Saturday, February 26, 2011

Updating my site

At last I have updated my website. You can check out the changes here. Let me know if you find any problems.

The delay for doing this came about when I bought a new computer last September. I was never able to get the program I use to update my website, Homesite 4.0, to work on my new computer with Windows 7. Consequently I didn’t edit my site for months and months.

My husband inherited my old computer so this week I found the time, when he wasn’t home, to work the changes on my site. But I haven’t really solved the problem. If anyone knows how to get Homesite to work on Windows 7 please let me know!

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Culture and context

I have written previously about how some people struggle with the violent nature of some of the Old Testament. I’ve been reading over at "Living Spirituality" and Greg has posted on the subject The Violent God? It is an interesting read.

I think it is helpful to remember as Greg calls it, "The progressive unfolding of the revelation of God in Scripture." Hebrews 1:1-2 puts it this way, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…"

God speaks to us in context. In the Old Testament the culture was very violent. God spoke to them in ways they understood. In the Old Testament we read, "eye for eye" in context this was a statement of grace because in that culture people retaliated tenfold.

In the New Testament the culture was different again and Paul’s letters address many cultural issues that we don’t struggle with today. However by studying the Bible and understanding the context we learn to hear God’s heart and then we know how God wants us to live in our context.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Devotional Thought : Romans 15:1-3

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself...Romans 15:1-3

Three times in three verses we are exhorted not to please ourselves. Yet pleasing ourselves is so ingrained. We assume what pleases us, pleases others. We think people like what we like. We recommend books, movies, recipes, music all based on the belief that others will like what we like. Consequently we make choices and assume others will like our choices. We don’t even notice that we are actually only pleasing ourselves.

We also make assumptions about the best way to help other people and then we give them the help we think they want, which may not be the help they actually need. Some time ago I was reading that when World Vision move into a new area to give assistance they always ask the people what their biggest need is. They find it is different things for different cultures. For some the priority is running water, for some it is equipment, and for some the priority is their children’s education. If World Vision were to help by doing what they thought best, without asking, they only would be pleasing themselves. We don’t do our neighbour good if we impose our desires on them.

The secret to growing in this area is learning to ask questions. Christ is our example. Once he asked a blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). Wasn’t that an unnecessary question? Obviously Jesus didn’t think so. In order to not please ourselves we have to get in the habit of asking questions and then listening to the answers.

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

How wrong I was...

A year ago I started a course of study at a Bible College. I have been a Christian for over 35 years and have read the Bible over those years, not every day but regularly. I have also attended church most Sundays, often twice, and I have read heaps of Christian books. So I figured going to Bible College was going to be no big deal. To be honest I really didn’t expect to learn much. How wrong I was!

I learnt a lot of history I didn’t know. It helped me understand how Christianity, for better or worse, has come to the place it is today. It made me realize if we don’t learn from history we are bound to repeat it. I learnt a lot of background material to the Bible and how it came together. What it meant to the people who first read it and how to apply it to today’s culture. I am about half way through the course and hope to finish this year. I’m now expecting to learn a whole lot more.

But the scary thing for me is to think about much I thought I knew and in reality how much I really knew. How arrogant I was to think that I knew so much. In retrospect I realize that I read very selectively. I heard sermons that were of necessity preached to a wide variety of maturity levels and I read the Bible devotional. I didn’t actually study the Bible. Hopefully I will be in a better place to speak and write from by the time I finish the course.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hermeneutics

I decided to complete a subject of my course over the summer holidays (ok, I saw you roll your eyes and groan but that’s fine, I already knew I was crazy!). I chose Hermeneutics and it has been fascinating.

Even prior to studying Hermeneutics I had thought that many Christians act like God dictated the Bible and dropped it into their laps yesterday. Nothing could be further from the truth. Firstly God didn’t dictate the Bible (whereas Muslims believe that Mohammad dictated the Qur’an). God inspired people to write the words he wanted written. The difference is huge because it means the background, the education, and the experiences of the author all influenced what was written. God didn’t bypass the author in order to put down on paper what He wanted written down.

Secondly the Bible has been put together over a long period of time. Some of it was written thousands of years ago and it needs to be read with this in mind. Interestingly enough some of it we easily disregard as being cultural (eg. greet each other with a holy kiss) but some Christians struggle to disregard other similar cultural instructions (eg. women should cover their heads). Why? I think it is because we have often been taught that the Bible is an instruction manual for life and so we get the mistaken idea that we have to put into practice as much of it as possible. But this is not so.

God could have given us a book of rules, a list of doctrinal beliefs we need to believe in order to be saved, or a theology handbook telling us what God is like. Instead God gave us stories. Sometimes he doesn’t even tell us if the person in the story did the right thing or the wrong thing. We are supposed to be able to work that out for ourselves. However there have been well meaning Christians who would have preferred a book of rules and try to turn the Bible into a book of rules. This would have been much simpler rather that the messy business of working out what applies to us today and what doesn’t. However God expects us to use the brain he gave us.

When we read the Old Testament we need to understand the culture it was written in. God spoke to them in terms that they understood. Protection and provision meant victory over warring armies that threaten to wipe them out as a nation. God always spoke to people through the culture and through the circumstances that they were dealing with. Even in the New Testament many of the letters were written to people who had problems that we don’t deal with today (eg. meat sacrificed to idols).

Hermeneutics has been so enlightening because it has helped me understand the Bible in a whole new way. I better understand what God was saying to his people thousands of years ago so I better understand what He is saying to his people today.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Devotional Thought : Romans 14:13

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Romans 14:13

I love the way the Message puts this verse: “Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is.”

Life is often difficult. We really don’t know the difficulties others live with. What relational tensions there may be, what financial restraints people may be under, or what spiritual issues they may be wrestling with, and Paul’s concern is that we don’t make life more difficult for others.

In v.1 of this chapter it is acknowledged that there are "disputable matters." As Christians we don’t always agree on issues that govern our behaviour. In Paul’s day the issues were eating meat and keeping sacred days. In our day the issues are different but our attitude should be the same, which is not to impose our standards or opinions on other people. We are accountable to God for our own actions not the actions of others.

It is actually part of God's plan to teach us tolerance and it is something Jesus lived out when he chose his disciples. Jesus chose Zealots who believed in armed revolt, tax collectors who cooperated with the Romans, and fishermen in need of anger management. If loving one another was easy it would not be a sign to the world that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35).

This chapter concludes with Paul saying: “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (v.22). Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to keep our opinions to ourselves.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review : 66 love letters

Larry Crabb has written 66 Love letters : a conversation with God that invites you into his story (Thomas Nelson, 2010) on the premises that each book of the Bible is like a love letter where God is conveying more of his plan and more of his purpose in history. So beginning at Genesis and continuing all the way to Revelation he gives a summary of what God is trying to get us to see in each of the book. 66 love letters is not a commentary or a theological study of the Bible. Rather it is written in the format of a conversation between Larry and God. Mostly this works well and I found many of his insights helpful. At times it does get a bit repetitive as Larry seems to struggle with the same things over and over. However perhaps this is a testimony to Larry’s honesty and may accurately reflects our own struggles.

One concern I have is that setting out the 66 books in this way tends to suggest that the books were written in this order or that they are chronologically arranged, whereas this is not the case. At times it seems like there are contrived connections between the books.

Nevertheless despite these small criticisms, I did enjoy the book and found Larry’s approach refreshing and enlightening.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Part the waters, Lord

In my studies lately I’ve learnt that the book of Psalms was put together as a collection of songs and poems that various people wrote in times of grief, joy, frustration or other emotion. The book is an encouragement, but not so much for what it teaches us about God but rather as examples of how we can express ourselves to God. It is still inspired by God even though much of it is addressed to God. We realize God is able to handle all the emotions known to humankind.

I’ve been having a bit of a difficult time of late and at such times I remember (or perhaps God brings to mind) songs from my past and they minister to me again – much like God’s intention in psalms.

This is the song that has been on my heart of late: Part The Waters by Charles F. Brown (click here). I first heard it in the late ‘70s and in my mind I can still hear Evie Tornquist singing it.

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Monday, February 07, 2011

Devotional Thought : Romans 13:10

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10

The law in Jewish understanding wasn’t the 10 commandments or the other regulations. The first five books of Old Testament was called the “Book of the Law” and the whole Old Testament was called “the Law.” The law was part of covenant between God and his people. They didn’t keep the law in order to become God’s people but rather because they were God’s people they were suppose to keep it.

The covenant or agreement God made with his people at Mount Sinai was that God would protect and provide for Israel and they were to keep the regulations in the law. History would prove that Israel was never able to keep their part of the covenant and ultimately God made a new covenantal agreement between Himself and Jesus. When we become Christians we are placed “in Christ Jesus” so the covenant is kept.

Most of the regulations in the Old Testament are not renewed in the New Testament. We are not required to make sure our clothes are not woven with two kinds of material or that our fields are not harvested to the edges. However we show that we are the people of God, by our love. This fulfils or completes the law.

It seems though we have many Christians thinking they can fulfil the law though their good deeds. The Israelites couldn’t do it and neither will we. However as we trust God and live “in Christ” we are empowered to love and then we can keep the new commandment that Jesus gave, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).

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