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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