). So in the space of a few short verses, James dies but Peter is miraculously released from jail. Both were part of the original 12 apostles. Both were active in sharing the gospel. Jesus had invested 3 years of his life in both of them but James is killed. Sometimes it is hard to understand why God would allow such a loss.

When we don’t understand why God allows early deaths, tragedies, disappointments, when we feel unable to trust his words, his directions, his followers then think of the cross. God allowed his only son to be nailed to a cross for us, to take upon Himself the punishment that we deserved. A God who would voluntarily sacrifice so much for us has to be good. We may not understand God’s ways but we can trust his character.

When we are utterly convinced that God is good, that He loves us unconditionally, and that He is powerful enough to fix anything that needs fixing, then and only then, will we have the necessary sense of security in God where we don't need to understand.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas comes early

This last weekend we celebrated Christmas!

Due to the distance we live from our children, it is difficult for us all to get together in the one place at the one time. So for various reasons it became convenient to get together over the weekend and have a Christmas style celebration.

I find it fascinating to read about the festivals in the Old Testament and to read the number of times God instructs them to do no work but rather celebrate. The Biblical pattern is work and rest – not just work, not just rest. God knows it is good for us to spend time eating and drinking the things we enjoy with those we love. It is also good to be generous to those who are less fortunate but not at the expense of our own times of rest and celebration.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 11:18

"So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance into life." Acts 11:18

The Jewish believers were surprised that God would include non-Jews. Yet in the Old Testament God often included Gentiles - Rahab, Ruth, Jonah going to Nineveh. So why the surprise? In the incident with Cornelius it becomes apparent that Gentiles didn't have to become Jews in order to be saved. They did not have to get circumcised or adhere to other forms of Jewish practice. God accepted them as they were. Likewise he accepts us. We don’t have to go through certain ceremonies or perform certain rituals in order to get God’s attention or his acceptance. We get God’s attention by having the right heart attitude.

The believers said that God has granted “the Gentiles repentance into life.” Likewise when Paul writes to Timothy he says: “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2: 25). Repentance is not something that we are required to work up ourselves. It is a gift which God grants us and it leads us to know the truth about God and his plan of salvation through Jesus. Salvation is described as “life”. Real life is living the way God intended with our spirits connected with His spirit.

This was a highly significant moment in the life of the church. The realization hits the believers that God’s plan of salvation really is for everyone. But before this happened poor Peter was criticized by believers for doing what God told him to do! (v.2-3). Even amongst committed believers there will be times of misunderstandings. Sometimes God acts in ways that upset our preconceived ideas yet his plans are always so much better than ours.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

On having a "reasonable fitness level"

In a couple of weeks time I am going with some friends on a walk to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, which is Australia's highest mountain at 2,228 metres – not high by world standards but high for Australia. We will drive to the township of Thredbo then take the chair lift which travels up the steepest part of the mountain then there is a 6km walk to the top. Chair lifts are not exactly my favourite form of transport but it beats climbing! As it is summer there is little risk of snow but it might be a little chilly. According to the brochure "the undulating mesh and paved walkway make it a manageable walk for those of a reasonable fitness level." Not sure if I am currently of "a reasonable fitness level" but I have started aerobic exercises once a week plus several walks during the week, so by the time I go I should be reasonably fit. Looking forward to a great day.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 10:4

The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God." Acts 10:4

Cornelius was “God fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (v.2), but he was not a Jew. Yet he managed to get heaven's attention because he had a right heart attitude. Peter would not have thought this was possible. He did not think a Jewish person should even visit a non-Jewish person (v.28). Even after spending three years with Jesus, Peter still didn’t understand the universal nature of the gospel.

God sent Cornelius a preacher, perhaps not a particularly willing preacher but a preacher nonetheless. Peter didn’t even know what he was suppose to say (v.29) while Cornelius expected that Peter would be fully informed: “Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us” (v.33). Cornelius had an expectant, open heart to hear from God so God make sure he heard.

Two things strike me about this incident. Firstly God’s desire to have people in right relationship with himself. God saw Cornelius’ heart and sent someone who could explain Jesus’ life and death to him. If people are open and honest toward God, God will show up. He has planted eternity in people’s heart (Ecclesiastics 3:11) so that they will seek him and if they seek Him, God will make sure they find Him, even if he has to send an angel!

Secondly we are sometimes like Peter, a bit slow to realize what God is doing and not sure what we are supposed to say. But as we look to God, He will provide us with the understanding (“I now realize…”) and with the words to say.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Reflection : The Imperfectionists

Many of the reviews for The Imperfectionists referred to the author as being insightful in regard to human nature. Suggesting that the characters he created were true to life. I find this a cynical comment. None of the main characters (about a dozen) were able to maintain a long term relationship with someone of the opposite sex and nowhere was a good marriage relationship described. Does this mean the reviewers thought this situation was normal behaviour? It is certainly not in my part of the world where the majority of the people I know are able to maintain long term relationships. Some may have gone through a divorce and remarried or maybe in a de facto relationship but mostly these relationships are stable and respectful. A far cry from the ones portrayed in this book. Not that I am saying this to distract from a well written, well told story but just making the point that fiction, although often inspired by fact, must still be read as fiction.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Book Review : The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman was set around a newspaper publishing company that printed English news in Rome. The company traded for 50 years before financial difficulties finally closed its doors. Each of the eleven chapters is a separate story about one of the characters that worked for the newspaper but not necessarily at the same time. The chapters overlap as characters from one story pop up in another and the various stories interweave in an engaging way. At the end of each chapter is the history of how the business started plus the highs and lows which create a backdrop to the individual stories. Tom Rachman has cleverly arranged this story and managed to tie up all the threads into a plausible ending.

The characters who worked for the newspaper are an unusual group and the only thing they seem to have in common is their inability to maintain a long term relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Rachman portraits them well, though it is difficult at times to believe that they could all work for the one employer. However being a time span of 50 years makes this more realistic.

Overall this was an interesting tale with many twists and unexpected turns along the way.

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Saturday, November 05, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 9:31

Then the church throughout...enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit. Acts 9:31

There are many places in Scripture where we read about God strengthening his people. For example: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being" (Ephesians 3:16). Or where someone is sent to strengthen the church, for example: "We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith" (1 Thessalonians 3:2).

God has made available all the resources we need to live the Christian life and these resources aren’t just enough, they are more than enough. They come from his "glorious riches" and he doesn't ration them out sparingly but abundantly. Yet we do not always avail ourselves of them. We think God is too busy or disinterested or perhaps we like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient. Sometimes we are not prepared to humble ourselves in order to receive.

Recently I was listening to, You are my Passion by Jesus Culture and I was impressed by the line: "My strength in life is I am Yours." Since God is our Father who cares for us we can rely on him to strengthen us. God does this through His Spirit who lives in us and strengthens us with his power in our inner being.

Another thing I like about this verse is the "time of peace". God does not want us constantly under pressure and facing difficulties. Rather there are seasons of pruning, seasons of growing, seasons of reaping and seasons of letting the ground lay fallow where there is rest.

Praise God for seasons of peace where we can be strengthened and encouraged.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Book Review : The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is set in the 1960’s in Mississippi where there was strong racial discrimination against anyone who was black. The context of the story was that while other areas in the US were slowly beginning to embrace a more humane attitude towards the black people, Mississippi was not. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case with many of the characters in the book having first hand experiences of unfair treatment at the hands of white employers. At this time many black women were employed, often below the minimum salary rate, as maids and nannies. Two of these women become key players in the story as their lives intersect with a young white girl who has just finished college and was not content to find a husband and get married. This girl wanted to pursue a career in writing and possibly journalism so she decided to write a book about what it was like being a black maid for a white employer. Of course, she needed to research the maids in order to do this and there was a severe reluctance by many of them to get involved in such a dangerous project. But if you suppress a minority look enough through injustice and substandard living and working conditions then one day they will revolt.

This was a very believable story and it was well put together with different chapters written in different voices which works well and maintains interest. I didn’t always enjoy reading about the injustices these black women suffered but it was a good story with a satisfying ending.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Book Reflection : The Help

Reading, The Help, made me realize that I really don’t like reading about injustice. If I dwell on the way these black people were mistreated by white people I could get quite angry. So there were times when I found The Help a difficult book to read. About three quarters of the way through I jumped ahead and read the last chapter, I needed to know that it was going to end well (fortunately it did, while still being realistic).

One thing that I found particularly infuriating was that these white women wanted separate toilets built outside for their black maids/nannies because they believed them to be “diseased”. Yet they employed these maids/nannies to look after their children, bath them, change their nappies, and comfort them when distressed. For all intents and purposes they acted like their mothers while at the same time their white employers believed them to be “diseased”. It is just not logical that you would allow someone who you thought diseased such intimate access to your children. It is amazing how as human beings we can be so blind to our own inconsistencies.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

One door shuts another opens

Yesterday I finished the course I started early last year. At the time I felt challenged to study the Bible – nothing more, nothing less just study the Bible. I wrote about this decision here and in February I wrote about my reaction to my first year, here.

It is interesting that in many ways the course has been life changing and I ended up studying more than just the Bible. In retrospect I wonder why this didn’t occur to me when I signed up for the Diploma. As well as Biblical subjects I also completed a couple of counselling subjects, pastoral care, ethics and missions. I have been greatly challenged, strengthened, encouraged and built up in my faith plus I have made many new friends. So while finishing the course is the end of something, it is also the beginning of the next thing God has for me.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review : Perfect Skin

Nick Earls creates a believable protagonist Jon, in Perfect Skin, (Melbourne, 2000). From early on in the book it is clear that Jon is in obvious emotional pain yet this is cleverly shown and not told. The precise details of his pain are slowly trickled out throughout the book. The book ends on a hopeful note as in the final few pages he seems to come to terms with his losses and is able to move forward into a new relationship.

For me the most disappointing thing about the book was the blurb. It refers to the story being funny and while there were some funny incidents, I found it difficult to laugh when you can feel Jon’s pain. Likewise the advertising for the book suggests that Jon expected to have his life sorted by the time he was thirty and he is surprised that he has not. This seems a ridiculous expectation given that his wife dies and an expectation that doesn’t have much support in the book. Did the person who designed the jacket read the book?

However I do agree that the book is warm and moving. The story delves into the issues of grief, guilt, single fathers and also explores the nature of male friendships.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Reflection : Perfect Skin

I’ve recently been reading Perfect Skin by Nick Earls. On page 295 there is an insightful paragraph where a new (female) friend asks Jon, the central character, why he doesn’t talk to his friends about what it was like dealing with the death of his wife, Mel. This is his explanation:

With all the people you know, you’ve got this repertoire. There’s a range of things you can be. And outside that things feel weird. I’ve got a history with these people. I’ve known George half my life, and the others a while too. Just about as long, even though there was a gap in the middle. There’s a way we do things. Over time, you fall into a way of interacting with each other, and supporting each other. And that kind of talk isn’t what I want them for. I want to be okay. I want them for when I’m okay, even though I know they’d be there, whatever. They make that clear. George deferred his degree to cover for Mel not being there. We said it was just to cover for Mel, but he’s been covering for me too. We both know that. We both know how important it is, in a practical way. And we don’t have to keep talking about it. And I don’t want to handle that another way. I don’t want to change the way I relate to those people. I don’t want to remake my relationships based on how I deal with Mel’s death. I have the right to try to keep some things the same. What can I say, anyway? I don’t know what I’d say.

As a woman I find this difficult to understand, but if I try very hard I almost get it!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 8:13

Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. Acts 8:13

Yet Simon still didn’t understand. In v.18 we read: When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Simon saw something which he thought could be bought. Peter’s response is harsh: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (v.20-23).

Simon believed but was still full of bitterness and captive to sin. The “thought in his heart” did not changed as a result of his conversion. It is possible to go through the outward performance of faith and even be baptized but more is required to change the thoughts of the hearts. Simon was not even aware of the sin in his heart. How aware are we of what is in our heart? And how can we change if we are not even aware? For this reason Anglicans often say the following prayer:

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 7:9

But God was with him (Joseph) and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom and enabled him to gain the goodwill of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Acts 7:9

This chapter contains Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin and we hear Israel's history from a Jewish Christian's point of view. Stephen tells us four things about Joseph – God was with Joseph; God rescued Joseph; God gave Joseph wisdom; God enabled to Joseph to gain good will.

God was with Joseph. Likewise Jesus’ desire was to be with his disciples. It was his first priority. “He appointed twelve that they might be with him…” Mark 3:14. God wants to be in relationship in his people and has gone to extraordinary lengthen to make this possible.

God rescued Joseph. God rescues us from the bondage of sin. His desire is for our freedom. “Whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it…they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:25).

God gave Joseph wisdom and God will give us wisdom if we ask. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault” (James 1:5).

God enabled to Joseph to gain good will and likewise He will enable us to enjoy favour. “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor” (Psalm 84:11).

Sometimes we think that God orchestrated Joseph’s life in a rare way and the historical events are unrepeatable but nevertheless everything God did for Joseph he will do for us if we allow Him to lead and guide us. God wants to be with us, wants to rescue us from those things which seek to take us captive, wants to give us wisdom and favour. But the choice is ours.

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Friday, October 07, 2011

My annual sporting post

I don't often write about my sporting interests even though I find many parallels between sport and life. Some are obvious like teamwork, others are more subtle like the role of self belief.

The football team I follow, Geelong, won the grand final again this year which is amazing. After not winning a premiership for over 40 years, Geelong has now won 3 in 5 years. At the end of last year Geelong lost a couple of key people and most weren't expecting them to do so well this year. But sometimes key players aren't so 'key' afterall. Losing a team member can create an opportunity for someone else to step up.

Another sporting highlight for me was Sam Stosur winning the US Tennis Open last month. Hope she can keep her form going for the Aussie Open.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 6:2

It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Acts 6:2

The disciples had a clear idea of their area of ministry. This enabled them to say “yes” to activities that fitted with that and “no” to activities which didn’t. Likewise we need to know our area of ministry.

There are many tools available to help you discover this. The following is a simplistic one based on Ephesians 4:11*. The idea is to find the calling you most strongly relate to.

Apostles desire to see people work together, to see people nurtured and growing, see people released in their destiny. They like to bring people together who wouldn’t normally get together.

Prophets desire to hear the voice of the Lord. They value dreams. They ask: “What is God doing here?” “What is God saying?” They connect the natural with supernatural and sometimes feel disconnected with the world.

Evangelists are more concern for the lost than others. They share anything they are excited about. They love to meet new people. They see the hope in people and love to hear the gospel preached.

Pastors are more caring than most. They can even start caring about fictional characters! They love to listen, they ask follow up questions, take an interest and notice who’s missing.

Teachers love truth and the word of God. They love divine order. They communicate principles for godly living and don’t take things lightly. When they say yes they mean yes. They hunger for deep understanding and revelation and need time to think.

Of course, relating to one of these doesn’t mean you will end being a full time pastor or evangelist or whatever. It simply means this is your area of ministry or giftedness.

*I wrote more about this here.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Communion Thought

You are probably similar with the verse from 1 Corinthians 11:28 which says: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”

I would like us to focus on the other occasion where Paul asks us to examine ourselves which is in 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?

So we are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. And how would we know?

The preceding verses to this say: He (that is Christ) is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.

Twice Paul’s uses the phrase “by God’s power”. It is by God’s power we live with Christ so we examine ourselves to see if we are living by God’s power. Paul expected there to be evidence of God’s power at work in their lives.

So are we living a life we couldn’t live unless God’s power is in us? Perhaps we can say if it wasn’t for God’s power in my life I wouldn’t be able to forgive that person…Perhaps we can say if it wasn’t for God’s power in my life I wouldn’t be able to control my anger…Perhaps we can say if it wasn’t for God’s power in my life I wouldn’t have peace and joy. For me I know I can say if it wasn’t for God’s power in my life I would not be able to give a speech. So what is for you? What does the power of God enable you to do that you would not otherwise be able to do?

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? What do we do if we fail the test?

1 Corinthians 1:18 says: For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The message of the cross is the power of God. As we take the break and cup we remember what Jesus has done on the cross and we ask for his presence to come powerfully into our lives so it does make a difference.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Reflection : Eat pray love

To be honest I didn't expect to like this book. I knew from the reviews and the movie trailers that it contains a lot of "New Age" thinking. Yet I found the story intriguing. Gilbert investigates various spiritual ideas particularly in relation to mediation and supposedly has experiences that leave her with more peace and 'balance'. This is not always evidenced in her behaviour. I did some research and discovered that she is still with the man she began a relationship with towards the end of the book. This suggests to me that she did gain some healing and maturity through her year of travel.

I believe mediation in itself is neither good nor bad. It is simply a tool that helps us connect with the spiritual world so my question is always who or what are you connecting with when you mediate? If you are connecting with God, as reveal by Jesus Christ, then mediation is a great tool. However if you are opening yourself up through mediation to any and every spiritual power then I have concerns.

Gilbert explains her initial difficulties with mediation and I found myself relating to some of her frustrations. She talked of the difficulty of wandering thoughts and of sitting still for extended lengths of time. The same difficulties I have in my own prayer times. However as she persisted she eventually was able to focus for extended periods of time. It encouraged me to persist with my mediations on God and his word. At one point Gilbert explains that she understands prayer as asking God and meditation as listening to God. Even though my understanding of God would be different to Gilbert's I found this a helpful concept.

The thought that impacted me most from reading this book was the truth of James 5:16 (NKJV) "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." If Gilbert can apparently achieve so much through her secular mediation how much more as Christians can we tap into the true Source of enlightenment through mediating on God and his word.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Review : Eat pray love

Eat pray love (New York, 2007) is an autobiographical account of one year in Elizabeth Gilbert’s life. It was the year she decided to travel the world and spend four months in Rome, four months in India and four months in Indonesia and the book is divided neatly between these places. Gilbert made the decision to travel following a traumatic divorce and an unfortunate rebound relationship. She realized that she had spent most of her life in and out of relationships with men and really didn’t know who she was outside of a relationship. The decision to visit India and Indonesia came out of chance encounters with spiritual leaders and her decision to visit Rome came about because she loves the Italian language.

Gilbert describes her attempts at Eastern spirituality in much detail. She also had the amazing knack of making friends of total strangers who often had interesting stories of their own.

Eat pray love is a remarkable story in many ways as Gilbert journeys through, not only physical countries, but also the landscape of her emotional baggage with the ongoing backdrop of her spiritual quest. Her honest account of her highs and lows is engaging and often entertaining.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Reviews/Book Reflections

The book reviews I write tend to be of two different types. Firstly I write some book reviews that are factual accounts of the books and written for a wide audience. Secondly I write other book reviews which are more my reflections on the book and often contained my thoughts from a Christian perspective. Sometimes my book reviews are a combination of the two types.

I have decided on my blog to make a clearer distinction between these two types of book reviews. The first type I will continue to call book reviews and will be a more formal approach. While the second type I will call book reflections which will be about how the book has impacted me as a Christian. For some of the books I read I will write both types of reviews, particularly for books I read as part of my book club which are not Christian books. For other books I may only write one or the other.

Currently I am working on a book review for Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert which I will post soon.

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Friday, September 23, 2011

Dame Slap's School

It seems whenever I venture back into the world of academia I am reminded of this story that I read when I was a kid. (Amazing that I even remember it!) Now maybe it is just me, but I find that the questions teachers set just aren't very clear.

The story is from the Enid Blyton classic, The Folk of the Faraway Tree and the children have unwittingly end up in Dame Slap's School:

"The more the children looked at the three questions on the board, the more they felt certain they could never answer them. Moon-Face turned to Connie, 'Quick! Tell us the right answers. You said you were good at lessons.'

Connie read the first question. 'Three blackbirds sat on a cherry tree. They ate one hundred and twenty-three of the cherries. How many were left?'

'Well, how can we say, unless we know how many there were in the beginning?' asked Connie, out loud. 'What a silly question!'

Jo read the next one out loud. 'If there are a hundred pages in a book, how many books would there be on the shelf?'

'The questions are just nonsense,' said Moon-Face gloomily.

'They were before, when we were here,' said Jo.

The third question was very short. Jo read it out. 'Why is a blackboard?'

'Why is a blackboard!' repeated Silky. 'There is no sense in that question either.'

'Well – the questions are nonsense, so we'll put down answers that are nonsense,' said Jo.

So they put down 'none' about how many cherries were left on the tree. Then they read the book-question again. And again they put down 'none'.

'We are not told that the shelf was a book shelf,' said Jo. 'It might be a shelf for ornaments, or a bathroom shelf for glasses and tooth-brushes and things. There wouldn't be any books there.'

The third question was a puzzler. 'Why is a blackboard?'

Jo ran out of his place and rubbed out the two last words. He wrote them again – and then the question read 'Why is a board black?'

'We can easily answer that,' said Jo, with a grin. 'Why is a board black? So that we can write on it with white chalk!'

So, when Dame Slap came back, the only people who had answered all the questions were Jo, Silky, Moon-Face and Connie! Dame Slap beamed at them.

'Dear me, I have some clever children at last! she said. 'You have written answers to all the questions.'

'Then they are right?' asked Silky, in wonder.

'I don’t know,' said Dame Slap. 'But that doesn't matter. It’s the answers I want. I don’t care what’s in them, so long as you have written answers. I don’t know the answers myself, so it’s no good my reading them.'"

Blyton, E. (1997) The Folk of the Faraway Tree. London: Mammoth, p. 95-97

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 5:13-14

No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number Acts 5:13-14

This comes immediate after the death of Ananias and Sapphira. Not surprisingly people no longer "dared join" the believers lightly. Perhaps Ananias and Sapphira had tried to give the impression that they were committed to Christ by making a large donation. Perhaps they were trying to make themselves look good in the eyes of the believers. Perhaps they were trying to gain acceptance by being associated with something new and exciting. But God was not fooled. Making what appeared to be a sacrificial offering yet being deceitful revealed what was really in their hearts. God would not risk Ananias and Sapphira’s casual attitude spreading through his brand new church and they both died.

The ones who were "added to their number" were the ones who had made a genuine commitment. They were the ones who truly believed and made a whole hearted commitment to the Lord. We then read of miraculous healings. The power of God was obvious (v.15-16). God’s power does not manifest itself when there is a casual attitude. God is not found by the casual seeker. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

We may be able to create a good impression. We may make large donations to the Lord’s work. We may appear to be sacrificial but God knows our heart. The church is no longer brand new so we are unlikely to be struck down by God because of a casual attitude. However we will miss seeing God’s power displayed if we are not genuine believers.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Working again

It’s good to be working again! I started my new job this week. It is a temporary part-time position for six months filling in for someone who is having a baby. It is a library job but not in a branch. I look after digital and information services. While I have some experience and skills, I have not worked in a paid capacity in this area before so it is a learning curve. It will actually be an opportunity to improve my skills. I think I am going to enjoy this position very much.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 4:13

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men yet because they had been with Jesus, people could see the difference. They saw their courage. Jesus had recently been crucified yet his followers were unafraid to proclaim the same message that got Jesus killed. Their courage wasn’t something they manufactured. It came from the Presence of God in their lives.

This verse reminds me of similar verses from Exodus: Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16).

It is not what we do that makes people realize we are Christians. People can be law abiding citizens without God. People can help others without God. People can be philanthropists without God. The thing which sets us apart is the Presence of God because it changes us on the inside. We can’t manufacture it or fake it. It comes from God and comes about because we have spent time with Jesus.

It is only when we allow God to fill our lives with His Presence that it will become obvious to others. This doesn’t happen when we are full of ourselves. It doesn’t become obvious until we have died to ourselves, our ambitions, our preferences, our desires.

Is any one astonished because of what God has done in our lives? Does anyone notice that we have been with Jesus?

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Friday, September 09, 2011

An atheist with a noble heart

I stumbled across this newspaper article by Matthew Parris which was published in The Times three years ago – December 27, 2008. The headline is amazing: As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. And the sub-title: Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset.

If you would like to read the whole article click here.

I admire Matthew Parris’ courage and honesty in publishing this article. It is heartening to see an atheist grapple with the gap between his beliefs and his experience.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Job interviews

One of my pet hates in life is job interviews, particularly for library jobs. I have been applying for library jobs lately and have been invited to attend a couple of interviews. I generally walk into an interview thinking, "Ok, for the next 20 minutes I need to act like an extrovert." This is really quite bizarre given that the best librarians I know are introverts. One of the things that would greatly help introverts is to be given the interview questions in advance so they had time to process them. Why do interviewers require applicants to be spontaneous when there is nothing in the job position that requires them to be spontaneous?

Nevertheless I have been offered a job...still some finer details to finalize.

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Friday, September 02, 2011

Book Review : The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larrson as part of my book club. It is not a book I would ordinarily read. However I found the story intriguing. It is well written with interesting characters. It is a cleverly structured book and it is not until about three quarters of the way through the book that the reader becomes aware that the story is not just about the disappearance of a missing girl but rather the exposing of a serial rapist/murderer. The perpetrator is a highly respected person in the community. This seems implausible to me but it makes for a great story.

Considering the topic there is, naturally enough, a great deal of violence and sexual activity that is crude. There were several passages that I skimmed over. (At times it made Midsomer Murders look like a Sunday School picnic!) I believe they have made a movie based on the book but I certainly won’t be going to see it. The visual representation would be more graphic than what I can imagine.

Steig Larsson has written a second and third book in this series but abruptly died before any were published. I feel no need to read the other books in the series as this one had a completely satisfactory ending. While I enjoyed this book it was too violent for me to want to read more of the same.

**Just one further thing, if you have read the book perhaps you could explain to me why Martin lied about seeing Harriet on the day of her disappearance?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 3:14

"You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you." Acts 3:14

It is quite remarkable that normally sensible people could ask for a murderer to be released. Matthew explains how this happened: "But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed" (27:20).

How did the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowd? What lies did they tell them? What fears did they arouse that would make them think a murderer was safer than Jesus? Luke gives us a few more clues: "We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ…He stirs up the people…by his teaching" (2:2-5).

If the crowd had thought about Jesus and his teaching they would have known most of this was lies. Jesus was not subverting the nation. His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was about loving their enemies, doing good to others, caring for the less fortunate, not committing murder or adultery etc. Hardly the words of an insurrectionist and Jesus did not oppose the paying of taxes (Matthew 22:21).

The only thing that is true in these charges is Jesus did claim to be Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Why didn’t the crowd reflect on Jesus’ claim rather than dismiss it without consideration? Because the idea of Jesus being the Messiah challenged all their preconceived ideas. They wanted a conquering warrior not a suffering servant yet both were prophesied. They conveniently remembered what was most comfortable for them.

What about us? Do we examine Jesus’ teaching for ourselves or do we rely on other’s misinterpretations? Do we only remember Jesus’ comfortable words and forget the challenging ones? How much like the crowd are we?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

We are all different

The other day I heard a talk by Pastor Mark Tubbs about the five fold ministries listed in Ephesians 4:11. He shared a different perspective from what I've heard before. I don't think this understanding is the only one but I found it helpful.

Mark's premise was from Jeremiah 1:5 "before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." God's destiny was in Jeremiah before birth. Likewise our destiny is in us before birth and the thought is that we will relate more strongly to one of these five areas of ministry than the others. Sometimes the easiest way to find out which one you identify with the most is to read the 'snag'. The snag is the area where the devil will try to bring you down.

Apostles desire to see people work together, to see people nurtured and growing, to see people released into their destiny. They bring people together who wouldn't normally get together.
Snag: They struggle with being overbearing and thinking their way is better. They need to learn to wait for God to tell others what he has told them.

Prophets desire to hear the voice of the Lord. They value dreams. They ask: "what is God doing here?" "what is God saying?" They connect the natural with supernatural.
Snag: They struggle with every day life. They are slightly out of touch with world. They miss appointments.

Evangelists have more concern for the lost than most. They share anything they are excited about. They love to meet new people. They are the most bored with church – same people, same thing every week. They see the hope in people and love to hear the gospel preach.
Snag: They struggle with feelings of rejection and being misunderstood.

Pastors have more concern for others than most. They love to listen. They ask follow up questions, take an interest and notice who's missing.
Snag: They struggle saying no to people and feel guilty if they do say no.

Teachers love truth and the word of God. They love divine order and firm foundations. They communicate principles for godly living. They don't take things lightly – when they say yes they mean yes. They hunger for deep understanding and revelation. They need time to think.
Snag: They struggle with being judgement. They hate injustice because they love truth but this can hinder their ability to move in grace.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 2:34-36

David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:34-36

This quote is from Psalm 110:1 and appears at other times in the Bible. Peter realized these verses were prophetic. God the Father said to God the Son sit at my right hand to rule and I will subdue your enemies. Peter understood that Jesus had fulfilled this prophecy. Likewise when Paul writes in Colossians 1:20-22 he tells them that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion…and God has placed all things under his feet.” The right hand of God represents the place of ultimate authority and gives us the picture of Jesus being in control of everything seen and unseen. Jesus being seated tells us that his work of redemption is completed and that the devil’s work is destroyed (1 John 3:8). Even though currently we “do not see everything subject to him” (Hebrews 2:8), spiritually, it is a “done deal”.

Furthermore Jesus does not leave us orphaned in the world but by His Spirit lives with us and in us (John 14:17-18). His Spirit is not restricted by time or space. He teaches, guides, comforts, and convicts. He is not some impersonal force or influence but is the living Presence of the risen Lord Jesus. Peter tells us that Jesus has poured out his Holy Spirit and this is the One people could “see and hear” (2:33). Having the Holy Spirit in our lives makes a difference experientially – a difference that is seen and heard.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

God needs to be experienced

This semester I am studying the theology of the Holy Spirit and came across this quote by D.M. Lloyd-Jones who was a well-known preacher in London, retiring in 1968. This quote must have been radical in his day and in his sphere of influence. It's a pretty radical thought even today...

"A certain teaching tells us to 'take it by faith' and not to worry about feelings. 'You may feel nothing at all,' it says, 'but if you believe this Word and its teaching you can take the Holy Spirit by faith irrespective of any feeling.' The whole of the New Testament teaches the opposite. So does the subsequent history of the Christian Church ... You cannot be baptized or filled with the Spirit without knowing it. It is the greatest experience one can ever know. The teaching that assures us that we may feel nothing at all runs entirely contrary not only to the teaching of the Scripture but to the recorded experiences of countless Christians throughout the centuries."

*Lloyd-Jones, D.M. (1974) Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 8:5-17: The Sons Of God. London: Banner of Truth.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Devotional Thought : Acts 1:26

Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1:26

I have always found the appointment of Matthias rather odd. He is never mentioned again, except vaguely (6:2) but then again neither are some of the other apostles. It seems Peter was concerned there be a 12th apostle so that Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30 could be fulfilled. Some claim that Paul was really the 12th apostle but there is not much Biblical evidence to support this view.

So was the appointment of Matthias what God intended?

The disciples were waiting in the upper room and no doubt reflecting on Jesus’ words “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). They were probably feeling overwhelmed by the task Jesus had given them. They did not know what power would be theirs when the Holy Spirit came upon them so they were most likely wondering how they were they going to make disciples in Israel, much less, all nations.

The idea of replacing Judas may have appealed to them because it felt like they were doing something. They were taking some initiative. Sometimes doing anything feels better than doing nothing.

Often I have been told, when seeking God’s will, to start moving in a direction and allow God to open up or shut down opportunities. If we genuinely want to follow God’s leading he will not allow us to make a mistake. When we are taking steps, even tentative ones, it is easier for God to steer us in the direction he wants us to go. God does not want us to be passive in our waiting but expectant.

So I don’t believe appointing Matthias was a mistake, and he is an encouragement to us to look for God given opportunities.

*Thanks to Jon for the inspiration.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review : Healing life's hurts through Theophostic prayer

Theophostic prayer is praying for people to receive healing from the emotional hurts of the past. Edward Smith, author of Healing life’s hurts through Theophostic prayer, (New Creation Publishing, 2005) presents the material in a way that suggests you need a lot of training to pray this way. Smith’s reasoning is probably that he doesn’t want Christians thinking they can read one book and be able to help people with deep emotional hurts. If this is his reason, it is actually a very good one. Christians usually don’t know when they start praying for someone exactly what the cause of their pain is and sometimes the person being prayed for doesn’t know either. So if the person suddenly remembers a deeply painful event from their past then the person praying for them has to know how to handle the grief the person is experiencing. Alternatively during prayer nothing may happen and the person praying needs to know why prayer doesn’t seem to be helping the person in emotional pain.

The thinking behind Theophostic prayer is that when we go through a painful situation the devil uses it as an opportunity to plant lies in our mind, such as, “God doesn’t love you that’s why bad things happen to you”; “You’re too far gone into sin for God to be able to rescue you”; “You’ll never amount to anything” etc. Mature Christians can recognize these lies fairly quickly but children cannot and it is often when we are children that the devil implants these sorts of lies into our minds. Theophostic prayer ministry asks God to not only reveal the lie but also the situation that created the environment for the lie to be accepted as truth. This way the person can repent of believing the lie and receive healing for the painful situation that occurred.

I found this book a very helpful way of thinking about people’s emotional hurts. In some ways it seemed like just another way of praying for people but I understand Smith’s concern that he doesn’t want hurting people hurt even more by well-intentioned but unskilled Christian counsellors.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 24:6-8

“‘Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee. The Son of man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.” Luke 24:6-8

Remember, remember, how often we forget what God has told us. We forget his Word, we forget His promises, we forget answered prayers, and we forget His work in our lives. We can get so caught up in the issues of the day and so busy doing things for God that we can actually forget God in the process. We focus on the now and forget that we are apart of something so much bigger and better than this world.

In the Message, Ephesians 1:22-23 gives us God’s perspective which, after all, is the only true one: “The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

What God is doing in the world is more important than what is happening in the world. There may be floods, earthquakes, economic downturns but as Christians we can be secure in the knowledge that God is in charge. The morning headlines never take Him by surprise.

However if we are going to remain secure in an insecure world we have to be confident in our relationship with God as well as the character of God. If we are not convinced that God is all loving and all powerful we will find ourselves anxious and fearful.

So we remember. We remember by calling to mind God’s deeds in our own lives. We remember the promises in his Word. We remember God’s character. We remind ourselves often.

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

Attending meetings as an introvert

I have quoted from Adam McHugh's articles previously, click here and I was recently re-reading them. I really identified with what he says in regard to meetings:

My ministry colleague Mark, who has done a lot of work in group dynamics, observed that most meetings are dominated by a few assertive, usually extroverted, speakers. An entire meeting can pass with only two or three voices being heard. Most introverts, and less assertive extroverts, will not try to compete with or interrupt a steady flow of words. Mark is particularly troubled that meetings are the places where decisions are made and that the verdicts are largely determined by the outspoken minority.

What can we do to encourage introverts to speak, without putting them on the spot or imposing undue pressure on them? One simple thing we can do is give people a meeting agenda several days before a meeting, so that those who need to think before they speak will have the opportunity for prior consideration. In the meeting itself, we should establish ground rules for group discussion. We need to be clear that we are not only here to give our opinions but also to listen to one another, so it’s bad form to interrupt one another.

The most fruitful strategy that I have employed has been inserting personal reflection time into a meeting. When an important decision needs to be made, I have given people time to step outside of the room and consider their individual opinions. When introverts have had time to process internally, they will be more likely to share their thoughts in the group.

~Adam S. McHugh is an ordained Presbyterian minister, a spiritual director, and an introvert.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Book Review : Burned Alive

Burned Alive (Bantam Press, 2004) by Souad is a true story about an attempted honour killing. The story is written by the victim, Souad,(in collaboration with Marie-Therese Cuny) in a very down to earth, matter of fact way. This makes a very distressing story less emotional then you would expect.

The story begins with Souad describing her life in a small isolated village in the Middle East. It is an abusive situation – physically, emotionally and socially, yet it is all Souad has ever known and she writes about it as if it were normal. In her late teens Souad meets a man who takes advantage of her and she finds herself pregnant. The man, who has in effect raped her, leaves her to face certain death. Amazingly Souad escapes the attempt on her life but is left in hospital to die. She is rescued by a humanitarian organization and taken to a hospital in Switzerland. Souad faces a long, painful healing process with much courage. The book concludes happily with Souad married and living in Europe with her children though still facing challenges as she continues to deal with the psychology damage of her past.

This is not an enjoyable tale and yet it is written with a sense of hope which makes it an encouraging read.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 23:12

That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies. Luke 23:12

When I read this verse, I was reminded of the phrase, “what strange bedfellows.” I looked up this expression and discovered the following: “If two people or groups make strange bedfellows, they are connected in a particular activity though they are very different and would not usually have the same opinions or be seen together.”

Herod and Pilate’s alliance is also referred to in Acts 4:27 “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.”

People become friends when they have something in common. The particular activity that connected Herod and Pilate was the conspiracy against Jesus. Their common problem with Jesus overrode all their other racial, religious and political differences. However basing a friendship on a common difficulty is not a good way to have a lasting relationship.

In the Gospels Jesus is described as the “friend of sinners”. He had numerous friends. There were Mary, Martha and Lazarus; he was an invited guest at the wedding in Cana; he was friends with the owner of the upper room; as well as the 12 disciples and his closer friendship with Peter, James and John. Jesus was also able to make friends that overrode racial, religious and political differences but his friendship had the common ground of love and respect.

The Bible teaches us how to build friendships with numerous passages telling us how to treat “one another”: be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32); bear with each other and forgive one another (Colossians 3:13) etc.

If we want good friendship we are to follow Jesus’ example of building relationships based on love and respect.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review : Understanding the witness of the spirit

Wayne Back has done a good job of giving a practical understanding of how the Spirit of God operates in the lives of believers in his book, “Understanding the witness of the spirit” (Back, 1999). Back’s task is difficult in that God does not operate according to a formula or a predetermine blueprint but rather he wants to work in relationship with his people. So we can not say we will always sense this or that when the Spirit of God is communicating with us. It won’t always be the same sensation that we feel. However there are some common experiences that people have which Back writes about in his book.

Back also writes about the more demonstrative spiritual gifts that can sometimes cause people to feel uncomfortable because they are more obviously supernatural. For example tongues, prophecy, gift of knowledge etc. He explains their purpose, how these gifts generally operate and how we can tell if God is wanting to use us in this way.

Each chapter ends with a suggested “action” to encourage believers to seek to hear from God, to use the spiritual gifts God has given them and to mature in their understanding of the ways God’s Spirit works in our lives.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 22:61-62

Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22:61-62

Only hours earlier Peter had said, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (v.33). When Peter said this he thought he was being honest. He genuinely thought he was prepared to face imprisonment and death. However none of us know ourselves as well as we think we do. We often don’t know how we would respond when faced with severe temptation. Generally we think we are much stronger than we actually are.

Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). We often don’t realize how much our hearts are influenced by our pasts, by circumstances and by culture and how little by the beliefs we hold in our heads. We really don’t know what denials, what lies, what evil is in our hearts. In our minds we may feel able to face imprisonment or death but it only when we are facing temptation that we really know our hearts.

The next verse in Jeremiah 17 tells us, “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind…” Fortunately God knows us. He not only knows our minds but also our hearts and nothing he finds there surprises Him, though it may surprise us. He knows us so well that he knows exactly how we will react under pressure. And like with Peter, God’s objectives are always redemptive. When we succumb to temptation God restores us so we can strengthen others. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v.32).

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Review : Paul, the Spirit and the People of God

I found, "Paul, the Spirit and the People of God" by Gordon Fee (Hendrickson, 1996) to be a fascinating read. Fee has explained much of the theology of the Holy Spirit as outlined in Paul’s writing. He has presented fresh insights and brought perceptive to much of Paul’s understanding of the Holy Spirit. Coming from a conservative background myself I realize how little teaching I have received on the Holy Spirit and my theology was poorer because of this.

One area I found particularly enlightening was in regard to the fact that Paul’s teaching was initially intended to address first generation Christians. However in our culture we are often addressing second, third, fourth generation Christians and we don’t realize the difference this makes to the way we ought to present our message. Paul was also writing to deal with problems that had arisen in the early church and not presenting a systematic theology. We need to read his letters with this in mind.

I particularly liked the way Fee concluded his book as he encouraged us back to a more Biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit and how we can better communicate this to those who have been brought up in a Christian environment.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 21:14-15

But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. Luke 21:14-15

These verses tells that we are able to make a decision not to worry. The Amplified Bible puts v.14 like this: Resolve and settle it in your minds not to meditate and prepare beforehand how you are to make your defense and how you will answer.

To meditate means to roll something around in our mind. Worry is simply rolling unpleasant possibilities around in our minds. Not to prepare beforehand how we will response to those who disagree with us is a real step of faith. We are then forced to rely on whatever God brings to our minds. By not preparing a defense and rolling different scenarios around in our minds we are open to receiving wisdom from God.

However worry can sneak up on us and we find all sorts of negative possibilities seeping into our minds uninvited and unwelcome. The instant we become aware of this happening we need to make a decision to stop thinking on these things and deliberately think of something good.

We see this in Philippians 4:6-8. First we are told, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” Then we are told, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” The way to stop worrying is to present our requests to God, leave them there, and then deliberately choose to think on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Review : The 17 indisputable laws of teamwork

John Maxwell is a strong extrovert leader and his book, The 17 indisputable laws of teamwork (Thomas Nelson, 2001), reflects his personality. For this reason I probably didn’t enjoy his book as much as I should as I find his style somewhat overwhelming. Nevertheless it did contain lots of useful information and he writes in a clear easy to understand format.

Maxwell has listed 17 things which will create and maintain successful teams. For each of these he presents an example from a real life situation, most often a large business or a sporting team. Not of all these things are easily translated to a church situation, particularly to a small church where it is not always possible to choose the members of your team. However I did gain a clearer understanding about what makes a team work well and which things will hinder a team’s growth. So even with a team that is less than ideal there are ways to maximize its potential.

Maxwell has had much experience in leading teams plus he has researched many businesses and sporting stars so he is presenting material that he knows is effective. He has also drawn some of the material from his other books on leadership as there is an obvious overlap.

Overall a worthwhile read.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Seriously defective

I am home again from holidays and whilst away I read several books. The following is a quote from, Jung and the Christian Way by Christopher Bryant. While I am sure that I would not agree with much of Jung's thoughts on God, I found this particularly interesting:

"All his life Jung was concerned with knowing God, with the immediate intuitive awareness of God. He believed that the religion of many Christians who, like his father, relied on an intellectual faith, divorced from any experience of the realities believed in, was seriously defective. In a letter written in 1945 at the age of seventy he affirms, 'It is of the highest importance that the educated and 'enlightened' should know religious truth as a thing living in the human soul and not as an abstruse and unreasonable relic of the past."

Our faith in God is "seriously defective" if all it is intellectual. If all we have is head knowledge than when we are presented with information that appears to disagree with our head knowledge we lose our faith in God. We must have an experience of God beyond what we can know in our heads. Yet we cannot organize or teach people to have this experience. It has to be a work of God.

Somehow we need to teach people who are investigating Christian faith to "wait on God" until they have a truly genuine experience of God. Otherwise their faith is going to be seriously defective.

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 20:19-20

The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him…But they were afraid of the people. Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. Luke 20:19-20

What were they thinking? These people were supposedly the 'spiritually mature' that is the teachers of the law and the chief priests and yet here they are plotting and planning against Jesus. Did they really think they were serving God’s purposes by doing this? Did they really think God would approve of their scheming even if it was to protect God’s temple and His nation (John 11:48)? Did they really think God needed their help to bring about his plans?

Compare this to the David’s attitude. David had already been anointed by Samuel and knew that God wanted him to be king and he had ample opportunity to bring it about. Yet David knew it would be wrong to take matters into his own hands and kill Saul. David said, "The Lord himself will strike him (Saul); either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord's anointed" (1 Samuel 26:10).

Even when David was discouraged and thought that he would never be king (1 Samuel 27:1), he still did not take things into his own hands. David trusted God’s timetable and God’s agenda and this is what the teachers of the law and the chief priests refused to do.

Regardless of how bad our circumstances may look, remember, God has everything in hand. He is still in charge.

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Goodbye to my job

Today is my last day working at the library which is not only sad for me but sad for my community, which still has a library, but no librarian.

Right now I am really looking forward to a rest and some time by the "still waters" to restore my soul as the last 12 months have been quite stressful. I am going away tonight for about two weeks. I will have some internet access so will be online but not as much as usual.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures. he leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leades me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake" (Psalm 23:2-3).

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review : Communicating Jesus' Way

Communicating Jesus’ way (William Carey Library, 1998) looks at how Jesus communicated his message to his disciples and to his community. Jesus employed the communication style of his culture to great effect and we can do the same.

Kraft looks at three types of communication to discover which style of teaching is the most life changing for the audience. Firstly there is monolog as in a sermon, then dialog as in a group discussion and then life involvement as in the three years Jesus spent with his disciples. The most life changing of these was life involvement. However even Jesus was only able to do this with 12 men. Likewise in the discussion mode of teaching we can really only impact at most about 25 people. So in our modern society we tend to use the monolog even though it is the least impacting on people’s lives. Kraft then looks at how we can take monolog communication and make it more impacting by learning from the other styles of communication.

Kraft also looks at how God communicates with his people and points out the enormous lengths God went to in order to connect with people. He took all the initiative, went out his way to establish and restore a relationship with people. God has modelled how to communicate and we can learn much by studying God’s methods.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 18:40-41

When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Luke 18:40-41

Matthew and Mark also record Jesus’ question as: “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus knew the man was blind it seems like an unnecessary question. Yet all three authors record Jesus’ question because it was important for several reasons. Firstly Jesus never assumes. He is God yet he doesn't barge into someone's life with all the answers even though he does indeed have all the answers. Secondly he expects us to ask. We can not be passive if we want God’s help.

Some take the attitude: if God wants to do something in my life he knows where I live; if God knows everything then he doesn’t need me to tell him my needs. However this attitude underestimates God’s love. True love does not force itself upon us, neither does it manipulate or coerce. God will not override our free will. He will not interfere in our circumstances uninvited.

We sometimes forget that Revelation 3:20 was written to Christians: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…” Jesus waits until we open the door, the door not only to our lives but also to the individual situations we find ourselves in. Jesus stands ready to help, he emphasizes this by saying, “Here I am!” He waits for an invitation, a request, even a whisper. We can hang onto our self-sufficiency, our man made solutions, our independence or we can be like the blind man who calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v.38) and when faced with opposition he called out even more (v.39).

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Friday, June 24, 2011

The risk factor

Recently I have been reading, Communicating Jesus’ way by Charles Kraft (William Carey Library, 1998).

On page 72 Kraft writes:

As we read this, or as we sit listening to a communicator speak, we may have little conscious awareness of the risk factor. And yet, whenever we expose ourselves to communication we are risking the possibility that we might have to change some aspect of our lives. We ordinarily seek at all costs to maintain our present equilibrium, to protect ourselves from assimilating anything that will upset our psychological balance. To do this we often build walls around ourselves in such a way that we can shed anything we hear that would put pressure on us to change our lifestyle.

How aware are you of the risk factor in listening to a sermon or reading a Christian book?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 17:4-5

Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Luke 17:4-5

Jesus is talking about forgiveness and yet the apostles respond by saying, “Increase our faith!” Why do they connect faith with forgiveness? Because it takes faith to forgive. When we forgive we are not seeking to get even but rather we are trusting God to look after our interests. When we forgive someone we are “letting them off the hook”. We are letting go of our anger and our pain. The reason we are able to do this is because we believe that God is in control of all our circumstances and He is our Vindicator. We can trust that God won’t allow us to be cheated without purpose or hurt beyond our ability to bear.

Forgiveness isn’t easy but the alternatives are even less attractive. Remaining angry creates bitterness which only hurts ourselves, and not the person who has hurt us. Remaining angry does not punish the person who has hurt us so our anger achieves nothing.

Sometimes we feel if we stop being angry then the person who has caused us pain has escaped justice. This is a short sighted view. While there may appear to be no immediate ramifications for their bad behaviour, we can rest in the knowledge that God is a God of justice. If necessary, He will act on our behalf in his time and in his ways.

Forgiveness takes faith. Faith that God is a loving heavenly Father who feels our pain yet asks us to forgive because He knows that holding onto anger will only cause us even greater pain in the long term.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review : The life and times of the thunderbolt kid

Bill Bryson obviously believes in the old adage, "don’t spoil a good story with the facts"! Bryson is a great storyteller and "The life and times of the thunderbolt kid" (Doubleday, 2006) is full of supposedly biographical stories from his childhood. If half of the stories were accurate he and his friends would be in jail! However these stories are riotously funny – though sometimes rude and the language is unnecessary distasteful at times. In fact I wonder why Bryson resorts to bad language when he can tell such a funny story without it. He has a knack of being able to create a tone in his story which makes something absurd sound perfectly normal and therein lies the secret to his humour.

On a more serious note Bryson does include some historical material about America in the 1950’s. This gives context to his childhood adventures, as well as highlighting some parts of American history that most would like to forget. In some ways Bryson’s book is a stinging attack on American greed and racial prejudice interspersed with comic relief. Perhaps in line with the idea that a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. It was rather odd to discover that both this book and the previous book I read, “A Fine Balance” tell of incidents where people had tried to exercise their right to vote and were killed because of it. Yet these two books probably had nothing else in common, except that I read them both as part of my library’s book club.

Overall, The life and times of the thunderbolt kid was an enjoyable read.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The precious gift of friendship

I’ve been a bit ‘awol’ lately. I’ve been having a busy time because there are some tasks I would like to complete before I finish at the library. Also the weekend just gone, in our part of the world, has been a ‘long’ weekend because of the Queen’s Birthday and I had some friends come to visit.

I have not actually seen these friends for 8 years and had only kept in contact by way of yearly Christmas letters. I first met them about 25 years ago and at that time we went through some common experiences which created a connection. However one is never quite sure how these connections are going to hold up over time and distance. We have both moved several times which would have made things difficult enough but then it turned out that they had jobs where they worked Saturdays and I had positions where I was unavailable on Sundays. However thanks to the ‘Queen’ we eventually managed to spend some time together and it was great.

It was surprising how much we still have in common and how many common experiences we have had in our long absences. Friendship really is a precious gift. It is such an encouragement to spend time with like minded people and feel understood and validated. Now that we are older and have less demanding family responsibilities we plan to make sure it isn’t 8 years before we catch up again.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Devotional Thought: Luke 16:8-9

The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16:8-9

Is God encouraging us to be dishonest? Hardly, that would not fit in with God’s character or Jesus’ teaching. Jesus is telling us that the people of this world are focused on getting ahead, making money, protecting themselves from financial ruin and in this regard they are often quite clever or shrewd. We see this in the story Jesus told. These people invest their time and money in what they perceive as important and in what will give them the most advantage. They have become successful as they understand it.

However they are short sighted. Jesus is encouraging us to look at the big picture. One day all our wealth and earthly success will be gone and what will we have to show for it? We cannot take our wealth with us when we die. However if we use our material wealth to invest in God’s kingdom, giving to ministries that challenge people to become Christians, giving our time to ministries that encourage people in their walk with God, we will find that we will reap eternal benefits. By investing in growing God’s kingdom now we will play a part in seeing people come to know Jesus and in eternity we will be welcomed by these very people who will see us as “friends”.

When we focus on the big picture and remember how fleeting our lives are we will see the importance of investing in eternal pursuits not earthly ones.

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Losing my job

My part-time position at the library is being made redundant at the end of June. The library shares the building with the council and council staff check books in and out when I’m not there. They currently do not perform other library duties. The actions of council over the last few months have indicated to me that they do not consider what I do at the library valuable and anyone can do it.

Several days after I found out I was losing my job I went to have my eyes checked – I either need new glasses or longer arms! The man who was attending me asked heaps of questions about the work I do at the library. Then he said quite out of the blue, “What you do is really important.” He then talked about the small community where he lives and said, “The librarian is the lynch-pin of the community so what you do is really important.” I left the shop thinking that God had sent this man along just to encourage me.

Later when I was thinking about this I had an “ah-ha” moment. On the one hand the council is telling me what I do is not valuable and anyone can do it. On the other hand my optometrist is telling me that what I do is valuable. So it is entirely up to me whom I believe. This caused me to think that I’d really rather believe what God said about me rather than either of them.

When I reflected on what God said to me I remember that I was very much called to the job. God caused a large number of circumstances to coincide for me to have the job including the fact that he had orchestrated for me to have the necessary qualifications to do it. God thought it was valuable for me to do that job. While I don’t fully understand these recent events I do believe God directs my paths.

In Ephesians 3:10 we read: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”

This verse tells me there are things going on in the heavenly realms that I don’t know or understand but I can trust that God is working out his purposes. I believe God has other things for me to do and I’m sure God will reveal them in his good time. In the meantime I have 4 more weeks to enjoy being the librarian.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Devotional Thought : Luke 14:24

I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet. Luke 14:24

Jesus tells a parable in response to someone saying, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (v.14). Jesus take the opportunity to turn the thinking of the Pharisees on its head by teaching that those who think they are entitled to the blessings of the kingdom will miss out and those the Pharisees would consider unworthy are accepted.

In those times a banquet took a long time to prepare. They were also without modern means of communication like phones and emails. So when a banquet was going to be held an initial invitation was sent out to alert people. This gave them time to prepare, then a second invitation was given when a messenger would bring the news that all was ready.

Jesus shows us the inclusive nature of his kingdom. Twice the messenger is instructed to “Go out…” and invite anyone who will come. However people’s lack of commitment is shown by their weak excuses. Who would buy a field without looking at it? Or a yoke of oxen without checking them out? Or never go out just because they are recently married? These three examples cover the main things that block people’s commitment to God. That is: their status (as a land owner), their possessions (yoke of oxen), or their pleasure (recently married). Jesus makes it clear that some who expect to be included in the kingdom of God will not be because they won’t sacrifice their own desires and conveniences.

We see in this parable that it is not God who keeps people out of His kingdom but rather it is the choices people make that hinder them from entering.

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