Saturday, November 28, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 57:1-2

The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death. Isaiah 57:1-2

God's perspective on death is vastly different to ours. "The devout are taken away…to be spared...evil." Sometimes Christians die early to be spared and they have peace, whereas there is no peace for the wicked (v.21).

This is not something that we like to think about that God would deliberately take a believer in death to spare them the evil of this world. Particularly if it is a young person. It seems so tragic that they haven't had the chance to fulfil their potential. A long life is usually regarded as a blessing from God.

The other confusing thing is that some people grow up in appalling and abusive circumstances and aren't spared the evil of the situation. How do we reconcile these two differing responds from God?

We don't have the benefit of being able to see the future as God does. We don't know the particular evil or its consequences that God is protecting someone from. Our perspective is incomplete. Yet the verse offers hope. God understands whatever we are going through and will provide a way through or a way out. Death is not the end and we have the assurance of peace in the world to come. This isn't an excuse to escape life's difficulties but rather an opportunity to trust God's Sovereignty.

There are times when it is difficult to understand God's ways. However if we seek to know God's character and fully appreciate his love and goodness, we will find he is worthy of our trust.

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Quote from Tim Keller's book, Preaching

I'm currently reading Preaching by Timothy Keller and found this insightful:

"What the heart most wants the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable" (pg. 159).

It reminds me of a conversation in Lauren Winner's book, Still. Lauren was talking to a married female friend who told her she had lunch with a male acquaintance while her husband was out of town on business. They shared a common interest in literature. She asked Lauren, "Is this how affairs start?"

Lauren had several conversations with this friend but couldn't convince her to break off the relationship. In due course her friend had an affair with this man that was short-lived and extremely damaging to all parties.

This woman's heart wanted the relationship so her mind found it reasonable, her emotions found it valuable, and her will found it doable, but it ended in disaster.

Two verses come to mind:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV).

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Grace in the Old Testament

When we read Leviticus 24:20: "…eye for eye, tooth for tooth." We don't realise this as a statement of grace. In the culture it was written, it was customary for people to retaliate tenfold. Retaliating only once showed grace.

This is just one of many examples of God’s grace in the Old Testament. Often we don't see God's grace because we come to the text with our cultural perspective and preconceived ideas. This leads people to being disturbed by the violence in the Old Testament, yet they often overlook the Bible's own explanation. It was because of the wickedness of the people in Canaan that God authorized Joshua to dispossess these nations. This was a one-off. This incident was an exception and not God's usually way of dealing with people. Jonah is a good example of this.

Later God was to dispossess his own people because of their wickedness. God doesn't play favourites. These incidents remind us that God, while being gracious and compassionate, is also our Judge.

"After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, 'The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.' No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations" (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).

Currently we live in a time of grace. We live under the New Testament—the New Covenant. When we read the Old Testament we need to bear this in mind. One day Jesus will come to bring justice to the earth then, we will realise just how patience and gracious he has been with his creation.

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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 53:10

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:10

We struggle with passages that tell us God sends suffering to innocent people. It messes with our concept of a compassionate God. Personally I find it helps if I separate those things which God initiates and those things he allows.

However Jewish thinking doesn't make this distinction. They saw God as Sovereign and therefore responsible for everything that happens. Everything comes from his hand. Theologically they have no problem with God sending suffering.

Still it helps me to see suffering as the effects of living in a broken world and while God could stop all forms of suffering he allows it to continue because he can see a greater good coming from it. Suffering teaches us the enormous damage sin has caused, not only to us personally but to God and his creation. It makes us realise the depth of depravity people sink to without God, and that even creation is groaning (Romans 8:22).

In this verse from Isaiah we see that Christ's suffering as an offering for sin, will bring forgiveness and freedom from sin. It was an enormous price to pay – Jesus was crushed for our iniquities – but the benefits continue to flow through generation after generation. One day, because of Jesus' sacrificial death, we will see the restoration of all God intended and our gratitude will be overwhelming.

While suffering is hard to understand and difficult to deal with, we have hope because the Cross promises us that God hasn't forsaken us and that he has a plan to stop suffering.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Review : The Skeleton Diaries

The Skeleton Diaries : an inspiring true story of how hope emerged from complete darkness by Rachael Stevens is compiled from diaries that Rachael kept after she was diagnosed with Anorexia. The book focuses on the three month period when her weight was at its lowest and most dangerous. Rachael has edited and added additional insights to the original diary entries.

I found this to be a remarkable book. Early in the book Rachael asks the question: how can you fight a monster when you don't even know what it looks like? Yet by the end of the book Rachael has painted a very clear picture of what the monster, called Anorexia, looks like. It's a different picture to the one I expected. Mostly it is not about food but about three strong negative emotions fear, anxiety and anger. To overcome these Rachael survives by maintaining control in the only area where she feels like she has choices – eating.

It was disappointing to read some of the reactions to her condition from health professionals. It seems even in 2007 there was little understanding of this condition. I hope things have improved since then.

I was hoping the book would also contain diary entries from her recovery. However that was a long journey which was made up of a million small daily decisions, none of which were significant in themselves. The seeds of her recovery are found in the latter stage of her stay in hospital and Rachael has outlined this further in the chapter, Steps to Recovery.

This book would benefit anyone who knows someone suffering from Anorexia. It provides important insights into the tortured mind of someone with this condition.

An inspiring read.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015


As Christians, we have a responsibility to alleviate suffering especially amongst our own Christian brothers and sisters, who are in need.

In the story Jesus told about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:40 KJ), one word is consistently overlooked: brethren. Jesus only calls his own children, brethren. It isn’t a word he uses with unbelievers. So Jesus is addressing believers, telling us to care for each other. This story is often used to encourage us to support the unknown poor and needy overseas. While it isn’t wrong to use this story in a wider context, in its original setting it’s about helping and supporting the Christians we know and fellowship with.

For some reason I’m often a lot more comfortable helping people I don’t know, people who live a long way away that I will never know. I can send money or goods and feel better because I’ve done something for someone else, yet I’ve not engaged emotionally with these people.

Surprisingly this was also a problem for Pollyanna, the much-loved-storybook character, who always looked for something to be glad about, whatever the situation. Pollyanna had a difficult life even prior to the death of her parents. Her father had been a missionary and relied on the generosity of churches sending missionary barrels to them. Following the death of her father, Pollyanna went to live with her wealthy aunt.

In the course of time she became aware of the plight of an orphan boy who lived in the same town, so she decided to tell the "Ladies Aiders" (a group of Christian women from her church). Pollyanna knew from personal experience how willing these Christian women were to help orphans who lived elsewhere and believed they would help this boy, too. To her great disappointment and confusion they were not willing to help.

It makes me wonder what need is on my door step that I consistently overlook?

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 51:3

The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. Isaiah 51:3

Ever since I visited Israel I love prophecies which speak about the deserts and wastelands being transformed. Parts of Israel are so desolate, I long to see them as God intends. These 'fertility' prophecies seem to be everywhere in the prophetic and poetry of the Old Testament.

In modern Israel (and even in ancient times) the authorities 'solved' the problem of lack of water through amazing engineering feats. They can store huge amounts of water and divert water sources to ensure adequate water for crops and homes.

Yet God longs to bless his people with rain that would turn the wastelands into gardens. This would mean persistent and long term changes to rain patterns. So often we settle for less than God wants to give us.

Generally we are reluctant receivers. Regardless of what we are trusting God for, whether it is rain, or health, or finances, we find it difficult. We have more confidence in man-made solutions which provide short term relief.

When Jesus fed the 5000 and later the 4000, he didn't provide just enough to go around. Both times there was basketfuls left over (Mark 8:19-20). When Jesus turned the water in wine, he didn't provide just enough to save the host's embarrassment. There was an abundance which far exceeded the demand (John 2:1-12).

God doesn't want to barely meet our needs. He wants to provide more than we can handle. But it requires that we come to him without an agenda, trust his ways and leave the results to him.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Reflection : Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage : my journey to a deeper faith in the land where Jesus walked, is an autobiographic account of Lynn Austin's trip to Israel. I first read this book a year ago and wrote a book review here. I wanted to read it again on my return from Israel because not only did I visit many of the same sites – which is not surprising but I also visited them in the same order. Perhaps this is also not surprising as it is quite a small country and geographically it makes sense to travel from south to north. It has taken me a while to find the time to reread it as it is now nearly a year since I went to Israel.

I enjoyed the book a lot more the second time around because I could now visualize where Lynn was and relate to her feelings. I was a bit more sympathetic to her situation. All her children moved away in a short space of time and in the last couple of months my own son and his family have moved much further away from me. Though I still sensed something else was going on in Lynn's life.

She shares many, many lessons that she learnt in her travels which she then relates to her own spiritual journey. I found this a bit overwhelming. Maybe I'm a bit slow but spiritual lessons take me awhile to digest and apply to my life.

I did find the book more interesting the second time around but I think my hesitation with this book comes simply from the fact that Lynn and I live in different worlds. I don't know Lynn's background but I sense she has grown up in or lives in a Christian culture that I am unfamiliar with.

Nevertheless a good read.

I have now finished reviewing all my "Israel" books and will returning to my more usual books.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Are we making people hungry for God?

Sometimes we assume our job is to convince people there is a God. Yet statistically only about 5% of the world's population are committed atheists. Most simply doubt they have any need of God.

In John 6:35 Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." This assures us of the availability of sustenance for our souls. But the real danger is we will not admit our spiritual hunger. The devil, who is the father of lies, convinces people they are not hungry. He will tell them how self-sufficient they are and convince them they have no need of God.

Sometimes churches pour an enormous amount of time and effort into running particular programs or events. While these events may be helpful in creating relationships with newcomers, the important thing is that we live out our Christian lives. As we grow up into Christ and let his life permeate ours, his Kingdom will radiate from our lives and be obvious to those we rub shoulders with every day.

If we build relationships with those people God places around us we will gain credibility and have opportunities to speak into their lives.

Jesus' promise is, "Whoever comes to me will never go hungry."

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

Devotional Thought : Isaiah 49:4

But I said, "I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God." Isaiah 49:4

Even Jesus' ministry would appear to be unsuccessful (John 1:11). He lived and died in a remote part of the Roman Empire. He gathered around him only a small group of men and women who were not well educated or influential. Yet later the Jews would accused them of turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6 AMP).

At the time of Jesus' death no one would have suspected the enormous social change that his life would initiate. Hospitals, orphanages, schools, universities would be built in his name. Virtues like humility and the worth of every person would develop. Jesus' life changed the behaviours that society valued.

This gives us great hope during those times when our own ministry seems futile. We faithfully persist in a ministry that God has called us to but there is little growth and we wonder the value of continuing. At such times we can remind ourselves of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32) and the ant, who through doing a little often achieves a great deal (Psalm 6:6-8). As well as remembering the life of Jesus' himself.

Furthermore we have God promise that he is faithful and nothing in God is wasted (1 Corinthians 15:58). God is the Rewarder of those who seek him and his ways (Hebrews 11:6). God hasn't call us to a life that is completely altruistic rather we are motivated by a future hope.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know Jesus accomplished incredible spiritual and social change. As we entrust our lives to God, we believe he will use our lives to eternally impact others.

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Thursday, November 05, 2015

Book Review : Women at the time of the Bible

Women at the time of the Bible by Miriam Feinberg Vamosh seeks to cover every aspect of a woman's life in Bible times. This is a difficult undertaking as it covers a long period of time. The Bible itself only gives us glimpses of women's roles since the Bible's purpose is not to give us a social history.

Miriam Feinberg Vamosh gives us insights into what life might have been like for women. She begins with home life and the work women did around the home, not just to provide food and raise children, but also to make clothing. Marriage and childbirth customs, women's roles in worship and music, their access (or lack of it) to education and leadership roles are all discussed. There seems to be such a wide variation due to the expanse of time that is covered in the book, plus the variation depending on the geographical location makes it hard to form any solid conclusions. Some women seemed to have a lot of freedom to pursue their own interests while others had very little.

The book is interspersed with character summaries of particular Biblical women with more information about their life and times. Towards the end of the book there is a circular list of all the women mentioned in the Bible and it's a surprise to see how long this list is.

An interesting read with some helpful photos.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Blog Tour : Intertwined

This blog tour is for the novel: Intertwined by Jennifer Slattery. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

2 - 6 November

is introducing

New Hope Publishers, September 2015


Jennifer Slattery

About the Book:
Abandoned by her husband, an organ procurement coordinator fighting to keep her job and her sanity encounters an old flame facing an unthinkable tragedy.

For Tammy Kuhn, being an organ procurement coordinator is more than a job. It’s a ministry. But when her husband of sixteen years leaves her for another woman, struggles with childcare, her absentee ex-husband, and an altercation with a doctor threaten her job. Embittered and overwhelmed, she fights to maintain her sanity when a late night encounter with an old flame stirs emotions long since buried but the ICU is no place for romance.

About the Author:
Jennifer Slattery writes missional romance novels for New Hope Publishers. Her debut, "Beyond I Do", releases in August. She also writes Christian Living articles for and devotions for her personal blog, JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud; Internet Cafe Devotions; and Takin' it to the Streets', a ministry serving Omaha Metro's working poor and homeless.

When she's not writing, she enjoys reading, hanging out at the mall with her teenage daughter, enjoying her real-life hero husband, or serving in her church or community.

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