Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review : Many Coloured Realm

Many Coloured Realm by Anne Hamilton is a difficult book for me to review as I don’t read a lot of fantasy. It is a complicated tale of goblins and elves, various realms and time zones. It is the story of children on a dangerous mission but I was never quite sure who was on whose side. It is a story that appears to end in a tear jerking tragedy but ultimate ends in hope.

The story is apparently written in a mathematical design, not that I would have noticed. Unfortunately I suspect I also missed many others elements that an experienced reader of fantasy would have picked up.

This is not a quick read and probably needs to be read by true lovers of fantasy who are able to pick up the underlying meanings while I only saw hints. This being the case I would recommend it for teenagers rather than children.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

Best wishes for Christmas to all who pass by here.

I’ll be away for a few days catching up with family.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Why don't we see Him more?

“Why don’t we see Him more?” is a line from the Christmas song, “Where is the line to see Jesus?” by Steve Haupt and Chris Loesch.

It reminds me of a scene from the movie, Prince Caspian. Lucy sees Aslan, the character who represents Jesus, in the distance but the others don't. When they ask her why they didn't see him, Lucy gives these answers. "Maybe you weren't looking for him," and later, "Maybe you don't want to see him." Likewise we are not always looking for Jesus to be present in our daily lives and we don’t always want to see him.

Looking for Jesus suggests our dependency on him. It requires us to acknowledge our inadequacies, that we are not as self-sufficient as we thought. It is interesting that of the four children in Prince Caspian it was Lucy that saw Aslan. She was the youngest, the one who was not trying to be mature or assume authority but the one who was most trusting. Somehow we lose this when we become teenagers and adults. I’m sure I did. For some reason I feel the need to impress, sometimes even myself, with my own proficiency. Yet to see more of Jesus in my life, I must cultivate the same child like trust that Lucy had.

Furthermore perhaps we don’t always want to see him. Seeing Jesus is challenging. We may sense his conviction when all we want is comfort. We may sense his calling when all we want is to be left in peace. We may sense his holiness when all we want is to be left in our selfishness. Being in God’s presence changes us and I know I don’t always want to change. Yet he only changes us for our benefit to heal us of our brokenness and free us from our burdens.

How do we see Jesus? We live in 2012 not in Narnia or even ancient Palestine so we certainly don’t see him with our physical eyes but rather with our spiritual eyes. We become aware of Jesus’ presence in our life when we realize he is orchestrating our circumstances and we notice the little coincidences. We notice a bird, a sunset, the laughter of a child and realize that God is behind every blessing. So often I am too busy to notice, too distracted by other concerns to stop and take the time to say thank you, Lord. And when I stop saying thank you, I stop acknowledging his presence and then I stop seeing the evidence of his presence in my life.

If we aren’t looking for him then others won’t see Jesus in us either. The world desperately needs to see Jesus and the only way they will see him is through the lives of his followers. As we seek Jesus, trust him, thank him, others will see Jesus in us.

This Christmas allow a watching world see the life of Jesus in you.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Devotional Thought : Matthew 9:17

Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. Matthew 9:17

Jesus was seeking to show the Pharisees that Judaism wasn’t working. It wasn’t bringing people into a close personal relationship with God. Years of defining the law, adding requirements and tradition meant that it had become nothing more than a list of “dos” and “don’ts”. It was beyond fixing. It had served its purpose. The law showed us our need of a Saviour (Galatians 3:24) because we were not able to meet its requirements in our own strength.

Jesus was bringing “new wine” and to preserve this new wine it needed new wineskins. A new way of being God’s people, a new understanding of the relationship God wanted with his people, and a new revelation of the extent of God’s compassion and grace. God did not want to guide his people by regulations but by his Spirit. It was the fulfilment of God’s promise to his people through Ezekiel: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees…” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

The old wineskins of law keeping were not able to hold the rich “wine” of God’s Spirit leading and guiding. The old wineskins of rituals and ceremonies were not able to hold the sweet “wine” of fellowship that God desired with his people.

Likewise we need to leave behind our old wineskin of trying to please God and embrace the new wineskin of grace.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review : Black Forest Redemption

Black Forest Redemption by Amanda Deed is a historical fiction novel set at the time of the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat. It concerns two young people who are kidnapped and held for ransom. Both characters are dealing with significant issues of purpose and direction for their life when they are kidnapped. This complicates their ordeal and their relationship with each other.

I have lived in the area where the story was set (but not during this time frame!) so it was particularly interesting to me to read about places I knew well. I also enjoyed the historical content which surprised me. I learnt about this period of Australian history at school and found it very dull but reading it from the perspective of a person’s living through it made it come alive.

The story creates genuine tension and intrigue. It is well written and well paced. Towards the end I did find the prayer thing a bit overdone, but that might just be personal taste or perhaps I just don't pray enough!

Overall it was a great story.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Devotional Thought : Matthew 7:1

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Matthew 7:1

This is a tricky verse because elsewhere we are told to judge. For example: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). And often the temptation is to judge my mere appearances. I recently read this quote by Augsburger:

People judge others' actions by their effects and their own actions by their intentions.

We believe our intentions are always good even if our actions are inadequate and if our actions are inadequate we feel we have legitimate reasons – busyness, under resourced, unrealistic expectations etc. However we often don’t know the intentions of others so we are tempted to judge only their actions. At such times we can remind ourselves that we never have enough information to set our judgements in concrete. We never know what work God is doing in their heart or will do in the future to have any finality about our conclusions. Oft times we would be wise to keep our opinions to ourselves, particularly regarding issues that do not concern us.

Furthermore we have to be careful that our judgements don’t come out of pride. Do we criticize others because we think we are better than they are? Perhaps we think we are a better writer, singer, preacher and our judgements are coming out of own insecurity rather than out of any real sense of discernment. Since we want God to be gracious in his dealings with us, we ought to be gracious towards others.

Overall I think the message here is don't usurp God's role of judging as it is not our job to pass judgement on anyone; don't be critical of others, especially as only God knows their motives; and don’t set judgements in concrete, God is not finished with us yet!

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review : God made something...

Penny Reeve has written a series of Find the Animal children’s books. Each book’s title begins: God made something… and concludes with a word that describes a particular animal – tall, clever, enormous, funny, clever, amazing, beautiful, quick and strong. Currently there are eight books in the series.

Not only are these books a fun way of learning that God made animals but each books stresses a different aspect of God’s character. For example, God made something enormous also teaches that God’s love is enormous and as an extra bonus each book includes questions about shapes, sizes, numbers or colours.

Since there is so much in each book, not just a story, but things to look for in the pictures, questions to answer, Bible verses to read, they can be read over and over emphasising something different each time.

I love this series of books and I’m looking forward to sharing them with my grandchildren.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Devotional Thought : Matthew 4:3, 6, 9

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread”…“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down”… “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Matthew 4:3, 6 & 9

The three temptations that Jesus faced: to provide for his needs through his own miraculous power and not by trusting God; to force God to serve him instead of him serving God; and to achieve power and glory by the wrong avenues.

These temptations are not unique to Jesus. We too are tempted to meet our own legitimate needs in ways that are ungodly. Perhaps for us it is about our need for acceptance, belonging and security. While there is nothing wrong in having these needs, if we use people or things to meet these needs we find not only do they not satisfies us but they lead us away from trusting God.

We are also tempted to think God is there just to solve our problems and resolves our difficulties. Our focus becomes about what God is doing or will do for me rather than on how I can serve God. While God is interested in meeting our needs, he has bigger plans for us and his world.

Likewise God’s desire is for us to be successful but not in the way the world defines success. We can live a successful Christian life and never achieve power and glory in the world. Alternatively we may receive some measure of power and glory but if we achieve it through our own devices we will ultimately find it unfulfilling.

The tempter will continue to tempt us but, like Jesus, we are empowered by his word and Spirit to overcome.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review : A New Resolution

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! The reason being is that I generally find romantic stories too predictable and although this one ends as you would expect, Rose Dee has included lots of interesting benefits along the way.

Some of these benefits are created as a result of where the book is set, in northern Queensland. Environmental issues, illegal fishing and growing marijuana are real issues which appear as part of the story. However the issue I thought that Rose handled particularly well was the sexual tension between the two main characters. This is a difficult, but very real issue, to handle in a Christian book. Both characters had slept with others before they were Christians and now they had to consider how to handle this issue from a Christian perspective.

I think this would be an excellent book for older teenagers, as rather than confronting them directly with the importance of making good choices, the story creates a way of looking at relationships in a non threatening way. The characters are easy to identify with and the lessons they learn are easy to apply to our lives.

This book is part of a trilogy of books set on Resolution Island but each one is complete in itself.

A great read.

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Saturday, December 08, 2012

In the writing zone

Yesterday I wrote a post for Christian Writers Downunder about the process of writing.

Check it out here.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Devotional Thought : Matthew 3:3

This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Matthew 3:3

This prophesy is from Isaiah 40:3 and refers to God bringing the Jews back to the Promised Land from their exile in Babylon. Here in Matthew, it refers to the Jews coming back into right relationship with God.

By using this prophecy God reminds his people of his purposes and plans for them. He has not forgotten them. This prophesy speaks to them not only of their history but also of their future. He wants his people to return to wholehearted allegiance to him. So he can bless them.

Likewise God calls us to prepare ourselves in order to receive his blessing. Perhaps our spiritual life has grown stale and dull and now God calls us to prepare our minds and hearts, to stir ourselves into action so we are ready to face the next task God has for us.

It is so easy to drift from our commitment to Christ. In the intensity of a moment we plead our allegiance to him but the daily routine seems to wear down our intentions. Life doesn’t turn out quite like we expect. We experience disappointment and disillusionment and slowly our focus is drawn away from God.

However God challenges us to prepare for the next part of our spiritual journey and to focus on his unchanging character. Despite our circumstances God is a good God who has our best interests at heart. He will not always rescue us from bad situations or solve all our problems. Yet he is always there for us, continually seeking to spiritually spur us on and draw us into closer communion with him.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Blog Tour : Back to Resolution

This week's blog tour is Back to Resolution by Rose Dee. I recently read the third book in this series, A New Resolution and really enjoyed it. Each book in the series can be read as a stand alone. This book is part of a blog tour organized by the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance.

3 - 7 December

is introducing

(Even Before Publishing November 2012)

by Rose Dee

About the Author:

Rose Dee
Rose Dee was born in Ingham, North Queensland, Australia. Her childhood experiences growing up in a small beach community would later provide inspiration for her first novel. Rose, who holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree, decided to try her hand at writing two years ago. The result of that attempt is her first novel, 'Back to Resolution'. Her novels are inspired by the love of her coastal home and desire to produce exciting and contemporary stories of faith for women

Rose’s other releases include, 'Beyond Resolution' - the second book in the 'Resolution' series. And ‘A New Resolution’ – the final book in the series. Rose has also co-written a novel in conjunction with three other outstanding Australian Authors; ‘The Greenfield Legacy’.

Rose resides in Mackay, North Queensland with her husband, young son, and mischievous pup, Noodle.

Book Description:
Back to Resolution
Bay Anders is lost. She enjoys every privilege a wealthy upbringing affords, but the void in her soul refuses to be filled. Her mother's dying revelation drives Bay to the brink of self destruction, before a move to Australia changes everything. She embarks upon a search for her father that leads her to his island home, into a hazardous melting pot of hostile locals and a mystery – her father's disappearance. The only person who can help her is a strong, self assured and intensely magnetic man. Bay must fight an overwhelming attraction to stay focused on her goal.

Flynn McKenna is hiding from the world. A past filled with mistakes drove him to withdraw from society and live in seclusion. But the arrival of a woman he cannot avoid shatters his solitary existence. As the search for Bay's father unites them, can he resist his desire for her? It becomes a race against time as developers try to take over the island.

From the glittering streets of LA, to the beautiful Daintree forest in North Queensland, to the idyllic island `Resolution', Back to Resolution is a romantic mystery that shows how far a little faith can go.

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Devotional Thought : Matthew 1:19

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:19

All the evidence points toward Joseph being deeply in love with Mary. He would have been looking forward to marrying her and having a family. Mary’s actions tell us that she was a devout Jew with a sincere faith. Joseph must have been devastated when he learnt Mary was pregnant, when he knew he was not the father. How could Mary have done such a thing? Poor Joseph! He was living a life of faithfulness to the law and must have felt deeply betrayed.

It seems he had three choices: he could expose her to public disgrace which he was entitled to do and under the law she could be stoned (though this was rare at the time); he could divorce her quietly which only required two witnesses and was a more compassion alternative for Mary; or he could remain engaged. In his mind this would mean, forgiving Mary for her apparent unfaithfulness, soiling his own good reputation and bring an unknown man’s child into his family line.

Joseph opts to divorce her quietly. His anger did not fuel a desire to punish Mary. He planned to act in a way that showed compassion for her and shows us how deeply he cared for her.

When we read the rest of the story we realize how fully convinced Joseph was by the angel, since we read in v.25: “But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son.” It was a virgin conception but Joseph ensured it was a virgin birth.

Joseph lived righteously despite his perplexing circumstances, honouring God and being an example to us.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Book Review : The Amazing Bike Ride

Lorin Nicholson is the author of, The amazing bike ride (Wombat Books, 2010). It is the true story of a bike ride Lorin went on as a child and is written for primary school children.

Lorin suffers from an eye condition which means at the time of the ride he only had 10% vision. David Emerson, the illustrator, has done a great job of drawing blurry pictures to replicate what Lorin could actually see on his trip.

Despite his handicap Lorin completed the long distance bike ride from his home to the beach. Ignoring the disbelief of his friends, but with the encouragement of his father, it took him two and half day to arrive at his destination. The story shows not only the difficulties he encountered but also his determination which was eventually rewarded.

The book contains a strong motivational message to encourage children not to be held back by handicaps or by peer pressure but to actively pursue their dreams.

There is a brief biography at the back of the book which tells us that Lorin completed school, trained as remedial massage therapist, started his own business, married and had four children – which is a confirmation of the message in his book. These days Lorin is a professional musician and motivational speaker.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

On being reliant on technology

I’ve recently been on holidays and happened to be in Warrnambool when the Telstra exchange burnt down. For two days in the Warrnambool district there were no mobile phones, internet, or landlines. There were few ATMs working and EPOST was limited. Many people’s work was severely disrupted. Emergency services were frantically looking for alternatives otherwise they may not have been able to respond if there was another emergency. While many of these services are now back online, it will be a few more days before everything is restored.

Media coverage of this event was limited. Most of my family and friends did not know they could not reach me. Fortunately they did not need to. It is an interesting lesson in how reliant on technology we are. One small fire that is regarded as not newsworthy outside the district and yet virtually every form of communication was effected within that district.

As I was on holidays the impact for me was minimal but it certainly makes you think.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review : Extravagant Worship

Darlene Zschech begins her book Extravagant Worship with the woman in the gospels who anointed Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. This woman is an extravagant worshipper. Darlene describes this woman’s worship as: excessive, abundant, expensive, superfluous, lavish, costly, precious, rich, priceless, and valuable. This story is a great introduction and explanation of the theme – extravagant worship.

The book covers all the aspects that create extravagant worship such as, having a godly lifestyle, talent, the power of praise, having a commitment to excellence, being emotionally connected to God and others, having a serving attitude and working with others. Darlene focuses on the importance of the worship leader having a humble attitude towards being upfront, remembering that they are there to serve, not to draw attention to themselves.

Mostly this book is written for worship leaders and those aspiring to be worship leaders. It helps them understand that first of all they need to be worshippers, then they need to be spiritually mature enough to understand what is required to lead people to a place of worship and not just doing what they enjoy or what will impress others.

Interspersed throughout the book are songs, poems and prayers that Darlene and others have written. This adds visual interest and character to the book. Side bars are also used effectively.

Overall a very useful resource for those who are on a worship team.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 13:9

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. Hebrews 13:9

Judaism taught that eating ceremonial food strengthened people spiritually. In the regulations in Leviticus (7:11-18) the people were instructed to eat the peace offering (or fellowship offering). They believed that physically eating this offering and participating in these rituals was, of itself, a spiritual benefit. However these rituals were symbolic and ultimately pointed to Jesus’ sacrificial death.

Under the new covenant we feed spiritually on Jesus who by his death on the cross is our strengthening, that is our source of the saving and sustaining grace of God.

The crowds were offended when Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51). They did not understand that we are to rely on God to sustain us spiritually the way we rely on food to sustain us physically. We need our hearts to be strengthened by the grace God gives not by attending ceremonies or completing rituals.

When Jesus instituted what we now call communion, he again parallelled bread with his body. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).”

Jesus is to be like bread to us, a daily necessity for health and strength. We draw on this my having a humble attitude which acknowledges our limitations and the need of his grace.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blog Tour : Bethlehem's Warrior

Today I like to bring to your attention the book Bethlehem's Warrior. It is a 31 day devotional book by Ray Hawkins. This book is part of a blog tour organized by the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance.

19 - 23 November

is introducing

(Even Before Publishing November 2012)

by Ray Hawkins

About the Author:

Ray Hawkins
Ray Hawkins, retired after over 40 years as a Churches of Christ minister, enjoys sharing themes from the Scriptures through Devotional writing. Married to Mary, multi-published inspirational romance author, they have three children and five grandchildren. Ray shares his insights in his first two books on Marriage and Children with more ideas to come about ministry and much more. Living in Beauty Point Tasmania Ray heads up a new Christian Fellowship as well as doing relief preaching, community work and writing.

Book Description:

Bethlehem's Warrior (31 Day Devotional)
Short Book Description: In 31 daily devotional meditations Bethlehem's Warrior Baby takes you out of a sentimental nativity scene and into a contest with eternal significance.

It walks you through God's promise in Genesis 3:15 of Someone coming and the clues to His identity in the old Testament. You become aware that in the Christmas event that 'Someone' has come.

I believe Christmas is the culmination of Heaven's countdown to reclaim men, women and creation from the tyranny of sin, death and Satan. The cost involved to God to achieve this should make the reader bow in awe and gratitude.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review : Tangled Secrets

Tangled Secrets has been featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance. Information about the author and more details about the book can also be found here.

Tangled Secrets is a historical fiction story written by Carol Preston. It has been well researched and set in the early 1800’s in the area inland from Sydney. It describes the life of the early settlers particularly focussing on one family and one female character. Tangled Secrets is an accurate title for the book as secrets from the past and new secrets complicate people’s lives in the present.

I found the characters very believable. A couple even reminded me of people I knew! Being set in Australia was a great bonus as I’m familiar with the history, the topography and even the climate.

I enjoyed the way Christian elements were woven into the story. There were no great epiphanies but an acknowledgement of God which reflected the period when it was written. Characters expressed faith, or lack of it, in different ways which gave the story a realistic feel. By the end of the book I realized that the theme of trusting God whatever happens had been threaded through the story without it being obvious. Likewise God was subtly portrayed as being gracious and forgiving.

I had not read the previous two books in the series and it is not necessary to do so as the story is complete in itself.

Overall a good read.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free book for review.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

On writers who critique

From time to time I watch the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club. I watch it expecting to enjoy the show because I love books but I find that often I don’t. I have more of a love/hate relationship with the show which I couldn’t quite work out until I read this comment by Mike Duran: “Writers must wrestle with the technical details of a story while trying to enjoy it. Readers only want to enjoy it.” Mike Duran on Rachelle Gardner’s blog

It occurred to me that the panel members on the First Tuesday Book Club are all writers, either journalists or authors. They don’t read a book the same way that readers do. These writers, in my opinion, are overly concerned with the technique, the style, and the way it has been written. Someone who is a reader only cares about the story. They want characters they can relate to and dilemmas that they are familiar with. They read for enjoyment or to escape reality for a while and will often overlook flaws in the writing.

One time, one of the panellists on the First Tuesday Book Club complained bitterly about how poorly a book had been written but then concluded with the comment that book club members would love it. I sat there thinking, but isn’t that the point? Don’t people write so readers can enjoy the story? Granted that if a book is really poorly written it will distract from the enjoyment of the reader but this is actually improbable. If the book has been published by a traditional publisher it is unlikely to be really badly written. After all why would a publisher published a poorly written book when they have access to editors? So really it becomes about writing preferences.

At the moment I still read like a reader not like a writer. I overlook technical issues with books and often it is because I’m so engaged in the story. I think this is a good thing and I hope I don’t start reading like a writer.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 10:25

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another. Hebrews 10:25

We all have a need for community, a sense of belonging. Apparently from studies it has been found that suicide rates, child abuse, criminal activity are all greater when there is a lack of community and people don't have a sense of belonging. A writer I read expressed this by saying, "Isolation is a health hazard".

The Bible has a lot to say about our need to belong. God said at the very beginning, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:27 "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" where one part can't say to another "I don't need you". In Revelation 21:2 we find heaven described in terms of a city. God could have designed heaven in a rural setting, with farms, wide open spaces, countryside, but God describes heaven as a city because He knows our need for community. God created us for relationships and having fellowship meets our need to belong.

This verse encourages us to regularly gather together with other believers. This isn’t just a nice idea. There are very practical reasons for doing so. We are built up in our faith by being with others who believe. Sometimes it is just their presence that encourages us because we know that by being present at a church service or Christian meeting they are indicating it is important to them.

As Christians we can have our need for belonging met in God but we also need the fellowship and the encouragement of others. So let us continue to avail ourselves of that opportunity.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Review : Coming Home

Coming Home is a children’s book written by Sharon McGuinness and illustrated by Shannon Melville (Wombat Books, 2012). It is a story which looks at depression from a child’s perspective and addresses the concerns of a child whose parent has depression. It provides brief descriptions and simple explanations.

I really like the way colour is used in the book. Initially black and white is used to depict the darkness of the depression but as the depression lifts colour appears. Having suffered from depression myself this use of colour is an accurate way of depicting how the depressed person feels.

Overall this is an attractive book and a useful resource. At the back of the book there is some brief information and website addresses for those looking for further information on depressive illnesses.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 8:13

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. Hebrews 8:13

With the destruction of the temple in AD 70 it became impossible for the Jews to keep the sacrificial requirements of the law. With the temple gone, the old covenant had completed God’s purpose for it and in this sense, disappeared. This was always part of God’s plan as the laws of the Mosiac covenant were only added until Jesus came.

“Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” (Galatians 3:19). Nevertheless it was hard for Jewish Christians to cut their ties with the Mosiac covenant. Not just the religious ties but the emotional ones too and realize that these things were only shadows pointing to the reality in Jesus.

Constable in his Commentary makes the comment: “There is nothing wrong with Jewish Christians maintaining Jewish customs provided they do not rely on them for favour with God.” Likewise we need to hold on to our own traditions and customs lightly. Though meaningful to us, they may not be to future generations and while we may grieve their loss, we know they are not essential to our faith.

The law was given to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). To make us realize that we needed something more than a list of rights and wrongs; something more than punishments and rewards. We needed a Saviour and Someone who could empower us to keep God’s righteous requirements. God knew this all along and not only sent Jesus to be our Saviour, but also sent His Spirit to empower us and move us to follow his decrees, just as he promised (Ezekiel 36:27).

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Blog Tour : Return to Baragula

I met Mary Hawkins when I attended the Word Writers Getaway last month. This week there is a special promotion of her book, Return To Baragula and I am passing on the information here because I believe it is important to highlight the work of Australian Christian authors. It is so refreshing to read books set in an Australian context and culture. It is available through Koorong, Word, Amazon etc. and Light the Dark .

5 - 9 November
is introducing 
(Ark house March 2008)

by Mary Hawkins

About the Author:

Mary Hawkins is a best-selling inspirational romance author with other 825,000 romance books in print. During the first few years of being published she also had five medical romance novels released by Harlequin Mills & Boon before concentrating on inspirationals for Barbour Publishing (Ohio). Return to Baragula is her first single title and the first released by an Australia publisher.

Mary was a Queensland farmer's daughter, became a registered nurse and has a graduate diploma from a Sydney Bible College where she met her husband. Ray is a retired minister who is also a published author. They enjoyed ministries in Australia, three short term mission trips to Africa and two years at a church in England before settling in beautiful Tasmania. They have three adult children and are now proud grandparents. Mary is a member of several writing organisations including American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of Australia, Romance Writers America, their Faith Hope Love chapter and Australian Omega Writers. She enjoys speaking appointments and writing workshops where she can share the journey she has been walking for many years with her Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Book Description:

Return To Baragula
Over the years Emily Parker's actions as a teenager have impacted not only her own life, but the lives of many different people. Now, six years later, she returns reluctantly to her home town of Baragula only to discover the man at the heart of those actions, Matthew Davidson, is the community's respected doctor. While Emily's faith is now severely weakened by all that has happened, Matthew's life has completely turned around since he committed his life to Christ. His personal relationship with God is tested when he discovers how his behaviour when a non-believer hurt so many, especially Emily, and feels responsible for her hardness of heart towards the Lord. Disease attacks the community while danger from another source threatens Emily and her family. Through it all, will Matthew and Emily's faith be strong enough to forgive each other and put the past behind them?

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 7:18-19

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. Hebrews 7:18-19

The old covenant has been replaced with the new covenant so we can now draw near to God with confidence. Something the old covenant wasn’t able to achieve since: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:4).

Just prior to this verse, the writer explained that the priesthood had changed. Jesus was from the kingly tribe of Judah not from the priestly tribe of Levi and therefore not entitled under the law to be a priest. However Jesus was a priest in the order of Melchizedek (5:6, 10). Melchizedek lived before Moses and before the law was introduced. Jesus is our high priest in a manner that predates the old covenant.

The whole book of Hebrews aims to teach us that the Mosaic Law was a shadow (10:1) and now the reality has come we are not bound by the law. This is confirmed elsewhere:

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14).

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code (Romans 7:6).

Now we have a “better hope” with Jesus as our high priest, so there is nothing to stop us from drawing near to God.

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Friday, November 02, 2012

On music and worship - part 3

As a result of completing studies in this area, there are four things I think churches, especially small country churches, need to consider in their music ministry:

Firstly keep the music simple. Spending hours at music rehearsals is very time consuming and not necessary to produce God honouring music. It is simply not possible to play a song the way it sounds on a CD because of the “extras” which are added to the CD. Church musicians need to play within their ability and play the songs simply with a clear melody line and a minimum of flourishes.

Secondly churches need to cultivate a team approach to their worship and have someone responsible for leading the team of worship leaders, musicians, singers, sound technicians and projectionists so there is unity, support and encouragement within the team. This also means there needs to be a list of songs which everyone adheres to. It will reflect the direction the leadership would like the music ministry to be heading. The list needs to be updated regularly to include new songs and exclude songs which have been exhausted.

Thirdly the worship team need to realize they are there to serve which they do by helping people to connect with God through clear melody lines and clear lyrics which help people focus on God.

Fourthly most worship teams would benefit from being taught a Biblical understanding of music and worship. After all the Bible has a great deal to say about music. Classical trained musician, Lowell Hohstadt, believes the Scriptures are quite specifics about the music we use in worship. It should be predominantly melodic in nature. Singing is fundamental to this kind of music. Throughout Scripture even instruments are encouraged to be used melodically, whereas rhythmic expression is less emphasized. (Ps. 98:5; Is. 51:3; I Cor. 14:7-9; I Cor. 13:1; Eph. 5:19)

Having excellent music does not necessarily translate to excellent worship. However there are many congregational members who genuinely want to connect with God through singing worshipful songs. If worship teams can be encouraged to keep the music simple, remember they are part of a team, focus on serving and be open to instruction their churches can experience great times of worship. It is not the number of musicians and singers, or even the ability of the worship team that makes for good worship but rather the heart attitude of the people involved.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On music and worship – part 2

How does our theology impact what we do during our church service?

Tenney writes this about typical church services, "God has this incredible idea that church is about Him. Our view tends to be terribly different. We often fashion and orchestrate everything in our meetings to please ourselves, so by our actions we show that we believe church is really about us." A typical church service ought to focus on God, who he is and what he has done. It should provide opportunity for people to express their adoration, as well as their reverence for God. Stott sees worship as the church's preeminent duty" and he defines worship as glorying or reveling in God’s holy name (Psalm 105:3).

A typical church worship service should also reflect that believers today are under a covenant of grace. The worship times of the early Christians were Spirit-led. There was a sense of newness and freshness compared to the repetitive rituals of the old covenant. Modern day Christians need to capture something of the gratitude and freshness of the new covenant. Many times in Psalms believers are exhort to sing a “new song” and learning new songs is one way of maintaining freshness. Contemplating Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is also vital to remain true to the church’s purpose.

Congregations are to be encouraged to be expressive in times of cooperate singing and taught the meanings of the words ‘worship’ and ‘praise’ but they must be free to express themselves in the way they choose. As part of our worship we are to also encourage one another to submit our whole lives to God in response to his mercy towards us. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). As this is outworked in our lives there will also be a desire to serve others.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

On music and worship - part 1

Lately I have been studying music and worship and this week I thought I would share some thoughts here.

The book of Hebrews teaches that the Old Testament instructions for worship were a shadow of things to come. These rituals pointed to Christ. The writer of Hebrews explains that it was very important that Moses built the Tabernacle according to the exact pattern that God gave him. Since adding or subtracting would distract from people’s understanding when Christ came.

The Day of Atonement was the high point of worship in the tabernacle (Leviticus 16). Once a year on this day the high priest entered the Holy of Hollies and made the necessary blood sacrifices for his own sins and the sins of the people. This foreshadowed Christ’s sacrificial death and the taking of his own blood into the presence of God as a priest on behalf of the people. The blood of animals was never enough to take away sins or remove guilt and in fact became a reminder of sin (10:3) whereas Christ’s blood is completely sufficient.

Christ’s sacrifice was so complete and sufficient that it only needed to be made once and it would cover all the sin that had ever been committed and all the sin that ever would be committed. He so thoroughly dealt with sin that the sacrificial system became redundant as forgiveness was achieved (10:18). Five times the writer of Hebrews reinforces that Christ died ‘once for all’ (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 9:26; 10:2; 10:10).

The writer of Hebrews went to great lengths to make it clear that Christ’s perfect sinless sacrifice was enough. Therefore it was no longer necessary to continue with the sacrificial temple worship. In 70 AD God allowed the temple to be destroyed so that it was no longer possible for sacrifices to be made. Previously the Ark of the Covenant had disappeared around the time of the Babylonian exile and was not found. So while the main focus points of temple worship were lost, this was not important because they were no longer necessary. They had fulfilled their function of pointing people to Christ.

Today people can enter into worship times boldly knowing their sin has been dealt with and they are acceptable to God in Christ. They can be open to the presence of God without guilt or fear. There is no longer any ritual or religious work to perform to please God or get his attention. However God still wants worship, not with man made rituals but with a reverent attitude and a serving heart.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

On short term missions

I was excited to learn last night that one of my children is going on an overseas short term mission trip next year.

When my children were teenagers, about ten or so years ago, they were all involved in children’s outreach missions over the Christmas holidays at the coast. It is encouraging to see them still involved in this type of ministry. One of my other children was involved in a trip to central Australia earlier this year and two years ago my husband went on a similar trip to the outback.

I think short term missions are very valuable. They expanded our comfort zones, force us to trust God in unknown situations and help us to understand how God works in different contexts. They also provided the opportunity for us to share our faith. Sometimes in practical ways by running a program for children or by building, painting, renovating property that is used for mission. And sometimes by speaking up, maybe explaining why we spend our time and money doing such things.

When we see other Christians living out their faith in a different context, it grows our own faith. We start separating our culture from our faith and realize that some of the things we thought were Christian are actually cultural.

I suspect that one day God may want me to go on a short term mission, which will be a challenge given that I don’t like tents or camping. I like hot and cold running water, flushing toilets, soft beds, and having a roof over my head!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Devotional Thought : 2 Peter 3:5

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 2 Peter 3:5

They deliberately forget. It was a choice they made. Equally they could have made the choice to remember.

We are responsible for the choices we make. We can choose what we remember and what we forget. It amazes me that some choose to abdicate their responsibilities and rely on others to make choices for them. They take their pastor’s word regarding the Bible without reading it for themselves. They accept the media’s rendering of political events without deciding for themselves. They believe parents, relatives, church members, friends, celebrities, millionaires, without examining the issues.

God has given us free will and expects us to take our responsibility for making choices seriously. The Bereans are described as being noble, not arrogant or lacking in faith, because they checked what Paul was saying: “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Why is it that some refuse to take this responsibility seriously? Is it apathy? It is easy to go along with what everyone else believes rather take the trouble to discover the truth for ourselves. Or is it fear? We may need to take a stand if we disagree with another’s point of view. Or perhaps it is confusion because of the multiplicity of views. Whose opinion can I trust? Like the Bereans we would do well to check what we are told. Since in the end we are responsible for the choices we make.

What will you choose to remember, or forget?

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review : The Greenfield Legacy

The Greenfield Legacy has been featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance. Information about the authors and more details about the book can be found here.

The Greenfield Legacy (Even Before Publishing, 2012) is the fictional account of four women who were all impacted by the decision, made by one of them, to give up a baby for adoption. This decision haunts each of them in different ways, sometimes unknowingly.

Each woman's point of view is written by a different author: Meredith Resce, Paula Vince, Amanda Deed and Rose Dee. I thought this might make the story disjoined but it doesn’t. The story flows so well, I would never have guessed it had four authors.

The story explores some powerful issues: how unforgiveness poisons relationships, how easy it is to assume the worse of people, why trying to please others is doomed, how a problem in one generation can repeat itself in the next, and how little we sometimes understand those we live with. These issues were handled skilfully and resolved well.

It was unusual to have four main characters so fully developed in a relatively short novel and I suspect that this is the bonus of having four authors. There were also a large number of other characters in the story, perhaps another consequence of four authors? However I was pleased to find a character list at the back of the book which helped me keep track of them.

Overall I enjoyed the story very much and loved the Australian context. A good read.

I was fortunate to read a pre-release copy of the book as it is not due for release until 1st November. Check out: the book trailer.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Devotional Thought : 2 Peter 2:7-9

If he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials… 2 Peter 2:7-9

This is an interesting description of Lot as it is not apparent from Genesis that Lot was “distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless” or that he was a “righteous man”; but God knows a person’s heart.

In Genesis 13:12-13 we read: “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” Then in Genesis 14: 12: “They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom…” and later in Genesis 19:19-29 he was still living in Sodom: “The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city… So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.”

It seems Lot deliberately chose to live amongst these people. It was a dangerous place to live and in the end he only just managed to escape.

This verse teaches us that committed Christians will be distressed by the lawless deeds that they see and hear. (I know I often am.) It may be in the work place, in the community, or if we live with non-Christians, in the home.

However more importantly it teaches us to trust God. We may find ourselves in dangerous places, either by choice or ignorance. Nevertheless God’s desire is always to rescue, redeem, and restore. He won’t abandon us.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Word Writers Getaway 2012

I spent last weekend at the Word Writers Getaway which was held at Alexandra Headland, Queensland. I had an amazing time.

In 2006 I travelled to America to attend a similar conference for Christian writers and I wrote about it here. I made the comment: "there just aren't these types of conferences in Australia." I am happy to report, this is no longer the case!

Over the last few years there has been a change and writers, publishers and editors are working hard to make Australian Christian writing viable. It was great to meet many of these people over the weekend who are passionate about Australian books. Australian publishers may not have the marketing budget that others have but Australians can write just as well as others. As Australians we need books set in our culture and in our context.

I came home inspired to continue writing and with a renewed commitment to work on my book. Over the next few weeks I will also be reviewing some of the books I brought home.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

On Christian Leadership - part 3

In order to become leading servants, followers of Jesus must know who they are in Christ. Christians will not be able to lead or serve well if they are not secure in their relationship with God. They must know regardless of how they are treated, whether they are put on a pedestal and applauded or whether they are passed over, asked to leave or considered a failure that their value as a person is not in doubt. Their identity as children of God is not dependant on their area of ministry, their performance, their gifts and abilities or the recognition they may obtain.

Once a Christian is fully assured of their position in Christ they are free to be leading servants. Happy to serve others and encourage them to also fully embrace their identity in Christ. Leading servants can freely serve others with their gifts and abilities in whatever setting God places them, in the community, in a work place and in the local church.

An unpaid leading servant will still use their gifts and abilities to serve their local church within the restrictions of their other obligations. Wayne Corderio is the pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship where there is a strong emphasises on servanthood. The church holds their Sunday services in an assembly hall at Farrington High School. The number of volunteers required to set up and pack up at this site is huge. However these volunteers do not see this as a burden but rather as an opportunity to serve. On the morning I attended Wayne Cordeiro spoke on Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” Wayne made the observation that to be a servant requires lots of grace and love because when you serve people the potential to be overlooked, slighted, and not appreciated is great so you also need to be good at forgiving.

It requires spiritual maturity to be a leading servant.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On Christian Leadership - part 2

The most important value, in being a “leading servant” like Jesus, is selflessness. In Constable’s commentary on Philippians there is a comparison between a helper and a servant which highlights this value:

Contrasts between a helper and a servant:
A helper helps others when it is convenient.
A servant serves others even when it is inconvenient.

A helper helps people that he or she likes.
A servant serves even people that he or she dislikes.

A helper helps when he or she enjoys the work.
A servant serves even when he or she dislikes the work.

A helper helps when the circumstances are convenient.
A servant serves even when the circumstances are inconvenient.

A helper helps with a view to obtaining personal satisfaction.
A servant serves even when they receive no personal satisfaction.

A helper helps with an attitude of assisting another.
A servant serves with an attitude of enabling another.
(Constable 2012)

A leading servant is one who is not serving for personal gain, whether that gain is the approval of others or personal fulfilment but rather their highest concern is the welfare of others. It has been said that humans are incapable of doing anything for truly altruistic reasons. That sin, in the form of selfishness, has so deeply ingrain humanity every action has some self gratification attached to it, even if it is only the personal satisfaction of having helped someone. This is, of course, not true in the life of Jesus who was sinless and leading servants will also develop high levels of selflessness.

The second most important value we see in the life of Jesus is humility. The leading servant will focus on achieving the best outcomes for those in their care and they are not concern who gets the credit. Their security is not linked to their service so they do not need to draw attention to themselves.

There are other values essential for leading servants as modelled by Jesus: Grace, Jesus always showed grace to others, though he did not allow it to become an excuse for laziness (Matthew 25:26). Generosity, Jesus was willing to share his time, talents and resources. Gratitude, Jesus had an attitude of thankfulness towards God and others. Empowering, leading servants do not need to hold onto power but empower others even if it weakens their position within the group. Empowering also means creating opportunities for others to grow. Inclusion, Jesus freely shared his life with others and though there were times when he withdrew to be alone, he did not isolate himself or hide his needs. He allowed his friends access to his personal life. Non-discriminatory, Jesus served others regardlessly of their status, gender, ethnic background or occupation. Non-demanding, Jesus allowed people to choose to follow him; he did not demand it.

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Monday, October 08, 2012

On Christian Leadership - part 1

Lately I have been studying Christian leadership and I thought I would share some thoughts here.

The term “leading servant” has arisen to emphasis the style of leadership that was modelled by Jesus. In this style of leadership David Augsburger describes, “service as the soul of leadership”. Jesus compares the leadership style he had in mind with leadership in the world:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
From this passage in Mark it is clear that Christians are not to exercise leadership in the same way as worldly leaders. Christians need a Biblical picture of leadership and not one merely adapted from worldly sources.

In his Gospel, John introduced the incident of Jesus washing of the disciples’ feet by stating that, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal…”(John 13:4-5) and served the disciples. Jesus was able to serve because he was secure in the knowledge of who he was. He knew he was the Messiah, God’s Son thus inherently God. His status was not threatened when he served since his leadership was not dependant on the response of his followers. Many times he even gave his followers the opportunity to walk away (John 6:66-67; Mark 10:22; John 4:16). John concluded this section with Jesus’ instruction, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). We are to serve in the same way Jesus did, that is from a position of being secure in our status as God’s children. When we know who we are, we can serve free of the need for people to become dependant on us and free from needing recognition or repayment

Again from Augsburger on leadership: “Those who love it, one suspects, should rarely be granted it; those who usurp it not allowed it; those who feel entitled to it not be entrusted with it; only those who accept it as trust – a service delegated by community and for community - deserve to serve in it”.

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 6:4

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened…and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. Hebrews 6:4-6

Sometimes we are surprised, even shocked, when we hear of Christians walking away from their faith but as this passage shows it does happen. We wonder about their salvation. Is faithfulness a requirement of salvation? Are we adding to what Jesus has done for us by requiring a person’s ongoing faithfulness?

The description of these people is quite detailed: they were ”enlightened”; they “have tasted the heavenly gift”; “have shared in the Holy Spirit”; “have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age”. These were not casual believers but rather those who knew the truth well, over a period of time. Yet they have chosen to walk away.

If these people persist in their unbelief their heart will become hard towards God and in the end they will be unable to repent (v.6). It will become too difficult for them to change their mind and serve God again.

In v.8 there is a comparison between these people and land: “But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” In that day, land was sometimes burned in order for in to be more productive in the future. So burning could be taken to mean disciplined, rather than eternally cut off from God.

There is an incident in Numbers 14:40-45 where the Israelites confessed their sin of unbelief yet they were denied access to the Promised Land, however they did not die at this point.

So whether or not these once “enlightened” people lose their eternal salvation is unclear but there is certainly a severe loss of blessings and rewards.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Book Review : Wycliffe and the Winsor Blue

I read this book during my time in Sydney. (It was actually my Mum's library book!)

Burley in his book, Wycliffe and the Winsor Blue, has developed an interesting plot around the idea of a joke going too far and what happens if you have no one to share the joke with. After all a joke is only funny when it is shared with another.

The story is set in Cornwell and begins with the death of an elderly painter from an apparent heart attack. On the evening of the funeral his son is murdered. It is not immediately obvious whether these two events are connected. As the investigation proceeds more suspects emerge but none with an obvious motive. The painter’s will supplies some clues but it seems to only point towards some harmless fun. However it is in the final pages, as per all good mysteries, the pieces fall into place and the murderer is revealed.

I don't read many books in the crime genre and this is the first I have read by Burley. I found it a pleasant change from the weighty non-fiction that I have been reading of late. Several of the clues I was able to figure out and I even guessed the murderer before they were revealed! However this only added to my enjoyment of this entertaining and well written story.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Devotional Thought : 2 Peter 1:12

So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory. 2 Peter 1:12-13

Peter was not addressing baby Christians, yet he thought it necessary to remind his readers. They were firmly established in the truth yet Peter took time to put pen to paper to reinforce what they already knew.

Being reminded helps us focus on the important things and helps us keep things in perspective. These are many ways we do this. Often the songs we sing remind us of God’s attributes, remind us of Jesus’ death and the price he paid for our sins. Likewise times of communion remind us of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Sermons, books, teaching tapes may teach us more about God but often they start by reminding us of what we already know.

Furthermore God tells us to remember. Many times throughout the Bible we find God reminding people what he had told them, like Luke 24:6 “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee.” When we look at Jesus’ disciples we realize how much they needed reminding and we are no different.

Sometimes we think in order to be significant teaching has to be new, yet Peter didn’t think so. Later in 2 Peter 3:1 we find Peter reminding them again, “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.” Presenting truth that people already know, perhaps from a different perspective, can help people think about it more deeply and apply it more meaningfully to their lives.

So don’t be afraid to repeat truth.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On being in Sydney

I’m currently in Sydney as my Dad is in hospital. He has had major heart surgery and will be in hospital for another week or so. I’ll probably stay here until Saturday. I’ll be taking a short break from blogging and hope to resume next week.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

On reading fiction

I’ve mentioned before here that I don’t read a lot of fiction. The other day I was talking to someone who gave me a very good reason for reading fiction. The person commented that reading fiction takes your mind off your own problems and makes you think about someone else’s problems for a while. In my experience I have found this to be true.

Although fiction is not true, it is usually based on someone’s experience and therefore could be true. Fiction deals with real problems and issues that are going on people’s lives, even if they are set in imaginary worlds. This is why people relate to these stories the way they do. So it is worthwhile spending time reading and thinking about these things. We may even find that our problems seem small in comparison.

In a world where it is easy to become self-absorbed perhaps reading fiction could be a simple way of encouraging us to become more other centred.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Devotional Thought : 1 Peter 5:2

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve. 1 Peter 5:2

Serve, not because you must – not because you feel duty bound or can't say no or because you are trying to earning 'brownie points' with God or the church but because you are willing. Neither do we serve because we are particularly talented or gifted, but because we are willing. Our gifts and talents might determine how and where we serve but we serve out of willingness not out of obligation. Neither do we serve for "dishonest gain." Dishonest gain may be money but it can be in the form of expectation we place on others. We may make others feel indebted, or obligated to express appreciation for our act of service. To be willing our service must not expect reciprocity.

But how do we become willing if we are not? How do we become eager to serve? We become willing by thinking about how much God has done for us. We think about how much God loves us, how he sent his son to die for us and how he gives us his Spirit to empower us. We focus on the cross and all that it means. We might reflect on Charles Wesley words: "Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?" Our service becomes willing when it is a response to what God has done and continues to do for us.

When we have the right attitude our service isn’t drudgery. It may be hard work and difficult at times but nevertheless it comes from a heart of gratitude.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On understanding kingdom ministry - part 3

The last part of this series.

It is difficult to give a precise picture of what the kingdom of God will look like in every setting. Paul's definitions are general, not specific: "For the kingdom of God is … righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17) and "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power" (1 Corinthians 4:20).

There has been a move towards understanding God’s kingdom as being rather than doing. So missionaries have gone into communities simply to be the presence of God in places where there are very few Christians. An example of this would be Global Interaction which is a Baptist missionary group whose aim is to reach nine of the least reached people groups in the world. This quote from their website explains their approach:
"A number of projects support the "day-to-day life" costs for our cross-cultural workers, rather than specific work programs. For a number of our cross-cultural workers, their "job" is to immerse themselves in the communities in which they live, to gain an understanding of the customs, beliefs and way of life of the local people group, and to nurture friendships. The ability to just speak the language well takes time, and the ability to talk about the deeper matters of life and faith takes even longer."

And their mission statement expresses the same idea: "Empowering communities to develop their own distinctive ways of following Jesus."

Likewise as long as people are being true to Biblical principles we need to give them the freedom to find their own way of following Jesus.

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