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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