Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Towards Belief – Church Abuse

Continuing with a more in depth review of the DVD series – Towards Belief. This week looking at Church Abuse.

• Abuse in churches is more difficult because it is an abuse of trust and goes against the church's teaching on morality
• Perpetrators target churches because of their easy access to children and people are more trusting
• Perpetrators groom not only children but also church leaders
• Disappointing because the Christian message ought to make a difference in people's lives
• Worst in Catholic Churches because they run more orphanages and schools
• Attitudes that fosters abuse: Concept of an angry God; living by moral laws and not personal responsibility; celibacy
• Abuse goes against what Christians believe
• Forgiveness is the great thing about Christianity but is dangerous for offenders who may not have repented
• In repentance we take responsibility for our actions and admitting the truth to others (even the police)
• We all have a responsibility to keep children safe
• Churches are becoming safer places, there are more safeguards in place, heightened awareness, and training
• God is our only hope of healing

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 40:34

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34

God's desire has always been to dwell with his people. Here at the end of Exodus we see a glimpse of God dwelling with his people – the first time since the Garden of Eden, but it had been an ordeal.

After God's people left Egypt, God expressed his long held desire to Moses: “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). However following the incident with the golden calf Moses had to move the Tent of Meeting "some distance" from the camp (33:7). Sin had broken their relationship with God.

Moses interceded for the people. “Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance” (34:9). God granted Moses request. God's desire to dwell with his people was so strong that he was prepared to deal with the sin problem. Instead of removing his Presence from the sinner he removed their sin. It is a picture of what Jesus would do to solve the sin problem for good.

The tabernacle was built. It represented not only the place where God dwelt among them but also the place where God forgave.

It was a long journey from the Garden to this point and an even longer journey to Pentecost where God would dwell with people through his Holy Spirit. And the final fulfilment is still future, "Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God" (Revelation 21:3).

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Towards Belief – Exclusive Faith

Continuing with a more in depth review of the DVD series – Towards Belief. This week looking at Exclusive Faith:

• All faiths are exclusive (eg someone who believes all roads lead to God excludes those who believe only some roads lead to God)
• Christians are seen as arrogant yet it is just as arrogant to claim all paths lead to God
• There are three groups of world religions: Eastern, Secular and Abrahamic
• World religions are different and have contradictory beliefs so they can't all be true
• All faiths believe they have the truth, even atheists. No group wants to compromise their faith by including others who believe differently. It is disrespectful to ask them to do so
• Political correctness stifles good conversation
• Media focuses on the noisy minority
• If you say that there is no absolute truth you are stating an absolute
• Christians need to present the gospel in a way that says, "God is worthy of your mind"
• There are good, wonderful, true things in all religions
• The uniqueness of Christianity is seen in the incarnation and in giving hope
• Other religions are about chasing after God; Christianity is about God chasing after us

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Wishing all my readers a very Merry Christmas.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 38:8

They made the bronze basin and its bronze stand from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Exodus 38:8

It is quite intriguing that this is the first mention of women serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. We don't know who these women were or what they actually did – apart from donating their mirrors.

Some believe they preformed cleaning duties, like a modern day church cleaning roster. However the word used here for service is a specific type of service that has military overtones. It is the same word used to describe the duties of the Levite priests. They were fulfilling an important role without attracting much attention, even in a male dominated environment.

In the culture of the time, which was very much a 'war culture,' they understood God in terms of a Great Warrior. The priests and these women believed they were engaging in spiritual warfare as they went about their tasks. The language reflects this perspective.

Today as we serve the Lord in different capacities within the life of our churches do we think of our duties as spiritual warfare? By devoting our time and energy to our local gathering of believers we are announcing to the heavenlies that we believe this is a worthwhile use of our resources. The outworking of our faith makes a powerful statement to the spiritual forces that would oppose us and fulfils the purposes of God: "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 3:10).

We know that our labour is not in vain, regardless of the type of service we perform, because ultimately we are serving the Lord.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review : Birds and Fish

Birds and fish is a board book and part of the Creation Series by Claire Osborne. It is based on the fifth day of creation according to the Genesis account.

The book contains a simple message that God created the birds of the air and the fish in the sea. It focuses on the variety and beauty of these creatures. They were created by a loving God not in a haphazard way but with a purpose to be a blessing. The book has a pleasant rhyming pattern and lovely pictures drawn by Heidi Hendriks.

It would be a great addition to a child's library.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Towards Belief - Religious Violence

Continuing with a more in depth review of the DVD series – Towards Belief. This week looking at Religious Violence:

• Passionate commitment to ideology causes wars. Anything people get passionate about can cause violence eg. land rights, politics, religion
• Atheists Mao Tse-tong, Stalin and Hitler killed 100,000,000 people between them
• Not all the violence in the Bible recorded in the Bible is approved of, in fact some is recorded to point out how bad things were
• War was part of Old Testament culture
• Some of the descriptions of warfare are rhetoric, typical of the time period
• Christianity has always had a pacifist stream as well as Christian soldiers
• Often religion is used as an excuse or pretext for violence
• Are those who claim to take up arms for Christian causes obeying or disobeying Jesus?
• Are wars a genuine expression of Christianity as seen in the life of Jesus?
• Many religious wars were caused because people weren't Christian enough
• Just because you claim to be Christian doesn't mean you are – Saddam claimed to be a democratic leader

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 36:2

Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the Lord had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. Exodus 36:2

There are many talented people with huge amounts of ability but it is not enough. The truly skilful ones are those who have honed their talent over time. They are the ones who have spent hours learning, studying and training. The successful ones are those who are willing to do the work to achieve in their chosen sphere.

When Moses was looking for workers he wanted two qualities – God given skill and willingness to do the work.

Sometimes we think that if our ability is God given we don't need to practise. Yet this is not so. Even if our gift is healing, evangelism or intercession, we can always learn from our spiritual predecessors and mentors by reading books and listening to others who are more mature in faith. God always has more to teach us if we are open to growing in our gifting.

Unfortunately there are those who are not willing to do the work. They are invited to take part in an event but they come without having done the necessary preparation and expect God to make up for their lack. Maybe they remember occasions when God did use them or others when they were inexperienced or young in the faith. But this was not to be taken as an excuse to remain immature. Likewise they may have seen God work through situations in a spontaneous fashion but again this is not a reason for neglecting to be prepared.

If we want God to use our skills on an ongoing basis are we willing to do the work and be like Bezalel and Oholiab?

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review : Wonderfully Madison

Penny Reeve has written a lovely story of a young girl, Madison, whose Mum is expecting a baby. Children with younger siblings will relate to this story.

Madison is not excited about this new arrival but while staying with her grandparents she learns that we are all wonderfully made, even her new little sister. The story acknowledges that having a new addition to the family may not be happy news for other children in the family. The story moves on to a place of acceptance and joy at the arrival of the new baby.

Jemima Trappel has done a great job creating illustrations that fit well with the story.

A good book to read to children who are expecting a new sibling, I particularly loved the descriptions of Madison's lips!

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Towards Belief – The Supernatural

Continuing with a more in depth review of the DVD series – Towards Belief. This week looking at the Supernatural:

• The Bible is full of supernatural events
• Christians believe that miraculous events still happen
• When asked the question: have you had instances in your life that have made you think that there is a supernatural? Many people will say yes
• The philosopher Hume and others believed that miracles weren't violations of the natural law and that the natural law could not be violated thus denying the miraculous
• Other cultures are more open to supernatural experiences and have eye witness accounts of miracles eg Congo
• God is active when nature behaves regularly as well as when it behaves oddly
• Jesus' resurrection – miraculous occurrence – was part of the core beliefs of Christianity within 5 years of Jesus' death
• Miracles are a foretaste of God's kingdom
• Miracles are not consistent or predictable because God doesn't want robots
• Miracles let us know God cares which gives us hope

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Saturday, December 07, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 32:5

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” Exodus 32:5

In Egyptian and other cultures the bull was highly valued. "The Egyptians viewed the bull as the vehicle on which a god rode in power, and as such they identified it as divine itself" (Constable's Commentary).

From Aaron's point of view he was still worshipping the Lord but doing so via means of the calf. This was clearly not what God intended and it created such a rift between God and his people that Moses pitched the Tent of Meeting outside the Israelites camp "some distance away" (Exodus 33:7). God wanted to dwell in the midst of his people but their attitude drove him away.

Aaron's problem began when Moses was a long time on the mountain (v.1). When nothing appeared to be happening Aaron took circumstances into his own hands. We also see this in Saul's life when he offered the sacrifice himself instead of waiting for Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8-14) and in the life of Abraham when he fathered a child through Hagar (Genesis 16:2). Likewise we create problems when we do God's work our way.

Today many worship God according to their timetable, their convenience and their traditions but it does not draw them any closer to him. In fact, it drives God away. God will not be worshipped according to a man made formula.

Later Jesus would say to the woman at the well: "A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." (John 4:23).

God is still seeking those who will worship him in spirit and truth.

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Blog Tour : A New Resolution

This month's fiction blog tour is for: A New Resolution by Rose Dee. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review can be found here.

2 - 6 December

is introducing

(Even Before Publishing October 2012)


Rose Dee

About the Book:
Resolution Island is a safe haven for Anika Demeur - a chance to fulfil dreams, find her place in the world, and a new life for her and young son, Kye. But her dreams of a future are shattered when her son's security is challenged, and the rich and privileged Texan, Nate Hollingsworth sails into the bay. Now Ani must not only fight for her son, but also a growing attraction she has to the one type of man she loathes.

Nate is on a mission - to fulfill his mother's last wish, and change his life. Dropping anchor in the idyllic Resolution harbor, he didn't anticipate becoming involved in illegal fishing, a murder, or an unexpected attraction to the most exasperating woman he has ever met.

The Australian tropical Island, Resolution, sets the scene again for adventures, dreams, and new beginnings. A New Resolution is the final book in the 'Resolution' trilogy, following Back to Resolution and Beyond Resolution.

About the Author:
Rose Dee was born in Ingham, North Queensland, Australia. Her childhood experiences growing up in a small beach community would later provide inspiration for her first novel. Rose, who holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree, decided to try her hand at writing two years ago. The result of that attempt is her first novel, Back to Resolution. Her novels are inspired by the love of her coastal home and desire to produce exciting and contemporary stories of faith for women. Rose's other releases include Beyond Resolution - the second book in the 'Resolution' series. And A New Resolution the final book in the series. Rose has also co-written a novel in conjunction with three other outstanding Australian Authors: The Greenfield Legacy. Rose resides in Mackay, North Queensland with her husband, young son, and mischievous pup, Noodle.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Towards Belief – The Bible

Continuing with a more in depth review of the DVD series – Towards Belief. This week looking at the Bible:

• It is not one book but a collection of books, written over a long period of time and written within cultures
• The literary genres cover ancient biographies, histories, poems, letters, creation narratives and apocalypse literature (wild symbolism)
• It is both a religious and a historical document
• The high number of manuscript copies is tremendous protection against fraud
• Gospels rely heavily on eye witnesses and follow typical pattern of other ancient biographies – they read like real history.
• Gospels were written close to the time when Jesus lived
• Contradictions are often different accounts of the same event
• Source outside the Bible contain evidence and mention other Biblical characters which validates the Bible

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 31:13

Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.' Exodus 31:13

When the Israelites were slaves, they worked seven days a week. Now God was insisting they rest one day a week. It was suppose to be a blessing. Yet it became a burden. By Jesus' day the Pharisees had turned keeping the Sabbath into a complicated procedure with a huge number of restrictions; and when Jesus refused to abide by their Sabbath laws they wanted to kill him! (Matthew 12:10-14).

Even in our day I know people who have also missed the point and discuss whether irrigating a field on the Sabbath is work (the irrigator is on a timer so no one actually works). How have we managed to turn something that was supposed to be a blessing us into nit picking and burdensome law keeping?

There are many reasons: we struggle to accept free gifts; we feel the need to repay God; we sense we should work to be acceptable to God; pointing to something tangible we have done for God makes us feel better; and sometimes we don't know how to rest.

However in God's eyes none of these reasons are valid. The Sabbath was to be a sign that God's people trusted him to meet their needs. They could rest because they were not relying on the work of their hands but on God who promised to meet all their needs.

Furthermore it is the Lord who makes his people holy. We are not made holy by keeping the Sabbath or any other law. We are made holy by trusting what God has done for us through Christ.

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Book Review : Hearing her voice

John Dickson makes the comment in the introduction of his book, Hearing her Voice that there will be those who will be disappointed that his book doesn't go far enough in allowing women to hold leadership positions in all areas of the Christian Church. While others will believe it goes too far in allowing women to preach. I'm in the first of these categories but nevertheless found the book very helpful.

Dickson makes the point that in our context we use the word "teach" in a broader range of ways – everything from sermons, to Sunday School lessons, to giving instruction in sport, or a job. Paul, however, uses the word in a very restricted way to mean the original passing on of what was to become the Scriptures as we know them today. The work of memorizing Jesus' words and the events of his life became the task of qualified men, like the passing on of the Old Testament Scriptures had been. Memorization was valued above the written word in that culture at that time.

Therefore it is not Biblically accurate to use the word "teach" in relation to a sermon. We would better reflect Biblical terminology if we were to use the word "exhort" or "prophesy" to refer to a sermon. The tasks of exhortation and prophesy were not restricted to men so Dickson makes the comment there is no reason why women cannot fulfil the task of bring a sermon.

This is the gist of Dickson's argument. He writes very strongly and sometimes repetitively to get his message across. Since I agree with his position, it was an easy book for me to read and enjoy. No doubt I would have felt differently if I disagreed with him!

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Towards Belief - Suffering

In August I wrote a review of the DVD series Towards Belief. Since then I have re-watched the series in my home group. The information shared was so helpful I thought I would post a brief overview of the key thoughts here, starting this week with the first topic: Suffering

• Suffering doesn’t disprove the existence of God. Just because we can’t imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.
• Real freedom means real choice and it comes at great cost
• A parent’s perspective is different to a child’s. We assume if God has good reasons for allowing suffering then we ought to be told what those reasons are. Yet we are not always able to explain our decisions to our children.
• We procreate knowing our children will have to deal with suffering but it doesn’t stop us from having children.
• The world is currently broken. In the beginning it wasn’t and there was no death or suffering.
• Without God there is no hope for the future. Without God we wouldn’t have the strength to go through suffering.
• The Cross means I know God’s heart. A loving God must have loving reasons for allowing suffering.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 27:8

Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain. Exodus 27:8

Many have undertaken to draw pictures of the tabernacle and its furnishings. However there are major differences between these pictures. Why would this be so? The directions we have in Exodus are not specific enough for us to know exactly how these things looked. People interpret Moses' descriptions according to their own ideas.

When Moses was on the mountain God told him what to build. However he was not only given written directions but also pictures. Words alone were not enough, Moses was "shown" what to build.

Throughout Exodus God gave his people written instructions on how to live a life that would ensure God's blessing but it wasn't enough. Situations occurred that were not covered in God's Word. In Jesus' day the Pharisees added to these instructions to cover every possible happening but in so doing created an unbearable burden for people (Luke 11:46).

Likewise for us written instructions are not enough. God sent Jesus not to give us more instructions but to show us a godly life. In Hebrews 1:3 we read, "The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being." Jesus is the exact representation of God. This is why Jesus was able to say to Philip, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

God's written word provides a guide as to what pleases God but when we want specifics we look to Jesus and his Spirit within us. When we seek his ways, we will be "shown," perhaps not in pictures but by knowing in our hearts. "Your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:21).

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Review : Can God see me?

Can God see me? by Penny Reeve is being featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance this week. Information about the author and more details about the book can be found here.

Can God see me? is a fun story about how interested God is in all that concerns us. The story progresses in an adventurous way which is sure to engage young children. The book presents God as a natural and normal part of a person's life. It leaves you with a positive view of God and feelings of hope because God is always there for us.

The text has a lovely rhythm and rhyme. Shannon Melville has done a great job of producing clear, colourful pictures and the font works well with the theme.

Overall a delightful book for little ones.

Thanks to Wombat Books for providing a free book for review.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blog Tour : Can God See Me?

This blog tour is for the children’s book: Can God See Me? by Penny Reeve. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review here.

18 -22 November

is introducing

Wombat Books October 2013


Penny Reeve

About the Author:
Penny Reeve grew up as the child of missionary parents in a variety of cross cultural settings. She then went to university, got married and served for several years herself in PNG and Nepal.

She now lives with her family in Western Sydney and is the author of 11 children’s books including the very popular Find the Animal series for young children and the social-justice themed Tania Abbey novels.

Website: www.pennyreeve.com

About the Book:
I read in the Bible, so it must be true, God can see everything that I do. But what might this look like? And how far does God's care reach? Join the wild, hilarious and certainly crazy ride of a young boy who dares to imagine the incredible scope of God's love and care.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 24:8

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Exodus 24:8

The new covenant is an amazing picture of the old covenant. The old covenant provided a means for God to dwell amongst his people through the giving of the law and the tabernacle. The law provided instructions on how to live as God's people – not how to become God's people as this has always been through faith (Genesis 15:6). However it instructed them to live according to the law so God could bless them and show them his favour. The tabernacle was the place where God's people were to worship him – to bring sacrifices and consecrate themselves to him.

The new covenant provides a means for God to dwell amongst his people through Jesus' blood and the Holy Spirit. No longer are laws required to instruct people how to respond to each and every situation but rather God puts his laws in his people's hearts. It becomes their heart's desire to follow God's ways (Ezekiel 36:27). The new covenant also means there is no longer a physical tabernacle to worship God but rather God's people can worship him in spirit and truth wherever they are.

The old covenant is a mere shadow of the good things God planned for us in the new covenant. The requirement for holiness is still there but it is met in Jesus. The requirement for sacrifice is also there but again it is met in Jesus. While the old covenant has become obsolete it still speaks to us about the holiness of God and reveals the enormous sacrifice God made in order to be in relationship with us.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book Review : Humilitas

Humilitas is the Latin word for humility. John Dickson began studying the origins of humility in Western ethical thought through a research project he was involved with at Macquarie University. He was intrigued to discover that prior to the growth of Christianity humility was not valued highly. The more he researched the topic the more he was drawn to the aesthetic qualities and practical benefits of humility.

In the introduction Dickson, points out the difficulty or writing on this subject. Does the reader think he is writing about humility because he has his virtue? If so, he clearly hasn't. Yet if he doesn't have this virtue why would he presume to write about it? Dickson makes many amusing comments about his lack of humility including a comment from his best friend who said, on learning the topic of his research project, "Well, John, at least you have the objective distance from the subject!"

Dickson looks at a range of issues associated with humility. How is it defined? How does it affect leadership? How does it affect our relationship with others? How did it become a virtue? Why is it a virtue worth pursuing? What is the enduring legacy that Jesus left in regard to humility? Dickson gives many insights and historic understanding into this virtue and why it is something worth pursing today.

Overall a very interesting and enlightening book.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Children's Ministry - part 4

My final thoughts on this topic are about implementing significant changes in our approach to children's ministry :

Tammy Tolman in her book, Piece by Piece makes eight suggestions to change the direction of a children’s ministry that is merely seeking to entertain children. The following four are particularly relevant:

• “Stop teaching at them and start empowering them to actually discovering for themselves the difference Jesus can actually make in their life
• Stop speaking at them and start putting them into situations that allow them to experience that God’s truth is real
• Stop telling them stories of other people’s lives that have been changed by God and start challenging them about their own lives
• Stop making them sit and watch you and encourage them to start serving and doing ministry for themselves” (Tolman 2008:137).

These four suggestions all speak of children being active participants in the learning process. Rather than expecting children to sit around learning faith by osmosis, they need to experience God for themselves. One way of doing this is by giving children responsibilities, either within the children program or during the Sunday service; responsibilities such as taking up the offering, welcoming, Bible reading etc. Encouraging children from a young age to fulfil an upfront role gives them a sense of belonging as well as helping them own their own faith.

Furthermore parents need to be aware of the role they play in modelling faith. If they are not engaged when they are at church neither will their children be.

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 16:2-3

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!" Exodus 16:2-3

What an amazing lack of faith! There was no memory of God already providing drinkable water (15:25), no thought of asking God to provide for their needs, no expectation that God would care. Even though God destroyed a whole army of Egyptians to save them, their first reaction was to complain.

Their complaints against Moses and Aaron escalate, "There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death" (v.3). They seem to have completely forgotten that they were slaves in Egypt. Furthermore if Moses and Aaron's intention was to starve the entire assembly then, Moses and Aaron would die too. Their arguments were not logical or well thought through.

Yet, perhaps we do the same? We are quick to forget God's provision for us. He has provided salvation, access to his grace, fellowship with him and every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). Yet we are often slow to seek God, thinking he is too busy, aloof or uncaring. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, God is deeply interested in all that concerns us, so much so that he sent Jesus who became "fully human in every way" (Hebrews 2:17).

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances may our first reaction not be to complain or accuse God of indifference. May we remember the ways God has already provided for us and "approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Blog Tour : Faith in the Great Southland

This month's fiction blog tour is for: Faith in the Great Southland by Mary Hawkins. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

4 – 8 November

is introducing

(Barbour Books October 1, 2012)


About the Book:
Elizabeth Waverly never dreamed that taking a convict transport back to her home in Australia would change her life. But from the moment she lays eyes on John Martin, she cannot resist her growing attraction to him. She knows the man faces a life sentence for murder, but her heart refuses to believe he is guilty of the charges against him. How could someone who so valiantly protects others and accepts another prisoner's punishment be a brutal felon? Yet once the transport ship lands in Australia, their paths are bound to head in very different directions. Is their love destined to become a bittersweet memory of what might have been, or will faith show them another way?

About the Author:
Mary is a multi-published Australian romance author with 19 titles. After being published by Harlequin Mills and Boon medicals, Heartsong Presents and Barbour, her most recent single title Bargagula series is published by Ark House Press in Sydney. I am a member of the Society Women Writers Tasmania, Romance Writers of Australia, Omega Writers, Australian Christian Writers Fellowship, American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers America and their Faith Hope Love chapter. My Heartsong Presents back list titles are being released by Truly Yours Digital Editions. Faith in the Great Southland is now available with the other 3 in this series to be released June and July. She is available to speak and share what she has learnt about writing novels, her writing journey and faith in our incredible God. For more about Mary, go to her website.

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Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Children's Ministry - part 3

Last time in children's ministry we looked at Westerhoff's diagram. Today we look at how this applies to the following age groupings:

For children in this age group we want to create an environment where they feel loved and accepted in order for them to develop a positive image of God who is loving and caring. This is done through appropriate stories from the Bible and by the modelling of the teacher. There will be opportunities for children to experience God through singing and being led in prayer. Also at this age children are learning to trust other caregivers so it is particularly important that children are safe in the church’s children’s ministry.

Primary School – Kinder to Year 3
Children in this age group will tend to imitate spiritual behaviour rather than own their own faith. This is to be encouraged even if it seems contrived as children need freedom to experiment with various expressions of faith. It is important that the significance others in their lives, teachers and parents, are good role models. At this stage we want them to feel like they belong and that they are able to be involved and make a contribution.

Primary School – Year 4 to Year 6
Children in this age group are moving into the critical area of owning their own faith and joining the church. Regardless of previous commitments of faith, they are really only now old enough to make an informed commitment. It is important not to assume children have done this but be prepared to regularly challenge these children.

Youth Group – Year 7 to Year 9
It is important that leaders provide an accepting and safe environment for young people to examine their faith. They need to be allowed to question faith and search for answers that satisfy them. Leaders need to take questions seriously and provide both spiritual and intellectual answers. Given the right environment these young people can get to the point of owning their own faith.

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Saturday, November 02, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 18:24

Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. Exodus 18:24

Moses was teachable. In the Egyptian palace Moses learnt how to read and write. Today we have the benefit of reading his record of historical events in the first five books of the Bible. He learnt military procedures and how to organize large numbers of people. His time in the desert taught him how to travel in that environment and how to survive the desert heat.

As we consider this we realize God had been preparing Moses his whole life for the task of leadership which didn't reach its consummation until he was eighty years old (Exodus 7:7). Even then Moses had more to learn and God sent his father-in-law along to teach him how to delegate responsibilities.

Sometimes God puts his people through long periods of preparation, while their season of ministry maybe short in comparison. For thirty years God prepared Jesus for three years of ministry. Yet it was the most significant three years in history.

We may already feel like we have messed up so badly that we have missed God's plan and have to settle for something else. Moses probably felt this way when he killed the Egyptian and fled to the desert. Yet God took even these experiences to further prepare Moses for the task he had for him. Nothing in God is wasted.

God's preparation requires that we are patient, teachable and faithful because while we are being trained we rarely see the end result that God has in mind. However we can only keep a good attitude if we have committed to learning God's ways and developed a deep trust in his character. Then in due course we will see that all things do indeed work together for good (Romans 8:28).

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book Review : The Yellow Zone

The Yellow Zone is an eerie book. Janelle Dyer has created a scenario of what the end of the world may be like, using modern technology and the terrorist threat. The story and the characters are all very believable and thus quite scary.

The story centres on a several teenagers and their families, who are caught up in the dramas and many come to a place of belief in God through the situation. The Christian element is significant but not overwhelming. In this regard at the start of the story, the reader is rather wisely left to draw their own conclusions about the disappearance of children and many people, who were obviously strong Christians.

There was a little too much ‘telling’ and not enough ‘showing’ which created distance between the reader and really connecting with the story but, for me, this added to the feeling of eeriness but perhaps there are better ways to do this.

The book encourages the reader to think about the risks involved in standing up for what you believe in. It would be suitable for teenagers who are not daunted by the terrorist threat. The story lends itself to a sequel and even a prequel.

Overall an interesting story.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Children's Ministry - part 2

Continuing the series of my discoveries in children's ministry.

There are many who have produced developmental theories as to how faith grows in children. John Westerhoff used a diagram of concentric circles to illustrate faith development most simply:

• "The centre circle is experiencing. This stage is linked to childhood, and the key is for children to experience the faith community as a place where they feel loved and accepted.

• The second circle is joining. This is a stage in early adolescence and is a time when the young person looks to belong to a faith community and to join 'God’s family.'

• The third circle is searching. This stage corresponds to adolescence and the natural shift in intellectual capacity. To use Piaget’s terminology, one moves from concrete to formal operations. Adolescents are questioning their experience of faith, the church, and what they have been taught, as well as the experiences of others.

• The fourth circle is owning. This is a stage during adulthood when the person makes a decision to believe and personalize what they have been taught as a child. This person is now believing because they want to" (Westerhoff in Bartlett, Belonging and Believing, 2000).

The diagram simplifies the complex process of coming to faith yet clearly illustrates the need to develop a child’s faith. There seems to be a fear of not allowing children to move into searching phase but rather keep them safe and entertained in the false belief that this will keep them in the church. Some parents are more concerned about their children being, 'Safe in the faith, not strong in the faith.' However children who are only being entertained will tire of church programs when they are old enough to discover the world has more to offer in terms of entertainment.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 8:19

The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” Exodus 8:19

At this point in the plague narratives we see that some Egyptians were starting to realize that something genuinely spiritual was happening, and it affects their behaviour. In the next chapter when warned of the plague of hail we read that, "Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field" (Exodus 9:20-21). Later some had been so impacted by the plagues that they left Egypt with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38).

In verse quoted above, the magicians also realized that something of spiritual significance was happening. They knew the plague of gnats was not magic but had to be God. Thus revealing that they knew all along that what they were doing was not by the power of any god but was magic. God puts the magicians in a situation where they have to say, "Only God could have done that." Even though Pharaoh refused to see it.

In our day, we also find God putting people in situations that only he could have orchestrated. God has his people reconnecting with acquaintances, perhaps like the Egyptians who knew Moses from his time in the palace. But now, they are doing things – perhaps leading or preaching, that they would never have done before, all because of the difference God has made in their lives. Some stop to consider what has caused the change but others refused to believe the evidence in front of their eyes.

What about you? Will you acknowledge the difference God can make in a person's life? And the difference he can make in yours?

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blog Tour : Joy

This month's blog tour is for the children’s book: Joy by Kirrily Lowe. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review can be found here.

21-25 October

is introducing

(Wombat Books August 2010)


Kirrily Lowe

About the Book:

"I've lost my joy where could it be?"

Come with our little girl on a search to find her "Joy". Is it under the apple tree, is it out to sea, or is it in something that we cannot see? A message for little ones and big ones – where do we go to find joy when we have lost it.

About the Author:

Kirrily Lowe is the author of The Invisible Tree series of children's books - a delightful and fun series seeking to capture great and timeless values for little ones.

Kirrily began her career as a lawyer working with children in Sydney’s Western Suburbs.

She is now the pastor together with her husband Tim of C3 City Campus - a dynamic and creative congregation in Darlinghurst, Sydney.

Kirrily began writing in 2010 whilst at home with her young children.

Kirrily lives in the northern suburbs of Sydney with Tim and her 3 young and lively boys.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review : Joy

Joy is being featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance this week. Information about the author and more details about the book can be found here.

Joy is the second in The Invisible Tree series by Kirrily Lowe. The series is based on the fruit of the Spirit.

From the introduction: “There is an invisible tree that lives inside of me. It wants to grow big and tall even though I am very small.”

This book asks the question, where is my joy? It becomes clear that joy isn’t like other things that we can’t find. The message subtly points towards God without being intense. I also like the gentle rhyming.

Henry Smith has done a great job of designing pictures and fonts to fit the message and style of the book.

Thanks to Wombat Books for providing a free book for review.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Devotional Thought : Exodus 1:1

These are the names of the sons of Israel who went to Egypt with Jacob, each with his family. Exodus 1:1

Constable in the introduction to his commentary on Exodus writes, “Scripture teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. No one has been able to explain this mystery to the satisfaction of all God’s people.”

God’s Sovereignty tells us that God is the ultimate ruler of the universe yet God also gives humans freedom. God does not micromanage. God is so powerful he can bring about his purposes and allow people choice at the same time. To some extent we do this with our children. In the home the parents are the ultimate authority yet often they will give their children a choice, within reason, about their friends, their level of involvement in sports or hobbies, how they spend their free time and other areas. A child’s poor choices may damage his relationship with his parents but it won’t affect the parent’s authority.

One of the ways God expresses his sovereignty is through creating a pattern. God chose Israel as his own so that through them he could show the other nations what it is like to live under the blessing and rule of the one true God rather than pagan gods. Even though Israel often failed to be a good role model in this, it did not stop God from fulfilling his purposes. His Sovereignty was not thwarted. And even in Israel’s failure there were some who still saw the value of committing to following God’s ways, like Ruth (Ruth 1:16).

Through the book of Exodus we see God displaying his Sovereignty over the pagan gods of Egypt. We also see Moses and the people’s choice. Will they trust God’s ways? And likewise, will we?

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Children's Ministry - part 1

I have been studying children's ministry as part of my course and I thought I would share some of my discoveries:

From a Biblical perspective, parents are seen as the primary source of spiritual teaching. However the mode of teaching them was based on the premise that children would be spending most of their time with their parents.

“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 11:19-20 NIV).

Consequently for at least the first 1700 years of the Christian Church there was no specific ministry to children – no children’s pastors, family ministers or youth workers. There are some parents who have returned to this model. They want to be fully responsible for the spiritual teaching of their children and do not encourage their children to attend Kids Church or youth group. Some have gone to the extent of only attending church spasmodically preferring instead to have “home church” with their family. However this exaggerates the Biblical model. Though parents were the primary source of spiritual instruction, children grew up with their extended families of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc. The children were receiving role modelling from a variety of people. By returning to this model in the context of nuclear families depraves children of the diversity that a church family provides.

Around the time of the Industrial Revolution formal Sunday Schools began. Rather than children working alongside their parents on farms or in cottage industries, they were working six days a week in factories and not receiving any instruction - spiritual or otherwise, apart from the wealthy. Most children were not learning to read and write. The Sunday School movement was started to meet the need for literacy and for spiritual instruction.

Initially the movement attracted large numbers of children but over time with social conditions improving for children and, with the introduction of formal education, Sunday School attendances steadily decreased. Many attempts have been made to address this decline and the introduction of more entertaining programs is one of these attempts. However entertainment alone is not stopping this trend and many churches are finding children’s attendance at Sunday School sporadic.

Nevertheless some churches in recent times have found that a children’s program can still be popular and an effective means of outreach to children but the program needs to be more than entertainment.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Caleb Conference

I was greatly encouraged last weekend as a result of attending the Caleb Conference. It was so good to be around people who have such a passion for producing Australian books. There were heaps of workshops, good conversations and renewed relationships. I was also impressed by the diversity of gifts, talents and ideas that I noticed in the delegates and the different paths that God has people on.

On the downside Australian Christian publishing is small and most Australian Christian writers still only make 'pocket money.' Still their commitment and sacrifice to writing and publication is inspiring.

On a personal note, I have a clearer vision and renew vigour to pursue publication of my book.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Devotional Thought : Hosea 9:1

Do not rejoice, Israel; do not be jubilant like the other nations. For you have been unfaithful to your God; you love the wages of a prostitute at every threshing floor. Hosea 9:1

Although Hosea and Gomer’s relationship is not mentioned again after chapter 3 in the book of Hosea, the theme of unfaithfulness continues. Israel is compared to a prostitute's pimp. It is sexual imagery. As people heard Hosea’s words they would remember his sacrificial behaviour towards Gomer, and thus God’s heart towards them.

Words alone are not always effective. The human mind is able to rationalize or ignore mere words but a person's behaviour gives substance. No doubt Hosea found it difficult to redeem his wife under such circumstances but his motive was obedience to God and the consequence was to give his preaching more authority. His actions continued to speak long after his words stopped.

Centuries later Paul would write that a wife's behaviour can have more impact her words. "…if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives" (1 Peter 3:1).

James would write that words without actions are dead (James 2:14-26). Neither was God content just to give his people words. He also gave then actions, things that people could point to and say only God could have done that. Only God could have enable Hosea to take back his wife. Only God’s love could produce such action. Only God loves like that.

Nevertheless some in Hosea’s day and some in ours will chose to ignore both words and actions. God is constantly reaching out to us through his word, through other believers, through his Spirit but will we open our spiritual eyes and ears to see it, hear it and respond?

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Blog Tour : The Inheritance

This month's fiction blog tour is for: The Inheritance by Jo-Anne Berthelsen. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review can be found here.

7 -11 October

is introducing

(Even Before Publishing September 2013)


Jo-anne Berthelsen

About the Book:
Michael Trevelyan is determined to claim his inheritance at all costs. Bitterness consumes him and he refuses to forgive those who have betrayed him. Yet, when he meets Alexandra Hope, things begin to change. She challenges his views but also listens while he shares his pain. Can Michael move on from the past and learn to forgive? Can Alexandra hold onto her faith in God as she deals with their deepening relationship? Can they both learn to trust each other—and God?

The Inheritance is a stirring story of family secrets, forgiveness and faith—of leaving behind a dark, painful legacy and walking into the light of God’s eternal inheritance.

About the Author:
Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne loves communicating through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of five published novels – Heléna, All the Days of My Life, Laura, Jenna and Heléna’s Legacy. Her first non-fiction work Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey was released in October 2012. Jo-Anne loves music, reading, mentoring younger women, and sharing with community groups about writing. She is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and three grandchildren.

For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com or www.soulfriend.com.au.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Book Review : The Inheritance

The Inheritanceis being featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance this week. Information about the author and more details about the book can be found here.

The inheritance by Jo-anne Berthelsen is a moving story about unfaithfulness, tragedy, bitterness and how faith in God can bring love, forgiveness and hope.

Michael Trevelyan is bound by his unhappy childhood and refuses to let go his resentment despite the attempts of his deathly ill mother. The conditions of her will only increases his resentment as he struggles to hold onto the family estate and maintain a busy medical practice. Meanwhile he is drawn to the local doctor’s daughter, Alexandra, but their different world views create impossible grounds for a long term relationship.

This is a strongly Christian story, but it needs to be to deal with the consequence of shocking past failures. Only in God is there hope for restoration and healing. The thing I liked most about this book is the raw emotion which draws you into the story. I could feel their pain. I liked the reality of people putting on a good façade but seeing their emotions play out in their relationships. I also liked the slow leak of information and the surprising contrasts that developed through the story.

Overall a great story.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free book for review.

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Saturday, October 05, 2013

A week away

Although I've recently started a new job I've been able arrange a week off to visit my elderly parents and attend a Writer's Conference in Brisbane next weekend. I've scheduled a few posts while I'm away.

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Devotional Thought : Hosea 3:2

So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Hosea 3:2

Hosea’s life is an object lesson on how far God will go to prove his love for his people. God tells Hosea to take the initiative and go to his adulterous wife, even while she is being loved by another man. He also commands Hosea to “love her as the Lord loves the Israelites” (v.1). This must have been humiliating for Hosea. Gomer’s unfaithfulness would have been obvious to all and she is not the one seeking forgiveness. Yet Hosea purchases and redeems her.

Thirty shekels was the normal price of a slave. Whether Gomer had ended up as a slave and Hosea only had fifteen shekels and some barley for the exchange is unclear. However it is clear that Hosea had already married Gomer and now he has to pay again. Gomer is twice Hosea’s. Likewise we are twice God’s. Once because we are made in his image and twice because he paid to redeem us.

God takes the initiative with us even when we are more interested in the things that will destroy our relationship with God, than build it. Yet God through Jesus shows his love to by bearing the humiliation of the cross and willingly sacrificing all he has to purchase our redemption.

The radical love Hosea shows towards Gomer is meant to shock us in to realizing how much God loves us. Certainly we would be shocked if we saw the story of Hosea and Gomer being lived out in our midst. The Israelites saw it but they did not consider the object lesson God was giving them.

Today let us consider and be overwhelmed by a God who loves like this.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Book Review : Piece by Piece

Piece by piece : unlocking the puzzle for an effective ministry to today’s children is an excellent resource for people working in children’s ministry. By using the illustration of a jigsaw puzzle Tammy Tolman is able to explain the different aspect of children’s ministry in a comprehensive way. The corner piece is, of course, Jesus and our relationship with him. The edges represent leadership, community, team building and discipleship. While the connecting pieces represent the process of engaging, experiencing, educating and building relationships with the children.

Tammy’s passion for children’s ministry comes through loud and strong. She champions the cause of children being allowed to participate in ministry and experience God in the process.

Tammy’s experience is in large churches where her focus has been entirely on children’s ministry. At times I found this approach hard to relate to as I come from a small church where people have many roles and responsibilities. Children’s ministry is often one role among many. However I appreciate Tammy’ knowledge and experience which she happily shares in this book.

Great resource for children’s ministry.

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