Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review : My Seventh Monsoon

I enjoyed Naomi Reed's book, My Seventh Monsoon, very much. The book is her autobiographical account of her two trips to Nepal as a missionary with her husband and also the intervening years back in Australia.

Naomi has arranged her material by using the idea of 'seasons' from Ecclesiastes 3. I found this to be a helpful way of understanding the events and emotions that she was experiencing at different times of her life. Naomi's writing has an honestly and clarity about it that makes it engaging. This was especially evident when she wrote about the heartache they faced during their time back in Australia.

The book is a valuable tool in understanding God's guidance. Sometimes it is very clear, particularly in the early stages of embarking on a new venture. However later, when Naomi and her family were back in Australia and planning to return to Nepal, God's leading was harder to fathom. Sometimes God's plans are clear and sometimes they are not. It was only in retrospect that Naomi was able to appreciate how perfect God's timing had been.

The book ends uncertainly with Naomi and her family in Nepal. This leaves you with a slightly unsatisfactory feeling of 'loose ends' not being tied up. But life's like that, not everything works out neatly. However it does anticipate the sequel, No Ordinary View which I look forward to reading.

An enjoyable read.

Naomi Reed is the key note speaker at this year's Omega Christian Writers Conference in Sydney. More details here.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

We are not poor

The devil will tempt us to believe it’s more spiritual to be poor. If we choose to be poor through laziness or not taking up the opportunities God gives us to earn money, we will be like the man who hides his talent in the ground. The master’s response to him was severe, "You wicked, lazy servant!" (Matthew 25:24-27). Note, he wasn’t just lazy, but wicked. It's wicked when we don't make use of the gifts that God has given us.

It's easy to compare our resources to others and feel we have a lack, either as an individual or as a church. But our perceived lack must not become an excuse for failing to complete the tasks God has given us. God is our Enabler and we can trust him to provide the resources we need.

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Devotional Thought : Psalm 74:7-9

They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. They said in their hearts, "We will crush them completely!" They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land. We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. Psalm 74:7-9

Asaph writes this following the destruction of the temple, the focus of their worship of God. It was hard for him to understand why God would allow the devastation of something so central to their beliefs. He expresses his grief by reminding God that it was "your sanctuary" and "the dwelling place of your name".

Asaph's prayer is, "Remember the nation you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—Mount Zion, where you dwelt" (v. 2). It feels like he is saying, "Where were you God when this was happening? Why didn't you intervene and saved your people?" Many times God doesn't rescue us from crushing circumstances but rather offers us his enabling grace to strengthen us.

You can hear Asaph's despair in the words, "None of us knows how long this will be". Yet in this there is a glimmer of hope. While they don't know how long they will suffer, there is an assumption that one day things will be different. There is hope that God won't abandon them forever.

God did eventually return his people to their land but in the process they learnt that you can worship God without a temple and a sacrificial system. You can continue to trust God without prophets to remind you. You can continue to believe when all the evidence is against you. When nothing is left you still have God and that is enough.

Always have hope.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Book Review : The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus

The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus is a theological study of the book of Acts. The subtitle is Luke's account of God's unfolding purpose . I was drawn to this book because Thompson discusses the kingdom in terms of the 'the now' and the 'not yet'. This is a concept I find very useful in understanding the Bible and God's purposes.

Thompson's aim is to give a framework for studying the book of Acts. He wants to highlight the various themes and show how these themes develop in the overall book. It is not a commentary on individual passages.

Thompson has divided his book into the following sections:
Living 'between the times': the kingdom of God
The hope of Israel: the resurrection and the arrival of the last days
Israel and the Gentiles: the kingdom and God's promises of restoration
The promise of the father: the gift of the Holy Spirit
The end of an era: the temple system and its leaders
The end of an era: the law is no longer the direct authority for God's people

I find this a very helpful book and not overly academic. Thompson clearly shows how Luke has deliberately arranged his material to show that God purposes are being fulfilled. The Old Testament era has ended and a new covenant has begun. Jesus' resurrection is a clear indication that God's kingdom has arrived but not yet in all its fullness.

An instructive read.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why is it easy to make fun of the organised churches?

This is a quote from So Anyway by John Cleese which is rather insightful:
Chapel took up a lot of time. Just as at St. Peter's there was a Church of England service every workday morning, a fifteen-minute affair which took place in Clifton's remarkably chapel. Then, on Sunday, there was a full one-hour marathon, with a proper sermon, and hymn-singing, and crab racing, and fire-eating, and a trampoline art.

To look back on these religious practices from the peak of spiritual perfection that I have now achieved is to wonder, 'What the hell did we think we were doing?' We had all been taught how to behave: to walk more slowly than usual, looking downwards; to sit, fresh-faced and attentive and slightly awed, as we repeated well-known catchphrases of uncertain meaning ('Lord of hosts', 'Son of God', 'paschal lamb', 'life everlasting') none of which had ever been explained but which, if spoken with sufficient sincerity, would apparently keep the bogeyman away; then to stand and sing obscure lyrics about the hosts of Gilead creeping around after dark, or rousing military marches like 'Onward Christian Soldiers' that were contrary to the idea 'Blessed are the peacemakers'; and then to ask God to do us favours, even though the Lord's Prayer taught by Jesus specifically says, 'Thy will be done on earth', which clearly indicates it isn't.

Yes, I know it's easy to make fun of the organised churches, but has it occurred to anyone to wonder why it's so easy?

What gets my goat is that 'Religion' should be the most exciting topic of all. Is there an afterlife? Can we have a real purpose to our lives? How can we love our enemy, when it seems about as easy as levitating? To what extent is self-interest moral? Is there an experience of the divine that we can achieve? All the vital questions have been dumped in favour of half-baked, po-faced rituals which are basically a form of middle-class rain dance.
So Anyway by John Cleese pg.72-73

Cleese understands that Christianity 'should be the most exciting topic of all' which it is, but those of us who believe have let him down.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Devotional Thought : Psalm 70:4

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, "The Lord is great!" Psalm 70:4

It's easy to say, "The Lord is great" when things are going well. When our prayers are answered, when life is progressing smoothly, when we feel blessed with good health, but what about when we're longing for God's saving help? At such time do we always say, "The Lord is great"?

Regardless of what God does for us, whether he heals us or not, whether he restores relationships or not, whether he blesses us financially or not, he is still worthy to be praised and one day everyone will confess his greatness.

As new covenant believers we can reflect on the Cross and realizes God's greatness in sending Jesus to die for us. Yet David realized his greatness before he understood the Messiah would suffer for the sin of the world. How much easier for us to stir ourselves to proclaim God's greatness!

But it's not that simple. We don't like being in situations where we're longing for God's saving help. Yet David isn't just imagining that scenario, he's actually in it as he writes, "But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay" (v. 5).

Even when we're seeking God and his saving help we can rejoice and be glad, not in our circumstances but in the Lord. We can think of the Cross and know he is a good God who cares for us. We can remember David and other Old Testament characters who had far less information than us, but celebrated God's greatness.

We always have cause to say, "The Lord is great."

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Book Review : Love Wins

I've read a couple of Bell's books and know he loves to challenge Christians thinking. I like to read Christian books which offer a different point of view so I usually enjoy his books. However I have put off reading Love Wins for several years because of the adverse publicity. I came to the book expecting to disagree with most of it. However, while I did disagree with some of Bell's ideas, there were also some insights I agreed with and appreciated. Other insights I will need to spend more time thinking about and consider other Scriptures before I can form a conclusion.

One of the things I did disagree with was his expectation that his readers wouldn't be able to give satisfactory answers to his many rhetoric questions, particularly at the start of the book. He took the expected non-answers to propose a different way of looking at heaven and hell. Since I felt that I did have answers to some of the issues he raised, it was an awkward start to the book.

I liked that Bell quoted Abraham in Genesis 18:25, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" We don't understand all God's ways but we can trust that God will judge rightly. God knows the opportunities people have had, the influences in their lives and their motivations so we can trust that when it comes to judgment God will be fair and just. The Bible clearly teaches the reality of judgment and separation which Bell acknowledges.

I understand the adverse reaction to Bell's book but I think it is unfortunate that he had to resign from his church as a result of its publication. I found Bell making suggestions rather that dogmatically pushing his point of view. As a Christian community healthy discussion of different points of view is a good thing. Our faith is well able to stand up to scrutiny and collectively we are more likely to come to a correct consensus.

Overall an interesting read.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On making fruit

In John 15, God speaks of himself as the vine and his people as the branches, who draw their nourishment from him. In this way, we use his energy, not ours, to produce much fruit. Fruit trees don't struggle and strain to produce fruit. They merely allow the nourishment to flow in, and the fruit grows as a result.

Likewise, good works flow as we respond to God working in us. If our lives don't seem to be producing much fruit, it isn't the time to start rushing around trying to make something happen. It's the time to stop and learn to rest in him.

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Devotional Thought : Psalm 63:1

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

David longed for God like someone in the desert yearns for water. Verses like this remind me how apathetic I get about my faith. I live a pleasant life with all my basic needs supplied plus many luxuries. It's easy to get complacent. How do I keep seeking God when I'm so comfortable?

Some things to remember: God always has more for us. God tells David after blessing him with the kingship, many wives and everything else that "If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more" (2 Samuel 12:8). God doesn't rebuke David for wanting more but rather for not asking for more! God wants to bless us with more of his love and goodness but so often our lives are so crowded we have little time and energy to pursue God.

We can seek God by placing ourselves in situations like church fellowships where there are others who desire more of God. I find this especially true where there are lots of young people. Their enthusiasm for God rubs off on me and I feel inspired by their passion.

We can seek God by listening to music that focusses our attention on God and his attributes. Songs that magnifies the Lord, energizes my spirit and produces gratitude in me as I remember all he has done. Songs reminds me of his great love and motivate me to keep following and pursuing God.

All these things take effort on my part. Seeking God isn't something that necessarily comes easily every day, except when there's a crisis!

How do you regularly seek God?

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book Review : The Pounamu Prophecy

This book is currently being featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance. Information about the author and more details about the book can be found here.

The Pounamu Prophecy cleverly weaves two stories into one. First there is Mere who is a part of the Ngati Whatua tribe of Auckland. She experienced much abuse and oppression at the hands of the English immigrants. Through the course of the book we hear her story from when she was young until her sixties.

Then there is the story of James and Helene who have been married for five years but their relationship is struggling from the demands of modern life. The overlap of these two stories occurs when Mere spends a few weeks in James and Helene's guest house. Mere is wanting a quiet place to write a memoir for the benefit of her children and grandchildren.

Cindy Williams creates a great balance between these two stories and I found switching between the two was well timed. It was also an interesting combination of stories because it's not immediately obvious why there would be any connection. Yet there are many things that are common to all people the need for love, forgiveness, belonging and companionship. Then there are common experiences of injustice, betrayal and abuse, to a greater or lesser extent. Cindy does a good job of addressing these issues in the context of the story.

An enjoyable read.

Footnote: My enjoyment of this book was enhanced by visiting New Zealand last year with my husband. We did a number of day trips with different tour companies. Each time we were given a brief history of New Zealand and it was interesting to note the different perspectives of the tour guides. There was the English tour guide who failed to mention any of the atrocities committed by the white settlers. There was the Maori guide who acknowledged the injustices which had taken place but was appreciative of the good things English culture had brought like medicine and education. Then there was the Maori guide who only mentioned the injustices of the English and didn't acknowledge any of the benefits. Taken together we end up with a more complete understanding of New Zealand's history.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Blog Tour : The Pounamu Prophecy

This blog tour is for the novel: The Pounamu Prophecy by Cindy Williams. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review can be found here.


7 -11 March


is introducing


Rhiza Press, 1 October 2015

by

Cindy Williams


About the Book:
Since she watched her village burn to the ground, Mere’s life has been anything but dull. Now as an older woman she has come to stay with Helene and James to finish writing her life story – a tale of injustice, revenge and reconciliation.

But Helene and James have their own problems. After five years together, their marriage has become dull, predictable, boring … and it starts to unravel. Weaving fiction with the traumatic history of the Ngati Whatua tribe of Auckland, The Pounamu Prophecy sweeps from the sultry heat of Australia to the verdant shores of New Zealand.


About the Author:
Cindy Williams lives in Sydney with her husband and teenage son.

As a child growing up in a culturally rich part of New Zealand she enjoyed writing, not copious screeds, but short intense pieces that brought tears to her eyes and made people think. She marvelled at the power of words to inspire far beyond the intentions of the author.

Then she became a dietitian – all science and seriously researched facts. She completed a Master of Public Health and a Graduate Diploma in Communication and spent many years encouraging and inspiring people to live a healthy life.

She writes a nutrition blog – www.nutritionchic.com – and is working on her second novel, set in first century Israel. She teaches scripture in schools, and swim and cycles. She is also studying for a Diploma of Theology and trying to improve her abysmal French!

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Saturday, March 05, 2016

Devotional Thought : 2 Samuel 21:15

Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. 2 Samuel 21:15

It's not clear why David became exhausted. Had he become so comfortable with palace living that he no longer participated in regular exercise and was unfit? Had he found palace food to his liking and indulged too much? Had he grown so accustom to palace comforts that he had forgotten the demands of battle?

In this battle there was an attempt on David's life and his men so feared for him they said, 'Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished' (v. 17).

Once David had been a great warrior especially over the Philistines. He achieved many great victories in the past. Times when his army didn't want to go out to battle without him but now he had become a liability. Was it just age or had David failed to maintain his battle readiness?

It is interesting to note that these chapters at the end of Samuel are an overview of David's life and aren't in chronological order (v. 1). Is this the reason David stayed home when the rest of his troops went off to war in 2 Samuel 11? Perhaps David was feeling dejected, and then he saw Bathsheba bathing (v. 1-2)?

It's easy to become comfortable with our circumstances. We may rely too much on past victories. We may indulge too much in the pleasures of this world and be unprepared for the challenges ahead.

We can't afford to stagnate in our relationship with God but continue with our spiritual disciplines. While we may physically deteriorate, it is important that spiritually, we stay battle ready.

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Thursday, March 03, 2016

Book Reflection : From Eternity to Here

I read From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola six years ago. It contained a lot of ideas and imagery that was I was unfamiliar with at the time so I decided I would read it again one day. It took a while but today I finished reading it for the second time.

I don't normally read a book twice unless I have a specific reason. I read Still twice because I couldn't figure out the chronology which wasn't so much a problem with the book but with my lack of understanding of the terminology associated with the American schooling system. I read Pilgrimage twice because I visited Israel between readings which was the context of the book. If a fiction book is particularly clever I might read it a second time because knowing where it's going means you can see how the author manages to create the twists and turns. Generally though I read a book thoroughly the first time and don't feel that I've missed anything. Nevertheless it's interesting to notice my different reactions to a book the second time around.

Reading From Eternity to Here a second time I still found the ideas and imagery fascinating but also noticed that some of his ideas I have adopted into my thinking without realizing. The difficulty with a book like this is how to make practical application. Mostly it is about changing your thinking to bring in more in line with Scripture. This tends to be a slow process, challenging old paradigms and creating new ones. I'm glad I've re-read the book as it makes me realize that my thinking has changed since I last read it but still needs to change some more.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Abdicating the throne

A while ago I went to see the movie The King’s Speech and found not only the story, but the historical context, fascinating (though the language is bad). King George VI only became the king because in 1936 his brother, Edward VIII abdicated. He abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. It created quite a stir. Never before had an English monarch voluntarily given up the throne. There had been a couple of abdications before this, but they had been caused by wars. Never before had an abdication been caused by love (which is actually very romantic, but not my point here).

Edward had lived his life expecting to be king. He was 16 when his own father became king and he took on the responsibilities associated with being an heir with great enthusiasm. Edward was 36-years-old when he met Wallis Simpson in 1930. She wasn’t held in high regard, whether because she had been married twice or due to genuine concerns about her political preferences seems unclear. Neither was she Edward’s first love. Still it was for her, with great reluctance, he gave up the throne. There is no indication there was any other motive. Edward gave up the role he had spent his whole life training for, to marry the woman he loved. In giving up the throne it also meant he would have to submit to another king. Perhaps this was too much, even for Edward. After the abdication he never again lived in England for any length of time.

If we claim Jesus is Lord of our lives, it means we have abdicated control, but unlike Edward we do submit to the new King. We surrendered the ruling of our lives to Jesus, and we do so in response to his great sacrificial love for us. Jesus could rightfully claim his ownership of our lives, but he has given us the choice because true love doesn’t coerce.

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