Saturday, June 30, 2012

On living in a fallen world

I attended a ladies’ event today and heard the testimony of a young woman who recently went through some difficulties. She made the comment that we live in a fallen world and why should she be immune just because she is a Christian? Why should her life be perfect when others are living with much higher levels of suffering?

Sometimes we think that because God is in control of everything he should stop difficulties coming into our lives. But why should we be exempt? We all live with the consequence of sin - Adam's, ours, others. God is not there just to meet our needs or solve our problems – though he often does graciously intervene in our circumstances. Nevertheless we should encourage ourselves by remembering this present world is not all there is. Paul’s words to the Romans remind us to focus on the big picture, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Devotional Thought : Galatians 1:10

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

Once when I was watching a tennis match the commentator expressed the view that one of the competitors not only wanted to win the point but wanted to "look good" while he did. His opponent however, who eventually won, was more desperate. He was prepared to improvise, scramble and do whatever it took to get the ball back. The commentator used the expression "playing ugly" to describe his winning tactics.

I wonder if as Christians we are more interested in "looking good" than we are in being desperate about the things of God. Perhaps we are reluctant to join a study group because we are embarrassed to pray out loud. Perhaps God is calling us to lead a group but we are afraid we will look incompetent if we don't have all the answers. Perhaps we need to be more serious about our relationship with God and need to seek help from a counsellor or mentor but are afraid our reputation will suffer if we admit to having a problem.

If we are going to grow spiritually and expand the kingdom of God here on earth, we need to "play ugly". Jesus described it as hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Hunger and thirst are good motivators towards physical food and water likewise we need to spiritually hunger and thirst for those things which will help us grow us spiritually.

So let’s "play ugly" and be more desperate about winning points for the Kingdom of God and less concerned about the opinion of others and "looking good" in their eyes.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review : Praying with the grain

Pablo Martinez writes about how personality affects the way people pray in Praying with the grain. He hopes by helping people understand their personalities this will aid them in their prayers.

Martinez introduces his book by examining different personality types and then discusses how this impacts the way they prays. This section was quite interesting as he writes how personality might affect the desire to pray, the frequency of prayer and the length of prayer. There are some insightful moments in this rather lengthy section but his suggestions for overcoming difficulties are limited and not always practical (eg praying with a friend). Martinez seems to have quite a rigid view of prayer and doesn’t seem to consider suggesting other styles of prayer that might be better suited to some personalities. The topic also lends itself to helping people of different personalities to pray together but this was not mentioned at all. In the second half of the book Martinez gets unnecessarily complicated as he explains his apologetics of prayer.

Overall I must admit to being disappointed with this book that had such promise but often failed to deliver. It seems that Martinez’s main concern was helping people understand their personality type and then, apart from a few brief practical suggestions, leaves it to the reader to work out their own application.

The book was originally published in 2001, and the revised edition, which I read was published this year, so it would seem other readers have found it more helpful than I did.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Devotional Thought : 2 Thessalonians 2:8

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:8

This verse reminds me of John 18:6 where Jesus said, “I am he” and the soldiers who had come to arrest Jesus fell to the ground. With the “breath of his’ mouth” Jesus is able to overcome all his enemies. These verses give us hope. Whatever we are going through Jesus can turn it around with a mere breath.

This is also the message Paul had taught the Thessalonians when he was with them (v.5). It seems that Paul possibly only spent three weeks in Thessalonica (Acts 17:2) yet he taught them much about Jesus’ second coming. These days we don’t immediate teach new Christians about the end times. However Paul would have known that these new Christians were going to experience persecution so he taught them what they needed to know to be equipped to endure. He gave them hope. We can also take heart that whatever we will face in the future God has prepared us for, even though, we may feel quite inadequate.

At times the imagery regarding the end times is difficult for us to imagine. It was written in a different era to a different culture. Yet I expect when it happens we will say, “Oh that's what God meant.” So while the details may be obscure to us we can trust God to equip us and give us hope.

We can take great encouragement from remembering that God is all knowing, he can equip us for anything we may face; he is all powerful, with a mere breath he can overcome anything that comes against us; and he is ever present, nothing escapes his attention.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

On opposing gay marriage on non-religious grounds

I was reading a blog recently where the comment was made that the only people not supporting gay marriage quoted the Bible. Since weddings/marriage in the West has been highly influenced by the Judeo-Christian ethic I think the Bible is a legitimate resource in the argument, but the blog writer did not.

I want to comment very briefly as there are reasons for opposing gay marriage other than Biblical ones and I want to mention two:

Health issues: A large number of Victorian doctors and experts recently claimed gay marriage could jeopardise the nation's health. People in favour of gay marriage will argue that these health issues will eventually be resolved by medical science. Well, if that’s the case, let’s wait until they have been resolved. We have other laws preventing marriage on the grounds of health issues, eg marriage between close relatives, so this is a legitimate reason to oppose gay marriage.

Children: Social science has long known that children do best when raised by their biological mother and father. Of course, circumstances sometimes conspire to prevent this – death, serious illness, abandonment, marital breakdown, etc. Nevertheless the government should be doing all it can so that the norm for most children is to be brought up by their biological parents. If at all possible children should have a role model of each sex as the community where they live, learn, and work will comprise both genders. Our children's welfare is also a legitimate reason to oppose gay marriage.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Devotional Thought : 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well…on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10

The following comment was made on my site in regard to these verses: It's nice to know we have an avenger...someone who actually cares when we are persecuted and will show the world we have not been foolish in believing in the one and only true God.

There are times in these present days when the world would try to make us feel foolish for believing in spiritual realities that we cannot see. There is a new wave of Atheists who like to quote science and recent scientific discoveries to supposedly ‘prove’ there is no God. Christians have no need to be afraid of science or new discoveries. After all when science first became a recognized field of endeavour it was believers who were at the forefront. However the challenge for scientists today is to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Many scientists are recognizing the universe had a beginning whether it was a “Big Bang” or something else. But what happened 30 seconds before the beginning? Who or what caused the beginning? If the trial of evidence leads to a Creator would these scientists believe it or have they already closed their minds?

Regardless of what the world would try and teach us, we trust in the One who loves us; cares when we are mistreated, misquoted and misunderstood; and will one day reward those who believed even in the face of stiff opposition.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Studying Acts (part 10)

This the last in my series on studying Acts. I am currently studying apologetics and hope to write some posts about this soon.

During Paul’s three trials before Felix, Festus and Agrippa, it is apparent they all believed him to be innocent but because they were trying to keep the Jews happy they imprisoned Paul. This is really quite surprising when you consider that both the Jews and the Romans prided themselves on their justice systems. But the Jews hatred for Paul ran deep. Paul was persuading many Jews that Jesus was the Messiah and the Jewish leaders were losing their power.

It was the same for Jesus. The Judeo-Christian ethic is strongly based on high moral principles of justice but the Jews hatred for Jesus blinded them to the fact that they were acting against the very law that they were trying to protect. Despite the authorities believing in strong principles of justice both Jesus and Paul were persecuted on religious grounds because those in leadership were offended.

The lesson for us is that Christians can’t rely on the world for justice. Whether stated or not our faith is a challenge to those in authority and if it comes to a critical situation they will not necessarily act justly on our behalf.

Nevertheless we can rely on God to be our vindicator. Whether in this world or the next, in the end, justice will prevail.

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Devotional Thought : 1 Thessalonians 4:11

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. 1 Thessalonians 4:11

There are three things, while not wrong in themselves, make living a quiet life difficult: wealth, fame and power.

Whether our wealth has come from our own efforts or from some form of inheritance it is likely to have come with much responsibility. How do we manage wealth properly? Are others dependant on our ability to keep making wealth? Are we able to maintain a correct perspective on gaining possessions in light of Jesus’ teaching?

It requires wisdom to handle fame without becoming self-absorbed and pretentious. Even a small degree of popularity can affect our ability to be sensitive to the needs of others. And with power there is always the temptation to use it for our own ends rather than the good of others. If our ambition is to lead a quiet life we would do well to not seek after these things and personally I am happy to do this.

However this verse does not promise that God will grant us a quiet life even if we do make this our ambition. I’m sure Martin Luther was making it his ambition to live a quiet life in the monastery when he was thrust into a teaching role. This caused him to study the Scriptures which ultimately lead him to a major role in the Reformation. Moses seemed to be living a “quiet life” when his life was enormously interrupted by a burning bush. I could site many more examples. The point is, while we may desire a quiet life, God may have other ideas.

Am I open to God disturbing my quiet life and calling me to a position of power, fame, or even wealth? And if he does, will my response be one of obedience?

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Studying Acts (part 9)

Paul’s third missionary trip was his most significant. On this trip he spent three years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31) where he held discussions “daily” (Acts 19:9) “so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). It was also during this time that, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” (Acts 19:11) and a major demonic hold was broken resulting in the burning of a huge number of scrolls used in sorcery (Acts 19:18-19). But the first two trips were necessary preparation for the third. Paul had been through many difficult and dangerous situations on his first two trips. His faith had grown, he had built relationships with both Jews and Gentiles and God had prepared him for this lengthy and successful stay in Ephesus.

I find it an encouraging thought that whatever I am going through now is absolutely necessary preparation for what God will launch me into next. During some seasons of our lives we seem to go through one difficult situation after another but when this is seen from the bigger perspective it means that all these difficult situations are part of God’s learning curve. During tough times it helps to remember God is teaching us all we need to know for the next season of our life.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Devotional Thought : Colossians 4:6

Let your conversation be always full of grace. Colossians 4:6

A while ago I was very challenged by this verse. In the space of a few weeks I experienced several disappointments. I did not get the job I expected, a family member required more surgery than expected and I came down with a bad cold. Suddenly I found myself tired and irritable and my conversation was far from being “full of grace.”

I was reminded of a John Ortberg’s comment in his book, "The Life You're Always Wanted." He said for him to be a loving person required an enormous amount of energy so if he was serious about becoming a more loving person, he was going to have to get more sleep! The events of those few weeks had seriously depleted my energy supplies and being a loving person, like having your conversation full of grace, requires a significant amount of energy.

About this time I came across this Leon Morris quote: "It is easy for the servants of God to become discouraged: the opposition they meet is so constant and the good they are trying to do is so hard to accomplish."

It reflected how I was feeling and made me realize that we really do wrestle, "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12). It is easy to be discouraged when we are struggling with various stresses and low levels of energy.

So in order for my conversation to be "always full of grace", I need to lower my expectations of what is achievable when I am sick, tired, stressed or even disappointed. And remember that my body and my mind need much more rest when I am under pressure.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

On answering intellectual questions

Recently John Dickson, historian and apologist, tweeted this: I’ll eat a page of my Bible if anyone can find a single professor of Ancient History/Classics/New Testament in a real, accredited university anywhere in the world who thinks Jesus didn’t live.

Dickson had many who were interested in taking him up on his offer but when their claims were investigated they did not meet the criteria, that is, no one who had completed serious studies in the relevant area was prepared to say Jesus hadn’t lived. (And yet I know of well known atheists who will continue to quote university professors who have not even studied ancient history!)

Of course, believing that Jesus lived doesn’t necessary mean you believe his teachings or his claims. Also satisfactorily answering a person’s intellectual questions about Jesus doesn’t mean they will become a Christian. There are two other reasons why people believe or don’t believe.

There are the personal reasons. People believe things that resonate with their soul or and psychology. People may sense their personal need of God, perhaps because they want forgiveness, acceptance, love etc. Alternatively people may not like the claims of the gospel. It may challenge their independence and self-sufficiency so they may not want to believe regardless of the evidence.

There are also social reasons. People tend to believe the things of those who they already like and trust. Coming into contact with a Christian community will convince some to become a Christian because they see something about their lives and the way they live that is appealing. Alternatively people may have only met legalistic, self-righteous Christians and want nothing to do with them.

So answering people's intellectual questions will never be enough. There are other issues going on and it is as Jesus said of the Jews, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 3:10

Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways. Hebrews 3:10

This verse refers to the children of Israel. It is quite amazing that after spending forty years in the desert and experiencing God's miraculous provision, the children of Israel did not know God's ways. They would have seen manna appeared from heaven, water from the rock and the Red Sea parted, yet they didn't learn God's ways. The Israelites seem to expect that God would be their magic genie who was there to make their lives comfortable and pleasant. They didn’t seem to consider they were apart of something much bigger and greater that God was doing in the world. They were part of God’s plan yet they did not know it.

The same thing can happen to us. We may attend church and Bible study every week and have great Bible knowledge. We may even see God do miraculous things and have our prayers answered but our hearts will go astray if we do not know God’s ways. We will expect God to be there for our comfort and convenience and we will not understand why God does not intervene in our circumstances more often than he does. We may move from one experience to the next without even considering God’s plans and purposes.

In order to know God’s ways we need to be attentive to God’s word and consider particularly Jesus’ ministry while on earth. As we reflect and mediate on Jesus’ life, his compassion, his teaching, his sacrificial death, God’s purposes will become clearer to us. Furthermore Jesus said, "…his sheep follow him because they know his voice" (John 10:3-4).

The more we learn to know his voice, to follow his directives for our lives, the more we will know God’s ways.

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Friday, June 08, 2012

Studying Acts (part 8)

In Acts we often see the Jews' reluctance to accept Gentiles unless they became Jews, what does this mean for us today?

In Matthew 20:1-16 we read the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. At the time when Jesus told this parable it was Jews who were like the labourers who worked all day and the Gentiles were like the late comers who got paid the same though they had only worked an hour. When we look at the parable like this we understand why the Jews were so upset with the Gentiles. It seemed unfair to them that the Gentiles were treated the same as themselves. The Jews felt they had done all the work – kept the commandments, preserved the Mosaic covenant, maintained temple worship. They felt they had borne the ‘heat of the day’. But later Paul would write: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). In Acts when we read about the Jews’ reluctance to accept Gentiles, unless they became Jews, we need to realize that they felt like these labourers who had worked all day but received the same pay as those who worked for only an hour.

The parable also has an ongoing meaning. Long term Christians are in danger of thinking like the Jews – having an attitude of entitlement. The parable highlights this common misconception – none of us deserve God’s blessings, none of us could ever do enough work to earn salvation. For all of us salvation is a gift we could never earn. Our response ought to be one of gratitude, regardless of how long we have been serving God and ‘working in the vineyard’.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 2:17

He (Jesus) had to be made like His brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest.
Hebrews 2:17

Philippians 2:7 also tells us that Jesus "made himself nothing" that is, He set aside all his divine attributes. Therefore He is able to sympathise with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) because he is like us "in every way". He not only understands how we feel but why we feel the way we do. He has the ability and the empathy to help us in our time of need.

For this reason the writer to the Hebrews encourages us to come to Him "with confidence" (4:16). Yet sometimes we are reluctant. We feel unworthy or that our problems are not important enough to bother Jesus, since other people's needs seem much greater than ours.

Alternatively we may think we should be able to handle our problems on our own. We think of ourselves as capable and self-sufficient. We may be too proud to ask for help.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You study the Scripture diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). The Pharisees refused to come to Jesus. Jesus was not the Messiah they expected or wanted. He didn’t fit their preconceived ideas and so they rejected him.

Jesus is longing for us to come to Him for the help we need but are we willing to come to Jesus? Jesus does not always answer our prayers in the way we would like or expect. Are we willing to change?

Let’s not refuse the help of one who voluntarily became like us in every way.

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Monday, June 04, 2012

Book Review : Responding to the supernatural suddenlies of God

Responding to the supernatural suddenlies of God by Paul Jackson (2010) is a short little booklet (about 50 pages) covering the last ten years of Paul Jackson’s church in Brisbane. In some ways it is Jackson’s testimony or biography of how God moved in his life, his youth group and the church.

The part of his story that interested me the most was when he quoted from the Old Testament story of Obed-Edom. Obed-Edom enters the Biblical narrative in 2 Samuel 6:10-11 where we read of David’s first unsuccessful attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. “Instead, he (David) took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the LORD blessed him and his entire household.”

Jackson then traces Obed-Edom’s own journey to Jerusalem and includes Biblical references to further mentions of his name. It seems that Obed-Edom’s desire was to be wherever the ark was, because for him this meant being in the presence of God. He had experienced the blessing of God and was determined to chase after it. Jackson then relates this to our own journey.

Overall an interesting little book of how God worked in this particular church.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Devotional Thought : Acts 19:11

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. Acts 19:11

This comment was made when Paul was in Ephesus during his third missionary trip. Paul had experienced some very difficult times during his previous trips. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea…in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles…” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25).

It was A.W. Tozer who said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” This seems to be the case for Paul. Yet through all his difficulties he grew in his faith. Now God was able to use him to perform not just “miracles” but “extraordinary miracles”.

The children of Israel saw a number of remarkable miracles – the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven but seeing these miracles did not grow their faith. In fact it is remarkable, and disturbing that the Israelites experienced so many miracles in their travels but it seemed to have so little effect on their level of faith. History would teach us that miracles do not produce revivals even if revivals often produce miracles.

Even the miracles that Jesus performed may have attracted a crowd but they did not grow people’s faith. Unfortunately it seems that the thing that grows our faith is going through difficulties. Difficulties place us in a position where we have to trust God and we find he is faithful.

Many of us would like God to use us to perform extraordinary miracles but are we prepared to go through the tough times which build our faith so that God can?

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Friday, June 01, 2012

Short Thoughts from Short Street

Collection of short, simple devotional articles based on Bible verses, suitable for a weekly church newsletter, enough for 52 weeks, available for free.

Some years ago a friend of mine helped me put together this collection of my devotional articles. I have recently revised the collection and posted them on FaithWriters. Click here. It is also available for free as an ebook which I can email you.

My hope is that these thoughts will be a help to church newsletter editors and be a blessing to those who read them.

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