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.


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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