Monday, August 31, 2015

Blog Award Tour

Robyn Harbour, author of "Beyond the Palm Trees", has invited me to participate in this Blog Tour. I enjoyed Robyn's book and reviewed it here. It is her first book.

I met Robyn before she, along with her husband Russell, served as a full time missionary in Vanuatu for three years and then continued to minister throughout the islands of the South Pacific, speaking at conferences, Pastor’s Retreats, and Sunday School conferences for another four years.

It is has been good to reconnect with Robyn and discover her love of writing and books. I'm also looking forward to meeting again in person at the Australian Christian Writers' Conference in October. Robyn is now based in Inverloch, Victoria, Australia, and is a member of Bass Coast Writers and also FaithWriters where she enters their weekly challenges.

Robyn continues to maintain many beautiful and valuable friendships with local indigenous people, who have shared their stories and experiences with her.

To find out more about Robyn and her writing, please go to her site: www.robynharbour.com.

Now it’s my turn to answer the set questions for this tour:

1. What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on a couple of projects at the moment.

I have written a non-fiction book about the Sovereignty of God. The book explores the difficulties of trusting an all-powerful God while living in a broken world. It is a Christian Living book which deals with areas where I have struggled with the way God runs the world. My hope is that by reading the book others with have a deeper understanding of God and a fresh perspective on what a Christian life looks like. At the moment the manuscript is in the hands of a publisher who is interested but has also indicated that it needs more editing.

I'm also working on a series of children's Bible stories with each one being about one of the disciples. By making use of the general descriptions about the disciples, the questions they asked and by using other clues from the Biblical accounts, these stories teach about the different personalities of the disciples and how Jesus impacted their lives.

In the meantime I continue to write a weekly devotional thought for my blog as well as book reviews and other inspirational articles. I have contributed about 50 devotionals to the FaithWriters Great Multitude Christian Daily Devotional which is on over 22,000 websites/blogs.

2. How does your work differ from others in your genre?
Everyone is unique and therefore everyone's relationship with God is unique. So my work differs simply because it reflects my own experiences. I didn't grow up in a Christian home and have struggled with traditional ways of understanding the Christian life.

3. Why do you write or create what you do?
I began writing devotional thoughts because the church my husband was pastoring produced a newsletter and the editor wanted a Biblical thought in it each fortnight. Some years later, when I was between jobs, I felt God leading me to produce a book based on the ideas in these devotionals. I also started this blog. Over the years I have been encouraged by people's responses to my work. I don't get a lot of comments on my blog but I do get a surprising number of visitors. Mostly these are random because people have typed into a search engine something I have written about.

4. How does your writing/creative process work?
Years ago when I started writing my process was very haphazard. I simply wrote when I felt like it. These days I am much more organized as I like to post on my blog three times a week so I no longer wait until I feel inspired but regularly set aside time to write. My devotional thoughts are based on what I am currently reading from the Bible so it is important that I kept up by regular devotions. My second blog, The Bible Study Place, helps me to do this.

The next writer tagged for this tour is Melissa Gijsbers.

I read and enjoyed Melissa Gijsbers's book, "Swallow Me, Now!" and my book review is here.

In 2011, Melissa rediscovered her love of writing and wrote a series of flash fiction stories as well as dusting off some of the children’s book manuscripts she wrote in high school. She now writes a variety of different genres including picture books, novels for children, flash fiction, blogs, and non-fiction.

In 2014, Melissa had 3 flash fiction pieces published in Teapot Tales: a collection of unique fairy tales, 3 stories in Jingle Bells: tales of holiday spirit from around the World, and two stories in Tales by the Tree: a collection of holiday flash fiction.

To find out more about Melissa and her writing, please go to her site: www.melissagijsbers.com and look out next Monday for her contribution to the blog tour.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 23:18

Yet her profit and her earnings will be set apart for the Lord; they will not be stored up or hoarded. Her profits will go to those who live before the Lord, for abundant food and fine clothes. Isaiah 23:18

God's blessings are never intended to be stored up or hoarded. God is generous. He provides us with abundant grace (Romans 5:17); he freely pardons (Isaiah 55:7); he lavishes us with love (1 John 3:1). His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). His love and grace are never in short supply.

Unlike the people of the world who store up and hoard their wealth because they live in fear of unexpected disasters or unforeseen tragedy. They look for security in their possessions. God's people can afford to be generous because their trust is in God who is never surprised by the future. He knows how to protect and provide for his people.

This verse tells us that God's blessing may even extend to abundant food and fine clothes! God is not in poverty and as his people, especially in Western society, we discredit him when we portray ourselves as poor. We are greatly blessed including financially, and what we call a lack of money is simply a choice of our monetary priorities.

Many will tell you they cannot afford a night out, a ticket to the theatre, or maybe a holiday, but certainly they have enough money to have their TV fixed, own a pet, or buy their lunch. We present a picture of shortage when we say, "I can’t afford to." Perhaps it would be more honest to say "it isn’t a priority for me right now."

Those outside God's family store up and hoard but God's people can afford to be generous and share, thereby reflecting God's generosity.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Reveiw : A Simple Blessing

Michael W. Smith is a Christian musician who travels the world performing concerts. In his travels more and more he found himself listening to people facing many of the problems that are rampant in Western culture—divorce, bankruptcy, addictions. It seemed that being a Christian wasn't making a difference because Christians have bought into the self-gratification thinking of their day. Although Smith was happy to pray for people, he began wondering if there was more he could be doing. He decided to start praying a blessing at the end of his concerts. He knew that praying in public was not a more effective way to pray but hoped that those being prayed for would realign themselves with more godly values.

Smith was surprised at the response to his prayer of blessings as people were being touched and helped in larger numbers that he ever anticipated. As a response he has put together this short book, A Simple Blessing: The Extraordinary Power of an Ordinary Prayer, with the help of Thomas Williams. The book is easy to read and explains each of the statements in the prayer adding more details and the change of focus Smith is hoping to achieve in his readers.

Smith is at pains to explain there is no magic in the prayer. It is about our heart attitude. Do we want to renew our thinking and readjust our lives to the priorities and values of the Bible? Do we want to be channels of God's blessings rather than just stagnating lakes?

A thought provoking read.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Unique!

A friend of mine once told me she believed that God created the human species and then left it to run its own course. It sounded like God lost interest in his creation and left us to muddle through with our own resources. I was horrified.

Nevertheless it is a convenient belief and would solve a lot of theological dilemmas. It would mean we wouldn't have to struggle to understand why God would allow some people to be born in atrocious situations or as a result of rape, or why God allows scientists to create and destroy life in a science laboratory.

I was much relieved when I realized the Bible teaches that God did indeed create individuals. He told Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). David records something similar in Psalm 139:13-16. God was with us in our mother’s womb. He knew all about each of us before our mothers even knew we were on the way. God creates us and loves us as individuals.

While this means we have to think through some tough moral dilemmas, it also assures us no one is an accident. A person may have been unplanned in our economy, but they were never unplanned in God’s. We are his unique creation, created for a relationship with him.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 17:7-8

In that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made. Isaiah 17:7-8

What is the first thing we do when we receive bad news? Do we look to our Maker and turn our eyes to the Holy One? Or do we look to our own resources to provide help, comfort or escape? Do we pick up the phone and ring a friend or family. Do we pour ourselves a drink, take a pill or eat to dull our pain? Do we lose ourselves in computer games, television shows or a book? Or maybe we bury ourselves in our work. Whatever we turn to tells us what we are worshipping.

These days idols come in many different guises and sometimes are hard to recognise because in moderation they are a good thing. Sharing burdens with our friends and relatives is healthy. Eating and drinking are fine in moderation. Watching television or reading a book are good ways to relax. Working hard is admirable. Yet these good things can become idols if we rely on them for support or expect them to meet our needs.

In this verse, the point of this coming invasion is to make God's people look to him. He allows suffering in order that people turn to him, without relying on their own self-sufficiency. Acknowledging their own resources are not adequate.

On the cross, God showed us how much he was prepared to reach out to us. With great love, he forgives our self-sufficiency and allows whatever he must so we will look to him. He alone is the all-sufficient One.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review : A Doubter's Guide to the Bible

A Doubter's Guide to the Bible is written for those who have doubts about the truth of the Biblical account. However as someone who trusts the Bible, I also benefitted from the teaching in this book. Dickson presents an overview of the Bible touching on those passages that cause the most angst, such as creation, the violence in the Old Testament, Jesus' kingdom bringing peace etc.

Dickson points out the difficulties of context—we are reading a book written thousands of years ago, yet most people read nothing else from this time period. We are also reading a book made up of many different genres and these must be read as they were intended.

Dickson helped me see the Bible from the wider perspective of the overarching themes and how many of the difficulties make sense when you look at the overall aim and purposes of God. For example, I liked the way Dickson explained the violence we find in Joshua. He pointed out that if we believe the Bible's descriptions of the violence then we must also believe the Biblical reasons for that violence, which has nothing to do with ethnicity, but with God's justice.

Included in the book are many recommendations for further reading. These are placed within the appropriate topics with a brief overview outlining the level of detail. This makes the book an even more helpful resource as it allows the serious thinker to do the necessary research to satisfy their own needs.

An enlightening read.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Quote from David Pawson

When his Son said 'Not my will but yours be done' our salvation became possible ~ David Pawson in Israel in the New Testament (pg. 129).

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 14:14

I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. Isaiah 14:14

Geoffrey Grogan writes, "It is a strange paradox that nothing makes a being less like God than the urge to be his equal, for he who was God stepped down from the throne of his glory to display to the wondering eyes of men the humility of God (Phil 2:5-8)." To the human mind it seems such a contradiction that to make oneself like God actually means to be humble.

The temptation to be God's equal goes back to the Garden. "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. Likewise we often want to the god of our own lives, determining for ourselves what is good and evil, running our lives and our little worlds for our own benefit, and being reliant on our own resourcefulness.

However Philippians 2:5-8 tells us to have the mindset of Christ, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!"

Jesus did not take advantage of his equality with God because that's not how God operates. It's not his nature or mode of operation to overpower us with his authority or compel us by force. Rather he comes to us humbly, identifying with us and taking upon himself our humanity.

If you want to be like God, be humble.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review : Israel in the New Testament

I found David Pawson's book, Israel in the New Testament, not only an interesting insight into the role of Israel in the New Testament but also enlightening in many other ways.

Pawson explores five books of the Bible - Matthew, Acts, Romans, Hebrews and Revelation to discover what God purposes are for Israel today and in the future. In the process he throws light on the main purpose and message of each of these books. I found the chapter of Romans particularly thought provoking as Pawson gives an overview of the entire book, dividing it into logical sections. Likewise the chapter on Revelation was valuable in showing not only Israel's role in the last days but also for developing a logical progression of what can be confusing material.

With each of the five Biblical books Pawson was able to explain their context and audience which helped me better understand their message and their application for today. As well as fulfil his purpose of showing that God hasn't finished with Israel or its people.

This material was originally produced as a series of talks and therefore the book sometimes reflects a spoken style rather than a written style. This didn't distract from the book but rather made it down to earth and easy to read.

A very useful read.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Broken Wells

One day my attention was drawn to the book of Jeremiah, where we find God telling his people that they had committed two sins. Through the prophet Jeremiah, he says, "They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13). This is so serious that in the previous verse the Lord says, "Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror."

I wondered how have we forsaken God and dug on own wells?

It happens when we look for satisfaction in things—like work, drink, food, approval, experiences—rather than looking to Jesus. We forsake him when we want to live life without trusting him and his ways. No wonder the heavens are appalled. The angels are more aware than we are of how gracious and merciful God is and how eager he is to fill us with his enabling power if we will receive it from him. That we’d disregard him, or not trust his goodness, is so unthinkable they shudder with horror.

Jesus is to be our well, our source. He says to us, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink" (John 7:37). He is like water to us—sustaining, refreshing and empowering us, the only one who can give us peace, contentment and satisfaction.

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Saturday, August 08, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 11:3

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears. Isaiah 11:3

God told Samuel, "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Samuel then anointed David who became a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22).

God is not like us. We look at the outward appearances, people's actions and their words but God looks at people's attitudes and their motives. On occasions when we do think about people's motives, we often misinterpret them.

We may see someone helping someone or performing an act of apparent selflessness yet their motives could be entirely self-seeking. Alternatively we might see someone speaking thoughtlessly and yet their motives could be entirely pure. This is especially true with young Christians who may not have the maturity to behave in loving ways yet may have a Christ-like attitude.

There are times we are surprised or confused about the people God choses to use and work through. The Pharisees were surprised and asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matthew 9:11). It's because God is more interested in our motives than our actions. He is looking for those with a good heart, even if their actions fall short of expectation.

Furthermore we rarely know the motives of other people, even those we know well. Therefore we need to be careful about forming conclusions based on a person's actions. God, however, always knows a person's motives. In fact, he knows them better than we do. We may think our intentions are pure but we don't always recognise the underlying emotions that drive us.

God is the perfect Judge because he is omniscience.

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Thursday, August 06, 2015

Book Review : A Rabbi Looks at Jesus of Nazareth

I tend to gravitated towards Christian books by Jewish authors for several reasons. Their testimonies of coming to faith are always interesting as they contain their struggle to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah against a background of prejudice against him. Likewise their discussion of apologetic issues is always thought provoking. Often they point out details in the Bible I have overlooked or taken for granted. I also read these books because I hope they will give me more insight into Jewish or even Eastern thinking as I know my understanding of the Bible is coloured by my Western mindset. However I have now read so many of this genre of books that I'm finding less new material. Nevertheless, A Rabbi Looks at Jesus of Nazareth by Jonathan Bernis, was a helpful read and touched on all these points.

Bernis has two groups of people in mind as he writes: Jewish people who are interested in discovering the truth about Jesus and Christians who have Jewish friends and would like to witness to them. I'm neither. However the book contains much helpful apologetic material and insight into the history of Christianity and Judaism.

Possibly the most surprising thing, Bernis wrote was his astonishment in finding out Jesus was Jewish!

Material is clearly presented and easy to read. A good read.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Peace is God's Gift

Some years ago, I was waiting for my husband to come home after visiting someone in hospital. As I looked out the lounge-room window and over the paddocks, I saw the flashing lights of an ambulance. There had been an accident on the road leading to our house, and traffic was unable to pass that point. I desperately wanted to jump in the car and see if he was all right; however, with three small children asleep in their beds, there wasn't a thing I could do but wait. And as I waited, I noticed that whenever I focused on God, I was at rest and felt his peace, but when my attention turned to the flashing lights I felt anxious. How hard it was to focus on God, and how relieved I was when my husband eventually made it home.

In Isaiah 63:14 we read about God's people recalling the days of old and saying, "they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord. This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name." In this passage Isaiah is referring to Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea. At that time Moses told the people, "The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest" (Exodus 14:14 AMP).

It isn't normal to be peaceful at stressful times. If we hold our peace in difficult circumstances, we make God's name glorious because we are not relying on our own self- sufficiency. However, when we become agitated and disturbed by circumstances, we send a subtle message that being a Christian makes no difference to our lives.

In John 14:27 we read Jesus' familiar words, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives." The world gives a fragile peace, which requires constant effort to maintain; God gives peace as a gift. We don't have to avoid difficult situations or difficult people in order to be at peace.

God challenged me with the Amplified Bible's version of the same verse: "Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled."

Stop allowing myself… Don't permit myself… Clearly, it's up to me to take charge of my thoughts. Until that time, I had held a deluded belief that I was achieving something by worrying. Not to worry seemed like I was letting down those I cared about.

While it's a challenge not to be disturbed by circumstances and to remain at rest regardless of the situation, it's achievable. God wants to give his peace, over and over again, but first we have to let go of our anxieties and fears.

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Saturday, August 01, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

The people living in Jerusalem were living under the threat of an Assyrian's attack. They needed to learn to trust God rather than rely on other nations to repel the attack. Yet God's response was not to become a bigger bully than the Assyrians but to promise a child, Jesus.

Furthermore it wasn't a temporary solution but one with implications for the future of Israel and the whole world. We look for quick solutions to immediate problems but God looks beyond symptoms to solutions which will change people's hearts and teach them to trust him.

Moreover God is so powerful he only has to send a child—a child will solve the world's problems not the strength and power of a military leader. This is one of the many paradoxes of the Christian life. We gain through means which are the opposite to what we expect.

Many historical leaders became dictators by trying to be god-like, ruling with power and ruthlessness. Yet to truly become God-like means to be humble. Jesus "is gentle and humble in heart" (Matthew 11:29). He "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45) and Jesus is the "exact representation" of God's being (Hebrews 1:3).

This has repercussions for us today. We don't have to strive to win through our cleverness, our strength or power, rather we trust in God and in his ability to find solutions in the unexpected power of humility.

A humble attitude towards God and others opens the way for surprising solutions.

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