Monday, April 30, 2012

Devotional Thought : Acts 16:37

But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out." Acts 16:37

Paul wasn’t a passive guy! It seems the authorities thought Paul would go quietly. Often people think that because we are Christians we ought to go quietly, that is, not get upset or make a fuss but put up with any kind of mistreatment. Sometimes this is even portrayed as the right Christian response since we are called to be forgiving and gracious. Paul obviously did not think this way. God did not mean for Christians to be door mats to be walked over by others.

Yet there are times and places when it is appropriate to appease. In verse 3 of the same chapter we read this, "Paul wanted to take him (Timothy) along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." In this instance Paul was willing to do something he believed completely unnecessary in order to appease the Jews.

Paul does not always confront and neither does he always appease. There are times and places when it is right to speak up and other times when it is right to appease people. For this reason having a list of rules doesn’t work because there are too many different situations and rules could never cover them all. This is why God wants us to "walk in the Spirit" so we will know by inward conviction when God is asking us to speak up and when he is asking us to keep the peace.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

On graduating

Last year I completed a 2 year full time Diploma in Christian Ministry which I wrote about here. Last Sunday was the graduating ceremony and it has given me reason to pause and reflect on the experience.

I initially expected going to Bible College to just be about learning information but much of the course was very practical. I found God nudging me to undertake upfront tasks which was certainly not on my radar when I committed to going to Bible College! I found God putting things in my heart and others were encouraging me to move in areas that were completely foreign to me. Sometimes it felt like God tricked me into going to College! Looking back I even wonder how I managed to complete the course as for much of the time I was also working 17 hours a week. It was a faith stretching time.

Several people have asked me what I am going to do with my Diploma. It is a fair question. There is little point filling my head with information if I don’t intend to use it. However it is difficult to be specific. I find God’s timing is not the same as mine and I’m not sure how God is going to bring to pass the ministry areas he has encouraged me in. Fortunately though, I don’t have to concern myself with this as God doesn’t need my meddling to bring about his purposes. My role is to continue believing and trusting God to bring to pass all he has in mind for my life.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reflection : Wonderland Creek

I assumed when I began reading Wonderland Creek that Alice, the main character, was not a Christian and I thought the story was going to be about how she became a Christian. This was not the case. It turns out she did actually have a faith but only a very childish faith, perhaps best described as a Sunday School faith. One of the challenges Christian parents face is how to teach their children to own their own faith and in a sense this story gives us a partial answer.

Alice unexpectedly loses her job and her boyfriend but an opportunity arises for her to spend two weeks helping out in a library in an isolated community. With little else to do Alice decides to go and this is exactly what she needs – an opportunity for some independence and decision making where her faith is stretched. So often we don’t encourage our teenage children to take these kinds of opportunities. We worry about their safety and naiveté. However they are going to leave home at some point and if we can give them small doses of independence in a controlled environment we have given our children invaluable lessons. Alice’s parents were reluctant to give their permission and if they had known the true situation they would never have let her go. Nevertheless Alice rises to the challenge and learns a great deal about herself and her faith in the process.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Book Review : Wonderland Creek

Lynn Austin writes believable Christian historical fiction novels with engaging characters and interesting plots and Wonderland Creek (2011) is no exception. I found this story particularly attractive because the main character, Alice, works in a library, like me! The story was thoroughly researched and set in Kentucky in the days of the pack horse librarians.

Alice had lived a rather sheltered life growing up with a father who was a minister but circumstances conspired which lead Alice to spend some time in rural Kentucky. She helped run a library and assisted a group of women deliver library books to people on farms in an isolated community. During this time Alice is challenged in a variety of ways and initially is treated with some wariness. Nevertheless she manages to build relationships with a number of people by simply being kind and helpful. By the time she gets back home Alice is a changed girl and finds it difficult to settle back into her previous life.

The only character in this story who I didn’t find convincing was Lillie who was the most obvious Christian person in the story. I found her a bit too convenient, but her role in the story was important as she challenged Alice’s thinking of many levels and especially spiritually.

Overall an enjoyable read.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Devotional Thought : Acts 15:16

“After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up.” Acts 15:16 KJV

Here James is quoting Amos 9:11-12 which talks of rebuilding the tabernacle of David. This has always been a curious prophesy. You would expect that God would have wanted to rebuild either the tabernacle of Moses – the portable place of worship that the Israelites had in the wilderness or Solomon’s temple – an impressive, ornate building. But God doesn’t want to rebuild either of these rather he wants to rebuild David’s tabernacle. David’s tabernacle was little more than a tent erected to house the Ark of the Covenant which David arranged to bring back to Jerusalem.

James is quoting this passage at the first church council which was called to consider whether Gentiles should be accepted into the church without being circumcised and without being required to obey the Law of Moses (v.5). So why is James quoting this prophesy? James is applying this prophesy to speak of the Gentiles coming into the tabernacle of David and not the tabernacle of Moses. If the Gentiles were coming to the tabernacle of Moses it would mean coming under the Law, being circumcised, observing the Sabbath etc. But coming to the tabernacle of David means coming by faith into the New Covenant of the Son of David – a covenant of grace. Animal sacrifices were not made in the tabernacle of David but rather sacrifices of praise and worship were made continually (1 Chronicles 16).

Today we come spiritually to the tabernacle of David. We come with singing and rejoicing like David would. We do not come to the tabernacle of Moses since we are accepted by grace through faith.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On buying ebooks

I bought my first ebook recently. I have downloaded a few free ebooks but I’d never actually bought one before. I found it quite a different experience for three reasons. Firstly, how does one browse an online website? Rather than just wonder aimlessly around a book store hoping something will leap out and grab my attention, which is usually what happens, I had to actually put something in the search bar – an author, a title, a subject, a something. Then I realized that I couldn’t do what I normally do, which is, read the back cover, the endorsements, the contents page, flip through and read any side bars, the first paragraph, maybe even the last page(!). I realized that I thoroughly ‘vet’ a book before I’m prepared to part with my money. This is much harder to do with an ebook and I had to resort to reading book reviews on Google.

Secondly, after I had made the purchase and began reading, I suddenly thought of someone who would love the book and I was struck with a disconcerting thought – how can I lend this book to my friend? Strictly speaking I suppose we are not supposed to lend our print book to our friends because it breaks copyright. But I have lent my books on numerous occasions and it doesn’t seem any different to lending my other possessions. Sometimes part of the enjoyment of reading a book is sharing it with someone you know will love it too.

This lead me to a third thought. One of the things I like to do when I make friends with someone is to browse their bookshelves. I find that people who love books never object to me doing this. When you find someone who loves the books you love there is a connection. You have a shared experience and it create a bond of friendship. It is a lot more difficult to do this with ebooks.

I don’t mind reading electronic text and I enjoyed the books I bought. However I didn’t enjoy the experience of buying or keeping an ebook. It is an interesting dilemma and perhaps adds to why I think print books will be us for quite a long time yet.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

My assignment in Acts

As part of my studies in Acts, I have had to consider one of the questions theologians always consider when reading Acts, which is: how much of Acts is purely descriptive and how much are we suppose to copy today? Are we suppose to live communally (Acts 2:44)? Are we suppose to take vows (Acts 18:18)? Should circumcision be apart of faith today (Acts 16:3)? And what about the miraculous events, is it normal for Christians to experience these? Is abnormal if we don't?

For my assignment I wrote about the passage in Acts where Peter is invited to Cornelius' house. The day Peter went to Cornelius' house was a big day for Peter and included a lot of firsts. First time in a Gentile house, probably ate non-kosher food for the first time, but the big one was for the first time he realized that God accepted Gentiles without them having to become Jewish. The significance of this probably doesn't mean much to us but it meant heaps to Peter and opened lots of doors in his mind.

This is the conclusion I came to in my assignment:

God does not give us a rule book to tell us how to run our lives or our churches but rather he gives us examples in Acts of spirit-filled people and spirit-led churches. He gives us stories of actual events to show us how others have grappled with being God’s person in a fallen world. Every community is different and God wants to move uniquely in each one. We cannot take a verse out of Acts and use it as a precedence for Christian practice but we can consider how the early believers lived, loved, prayed, worshipped, witnessed, and evaluate, with the Spirit’s enabling, whether this should be the norm for us.

Yet perhaps the biggest lesson from this passage in Acts is that we cannot make ourselves acceptable to God by adherence to rules and customs, by ceremonies and observances, or by changing our nationality and lifestyle. God accepts Cornelius and us by faith alone, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

My Facebook Page

I have decided to start a facebook page for my writing so I can advertise the new articles that I write. You can get to my facebook page by clicking on this facebook icon. If you would like to get updates on your facebook news feed please 'like' my page. I will give a brief description of the article so if it is something you are interested in you can then click the link to my blog and read the whole article.

So if you like what I write please like my facebook page!

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Devotional Thought : Acts 14:27

On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27

Returning missionaries should take note of this verse. The two things that the church needs to know are, “all that God had done through them” and “how he had opened a door of faith”. Often missionaries get distracted with other issues – culture, lifestyle, obstacles. These are issues for another setting perhaps with close family, friends or work colleagues. In a church setting there are only two things to report: firstly what God has done – how communities have benefited from God’s presence among them, how God’s name has been honoured, how lives have been changed (even if it is only the missionary whose life God has changed!). Secondly how God has opened a door of faith – how people’s hearts have mellowed to the gospel message, how the gospel is gaining creditability, how faith has grown (even if it only the missionary whose faith has grown!).

But what about us? It is not just returning missionaries that get distracted. When we are sharing about a ministry that we are involved in, do we talk about the small issues of culture, lifestyle, obstacles or do we talk about what God has done and how he is opening doors?

We may feel if these are the only two things we can report then we would have nothing to say! Yet God is at work even when we don’t recognise it. God may first be working in the lives of the leaders before he works in the lives of those we are trying to reach. Or maybe, just maybe, we are too focussed on ourselves to realize what God is actually doing!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Studying Acts (part 6)

It would be nice to think the apostles took the gospel to the Gentiles because they had a burning desire to spread the gospel, or because Jesus told them to or because they wanted to fulfil the great commission. Not so, they went to the Gentiles to escape imprisonment, torture, and possible death. It is a rather depressing reason for evangelising and yet, if they hadn’t gone, we would not have been saved. It is rather hard to get my mind around how God works through such tragedies.

For Peter the big shock was not persecution. Jesus had predicted it and they seem to have come to terms with this possibility. The big shock was that Gentiles did not have to become Jews in order to be saved (Acts 10:45). It was a completely radical idea for Peter. He had grown up a Jew and never been inside a Gentile home or eaten anything not kosher. Even after spending three years with Jesus Peter had no clue that it was God’s intention to accept Gentiles on the basis of faith alone. No rituals to go through, no Levitical laws to obey, no concerns about being ceremonially unclean – just faith. Yet it had been that way in the beginning. Abraham was accepted by faith before circumcision. Paul goes to great lengthens to explain this in Romans 4.

It all just goes to show how little we know God's ways, how small our thinking is, and how slow we are to believe.

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the movies last week. In keeping with Hollywood culture, it was completely implausible; nevertheless it was also very funny. Maggie Smith in her role as a racist old lady was particularly amusing.

My favourite line in the movie which was repeated several times by Sonny, the character played by Dev Patel was: "Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not the end."

This is a Christian thought. God has a plan and his plan is moving towards a climax where wrongs will be righted and everything will be as it should be. It will be alright in the end. In the meantime everything is not alright. Tragedies happen, depression seems rampant, disappointments overwhelm, and life is more difficult than it should be. However this is because this is not the end. We are short sighted and earth bound creatures. Life on earth is not all that is going on. Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 4:18 to: “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

As Christians we have hope knowing that God is in charge. The book of Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth; it speaks of no more death and suffering; it speaks of God wiping away all our tears. God has promised for those who trust him everything really will be alright in the end.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Book Reflection : Fall Girl

In the book, Fall Girl, Della is groomed and trained by her parents in the art of confidence tricking, she tells the story of her first ‘con’. She is successful in convincing an older lady to give her money after concocting a story about a lost bus fare. Following the incident she tells her parents, “It was wrong to take the money off that lady (pg. 20).”

But how would Della know that this was wrong? She had grown up in a family where telling lies was acceptable and a normal way of earning an income. And yet this is completely believable. The author has struck a chord that readers would identify with. Instinctively we know right from wrong. We may think this comes from our environment but as Della rightly proves it comes from something deeper. It is the ‘moral’ principle and it has led many to come to faith because the only logical explanation is that God has written right and wrong in our hearts.

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Book Review : Fall Girl

This is quite a humorous romantic comedy which is not meant to be taken too seriously. The premise is that a girl, Della, who has grown up in a family of confidence tricksters falls in love with a millionaire who she is trying to ‘con’. However it is not all plain sailing as he has a few tricks of his own. We are never quite sure if he knows Della is playing an elaborate game or if Della will be able to pull off the ‘con’.

The author has thoroughly researched confidence tricksters and does a great job of painting a believable context for this story. The characters are convincing and there is enough suspense to make the story intriguing.

The story is set in Melbourne and also at Wilson’s Promontory so it makes a pleasant change to read about places that I’m familiar with. This is a good read for mature audiences, light hearted, and amusing with an ending that is not altogether “happily ever after” but in keeping with the story line.

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