Thursday, October 30, 2014

He feels it too

Saul’s conversion on the Damascus road took place many years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet when Jesus confronted him, he asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus is speaking using the present tense—why do you persecute me? Jesus lives in his followers. This is not some nice theological theory but here we see a very practical application of this truth. Again in the next verse we find Jesus saying, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” When Christians are hurt, persecuted, abused, ridiculed, Jesus feels it too.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review : Blaze in the Storm

Jenny Glazebrook's books remind me of what it's like to be a young Christian and a teenager. Jenny does a great job of capturing the teenager/young adult world with stories that draw you in. Her characters are believable and the settings realistic.

Blaze in the Storm is the first in a series of six which introduces the Clement family. Six new children at school is bound to cause a stir especially with their circus background and their excessive love of horses. Bonnie is drawn to the eldest, Blaze but his overly Christian stance is off putting as he has yet to learn how to express his faith with grace and gentleness.

Jenny is also unafraid of putting her characters in difficult situations which causes them to question their faith. Some of these difficulties are life threatening, others are the disillusionment with other Christians, but all are part of the Christian life. Jenny also understands how God works healing into a person's life which may take years to bear fruit.

This is a great novel for young adults as there is so much for them to identify with from school yard name callers to high achievers to those who are simply bored and enjoy disrupting the classroom.

A great read.

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Devotional Thought : Luke 2:48

When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." Luke 2:48

Jesus' parents were astonished when they found him in the temple courts, sitting with the teachers listening to them and asking questions (v.46). Were they astonished because they expected to find him playing with the other children, rather than conversing with the adults? Were they astonished because they expected him to be upset about being left behind? Were they astonished because he wasn't concerned about their feelings?

Mary said, "Why have you treated us like this?" As if she sees Jesus' behaviour as a deliberate attempt to cause his parents grief, instead of his curiosity with the things of God. Jesus was twelve and considered an adult in Jewish society. Jesus knew it was time to grow up and start taking his destiny seriously. He needed to learn as much as he could while he was in Jerusalem and had access to the teachers there.

Still I suspect people today still say to Jesus, "Why have you treated us like this?" Why have you allowed this anxiety, this worrying turn of events or this inconvenience? You must have known this situation would cause us to worry unnecessarily. You could have intervened sooner and prevented it? Often we expect Jesus to be more concerned with our comfort than his purposes and then wonder why we feel abandoned.

Yet today we always know where Jesus is. He is with us and in us, even when it seems otherwise. He always cares. Yet his heart is for his father's business, for those things which are important to God. His presence is not merely designed to keep us happy and comfortable.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

God the Enough

Mark Buchanan is one of my favourite authors and I particularly enjoyed his book, The Holy Wild which I have read and reread. I particularly like this story, which I may have mentioned before. It illustrates the importance of understanding that God is enough:

A woman whose husband left her for another woman after many years of supposedly happy married life said this, "In the first year or so after he left, there were many things I thought of doing—selfish, sinful things. But you know what kept me from doing them? Thinking that one day I will stand before God in heaven and to explain to God why living for him, by his strength wasn’t enough."

One of the names of God, El Shaddai, contains the idea that God is enough. Whatever we are going through God is enough. If all we had in the world was God that would be enough. It is a challenging thought. Often we think in order to be happy we need a certain level of material blessing, family, friends, a fulfilling job etc. Yet all these things are temporal and can be lost in minutes. Our only real security is found in God.

God is also the only one who can satisfy our deep longings for significance, fulfillment and value. When things go wrong, remember in spite of everything, God is enough and he will get us through if we will let him help us.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review : Worlds Beyond Words

Worlds Beyond Words by Alison Stokes is a collection of stories about people who have had grown up with learning difficulties, especially dyslexia. Mostly this went undiagnosed when they were children causing much anguish in school and in life. The stories are first person accounts of these struggles.

Yet they are all stories of triumph as they sought help, usually as adults, to overcome their difficulties with reading and writing. For many the battle goes on as they continue to seek to improve their reading skills.

This book is part of the Quick Reads series. Often the writers mention these books in their accounts as being an encouragement in the development of their reading skills, since they are short, often in large print and generally good stories. For a person with dyslexia the challenge of reading a normal length novel can be overwhelming.

This is an enjoyable collection of nine short stories which are quite inspiring as you read about the difficulties people have overcome to achieve their goals.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Devotional Thought : Psalm 15:5

Whoever does these things will never be shaken. Psalm 15:5

Summarizing the list of behaviours in this Psalm tells us that whoever is kind, speaks the truth, is reliable, keeps their promise, makes an honest living and generally does the right thing is not "shaken". They are not shaken because they don't live in fear of being found out, or worry about something from their past having ongoing repercussions or fear someone they have hurt will retaliate. They can live in peace and not be worried about their past haunting their present life.

These days there are many high profile politicians and corporate leaders who live in fear that something from their past will be dug up by the media. Perhaps they experimented with drugs or excessive alcohol at university, had a sexual or financial indiscretion, lost their temper or behaved badly in a public place. If uncovered the best outcome might be severe embarrassment or the worst scenario might be losing their job.

The world sometimes mocks the way Christians live as if they are strange and deprived because they do not involve themselves in dubious life style choices. They avoid activities which compromise their standards and disadvantage others. They can be relied upon to do what they commit to. Long term Christians can become the best candidates for high profile positions because their employers have less to worry about when the media starts trolling their past.

The Message puts this verse this way, "You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this." Living a morally sound life is not only God honouring but a sensible way to live. It brings more blessings than we realize and one of them is that we never have to worry about being shunned by people if they discover our past.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

On attaching blame

If you are familiar with Winnie the Pooh you may remember the time Pooh bear visited Owl at his house which was a small wooden bird box perched in a tree. While he was there the wind blew Owl’s house out of the tree. Initially Owl thought it must be Pooh’s fault but when he realized it was not he said, "'If it was the wind,' said Owl, considering the matter, 'then it wasn’t Pooh’s fault. No blame can be attached to him'" (The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne).

This story reflects our desire to know who is to blame when things go wrong. I suspect this is because if we know who is to blame it makes us feel there is at least some measure of control in the unpleasant things that happen. But when random awful things happen, like your house being blown out of a tree, it is disconcerting to realize that no one is to blame. This may translate to, no one is in control and there is no security anywhere.

Fortunately, as Christians we know this is not the case. Even when awful things happen we can rest assured it comes as no surprise to God. We live in a fallen world where sometimes things seem completely out of control. Yet the Bible tells us, "underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27), and in that we can find peace and security.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Book Review : Gang of Four

I enjoyed Liz Byrski's story, Gang of Four. It revolves around four women, Isabel, Sally, Robin and Grace who are friends in their early fifties. Their lives have become repetitive and limited but it is not until Isabel makes a break, that the others are embolden to make changes themselves.

I found the four characters, although in a similar life stage, to be believable and different enough from each other, to make it easy to keep track of them as the story jumped from one character to another, overlapping from time to time before continuing on.

The four friends come from different marital situations. Isabel is married, Grace a widow, Sally is unmarried and Robin is having an affair. They are all successful in their careers. Yet they are all in various states of discontent and have unresolved issues from their past or present. While initially it is Isabel who finds the courage to step out of her comfort zone to make the changes that will enhance her future, slowly the others follow her lead and realize that it is possible, even at their age, to make changes.

Sally and Robin both have secrets they have not shared with the others, which is surprising given the close nature of the friendships, but understandable. Through the story they confront their secrets and find some sense of freedom.

The book ends on a sad, but hopeful note, where each of them has gained a better perspective on themselves and their lives.

This was a pleasurable read, especially for women in this stage of life where children are independent and life changes can still be made.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Devotional Thought : Psalm 7:9

Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure—you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts. Psalm 7:9

We want God to bring to an end the violence of the wicked and for the righteous to be secure. We want God to step into our world and fix it. Bring justice to the wicked and achieve freedom from strife for the righteous. We want peace but God wants pure motives. God, we discover, is more interested in our motives than in our comfort. This is not a happy thought. God will allow unpleasant circumstances because he is purifying our motives!

Mostly we don't even think about our motives. We don't consider why we favour one course of action over another. We make decisions that seem so obvious to us that we assume that anyone in our position would make the same ones.

I heard the story of two sons born to an alcoholic father. One became a teetotaller and the other an alcoholic. When asked how these life style choices happened, both replied: "With a father like mine, what would you expect?"

Same circumstances, different outcomes because of the motives and attitudes of the people involved. We are more unique than we realize. What really motives us? Why do we make the choices we make? What are we hoping to gain? Normally we only examine our motives when we have a problem, when something isn't working out the way we expect, which is perhaps God's intention.

However motives aren't easy to identify. David prayed: "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts" (Psalm 139:23).

When it comes to motives we need God's help to probe our mind and heart so that he can be our true source of security.

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Loving and Powerful

There were many times recorded in the New Testament where Jesus’ life was threatened. Paul also was in danger many times and even David in the Old Testament lived with the threat of Saul taking his life. These near-death incidents highlight to us that no one can touch us without God’s permission. We will not die until God is ready to take us home. Those who have taken the attitude, God is loving but not powerful are greatly mistaken.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Book Review : The Coroner's Lunch

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill is the first in the series of Dr. Siri mysteries and introduces the unconventional doctor. This story is set in Laos in 1976 against a backdrop of the recent communist take over.

Dr. Siri is appointed the State Coroner, not because of his expertise, but due to the lack of any other qualified personnel. Dr Siri is also not qualified to be a coroner but makes up for his lack of knowledge by consulting text books and anecdotal evidence which is often difficult to come by.

I was enjoying the story until it took an unwarranted detour into the occult world of a remote village, the village where Dr. Siri grew up. I don't mind the odd strange dream, or the bizarre behaviour of the neighbour's dog but it feels like "cheating" when an author has supernatural phenomenon leaving clues.

Nevertheless the characters were well drawn and the murder(s) intriguing.

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Saturday, October 04, 2014

Devotional Thought : Psalm 5:12

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. Psalm 5:12

Christians are "the righteous" not because they have attained a standard of righteousness themselves but because Jesus has made them righteous by his blood. "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" (Romans 3:22). Christians are given righteousness, it is not earned, it is pure gift.

As Christians we are therefore blessed. God has given us righteousness and we are eternally saved. This is an enormous blessing and one that we will only fully appreciate when we see heaven. Furthermore we are surrounded with the favour of the Lord.

God has numerous ways of bestowing his favour, sometime through unlikely sources like in the times of Ezra: "Praise be to the Lord … who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord" (Ezra 7:27). God can move even a pagan king to act with favour towards his people. At other times he shows favour through ordinary people and circumstances.

Sometimes we are like children who don't appreciate the favour their parents show them but take it for granted. However the more grateful the child the more favour they are likely to receive from their parents. Likewise God is more able to bless grateful children who acknowledge his favour.

Interestingly in this verse God's favour is seen as a shield. His favour could have been described as a coat or a blanket but instead it is portrayed as a shield which immediately speaks to us of protection. It is not our preparation, planning, or our clever schemes that protect us but rather God's favour protects us from the enemy.

Do we acknowledge God's favour and receive it with thankfulness?

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Enjoying Life

The Christian life is supposed to be enjoyable. I'm sure many people don't realize this, even Christians. Enjoyable, not in the sense of an emotional roller coaster where we go from one mountain top experience to another, but rather by coming to a place of maturity and learning to be content in all our circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

However what does it say to the watching world when I don’t take time out to rest and enjoy the good things God gives me? Some days this may seems quite dull. However Jesus promised us abundant life and there is nothing dull about the life Jesus wants us to have.

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