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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Monday, September 17, 2012

On understanding kingdom ministry – part 2

It seems in today’s church there are three main views on the Kingdom of God (with variations on whether the church has replaced Israel or not in God’s prophetic timetable):

1. Some believe the kingdom started with Jesus’ ministry and will continue until his second coming. They see the kingdom as “now” that is already present and having a purely spiritual meaning, that is, God’s rule in people’s hearts.

2. Others believe that the kingdom is purely physical and will not commence until Jesus’ second coming when there will be a physical resumption of the Davidic kingdom. So they see the kingdom as “not yet”.

3. A third view is that the kingdom is both “now” and “not yet”. There is a spiritual aspect to the kingdom – the rule of God in people’s hearts happening now but there is also a coming physical aspect to the kingdom which Jesus' second coming will inaugurate.

I believe that Scripture supports this third view

The kingdom as the rule of God is not limited to the Church or even to people. The whole realm of nature, the spiritual world that we do not see, and everything that ever was, will one day be subject to the rule of God. However, “At present we do not see everything subject to him” (Hebrews 2:8). We see signs of the kingdom, we have a deposit not the full amount (Ephesians 1:13-14); we know in part but not fully (1 Corinthians 13:8-12); we are now children of God but we are not yet fully Christ-like (1 John 3:2). Thus there is a “now” aspect to the kingdom which is spiritual and a “not yet” aspect which is physical.

The “now-ness” of the kingdom reveals itself in a person’s life style, in their outlook on life, in their values, priorities, desires, and attitudes. Those who live out kingdom values will ultimately affect the communities where they live.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

On understanding kingdom ministry - part 1

Recently I’ve been studying: Understanding Kingdom Ministry and over the next little while I am going to share a little of what I’ve been learning.

Firstly a definition of the Kingdom and why it is different to the church. I like this one by Ladd: "The Kingdom is the rule of God, and the realm of his blessings; the Church is the people of the Kingdom who have received it, who witness it, and who will inherit it" (Ladd 1952).

From Jesus’ parables we learn that: the Kingdom of God grows without man’s help (Mark 4:26-29); it is like a mustard seed which starts very small but grows very large (Mark 4:30-32); it is like yeast that works unnoticed through the whole dough (Luke 13:20); it is like a banquet where those who expect to be included are not and those who don’t expect an invitation receive one (Luke 14:16-24); we learn the kingdom can be present in the world at the same time as opposition (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-44); and that the Kingdom would not be complete at the time of Jesus’ first coming (Luke 19:11-27). Jesus also taught that God was not merely looking for outward conformity to a set of laws but wanted an inward change of heart, called repentance.

Furthermore Jesus did not just teach the theory of the kingdom but showed by his actions how the kingdom would operate in one’s daily life. His actions showed compassion to the poor, the rejected and the forgotten. They showed inclusion for those who were often excluded: women, children, Gentiles and slaves. His actions upset the Pharisees of his day because they held a very different understanding of God’s kingdom but this actually revealed the challenging nature of the kingdom. Sometimes from Jesus’ parables we get the impression that the kingdom is very passive – growing without attracting attention. However the kingdom also causes violent opposition (Matthew 10:34-36 & 11:12).

More in part 2.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Devotional Thought : 1 Peter 4:7

The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you may pray. 1 Peter 4:7

If we are not clear minded and self-controlled we won’t pray. I have found this to be true in my experience if I’m worried and upset I don’t pray. My energy is spent on thinking about the “what ifs”; the “maybes”, and the “might be-s”. Rather than focussing on God and his ability to bring good out of any circumstance, my mind is considering all the negative outcomes.

To remain clear minded (so we can pray) takes faith. It means trusting in God regardless of the circumstances. When the Israelites faced the Red Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on them, they were “terrified” (Exodus 14:10) but Moses told them “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (v.14). The New Living Translation puts in this way: “Just stay calm.” We stay calm by reminding ourselves of two great truths: God’s mighty power and his great love for us. God is powerful enough to deal with any situation we find ourselves facing plus He is a loving God who has our best interests at heart.

To remain self-controlled (so we can pray) takes practice. It means controlling our thoughts by refusing to entertain negative ideas. We may not be able to stop the negative ideas dropping into our mind but it is our choice as to what we do with the thought. We have the ability to dismiss it and replace it with something positive.

When we are clear minded and self-controlled we can pray. We can focus on God, pray for wisdom, guidance, and strength. We can come boldly to the “throne of grace…and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

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Monday, September 10, 2012

On Jesus’ teaching methods

I was listening to a speaker the other day and he mentioned that Jesus used three methods of teaching that helped people learn spiritual truths:

1. Aphorism – which the dictionary defines as “a pithy observation that contains a general truth.” Such as, the meek will inherit the earth; it is more blessed to give than receive; the last will be first etc. These short statements are easily repeated and therefore easily remembered.

2. Questions – Jesus often asked questions and even answered questions with a question or asked, “What do you think?” (Matthew 17:25). Jesus didn’t necessarily give people the answer. He made them think.

3. Stories/Parables – Jesus was well known for telling stories about common things that illustrated a spiritual point. He did not always tell them the point of the story but allow them to go away and think about what he had said.

These are three simple ways of teaching spiritual truths that we can also utilize in our speaking and writing.

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Friday, September 07, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 5:12

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Hebrews 5:12

The writer of this letter expected his readers to have grown in their faith but apparently this was not the case. When we plant a tree we expect it to grow, we expect our children to grow and unfortunately we expect weeds to grow since all living things grow. What is even more disturbing was that because these people were not growing and passing on what they knew they were losing the knowledge they already had. They needed to relearn the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.

We see this elsewhere in life. If we learn a musical instrument or learn to speak another language but don’t continue to practice we will lose the ability. A couple of verses later we read: “solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (v.14). By using what we have learnt we are training ourselves and becoming mature in the faith. If we remain as baby Christians we will not even be able to distinguish “good from evil”.

So we see lack of growth is not just lack of information but also a lack of experience (“constant use”). It is experience that teaches us to distinguish between good and evil. This is why young people and young Christians need to be given opportunities for service so they can be trained by experience. When we are in the place of having responsibilities we learn to pray and trust God far more than when we are sitting in a pew.

So let’s grow up by putting into practice what we already know.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

More on the Gospels reliability

I wrote on this topic about a month ago, here and here but I just wanted to add a few more evidences, outside the Gospels themselves, which add to the credibility of the Gospel accounts.

1. Non-Christian sources
There are 11 ancient references to Jesus in non-Christian sources. This is actually quite surprising because Galilee and even Jerusalem were not important places at that time. So the fact that a Jewish carpenter who was not rich or famous would rate a mention in the histories of that time is significant. The most important of these references, from an apologetic point of view are: Tacitus who wrote imperial Roman history in about AD 100 and Josephus who was a Jewish historian at about the same time. These writings along with the other nine, confirm that there was a famous Jewish teacher and healer who was executed by the Romans. For this reason professional ancient historians do not doubt that Jesus lived.

2. Archaeology
Many archaeological finds have confirmed details that are in the Gospels. For example in 2004 some ancient steps in the Salome area of Jerusalem were discovered. A subsequent archaeological dig found the largest Jewish bathing pool that had ever been discovered. It is believed that this is the Pool of Salome mentioned in John 9.

Archaeological digs can also be important for what they do not find. In Galilee no pig bones have ever been discovered confirming that this area was very Jewish. This is significant because some historians had previously believed that Galilee wasn’t particularly Jewish as there had been discoveries confirming Rome and Greek architecture. However the non-discovery of pig bones plus a large number of Jewish purification bowls confirmed that Galilee was indeed Jewish. Archaeology confirms that the Gospels show a first century Jewish culture.

3. Encyclopaedia Britannica
It is significant that even the Encyclopaedia Britannica, as historian John Dickson discovered, has high regard for the reliability of the New Testament: “Compared with other ancient manuscripts, the test of the New Testament is dependable and consistent” (From John Dickson’s, If I were God I’d make myself clearer, 2002).

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Monday, September 03, 2012

Devotional Thought : Hebrews 4:1-3

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it…Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said. Hebrews 4:1-3

The goal is to enter into God’s rest and we enter by faith, trusting that God has done everything necessary to make us acceptable to himself. The writer of Hebrews connects this thought with Genesis 2:2: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” Rest follows work. God has done all the work to get us back in relationship with him. He is not impressed with our pitiful attempts at working for him. Thinking we can make ourselves acceptable to God underestimates his holiness.

“For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (v.10). God has designed us to rest from our own work, that is, rest from trying to control our circumstances, rest from manipulating events, and rest from working to earn ‘brownie’ points. We are free from the pressure of having to perform.

Will all this talk about rest make us apathetic? The disciples asked Jesus this question: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). Perhaps we have not thought before of believing as “work”. Yet it can be hard work since it goes against our natural inclinations. We prefer to believe those things we can see, hear and feel. Trusting God who we can’t see, hear and feel is difficult. Yet as we do the “work” of believing, we will find ourselves trusting less in our own efforts and more in God thus resting in him.

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