Saturday, January 30, 2016

Devotional Thought : 2 Samuel 11:4

Then David sent messengers to get her. She [Bathsheba] came to him, and he slept with her. 2 Samuel 11:4

At this time David was already married to Michal (who had been returned to him), Ahinoam and Abigail. Plus 2 Samuel 5:13 tells us, "After he left Hebron, David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him." There is a partial list in 1 Chronicles 3:1-9.

Constable quotes Swindoll in his commentary, he writes: "The king who took another man's wife already had a harem full of women. The simple fact is that the passion of sex is not satisfied by a full harem of women: it is increased. Having many women does not reduce a man's libido it excites it … it stimulates it."

This is an interesting insight into human nature. No matter how much we have of something we always want more. Whether it is sex, money, power or something else. The desire is not satisfied by getting what we want. Actually it is stimulated. This explains how addictions start. People's desire only increases the more they try to satisfy it.

How do we overcome such desires? By learning contentment. Paul writes, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation" he then goes on to say, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:11-13).

The way to overcome the desire of the flesh that continually wants more is to learn to be content. With Christ's help and strength we can be content with our lives and not focussed on what we want.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Reflection : When We Were On Fire

Last week I posted a book review on, When we were on fire by Addie Zierman. I'd now like to add a few other thoughts.

My two oldest children are about the same age as Addie and lived through a similar time period, though my children were in Australia. However they lived through the 'Meet you at the pole', 'WWJD' (What Would Jesus Do), 'I kissed dating good-bye', and the 'True Love Waits' era. They also regularly attended Youth Alive rallies which sound similar to the youth events Addie went to. Yet they didn't experience the trauma that Addie writes about and I expect there were many others in Addie's church who also did not. Why not? I wondered. Perhaps the answer is in the story Addie tells in the prologue.

It's the annual "Meet you at the pole day" where Christians gather at their school's flag pole to pray. Addie arrives in the rain to find no one there but she insists on staying all alone to pray. What she didn't realize was that the meeting place had been moved because of the bad weather. The revealing comments she makes is: "I wanted this. I wanted the empty courtyard, the chance to be a solitary figure at the pole. To be the only one bold enough, brave enough, passionate enough to stand in the rain for Jesus…I thought I was choosing something extraordinary. I thought this would all turn out differently."

Addie wanted to be extraordinary, special and unique in other people's eyes. I feel it was this need that caused to her be vulnerable to someone like Chris who led her to believe that to be extraordinary meant you had to be a "super-Christian." Someone who would change the world by being a missionary on doing something significant.

The disillusionment really set in for Addie when she found herself married, working a regular job and living an ordinary life (not an extraordinary life) in the suburbs. However to her credit she works through her hurt and pain with the help of a therapist, a very supportive husband and some close friends. God is also gracious to her and protects her from long term harm when she makes some very poor decisions during a time of "rebellion."

Addie has a lot of difficulty finding a church and this certainly isn't easy wherever you live. Churches all have their own idiosyncrasies. Over time her expectations mellow and she finds a church community where she can be real. In the end Addie comes to the place where she understands that being a Christian means you're unique and special in God's eyes and that is enough.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

There is no other stream

Many Christian songs contain the words 'no other name' from Acts 4:12 'Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.' When I sing these words I often think of this scene from C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair. It reminds me that Jesus is the only source of salvation. Then in my mind, 'there is no other name' becomes 'there is no other stream'.

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I am dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
"Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.
"I make no promise," said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
"Do you eat girls?" she said.
"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

― C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Devotional Thought : 1 Samuel 30:23-24

David replied, “…The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” 1 Samuel 30:23-24

The Amalekites had attacked David's camp while he and his men were absent. On their return they pursued the Amalekites and restored all they lost: "David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back" (v. 18-19).

However it seems they also gained additional plunder which David shared not only with his men but with the elders in Judah, saying, "Here is a gift for you from the plunder of the Lord’s enemies" (v. 26).

David sent it to Bethel, Ramoth Negev, Jattir, Aroer, Siphmoth, Eshtemoa, Rakal, Hormah, Bor Ashan, Athak and Hebron, also to the Jerahmeelites and Kenites – to all the places where he and his men had roamed (v. 27-31). This is quite a list which suggests a lot of plunder.

David realised that his success it wasn't something he achieved by his own strength or military expertise (v. 6). Therefore the fruit of the victory was to be shared with all. The men who fought, the men who stayed behind with the supplies (v. 9-10) as well as the elders. David was generous because he viewed everything as coming from the Lord's hand.

The other interesting thing in this story is David and his men gained more than they lost if they hadn't been attacked. God's plan of redemption is about restoring more than we lost. We lost the Garden through Adam but we are gaining a celestial city where God will dwell with his people and never be separated again.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Book Review : When We Were On Fire

Although this book wasn't exactly what I was expecting, it was an engrossing read. The book is divided into four parts which are well named: Obsession, Disillusion, Rebellion and Redemption. Addie uses these division to write about the journey of her faith from childhood to adulthood. Addie's honesty and openness makes it a bumpy but enjoyable ride.

Most Christians go through a period of disillusionment after being a Christian for a while. It seems it is almost a necessary part of the maturing process. We become disillusioned with our church or our leaders or our Christian parents because God wants our faith to be in him and not in people or an institution. However Addie's experience is much more traumatic than most and I'm glad she continued to work through her disillusionment to a place where she can be at peace with her faith and her involvement in a church community.

Due to the way the book was advertised I was bracing myself for an attack on the evangelical church and was expecting Addie to spend most of part one – obsession – talking about her church, her pastor, the leaders, the sermons she heard and the vision and focus of her church community. The first two chapters were about some of these things but by the time we get to chapter three, Chris arrives on the scene and her obsession seems more about him than about faith. Chris is three years old than Addie which is considerable as she is only 14. He is legalistic, controlling and manipulative but also handsome and charming. Addie is besotted. The question, in my mind, was why did Addie allow Chris to control her? It seems she had loving parents, supportive friends and a personal faith so why was she so dependent on this particular relationship? For two and a half years Addie is in an on-again, off-again relationship with him which finally ends when he breaks it off with a phone call at 2 am because "God told him to" (though in context, it seems more about her inability to dance). Addie is now 16 but she continues to use Chris as a standard for her spirituality.

I felt this relationship was more damaging to Addie than the overzealous evangelical church that she grew up in. That's not to say the church didn't contribute to her problems but rather her experience of faith was more impacted by the way Chris inaccurately portrayed it.

Despite this surprise departure from the expressed theme, I did enjoy the book and found it to be very well written. Once I was accustom to it, I liked the change of point of view which allowed the reader to step back from the intensity and created variety.

Overall a good read.

I share few more thoughts about this book here.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

On writing

This quote by Roger Scruton from First Things is actually about good journalism. It's a bit heavy but it reminds me why I like to write and why writing is difficult.
"To take the issues of the day, to give them the context that frames them and the arguments that reveal their importance – to do this in the minimum of space, and at the same time to mount a clear case for an opinion that you can express in all sincerity and in the hope of persuading the reader, is to engage in one of the hardest and most rewarding exercises of our reasoning powers."

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Devotional Thought : 1 Samuel 22:20

But one son of Ahimelek son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled to join David. 1 Samuel 22:20

Saul ordered that all the priests be killed because they had supplied David with provisions when he made his escape. Abiathar was the only one who escaped the slaughter. God preserved his life to carry on the priesthood and now he joins David. God preserves a remnant – the 'one' to carry on the line of priests. With God, one is enough to bring about his purposes.

Now the one anointed to be king and the one who is carry on the priesthood are together in hiding. Often we only consider God's protection of David from Saul but God also protected Abiathar. Possibly for over a decade this priest wondered around the wilderness with David and his men hiding from Saul and fulfilling his priestly duties. Meanwhile Saul had deprived himself of a priest to call upon.

Like God reduced Gideon's army, like God reduced the crowds sustenance to one boy's lunch, so God reduces our resources so we know that it is God alone who sustains and enables us to achieve his purposes. Even with the minimal of resources God can ensure his purposes are not thwarted.

God had one Son to send into the world. God protected him from Herod's killing spree, from those who tried to stone him (John 8:59, 10:31) and from those who sought to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:30). At just the right time, Jesus died for our sins and became our high priest (Hebrews 6:20).

One life that achieved so much. Likewise God can take our one life and achieve much more than we can imagine. What seems small and inconsequential in our hands can be turned into many blessings in God's hands.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Review : Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is the funniest book I've read in a long time. Though if you're not a writer you may not appreciate Anne's humour. She particularly makes fun of a writer's tendency to go from one extreme to another. Either writers think they have written the next best seller or they think, if they are depending on an income from writing, that they are facing financial ruin and this can be about the same piece of work. The speed in which writers travel between these two extremes also lends itself to amusing anecdotes.

The content of Bird by Bird comes from the writing classes that Lamott taught. These classes encompassed all the important things writers need to know about the writing life. Things like it's ok to write bad first drafts, write short assignments, if you're feeling overwhelmed just write one scene, tune into your surroundings – physical and emotional, care about telling the truth and other practical advice for initiating a writing project. Anne also wrote about her experiences with editors, writing partners and the publishing process.

I was surprised by some bad language in the book especially when Lamott clearly goes to church. She also referred to God as 'she' a couple of times but I didn't let either of these distracted me from what is otherwise a very good book. Lamott brings a helpful perspective which encourages writers to not take themselves too seriously.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Quote by Josh McDowell

"If one discards the Bible as unreliable historically, then he or she must discard all the literature of antiquity." ~ Josh McDowell

The reason McDowell says this is because the evidence for the reliable of the Scripture is a lot stronger than for other works of antiquity. Historians gauge the accuracy and reliability of historical manuscripts, amongst other things, on the time gap between when events happened and when they were recorded and also on the number of copies of the manuscript. The Bible and the books of the New Testament in particular score exceptionally well on both counts.

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Saturday, January 09, 2016

Devotional Thought : 1 Samuel 18:4

Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. 1 Samuel 18:4

Jonathan had done nothing to disqualify himself from the kingship but, his father, Saul had disobeyed God and was unrepentant which meant none of Saul's sons would ever be king. No doubt Jonathan was aware that Samuel had anointed David to be the next king. Jonathan accepted God's divine appointment of David, and without being asked he willingly gave David the symbols of kingship.

It is quite an amazing attitude. Jonathan did not grasp, chase or manipulate circumstances in order to be king, even given that he was probably a good deal older than David.

Jonathan expected that when David was king he would be second in command, "You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you" (1 Samuel 23:17). Sadly this didn't happen. I wonder if Jonathan was so excessively loyal to his father, that he never took the necessary steps to become David's right hand man.

Jonathan went to see David at Horesh and was able to find David when Saul couldn't. Jonathan helped David find strength in God (23:16). But why didn't Jonathan stay? Sometimes you need friends who will do more than just talk. Sometimes you need friends who will take action. "Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh" (23:18). Jonathan remained loyal to Saul and the next time he is mentioned he dies in battle with Saul (31:2).

Jonathan was a good friend to David and a loyal son to Saul. He's also a picture of Jesus because he didn't consider his position as the king's son something to grasp and cling on to for its own advantage (Philippians 2:6).

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Thursday, January 07, 2016

Book Review : Paradoxology

I really enjoyed Paradoxology by Krish Kandiah. He takes the approach that Christianity is not simple as it is often portrayed to be. "Just believe" we are told but if we are too afraid to wrestle with the paradoxes of Christianity for fear our faith isn't robust enough to cope with close examination, than our spiritual lives will be very shallow.

Kandiah works his way through the Bible pointing out thirteen paradoxes. He discusses each one using a different Bible character or group of people: Abraham – the God who needs nothing but asks for everything; Moses – the God who is far away and so close; Joshua – the God who is terribly compassionate; Job – the God who is actively inactive; Hosea – the God who is faithful to the unfaithful; Habakkuk – the God who is consistently unpredictable; Jonah – the God who is indiscriminately selective; Esther – the God who speaks silently; Jesus – the God who is divinely human; Judas – the God who determines our free will; the Cross – the God who wins as he loses; the Romans – the God who is effectively ineffective; and the Corinthians – the God who fails to disappoint.

Using this format Kandiah effectively addresses the common problems that many have with the Bible. The problem of Abraham sacrificing his son, the problem of Joshua being told to wipe out the Canaanites, the problem of Job a righteous man who suffered much etc. I found the chapter on Judas particularly perceptive as I had not read Kandiah's viewpoint before and I found it very helpful.

It's Kandiah's firm belief that it is important we study the stories that we have the most difficult with as it is only by doing so that we will have a better understanding of God's character and his ways. The stories that bother us can actually lead us to a deeper relationship with God.

A discerning and insightful book.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Just ask

A few years ago a worship leader at our church shared this story one Sunday morning. He was preparing a Powerpoint presentation, when he discovered that the music clip would not work. He particularly wanted to use this piece of music because it fitted so well with the theme of the presentation. He spent several lunchtimes plus some hours at home trying to get it to work—without success.

By then he was feeling rather tense and frustrated so his wife suggested they pray. She was only three or four words into the prayer when he felt God say to him, "The file name is too long." It was a bit of a surprise; we don’t expect God to be so technologically minded. The worship leader shortened the file name, and the music clip worked.

God is so there for us, but he waits until we ask.

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