Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Not hired servants

When the prodigal son returned to his father, after disgracing himself, he would have been happy to be one of his Father’s hired servants (Luke 15:19). This would be perfectly reasonable, considering he prematurely demanded his inheritance and then wasted it living an immoral lifestyle. The son figured the best he could hope for was that his father would employ him. However his father doesn't employ him, he restores him to the position of a favoured son.

Often as Christians we act like we are in God's employ, like we are his hired servants. We know God has forgiven us, but now we imagine like the prodigal son, we have to somehow repay God for our past indiscretions.

However we are not God’s hired servants. We are his dearly loved children, not because of anything we have done. God simply chose to put us in the position of a favoured son or daughter. We have worth and value because we are his, and this is the way God wants us to see ourselves.

I am his child, dearly loved and special to him.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 36:18-20

Have the gods of any nations ever delivered their lands from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries have been able to save their lands from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand? Isaiah 36:18-20

In this passage the commander for the king of Assyria is saying, The Lord is just like other gods. Other gods couldn't save people from their lands and since the commander had already taken Samaria and captured the fortified cities of Judah (v.1), he thought it would be no different for Jerusalem. The commander told them that their God wouldn't save them but he didn't realize that the Lord had given Samaria into his hand because of Israel's sins (2 Kings 17). Ultimately the commander was proved wrong and he wasn't able to capture Jerusalem.

The common thought by God's prophets and kings throughout the Old Testament was that there is no god like Jehovah. God's deliverance of his people from Egypt amongst other incidences testified to this. It was something God's leaders reiterated to the people regarding God—there was none like theirs.

The phrase, "none like you" often occurs in modern songs because these songs are based on Scripture. What does it mean for us to sing, "none like you" when we mostly don't live in a polytheistic society?

It means there is nothing or no one who can satisfy the needs of the human heart like God can; there is nothing or no one who can cleanse our sins like God can; there is nothing or no one who can give us security for the future like God can.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book Review : The Prodigal God

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller sheds new light on the familiar parable of the prodigal son. Keller points out that generally we have focussed on the first son to the exclusion of the second, whereas both sons are lost to their father.

By concentrating on the first son we have lost the impact of what Jesus is saying about the true nature of Christianity. Both sons were trying to finding happiness and fulfilment outside the father's house. The younger son found living with his father restrictive (plus his other brother was probably obnoxious to live with) and the older son thought his father was a slave driver but both boys were wrong about their father.

As Christian we tend to gravitate to one of these positions. Either we are like younger sons who want to find pleasure outside of God's protective boundaries or we are like older sons who are slaving away trying to earn our way into our Father's good graces. Both have a distorted view of God's grace.

Keller then does a good job of applying his argument. He points out that our churches are often full of older brothers who haven't really grasp hold of God's grace and are still trying to earn their way. This tends to make them self-righteous and critical and not attractive to younger brothers.

A challenging and thought provoking read.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Faith & Obedience

This remark was recently posted as a comment on my blog (and lots of other people's too, if Google is anything to go by). I have reproduced it in an abbreviated form as I'd like to explain a couple of words from a Biblical point of view.

"Was Noah Saved by Faith Alone? By Steve Finnell

Those who claim they were saved by "faith alone" like to quote Hebrews 11:7 to prove they were by "faith only," just like Noah.

Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of righteousness which is according to faith.(NKJV)

Noah was not saved the minute he had faith, he was saved and became an heir of righteousness after faith plus preparing the ark.

Noah was saved by faith plus obedience, not by faith alone.

He was obedient by preparing the ark for saving his household. If Noah had tried being saved by "faith alone" he would have drown just like the rest of the world."

Hebrews 11 commends the "ancients" for their faith (not their obedience) (v.1). Noah was saved by faith and completed his faith by building an ark. If faith doesn't cause us to act it isn't Biblical faith, it's just mental assent. If Noah hadn't built the ark, it would have told us that Noah didn't really believe there was going to be a flood and thus didn't have faith. We also see how this works in Abraham's life in James 2:22 "You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did".

Furthermore where I live "obedience" has come to mean something that I have to do that I don't want to. Often there is punishment if I choose not to do whatever it is I'm supposed to do. It's often controlling and lacking in love which is not the Biblical understanding of obedience. In the Bible obedience is motivated by love (John 14) not duty. It is something I want to do because I love God not something I have to do in order to get something from God.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 30:32

Every stroke the Lord lays on them with his punishing club will be to the music of timbrels and harps, as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm. Isaiah 30:32

In the Message Bible the verse reads: "Every blow God lands on them with his club is in time to the music of drums and pipes."

There is throughout Scripture an interesting connection between singing and warfare (Psalm 149:6-9, 2 Chronicles 20:21-22).

In our church services we are doing far more than just singing songs. We can be engaging in spiritual warfare without even moving from our seats. Our praise to God harms the enemy of souls in ways we don't realize.

Why would this be? Singing is important because we sing out the truth of God’s word and proclaim God’s goodness regardless of our circumstances. We declare God’s character and reinforce spiritual truth as we sing to him. We affirm God’s attributes and make a declaration to the spiritual forces of evil that we are going to put our trust in an invisible God. As we sing unto the Lord with our hearts and minds, we are inflicting damage on the devil and shifting things in the spiritual realm.

Furthermore singing is a corporate activity where believers come together who may have nothing else in common except their Christian faith and yet together they become an army. The strength in unity becomes a further attack on the devil who tries to isolate and cause friction between Christians.

Karl Faase recently twittered, "In a culture cynical, critical and dismissive of faith our most subversive act is to stand together in worship singing statements of faith."

When we stand and sing together, let's engage wholeheartedly and be mindful of what we are achieving in the spiritual realm.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review : Freedom to Explore

Freedom to Explore : a provocative A-Z for the church by Michael Frost is a collection of 26 articles Frost originally wrote for Alive magazine. Some of the articles are also extracts from his books. Mostly I enjoyed this collection of largely unrelated thoughts as Frost has an interesting perspective which is a bit unorthodox but often highly insightful. He has the ability to take a seemingly ordinary event and bring out a spiritual insight.

I thought it was a clever idea to use the letters of the alphabet to introduce each article and I liked the illustrations (by Andre de Borde) which were well-matched with the topics.

However I did struggle with some of his thoughts about the future direction of the church, while I understand his frustrations and find his ideas attractive, I just don't see them as practical. Or perhaps I have just never been in situations where I could envisage them working.

The book is becoming dated, having being published in 2002, which is probably why I was able to buy it at a discounted price. Nevertheless I found it a worthwhile read.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How would you describe "first love"?

In Revelation 2:2-4, God had these words for one of the churches: "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first."

One of my most vivid memories from my early days of being a Christian is singing while riding my bike to school. There was a popular song at the time called The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA by Donna Fargo, and I’d sing it on my way to school, which was rather odd since I lived in Australia, but it expressed how happy I felt. Now, whenever a speaker talks about returning to our first love, that song comes to mind, and I remember how overwhelmed I was with the love of God.

What memory comes to your mind when a speaker talks about returning to your first love?

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 28:21

The Lord will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon—to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task. Isaiah 28:21

What is God's strange work, his alien task? It is judgement. Allowing his people to experience devastation, war and suffering is not God's normal work. Yet it is a necessary part of his love. If someone truly loves they cannot overlook the damage that sin causes. In love God cannot allow people to remain in their destructive, sinful ways. Love requires justice.

Quite often God chooses to delay justice in the hope that people will repent and turn to him. Throughout Isaiah and the other books of the prophets, we hear the heart of God calling people back to himself. Yet after decades of not responding to God, he allowed them to experience the desolation of being taken into exile. They lost all the material blessings that God had given them. Yet even in this God's plan was that their hearts would respond to him again and he orchestrated the return to their homeland.

God's normal work is to extend blessing and favour. Throughout the Old Testament God is described as compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2). This may surprise us as many consider the God of the Old Testament angry and vengeful. Yet that is not how his people experienced him. In fact, Jonah complained that God was too merciful (Jonah 4:1-2).

Our hope in this life is based on justice in the next. One day all wrongs will be righted. Justice will "roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream" (Amos 5:24).

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review : An Incorruptible Heart

I struggled a little with, An Incorruptible Heart by David McCracken, because I felt I was not the intended audience, nevertheless, I did gain much from the book.

The material in the book is intended for pastors and experienced leaders to warn them of pitfalls and dangers to avoid. Much of the book was intended to address the motivations and attitudes of leaders. It is very easy to let one's motives go unnoticed and unchecked when one is put in a leadership position and it seems there is no one in authority over you, except for God. This book is a good reminder to implement strategies and safeguards and to regularly examine one's attitude. McCracken teaches readers the importance of doing this so ministry remains on track.

McCracken draws on his many years of ministry to impart practical wisdom to those involved in church leadership as well as example from Scripture, particularly Saul and David who provide a positive and negative model.

I enjoyed the cartoons scattered throughout the book. McCracken is dealing with a serious subject – integrity in leadership so some light relief in the form of cartoons was very welcome.

An informative read.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Blog Tour : Signs in Life

This blog tour is for the non-fiction book: Signs in Life: Finding Direction in Our Travels with God by Deanna Nowadnick. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

7 – 11 September 2015

is introducing

Rhododendron Books, May 8 2015


Deanna Nowadnikc

About the Book:
Signs in Life begins with a late night encounter with local law enforcement. In the harsh glare of a flashlight, Deanna Nowadnick learns the consequences of speeding through a stop sign. Other incidents follow. All are linked to the divine signs she’s encountered in that bigger journey through life.

Deanna shares humorous anecdotes and inspirational lessons from her travels with God. Readers will see the signs in life. She might be speeding through a stop sign–yet again!–while you’re carefully navigating a busy street, but we’re all part of a bigger journey, a greater purpose. We’re all part of God’s great story.

As she used to tell her young sons, "Buckle up. We’re going for a ride."

About the Author:
Deanna Nowadnick is a native of the Pacific Northwest. When not writing, she serves at the Client Service Coordinator for The Planner's Edge, an investment advisory firm in Washington State.

Deanna is active in her church, playing the violin and editing the newsletter. She loves to knit, adores chocolate, and most important, enjoys a blessed marriage to Kurt. She's also the proud mother of two adult sons. Her first book, Fruit of My Spirit, began as a short story for Kyle and Kevin about how she met their father. It quickly became a much larger story about God's love and faithfulness.

Signs in Life: Finding Direction in Our Travels with God is Deanna's second book.

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Saturday, September 05, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 25:3

Therefore strong peoples will honor you; cities of ruthless nations will revere you. Isaiah 25:3

There are those who value being strong and think Christianity is only for the weak, timid, cowardly but here we see strong peoples honouring and revering God. God is seen for who he is more powerful than any nation or people group.

God speaks through culture – whatever values are important in a particularly culture or people group – God proves he is greater and higher than whatever is valued.

There are those who value perfection and order. God is the master of a highly organized universe. Night follows day, summer follows spring, the stars follow such set patterns astronomers can predict their paths years in advance.

There are those who value being helpful. God could not have helped humanity more—he sent his own Son to save them from the devastation of sin.

There are those who value success. When we read the promises of the prophets and the book of Revelation we realize that God will successfully establish his kingdom.

There are those who value individuality. Again and again the Psalmist tells us that there is "none like you". Our God is unique.

There are those who value knowledge and learning. God is omniscience. His understanding has no limits.

There are those who value loyalty and faithfulness. God made a covenant with his people and though his people have often rebelled, he has not broken his promise.

There are those who value pleasure and happiness so does God but he knows we can never be truly happy without being holy.

There are those who value peace. God is the author of peace and freely gives it to those who will trust him with their lives.

Whatever we value, God proves he is greater and higher.

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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Book Review : The Prayer of Obedience

This little booklet, The Prayer of Obedience by Dr Stuart Robinson, is not well titled as there is little about obedience in the book and where obedience is mentioned it is in relation to obeying the call to pray. Apart from this minor objection it is a good read. Robinson gives many historical and Biblical examples of the power of persistent prayer and its effectiveness for profound change. This change effected all areas of life not just spiritual and church life. There has been amazing social change as a result of sustained prayer. Robinson gives several examples of communities where the crime rate has dropped significantly.

I did find it a little disheartening in realizing so much depends on prayer and yet it is so hard to find believers who have a conviction to pray. Our churches desperately need to have prayer meetings yet mostly these meetings are poorly attended. Booklets like Robinson's seem to only motivate people for short periods of time. Nevertheless overall, it was an encouraging read.

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