Saturday, May 30, 2015

Devotional Thought : Psalm 39:6

Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be. Psalm 39:6

Rushing about and heaping up wealth – two things today's society also does. Rather surprisingly David wrote this about 3000 years old, the thing that doesn't seem to change over the years is people's attitude.

Success seems to be equated with "rushing about". Success in the world’s eyes is seen as the highest amount of activity in the least amount of time. The world celebrates high achievers, even if their relationship with family and friends has been sacrificed so they can reach their goals. It’s assumed if people are busy and overworked they must be making a valuable contribution. Rarely does anyone question the value of their activity.

Likewise we hold in high esteem those who have "heaped up wealth". They save up resources supposedly for unexpected expenses but it becomes their security. Often it's left to relatives who either don't appreciate it or waste it on unnecessary luxuries.

As people of faith we can make better decisions with any time and money. It is easy to be busy but are we making a difference in other people's lives; are we extending God's kingdom on earth? It is not God's intention for us to be constantly working, earning, achieving. Resting can be a holy activity. God wants us to take the time to enjoy the good things he has given us.

Similarly with our money, are we saving excessively? The writer of Proverbs prays: "give me neither poverty nor riches…Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you…Or I may become poor and steal... (Proverbs 30:8-9).

Let's not be like those without faith who are often busy without purpose and accumulate wealth for no reason.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review : Facing Your Giants

Max Lucado uses nineteen stories from the life of David to put together this book on Facing Your Giants. Max covers all sorts of issues such as grief, isolation, being overlooked, abandonment, failure and even success and shows how David faced each of these – sometimes well and sometimes not so well. I found that although these stories were familiar to me that Max brought fresh perspective and insight to them. He applied them to modern situations and made them relevant for today. Max writes in a story like way which makes for easy reading.

The book is deeply encouraging. No matter what difficult situation you are facing, whether it is the result of someone else's sin or the result of your own, God is able to help, strengthen and empower us to bring about a good outcome.

Each chapter is complete in itself, though sometimes this creates a bit of overlap between chapters but this is only noticed if you read several chapters in one sitting. The advantage is each chapter can be studied separately. There is a study guide at the end to facilitate this.

An encouraging read.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated

Recently I was trying to better understand Romans 9:13 - "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." When I came across this quote:

"As to 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,' a woman once said to Mr. Spurgeon, 'I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.' 'That,' Spurgeon replied, 'is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob!"

We are so troubled about God hating Esau that we overlook the greater mystery, which is how could God love Jacob? In fact, how could God love any of us?

When we read the history of Jacob which leads into the history of Israel we see how loving God is to his people. Jacob was a deceiver yet God continued to seek him out and extend loving kindness towards him. Likewise with the nation of Israel we see God over and over again being gracious. He sent prophets to warn and exhort his people not to engage in evil practices and yet the people ignored them. Even when God sent them into exile, he promised a return to the land and much blessing if they followed his ways, but still they did not.

When we contrast this with God's dealings with Esau and the nation of Edom, there is much less intervention by God. However we find that God did bless Esau (Deuteronomy 2:5; Hebrews 11:20) and he did send a prophet to Edom (Obadiah). Yet this was considerably less than what he did for Jacob and Israel, so much so that by comparison it appears as if God didn't care about Esau. Or, in fact, hated him.

Constable in his commentary quotes Mounse as saying, "The strong contrast is a Semitic idiom that heightens the comparison by stating it in absolute terms." The whole history of Israel is summarized in seven words (Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated) to create a concentrated but generalized picture of God's dealings with his people which Paul then uses to teach God's Sovereignty. In the Message it is described as "a stark epigram."

God does not hate anyone. The rest of the Bible confirms this. A God who would sacrifice his own Son must love us a great deal. However for reasons we cannot fathom God does bless some more than others, some are called to prominence, others to obscurity, some to wealth, some to poverty, some to easy, some to tragedy. God uses all and every means to draw all men to himself because he loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Devotional Thought : Psalm 32:9

Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Psalm 32:9

Sometimes I explain God's Sovereignty by saying God is in control. However God is not a controller in the sense that he wants to turn us into puppets. He does not micro manage our days. This verse is telling us God does not treat us like we treat horses whose every movement is controlled by bit and bridle. He wants us to willingly follow him without force or fear of consequences.

Perhaps a better way to think of God's Sovereignty is to think of God being in charge. Nothing happens without his knowledge, nothing happens that he could not stop, nothing takes him by surprise. These raises the question of why doesn't God intervene more often than he does and stop violence and suffering? The short answer is that he values our free will so much that he allows many things to take place that also break his heart. He will not become a Controller who orchestrates every choice people make in order that bad choices are never made. Free will means our choices matter and make a difference to our lives, even if they are bad choices.

We may wonder how God can ever bring about his purposes if he allows us so much freedom of choice. God wants his children to have and enjoy their preferences. Nevertheless he has a plan for our lives, a calling that will be fulfilling because it is tailor made for us, if we chose to step into it.

However if we chose not to follow God's destiny for us, he has other ways of achieving his plans but that will be our loss.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Lord told me...

I often cringe when I hear people say "The Lord told me..." It is quite clear from Scripture that God does indeed speak to his people but we are not always good listeners, neither are we always good at discerning God’s timing. I fear that we confuse people with our use of this phrase, especially if we are around people who do not know God well. We can very easily give an inaccurate picture of God’s guidance, creating the impression we continually hear God speaking to us in an audible voice. In reality this rarely happens.

Lately I've been thinking of other ways to better express what I mean when I say, "The Lord told me..." such as, "I sensed God telling me…" or "I felt a conviction…" or "I believe God wants me to...". I want it to sound more like a prompting than a direct command. This is more in keeping with how I hear God and the way he leads me.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Review : Speechless

I found reading Speechless : living in awe of God's disruptive grace by Steven Curtis Chapman and Scotty Smith, a slightly difficult read. First, because of the strong musical context this book was written in (which obviously came about because Steven is a professional musician) and second I had trouble relating to the strong male perspective coming from two male writers. However the biggest difficulty was the subject matter.

It is difficult writing about grace. (I know, I do it a lot!) It is something that as Christians we think we know all there is to know since we have heard about it all our spiritual lives. The inclination is to skip over further teaching on the subject. Yet often our understanding only scratches the surface. Steven and Scotty attempt to take people further in their understanding by relating stories from their lives and others which shows the "disruptive" nature of God's grace. Yet the stories are very personal, God treats us as individuals and sometimes what is very meaningful to one person can be lost on others.

Yet, despite these difficulties, I found it was a worthwhile read. The book emphasises our need of grace and our tendency to fall back into legalism and other strategies to minimise our need of it. The authors were highly encouraging as they inspired, exhorted and urged their readers to discover the depths of God's grace for themselves.

A good read.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Devotional Thought : Judges 21:1

The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: "Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite." Judges 21:1

Why take an oath? These men had been distressed by the raped and murder of the concubine at the hands of the Benjamites, but why respond by punishing the whole tribe for years to come?

Perhaps they were trying to prove their commitment to the cause or show they were deeply distressed by what had happened. However going to such lengthens tends to have the opposite effect. The constant refrain through the book of Judges is, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit" (24:15). Perhaps this kind of violent behaviour had become more common than they would care to admit. To make matters worse, having made the vow they insist on keeping through it murder, kidnapping and rape thus perpetuating the violence (21:5-23).

When we make our own rules about what we think is acceptable behaviour there is a tendency to keep these rules above and beyond what God has asked us to do. We lose sight of what is important to God and focus on the things we can regulate. It's a trap the Pharisees fell into many years later.

In trying to keep God's commandments the Pharisees added many more rules which had the effect of taking them further away from God's heart. Jesus pointed out: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness" (Matthew 23:23).

When we rigidly enforce rules we end up in further away from God than if we act with grace and compassion.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review : Patience

Patience is a children's picture book and is the fourth in The Invisible Tree series by Kirrily Lowe. The series is based on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and has the theme: "There is an invisible tree that lives inside of me. It wants to grow big and tall even though I am very small."

In this book, Sam has received a letter from his Nanna who is on holidays in Egypt. She tells him she has sent a parcel "full of lots of surprises" but now Sam has to be patient and wait for the parcel to arrive. Through the story Sam learns the value of patience.

It has a gentle rhyming style, like the others and doesn't actually mention God though on the back page lists the fruit of the Spirit.

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

A lovely read.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Authentic Christianity

Once I spent two hours with a group of writers talking about writing and about life. Driving home I felt inspired, invigorated, energised. These people were not Christians, their lives were messy and confused but their honesty made me feel alive.

I did not feel this way after spending time with Christians. By comparison my relationship with Christians seemed plastic, shallow, and just a sham. We rarely talked about how we experience life but only about how life was suppose to be. I felt cheated when I realized that they were not being honest with me but more disturbing was why wasn’t I honest with them? Why did I pretend to have life and God figured out?

Another time we ran a youth group where all the young people were from Christian homes. They answered our questions from their heads telling us what they thought we wanted to hear. When we encouraged them to be honest and answer from their hearts, we found their true feelings were buried too deeply for us to reach.

One day a girl came to the group who answered our questions from her heart. She told us what she really thought. Suddenly the others in the group could relate to what she was saying and began to relax. They started sharing from their hearts.

Maybe all it would take for Christian faith to be lived more authentically is for Christians, like me, to be a bit more honest…

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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Devotional Thought : Judges 20:13-14

But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. Judges 20:13-14

The other eleven Israelite tribes wanted the Benjamites to hand over those from their tribe who had raped and murdered the concubine (v.5), but the Benjamites refused. They would rather fight and protect their culpable relatives even though they were vastly outnumbered. The conflict nearly wiped out the whole tribe.

"The Benjamites decided to support their kinsmen because they were their relatives, rather than standing with God for what is right" (Notes on Judges by Dr. Thomas L. Constable).

With the benefit of hindsight we wonder why the Benjamites would defend those who behaved so badly. Ultimately they risk their lives to protect the guilty. Yet we see a similar thing happen in our churches today – people will side with their family and friends rather than stand with God's purposes for his church.

It is not easy to voice an opinion which differs from your family or those you have been going to church with for decades. The loss of relationship with those you have been close to for many years seems too heavy a price to pay in order to pursue God’s plans for his church. Yet when we lack the courage of our convictions or hope someone else will take responsibility for moving the church forward into God’s purposes, nothing happens. Church leadership is limited in its effectiveness when it lacks the support of the people. Leadership cannot make the necessary decisions to follow God’s directives when the congregation remains silent or unsupportive.

So many of our churches are dying a slow death because people decide to support their relatives and long term friends rather than standing with God for what is right.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

Book Review : Too Pretty

This book 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.

As I began reading Too Pretty I wondered how I would relate to a main character who had a problem with being too pretty. Yet as I was drawn into the story I realized that there are many situations in life where people inadvertently draw attention to ourselves because they are more gifted or talented in a particular situation than others. For example many girls hide the fact they are more intelligent than their boyfriends.

Too Pretty is about Ellie an attractive young women who is never without a boyfriend but the relationships never last. She finds it easy to attract young men but has difficulty being discriminating in romantic relationships. On almost a whim she decides to not date for six months in order to break the pattern of going from one empty relationship to another and discover her own identity. She immediately meets Nathaniel an attractive young man who has issues of his own.

Having established this premise I was wondering how Andrea was going to maintain the tension for the remainder of the book when there wasn't a lot of action happening, but she achieved this effortlessly. The story provides many interesting insights into issues such as identify, family dynamics and forgiveness. When we don't live up to our own expectations sometimes the most difficult person to forgive is ourselves.

The book is well written and the characters believable. The story is based on a Christian world view which some may struggle with, but I found genuine.

Overall a great read.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Blog Tour : Too Pretty

This blog tour is for the fiction book: Too Pretty by Andrea Grigg. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review can be found here.

4 – 8 May

is introducing

Rhiza Press August 2014


Andrea Grigg

About the Book:
Being beautiful isn’t easy – just ask Ellie Paxton.

Frustrated by a long string of empty relationships, Ellie makes a promise to God not to date for six months, a promise she’s determined to keep.

Tired of being continually misjudged because of her looks Ellie moves to Sydney for a fresh start. But when her path keeps crossing with the darkly handsome Nathaniel, that promise becomes much harder to fulfil.

As they battle with their attraction for each other, Ellie is not the only one to discover it takes more than simply looking in a mirror to find out who you truly are …

Could it be that God has a bigger plan? Could this really be one of those matches made in heaven …?

About the Author:
Andrea Grigg grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, but has lived more than half her life in Australia.

Andrea lives with her husband on Queensland’s Gold Coast, where they have raised their three adult children – two daughters and a son.

Recently retired from teaching ten-year-olds, if she isn’t being a domestic executive or socialising, Andrea can be found in her cave, writing stories.

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Saturday, May 02, 2015

Devotional Thought : Judges 11:30-31

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s." Judges 11:30-31

There was no need for Jephthah to make this vow. The Spirit of the Lord had already come upon him (v.29) and God was going to give him victory over the Ammonites. However it seems Jephthah was not willing to accept God’s freely given victory and tries to bargain for something God has already given him. In this way Jephthah is trying to control God and make God operate according to his terms. By thinking he can bargain his way to victory it lessens his dependency on God’s victory.

How hard it is for human nature to embrace the free gifts of God. We are much more comfortable trying to earn them, bargain for them or in some way contribute to our own salvation. We would like to take some credit for our victories. Whether we try to impress with our clever bargaining power or our showy devotion or our numerous good deeds all is pointless. God will freely give but we must accept his gifts without trying to make ourselves worthy of them.

By making this vow Jephthah lost his daughter (and potential grandchildren), whether this is figuratively or literally is hard to say. Jewish thought would be that because he was prepared to sacrifice his daughter it doesn’t matter whether or not he actually did. It was possible under the law that Jephthah redeemed her and she served in the temple the rest of her life.

The point is though when we try to bargain with God or orchestrate circumstances to empower ourselves we dishonour God.

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