Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review : A Sneaking Suspicion

In his book, A Sneaking Suspicion, Dickson addresses some of the issues in our society which get a lot of media attention but often the arguments in favour or against are not well thought through. (For example sex, beauty, science, other religions, death.) Sneaking suspicion is the term Dickson uses to suggest that often we have a feeling that something is not quite right with the way the media portrays these issues.

Dickson addresses the idea that if it is good for our society to be free from moral restraint in the area of sexual activity has this created a better society? Or have we reaped more conflict, more relational difficulties and loneliness? Society promotes beauty but it has been at the expense of health. Science is promoted as having the answer to everything but there are some areas where science is ill equipped to provide any evidence at all (eg. What constitutes beauty? Are art and music meaningful pursuits?). Do other religions provide answers or more endless debate, even violence? Death is inevitable but most do not want to have a meaningful discussion about it until it is imminent, and sometimes not even then.

Through this collection of almost unrelated issues Dickson seeks to challenge the thinking of his readers. He would like people to seriously consider society’s values and where these values are coming from. He questions the motives behind the shallow thinking of many in the media.

I enjoy Dickson’s point of view. As I have mentioned in a previous review, Dickson is a historian and a Christian apologist, which brings a different perspective and insights to these issues.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Devotional Thought : 1 Peter 2:10

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. 1 Peter 2:10

Peter writes, once we were not "a people", meaning we didn’t have an identity. Before we came to Christ we were like orphans. Though we had natural parents we didn’t have a sense of knowing who we were. We had no true sense of worth. But now we are someone because we belong to him. God calls us his own, he makes us his children. We gain a sense of belonging and worth because we are his. In John's first letter he writes that we are children of God (3:1) and then he emphasises this by adding "And that is what we are!"

Not only are we "a people" but we are "a chosen people" (2:9). "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (Ephesians 1:4) and "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved" (Colossians 3:12). This was all God’s initiative. He has chosen to lavish his love upon us. We don't have to try to be holy and dearly loved because God has made us holy in Christ. We don’t have to feel that God disapproves of us or that we will never be "good enough" or that we have to earn his approval. He approves of us because of what Christ has done.

When we fully grasp the implications of this we will be overwhelmed that God would go to such extraordinary lengths to include us in his family. It will fill us with gratitude and cause us to fall in love with him.

Jesus promised, "I will not leave you as orphans" (John 14:18). We are secure in the knowledge that we are his forever.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Reflection :

As I reflected some more on One life by Scot McKnight, I thought about McKnight’s challenge in regard to justice issues. I always find this a difficult issue. I understand the great injustices in the world but feel helpless to do much about them. I often avoid reading about people and people groups who have suffered injustices since it makes me feel angry and powerless.

Initiatives like “Fair Trading” are a great idea but on my own I don’t have the motivation to support these projects. On my own I feel my involvement is too small and ineffective to be worth the time commitment. If a church or a community minded group that I was involved with decided to investigate and support these kinds of initiatives I would be happy to join in, but I don’t have the necessary enthusiasm to do this myself.

At this point I was pleased to read McKnight’s chapter on vocation. He discusses the desire to “do something that really matters” which I think is a desire we all have. McKnight then went on to define “what really matters” from a God’s kingdom point of view. I really enjoyed this chapter especially the part entitled, “It’s okay to do ordinary jobs.”

Ultimately we are called to help people where we can, speak out against injustice where we can and do what we are able to bless others but we are not necessarily called to single-handedly change the world. Acts 10:38 tells us that Jesus “went around doing good.” Now that’s something everyone can do.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review :

Scot McKnight, in the introduction to his book, : Jesus calls, we follow (2010), explains that he has written the book in order to answer, by examining what Jesus said, the question: What is a Christian? McKnight feels that, generally speaking, Christians do not answer the question the way Jesus would. Basically Jesus calls people to follow him.

The book is addressed mostly to young adults who are thinking about career and lifestyle options and focuses on the kind of life that Jesus expects of his followers. He writes about Jesus’ teaching in regards to his kingdom and how that affects the lives of his followers. He writes about the kingdom values of loving God and loving others; about justice for all especially the marginalized; about peace and about acquiring wisdom in the context of a local church. At this point the book seems very idealistic but McKnight goes on to explain this is only going to happen if Jesus’ followers are empowered by his Spirit.

McKnight then devotes two chapters to explaining what this kingdom view would look like in our love lives and our work lives. I found these chapters brought a much more practical outlook to the book. He finishes the book by looking at what Jesus had to say about heaven and hell.

Overall it is a refreshing look at the Christian life and one that is more in tune with how Jesus would present it.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Updating my web site

Last year I completed a Dreamweaver course in web design and I was able to practice by newfound skills at the temporary job I had in digital and information services with the library. I have now updated my own web site and resized it so it is user-friendly on a variety of devices. Check it out here.

For the technically minded I originally used 'tables' for the layout design but I have now progressed to using Div Tags so it has been quite a learning curve. If you have any problems using the site please let me know, and also if you notice any 'typos' – as proof reading is not my strong suit! Thanks.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Devotional Thought : Acts 18:24

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. Acts 18:24-25

Apollos was faithful, he taught the truth he knew. He had a thorough understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures so that is what he shared. Apollos was also teachable. He was open to learning from Priscilla and Aquila. They taught him more about Jesus – his ministry, death and resurrection. God always has more truth to teach us if we will receive it. Thirdly Apollos was available. He found the time to spend with Priscilla and Aquila and then shared his newfound knowledge with those in Achaia.

Apollos is what we would call a FAT Christian – someone who is Faithful, Available and Teachable. God was able to use Apollos mightily because of these traits and we find in v.28 “He (Apollos) vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.” Apollos was able to show how Jesus was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophesies and teaching.

Apollos was held in high esteem in Corinth. He is described as being “a great help” (v.27). Some even mistakenly started saying, “I follow Apollos” (1 Corinthians 3:3-9). Paul corrected them by explaining “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Apollos did a great job of ‘watering’ – teaching the word to believers. He did not seek publicity but rather he simply sought to teach others about Christ.

Apollos is a good example of how God can powerfully use someone who is faithful, available and teachable.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Studying Acts (part 7)

I have become a bit behind in writing about my studies in Acts. I am finding it very worthwhile to study Acts in depth. During this series of lectures we looked at the quote: ‘If Christ is in a person’s heart they are a missionary. If Christ is not in a person’s heart they are a mission field.’

It was always God's intention in the Old Testament that the Jews would be a light to the nations so that the nations would be attracted to the one true God when they saw the Jews living peaceable lives, worshipping God and caring for one another.

“For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 13:47 (quoting Isaiah 49:6).

Unfortunately the opposite was more often the case. The Jews forsook God and followed the gods of pagan nations. The prophets warned the Jews many times and they were eventually taken into captivity. Many of those who returned became very zealous for the Law of Moses, thinking if they kept the law and all their traditions they would not lose their land again but their hearts were still not right with God. They were more interested in protecting their traditions than they were in reaching out to others. They were more interested in being ‘right’ than doing ‘right’.

For us the mandate is the same, Christians are called to be a light to the nations so when others see us living Christian lives they will want to know about the God that we worship: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Christians are called to be missionaries regardless of where we live and to reach out to those who do not know him.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reflection : What Alice forgot

Following on from my last post…

The most fascinating part of this book for me was comparing the two Alices – the Alice of ten years ago and the Alice of the present. The old Alice was relaxed, easy going and peaceable. The new Alice was confident, organised and at times aggressive.

Woman, in particularly seems to grow more confident as they grow older. Possibly this happens when women like Alice, find themselves with a house to keep, children to care for and a busy husband. Suddenly they find themselves needing to more organised and they gain management skills unwittingly. Often they need to speak up on behalf on their children and suddenly they find a confidence they didn’t know they had.

Yet I found myself liking the old Alice more than the new one which is odd since I do like to be confident and organised. I liked the old Alice’s relaxed attitude and her desire to resolve issues amicably.

I guess the thing is to aim for a balance and it seems in the epilogue that this is the place Alice comes to. On the one hand being organized and confident enough to accomplish worthwhile endeavours while, at the same time, keeping things in perspective and not getting upset when things don’t go our way.

From a spiritual perspective this is the place we need to get to in God. Holding onto our peace because we know that God is in charge and has everything under control, yet not being afraid of a challenge and getting out of our comfort zone in order to accomplish worthwhile tasks.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review : What Alice forgot

Liane Moriarty has chosen an intriguing plot for her book, What Alice Forgot (2009). A 39 year old mother of three has an accident at the gym and receives a bad knock to the head. She is unconscious for about ten minutes. When she gains consciousness it becomes apparent she has forgotten the last ten years of her life – her last memory is when she was pregnant with her first child. Most of the book covers the events of the next nine days until her memory returns. The epilogue then jumps forward ten years and we see the outcome of the events that happened during those nine days.

Moriarty is a clever writer and keeps the reader guessing until all is revealed in the epilogue. So many times you think the story is heading off in one direction when it suddenly takes a turn in a different one. I found it well researched. For example memory is generally assumed to be stored in our minds or brains but it is also stored in our muscles – particularly repetitive actions as Alice discovers. Another time, Alice thought she remembered an incident which turned out not to be true. It was an incident she had repeatedly vividly imagined but it had not actually happened to her. This is also a truth. Over time our minds cannot distinguish between those events which are real and those which are repeatedly vividly imagined.

I enjoyed this book immensely with only one slight criticism. There were several loose ends that the author did not tie up. For example did Madison ever play hockey again? (I hope not!) Did Mildred and George get to stay? (I hope so!) Did their pie get into the Guinness Book of Records? (I suppose so!) It would have only taken an extra couple of lines to tidy up some of these unfinished issues. Possibly Moriarty didn’t think these were important enough to finish off and in the overall scheme they are probably not.

It was a great read that raises many issues about divorce, infertility, child raising and family issues. It really makes you think about how much things change in ten years, and do I like the person I’ve become?

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Friday, May 11, 2012

On digital libraries...

I went to the launch of the digital library at my local library that is, e-audio books and e-books. I made an interesting discovery. In a library environment my objections to ebooks largely disappear. (I wrote about my objections here.)

It has been my experience that the search options in library catalogues are generally better than those on bookshop websites because they give you more choices. For example you can simply search for popular titles. (Maybe I’m cynical but if a bookshop had an option for a popular title I would suspect it was the one with the biggest mark up! Whereas a library has no ulterior motives for listing a title as popular.) Therefore it is not absolutely necessary to put something into a search engine.

While it is still true that you cannot thoroughly ‘vet’ an online book, if you are only borrowing it, there is less need to. You can ‘vet’ it after you have borrowed it and simply deleted it if it is not what you expected. I complained that I could not pass the ebook I had bought on to a friend but neither would I be able to if I had borrowed it from the library. I also complained I cannot browse someone’s ebook collection but library books are generally not kept on a person’s own bookshelf so I wouldn’t be browsing them anyway.

All this leads me to think that ebooks in libraries could become very popular especially as internet connections become faster. It would save money not only in the purchasing and repairing, but also in the moving of books between libraries.

Nevertheless while libraries may go down this path, I still think print books will be us for quite a while.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Devotional Thought : Acts 17:22

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.” Acts 17:22

This is the most often quoted of Paul’s speeches yet not his most successful, if we measure success by the response, “A few men became followers of Paul and believed” (v.34). Compared to Pisidian for example, where we read, “The word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (13:49).

Paul had been having a rough time. He was asked to leave Philippi after being whipped and spending a night in prison. In Thessalonica the Jews were jealous and started a riot so Paul moved on. But these Jews followed him to Berea, again agitating the crowds (17:13). So Paul again moves on and finds himself alone in Athens (v.16). Paul doesn’t appear to plant a church at Athens and we have no letter to the Athenians. Paul was supposed to wait for the arrival of Silas and Timothy but he leaves before they get there (v.15). He eventually meets them in Corinth (18:5). Paul had felt a clear call of God to Macedonia (16:9) yet was treated very badly. We tend to expect if God calls us to something it will go well but this is not always the case.

Shortly afterwards the Lord encouraged Paul, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (18:9-10). Paul stays in Corinth for some time. A significant church is established and we still have the letters he wrote to them.

When things get rough for us, we may need to take a break, but with God’s enabling we regroup and press on.

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Monday, May 07, 2012

Reflection : If I were God...

Following on from my last post...

I found John Dickson's title for his book, If I were God I'd make myself clearer, very intriguing. It seems a logical point that surely God would want us to be clear about his existence. Yet Dickson points out that in fact God has made himself clear. Jesus appearance on earth wasn’t done in secret and he has left a trail of evidence. Also Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Such a claim could only be made by a crank, a liar or God. It is not a claim that could be made by someone who was only a good teacher.

I’d like to include a few quotes from Dickson:

"The historical and event-centred nature of the Christian claim leaves it awkwardly vulnerable to the examination of critics." Pg. 60 (This is not the case for other religions.)

"The fact that Christianity is so potentially vulnerable to scholarship and yet is still believed by so many professional scholars is not without significance." Pg. 62

"If God were truly interested in our attention he would offer more than a dream, a vision or a personal dictation of divine words; he would surely present some tangible, verifiable signpost to himself. The fact that Christianity claims to do just this, combined with the fact that the more this claim is scrutinized the more substantial it appears." Pg. 62

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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Book Review : If I were God I’d make myself clearer

John Dickson is a historian and a Christian apologist. In his book, If I were God I’d make myself clearer(Matthias Media, 2002), he aims to address the issue – in a world where there are a multitude of beliefs, how do we find the truth about God, if there is one?

Dickson begins by pointing out that even amongst people who claim to have no faith there is a great interest in spiritual things. Yet rarely in Western society will these people engage in a sincere discussion of spiritual issues. Rather they prefer to be distracted with the material things that fill their lives – houses, cars, fashion, investments, even though they sense there is more to life than things.

Next Dickson points out that it is nonsense to say all religions are basically the same or all lead to the same end. For example some religions believe people have one life for which they are accountable to God, while others believe people have many lives (reincarnations)? How can both be true? Some religions believe in many gods, others believe in one God. How can you agree with both views? If we are to have religious tolerance it must be on the basics of respect for one another not by saying everyone is right, as this amounts to intellectual suicide. An interesting set of statics that Dickson includes at this point is that less than 3% of the world’s population have an atheistic conviction, while over 50% of the world are monotheistic. The rest either believe in many gods, a supernatural power or are agnostic.

Dickson concludes with his main point that is of all religions Christianity is the one which is most able to be verified by eternal sources. Christianity claims that at a certain point in history, Jesus was born, lived, claimed to be God, died and rose again. His followers wrote letters soon after these events where they quoted names of actual people and places; leaving behind a great wad of information they could be checked. Accounts of Jesus’ life are also quoted in histories outside of Biblical accounts.

Dickson hopes his book with arouse people’s curiosity and nudge them towards investigating Christianity further. I found his book helpful and a useful resource for directing genuine enquirers.

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I saw the movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, recently and enjoyed the story. One of the main characters was a scientist who professed not to have faith and only believed in science. However it was a Muslim who proved to him that he actually did have faith! As a Christian I found this quite amusing in a secular film. I am not sure that it was the director’s intention but the movie makes the point that we all believe things that cannot be proved by scientific testing.

Having made this point the movie is then in a position to inspire people to dare to dream, dare to believe the impossible. In this case dare to believe it is possible to have salmon fishing in the Yemen! But ultimately to dare to believe that the seemingly impossible can happen.

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