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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