Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Reflection : Still

A number of thoughts have stayed with me since reading Still by Lauren Winner. My book review is here.

One is, I wonder if her mid-faith crisis would have happened anyway. Lauren alludes to this as she writes about other people's experience of doubt without a triggering experience. In Lauren's case, it appears her faith was built on shaky foundations. She seems dependant on others, either through attending church services with its many rituals that provided her with a sense of security or through her many friends who provided her with emotional support.

Second is her acknowledgement that although she prayed a lot she admits to rarely reading the Bible which surprised me greatly as she loves books, is well educated and widely read. Also in her previous memoir, Girl Meets God, she mentions reading the Bible. So why not now? It seems she expected to have a vibrant faith without this, but I'm not sure how you can have one without the other.

Third is her grief (or lack of it) over losing her mother to cancer. She comments that she doesn't miss her even though she moved nearer her mother following her diagnosis. It seems unlikely that you wouldn't miss someone who has been part of your life for over 25 years. It's for this reason I question whether the death of her mother had more impact on her marriage than she realized.

Fourth is her description of anxiety. It is a very honest and detailed account of her experience of panic attacks and debilitating anxiety. Yet it is also about how she worked towards overcoming it, or at least, not allowing it to control her behaviour. This was one of the most helpful depictions of anxiety that I have come across.

Fifth is Lauren gives little insight into why her marriage failed. I understand her need of privacy for both herself and her husband. However I am curious. She makes the comment that she was unhappy for a very long time but it is completely unclear about what caused her unhappiness. She paints herself as the villain – needy, ungrateful, demanding and her husband as the saint – caring, spiritually mature and faithful. Is this an accurate portrayal? I also wonder if the failure of her marriage is not connected with the unhealthy relationships she had with some of her boyfriends which she describes in her earlier book. She appears to have dealt with this through confession and repentance but I suspect there may have been underlying issues she didn't deal with.

The book provides many thought provoking moments.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015


It's interesting the assumptions we make and one of the most common is to assume other people spend their time the way we do. As if the way we spend our time is the best, most logical and beneficial use of time.

As the pastor of a small church in a rural environment, my husband was visiting one of the church families and found the wife had been making lemon butter all morning. She offered him a cup of tea and some freshly made lemon butter on bread. My husband enjoyed this very much and commented how much he liked lemon butter. She asked if he would like some. My husband's eyes gazed at the dining table covered in bottles of lemon butter and said, "Yes, please". The hostess went to the kitchen and returned with a bag of lemons, "Your wife will be able to make you some with these."

My husband suppressed a laugh. He knew he wouldn't be eating lemon butter anytime soon.

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 8:13

The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread. Isaiah 8:13

The only person or object worthy of fear is the Lord Almighty.

In Psalm 111:10 we read, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." When we first become aware of the reality of God, we may change our behaviour out of fear. Fear of consequences, fear of judgment and fear may be the deterrent when faced with temptation. However this is the beginning of wisdom. As we grow in our Christian lives we become more Christ-like and therefore more loving. We are less motivated by fear and more motivated by love. We want to live a life pleasing to God more out of love and gratitude than fear.

Also as we grow spiritually we have a greater understanding that Jesus has paid the price for our sin so that the wrath of God is no longer an issue for us. Romans 5:9 explains, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!"

In the above verse we read that God is the only one we are to regard as holy, he is the only one worthy of being feared. If we fear something or someone we are giving them more power in our lives than God, hence they have become an idol to us.

When we are tempted to fear, rather than allowing it to paralyse us, we can overcome by focusing on how much God loves us. 1 John 4:18 tells us that, "perfect love drives out fear."

When we are convinced of God's perfect love we realize that there is no need to fear.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Review : Still

Lauren Winner's first book, Girl Meets God is the story of her conversion to Christian faith from a Jewish background. This book, Still, is "notes on a mid-faith crisis" and is a collection of thoughts, stories, poems and quotes from a period of time when Lauren's faith wavered. The crisis was brought on by the death of her mother and the failure of her five year marriage. She had married three weeks after her mother died and I wonder if grief had more of an impact on her marriage than she acknowledges.

Lauren makes the comment that mostly during this crisis of faith she went to church by habit which is possibly the thing that kept her from losing her faith altogether. The book resolves towards the end with Lauren coming to a deeper place of faith but also realizing that she is on a spiritual journey which may have further highs and lows.

Although some parts of the book puzzled me, I also found it genuinely interesting as it's such an honest and often blunt account of her emotional upheaval during a difficult period of her life. I found much in the book I could relate to and I'm sure others going through a similar crisis of faith will find it helpful.

An insightful read.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Let the children come to me

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" (Matthew 19:14).

I had cause recently to consider whether our church services actually hinder children coming to Jesus. If our services are outdated, irrelevant and without enthusiasm – what are our children to think but that God is outdated, irrelevant and boring.

Are our customs mere rituals which have become stale and repetitive? Are our prayers heart felt or apathetic? Are our Scripture teachings relevant to the congregation? Are we really teaching our children or creating obstacles which hinder them from meeting Jesus?

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 5:4

What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Isaiah 5:4

There seems to be so much pain in the question, "What more could have been done…?" The implication is if more could have been done God would have done it.

This becomes even more apparent from a New Testament perspective when we consider the cross. God sent his own Son to die on our behalf. "What more could he have done?"

God has done so much to redeem his people, shown so much love, shown so much mercy but God's people often act like he hasn't done enough. We are always wanting God to do more to make our lives easier. We expect God to eliminate minor irritations from our lives as well as stop major tragedies. As if God should answer to us. As if God should wait on us.

Yet God restricts himself to not overriding people's free will. He lets us experience the consequences of our poor choices. Furthermore God has promised favour and blessing but often we lack the faith, the determination and the persistence to pursue God and receive all he intends for us.

We lack the tenacity of Jacob who said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Genesis 32:26).

Jesus taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). God wants us to pray earth will be more like heaven. There is no injustice, or heartache or pain in heaven and God wants us to be channels of blessing that will make earth more like heaven.

God has done all he can do, now he awaits our commitment and participation.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Book Review : Moral Insight

Moral Insight is a thought provoking insight into human nature and political corruption. At a deeper level it subtly shows the hope that sustains Christians.

Steve Keller is a workaholic whose family have suffered his long hours and over commitment to his work as a Detective Sergeant with the Sexual Crime Investigation Unit. A fantasy element is introduced into the story line which allows Steve to have more insight in sexual crimes than is normally possible. When Steve realizes he is part of the problem rather than the bringer of justice, his investigations go to a whole new level.

This is a well written intriguing story with many twists and turns until Steve reaches a place of peace but not in the way one might expect. I found the ending realistic, but also hopeful because I grasped the Christian implications (otherwise it could have been rather depressing).

It's a book that makes you think more deeply about society, its priorities and the drift away from Judeo-Christian ethics. It makes you realize how entrenched is the belief that making people happy is more important than other considerations. It makes you consider the implications of the choices governments make on behalf of its people.

Meredith Resce has written this book under the penname E. B. James to distinguish it from her other more romantic books. It is a much more gritty book than her previous ones and includes the occasional swear word to fit the context.

Overall a great read.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Enjoying the Christian Life

Why are some Christians so gloomy?

I remember some time ago being challenged when Kel Willis — author, evangelist and director of Christian Growth Ministries — spoke at the church my husband was pastoring. He said, "If you are not enjoying the Christian life, you are not living the way God intended," and "a gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms." It was quite a revelation to me that God wanted me to enjoy my life.

There are numerous reasons why God wants me to enjoy my life. It is an act of faith to enjoy my life and not worry about personal or world issues because I'm trusting God with the future. Enjoying my life is an attractive witness to those who are investigating the Christian life. Furthermore God is my heavenly Father who wants me to be happy, just like parents who want their young children to be happy and not worried about how the bills are going to be paid.

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 2:20

In that day people will throw away to the moles and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship. Isaiah 2:20

When I read about idols in the Bible, I wonder what is the equivalent in Western society? We are too sophisticated to literally bow down to the things we have made, yet idols come in many different guises. What is an idol to someone might not have the same power in someone else's life so it is hard to identify idols in today's society.

An idol can be anything we prize and value if it takes God's place in our lives. However as we don't tend to treat objects in a worshipful way, we overlook the power of idols in our lives.

In Ortlund's Commentary of Isaiah he notes: "Idols are precious. They are always our hard-won silver and gold. That's why we prize them. They are beautiful, but also contemptible."

An idol is something that has cost us dearly but the cost may not be monetary. It could be time. Time spent pursuing a career, a relationship, a hobby, an achievement, a status. It could even be something that is a good and beneficial way of spending our time. Yet Ortlund describes idols as contemptible because they rob us of God.

Recently I heard the testimony of a promising footballer who became a Christian and lost interest in playing football. Not that being a footballer is a bad career choice but rather for him football was his source of his fulfilment. Once he became a Christian he realize football's inadequacy to provide him with lasting satisfaction.

Are there idols in our lives that are going undetected? Things that are stealing our time and robbing us of what God wants to give us.

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Thursday, July 09, 2015

Book Review : Beyond the Palm Trees

Beyond the Palm Trees by Robyn Harbour is an enjoyable read. Robyn was a missionary in Vanuatu for several years however this book is not a typical missionary book. Robyn has chosen to write 36 short stories about the people who live in the islands that make up Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

The stories are biographical accounts of the islanders and are not strictly speaking evangelical. The stories expose the culture and customs of the different islands with each island being unique, though there is a common theme of poverty and hardship.

By presenting the stories in this manner the reader is left to draw their own conclusions. A tourist could read this book and find it helpful and informative for their visit. A future missionary could read it and become aware of the difficulties they will be facing. As a Christian reading this book I thought about the positive impact Christianity has obviously had, yet often it hasn't gone far enough. Some island cultures are still abusive to women and do not treat everyone with respect. I wonder if future generations will break the hold that traditional practices and customs still have.

I found Robyn's approach to be a refreshing and interesting as each story throws light on a different aspect of island life.

A good read.

With thanks to Robyn for providing a free book for review.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Don't let the bad swallow up the good

Recently I was listening to Pastor Jason Mannering speaking about Pharaoh's dreams in Genesis 41. Pharaoh dreamt of seven ugly cows eating up seven fat cows and then seven thin heads of grain swallowing up the seven healthy, full heads of grain.

Joseph explained the dreams, "Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe" (Genesis 41:29-31).

Jason made the point: Don't let the bad swallow up the good.

It's easy to do, something goes wrong, things doesn't work out the way we want, and we forget all the good things we have in our lives. We focus on the bad at the expense of the good and the bad swallows up the good. However, we have the power to choose what we think about. We can choose to think about all the good things in our lives or we can focus on all the things we don't have.

Let's reverse the usual process and allow the good to swallow the bad.

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Saturday, July 04, 2015

Devotional Thought : Psalm 56:12

I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you. Psalm 56:12

Being under the new covenant means we are free from the animal and food offering we see outlined in the early books of the Bible. However they provide us with an understanding of how God wants to be approached in worship.

The various offerings for sin shows that God wants us to come to him with a clean heart free from sin which is now possible through Christ's death on the cross. However there were also other offerings such as the thank offerings which spring from the fellowship offerings that show a desire to be in fellowship with God.

Today, while it is not necessary to make the various food offerings to be in fellowship with God, it shows us the importance God places on having a thankful heart. When we have a thankful heart we have a truer perspective of our inadequacies and God's sufficiency. True thankfulness comes from humility, since we are thankful for those things which we cannot provide ourselves and we recognise God's goodness in his provision.

When we read Psalms we often find the phrase, "sacrifice thank offerings" which tells us thanksgiving wasn't an emotional response. Making these offerings were a sacrifice that was costly in time as well as money. It required preparation and commitment.

In the above verse we see David's commitment to fulfilling his vows and present thank offering to God. It wasn't dependant on whether he felt like it but on a decision he had already made.

This is quite a challenge. While we don't have to make the food preparations we still have to prepare our hearts and make a commitment to be thankful whether we feel like it or not.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Book Review: Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller

After reading and enjoying Gary Burge's The Bible and the Land, I was eager to read Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller. However I found much of the information in this book I already knew. I suppose as modern day Christians we spent a lot of time studying the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament, to learn about Jesus and his context. We hear more sermons about Jesus than we do about the land of Israel and this is as it should be. Jesus is the focal point of our faith and therefore the focus of our studies. In comparison we know less about the context of the Old Testament than we do the New Testament.

However the fact that much of the content this book was not new to me was not the fault of Gary Burge who has done an excellent job of researching, explaining and recording many details from well-known stories of Jesus. In this short book, Burge covers six groups of Jesus' stories: The friend who came at midnight, the stories of excuses, stories about compassion, stories of forgiveness, finding the lost and the foolish builder. Burge does a great job explaining the background and the customs associated with these stories to give us a greater understanding of Jesus' message.

Again the book contains lovely photos and artwork.

A useful resource.

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