Saturday, April 30, 2016

Devotional Thought : Psalm 89:15-17

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. Psalm 89:15-17

Praising God is not something we do just when we are feeling emotionally warm and happy with our circumstances. When we understand God's greatness we are able to praise him regardless of what is going on in our lives because we know that what is happening in the spiritual realms is far more enduring than our temporary inconveniences. However it takes time to cultivate this perspective. Acclaiming God is a learned attitude that comes with spiritual maturity.

We can develop this attitude by considering God's perspective, to look beyond short-term annoyances and realizes that God's purposes are greater than we imagine. We learn to 'walk in the light of your presence', by seeking his ways which we find in Matthew 5:3-10. His ways teach us to be humble, undemanding, merciful, wholesome, peaceable and desirous for more of him. Whereas the ways of the world are full of self-promotion and self-preoccupation.

We celebrate his righteousness because we know that God has a plan to deal with evil and banish it forever. He achieve righteousness for us through Christ's death on the cross and we have hope for a future without wickedness. The world as we know it is coming to a culmination and we will have vindication.

God is the Source of our glory and strength. Through his Spirit working in our lives we are enabled to 'live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God' (Colossians 1:10).

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review : Go Set A Watchman

Somehow I missed reading, To Kill A Mockingbird when I was young. I knew the story was set around racial prejudice issues and since it wasn't a subject that affected me, I never felt inclined to read it. I read Go Set A Watchman as part of my book club.

I once heard Harper Lee say she never wrote another book because she didn't have anything else to say. Since Go Set A Watchman was written first, I assumed it was about similar issues. So I quite surprised when I read it to discover it was more of a 'coming to age' novel.

Scout is called Jean Louise throughout the story and it seems she had a very idolized view of her father, that the whole family was worried about. She is now in her twenties but acts more like a rebellious teenager when she realizes that her father is going down a path she believes is inconsistent with the man she knew growing up. While Jean Louise doesn't like the path her father has taken, he has sound reasons for doing so which aren't entirely racial driven, but more based on expediency.

It's interesting that people came away from To Kill A Mockingbird with the same idealized view of Atticus that his daughter had. Perhaps that's why Harper Lee chose to publish this book so many years later.

I heard the book had some editing problems, which I often don't notice, but I was surprised by the sudden changes in point of view and wondered if that was what people were referring to, or if it was just a dated way of writing.

Overall I found it an interesting read.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Dream of Knowing God

"The highest dream we could ever dream, the wish that if granted would make us happier than any other blessing, is to know God, to actually experience Him. The problem is that we don’t believe this idea is true. We assent to it in our heads. But we don’t feel it in our hearts." ~ Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb from the Introduction (WaterBrook Press, 2001).

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Devotional Thought : Psalm 85:13

Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. Psalm 85:13

This verse refers to the Lord but it can also apply to us. God wants his people to live justly and prepares for them to walk in his steps.

Daily we are tempted to live like those who don't know God's ways but we don't need to succumb. Paul writes, "When you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). While we may be tempted to do something sinful, more often we are tempted to be fearful and anxious. Emotions which reveal our lack of faith in God who promises:

"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" … "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid." (Hebrews 13:5-6).

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6).

Sometimes we are trick into believing that we have no choice but to go with our emotions. We think our feelings are merely an expression of our circumstances. Yet our feelings are actually based on our beliefs. If we truly believe in God's love and protection then our circumstances, and even our difficulties, take on a different perspective. God is using them to purify, strengthen and create a hope filled future for us.

It's our decision what we focus on. We can remember God's promises and discount our emotions or we can dwell on our difficulties which will only heighten them.

God has prepared a way for us to walk in his steps and live without fear and anxiety—through the promises he makes and the encouragement he provides. He makes a way even when they seems to be no way.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Review : Preaching

Tim Keller covers all aspects of preaching to a local church congregation in his book, Preaching. As someone who preaches a little, I found the information very helpful.

Keller begins by explaining the basics that should be in virtually every sermon. The next few chapters I found particularly useful. There is an inclination to preach what we most need to hear ourselves. So if the preacher is tempted towards legalism they will preach grace but if the preacher is inclined towards permissiveness they will preach morality. Whereas both need to be peached in balance and as Keller points out these temptations spring from the same root cause, that is, a faulty view of God.

I found the chapters on culture and the modern mind a bit laborious. Probably because I didn't find them entirely relevant to my Australian setting. However the concluding chapters were again very informative and helpful. Keller spoke about a preacher's tendency to preach to the needs of those people we most surround ourselves with and therefore it is important to widening our circle of "conversation partners". This is a good point as it is easy to focus on a small range of Biblical principles. Keller likes to quote Jonathan Edwards directly and though Edwards makes some good points, I struggled with the dated terminology.

In the appendix, Keller includes a lengthy explanation of how to prepare an expository message. While this is not the way I prepare sermons, it may be helpful for younger preachers.

Overall a worthwhile book with great insights.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Shared experiences

I have written here about the value of a shared experience. There is value in sharing a book with someone, sharing a church service or other bonding experience. Recently I read Caroline Gladstone article, Hands Across the Water in the Sydney Morning Herald where she writes about the shared experiences that happen when people meet on holidays:
We all know that having a friend on the journey lightens the load and heightens the joy. But why do some endure? Just like in any relationship, you've got to do some heavy lifting to make it work. Just because there are a million ways to say in touch these days doesn't mean you will. Back in my day, to invoke my inner old fogey, you had to put pen to paper if you wanted to stay connected. I think friendships endure because that person and that shared experience touched something deep within us, sparked a feeling that is warm and feels good when we recall it.
Shared experiences do indeed touch something deep with us, and they are worth pursuing because God has made us for community.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Devotional Thought : Psalm 84:11

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Psalm 84:11

Satan's temptation in the Garden of Eden was that God was withholding a good thing – the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It's a temptation he still uses, he hints that God is keeping things from us that would make us happy. Yet this verse and others tell us that God wants to bless us. He has no desire to withhold good things from his people.

We may try to disqualify ourselves by saying our walk isn't blameless. However if we have accepted Christ as our Saviour our walk is blameless because Christ's walk is blameless and we are 'in him' (Ephesians 1:13). No longer do we see ourselves as sinner but as saints that God has made holy (Hebrews 10:10 also 10:14 and 2:11). We are qualified to receive God's good things.

However our definition of a 'good thing' and God's may be vastly different. I see good things as those that add to my comfort and pleasure. Good things that will make my life easier. Eve thought that gaining 'the knowledge of good and evil ' was a good thing but she lost innocence and intimacy. She lost more than she gained.

God's definition of 'good things' are those things which brings us to maturity in Christ; that restore and redeem us to all that God intends. Some of God's good things may be initially painful as he works healing in us.

To be better receivers of all that God has for us, we must know in the core of our being that God is good and no good thing is withheld from us.

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Book Review : Atonement

I like books that make me think and this one certainly does, however I don't like a lot of description and this book has lots. As I was reading I was reminded of the Go Between by L. P. Hartley which was written in a similar context. Later I was interested to read that Ian McEwan reported being influenced by this book.

The story begins with McEwan going to great lengthen to show us that Briony is an overly imaginative thirteen-year-old. Over the course of a day Briony witnesses several incidents between her sister, Cecilia and Robbie the boy next door, and comes to childish conclusions about his behaviour. Later in the evening she accuses Robbie of a crime he doesn't commit. Her parents should have taken more responsibility and explained that she was young and too given to flights of fantasy to be taken seriously. Furthermore it was clear that she had formed the wrong impression of Robbie earlier in the day and the moonless night made her accusations unsubstantiated. Unfortunately none of this was considered. The first half of the book cover the afternoon and evening when these events take place.

Part two of the book is set five years later during World War II. Robbie is serving in the British forces and gets separate from his unit. He makes his way to Dunkirk. Part three is Briony's war time experience as a nurse in London. By this time Briony is painfully aware of the mistake she has made and tries to atone for it. These parts of the book give a vivid picture of the horrors of war.

The last section of about 20 pages is written from Briony's point of view as she looks back over her life. I didn't like this section and it could have easily been omitted as it adds little valuable information. In two sentences we are told Briony married but nothing further. We are left to assume she didn't have children.

Late in the book Briony asks, "What sense or hope or satisfaction could a reader draw from such an account? (that is, if she'd given her story a truthful ending) … I couldn't do it to them (the readers)" (p. 371) and yet Ian McEwan, does it to us, his readers. He ends the book with a big dose of reality as if we are little children in need of cod liver oil. By adding this last section, he gives us the 'true' account without sense or hope or satisfaction. I think it is mean to tell readers how to finish a novel in an unsatisfactorily manner and then to do it.

This last section aside, it was an interesting story, but not sure I'd read another of McEwan when he appears to disrespect his readers.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How do we show love?

A friend of mine lost her husband through cancer. At the time of his death he was pastoring a church, and they were living in a church-owned house. His widow was very involved in her husband’s ministry and held a leadership position. Following his death, she felt she couldn’t continue with this role, feeling her involvement would make it difficult for the next pastor. Every pastor has his own focus on what is important in ministry, and no two pastors will have exactly the same priorities. For these reasons she decided to leave.

The church was in no hurry for her to go, but since she owned a holiday house a couple of hours away, she decided to move into this house and allow the church to move on with the task of finding a new pastor. It all seemed so smooth until you consider that in the space of six weeks, this new widow found herself living in an isolated community having lost her husband, her home, her ministry and her friends. She experienced Job-like losses in her life, which went largely unacknowledged by the Christian community.

Being a pastor’s wife myself, I thought a lot about her losses and felt weighed down. My difficulties seemed so small in comparison. But I also began to wonder about the practicalities of living in a church-owned house. In what other occupation do you have to move if your husband dies? I wondered about my friend’s Christian community, could they have loved and supported her more? Could they have insisted she stay? Would that have been wise? I wondered how, on a broader scale, do we show love and support for each other in our Christian communities, so that the world will know we are Christians? (John 13:35)

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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Devotional Thought : Psalm 83:4

"Come," they say, "let us destroy them as a nation, so that Israel’s name is remembered no more." Psalm 83:4

There are still those who want to destroy God's people. Some feel the world would be better off without any religion. They forget the historical benefits of Christian faith – orphanages, universities, hospitals and virtues like humility, kindness and grace. They discount the role of faith but God plans won't be thwarted.

In the Old Testament we see God implementing his plans for the Israelites, but they failed to be all he intended. They were meant to show the nations around them the blessings that came from living under the government of God. Instead they were lured into following the gods of the other nations and worshipping idols. Furthermore Israel was supposed to demonstrate the grace and compassion of God but often the wealthy oppressed the poor, the court system was corrupt and there was little justice. However there was always a faithful few who saw the value of committing to following God’s ways.

God allowed other nations to attack Israel and deport his people. Yet he never gave up on them and it didn't stop him from fulfilling his purposes. God preserved a remnant and kept a lineage in place so years after returning to the land, the Messiah was born at just the right time and place.

Now that Christ, our Messiah, has lived, died and rose again, God's plan is for a radiant church that is holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27). It seems amazing that God could produce such a church, but he has done more with a lot less and his power is undiminished. While we cannot see it, and maybe won't happen in our life time, God's plan is on track and our future is secure.

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Thursday, April 07, 2016

Book Review : Twice Stolen

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 story begins by introducing Dimitri and Leah separately and we discover that they have both experienced significant abandonment as young children. When their paths cross there is an immediate attraction but their relationship hits many rocky moments as their histories make them prone to misunderstandings. In addition Dimitri and Leah are in the midst of their own personal dramas which further impacts their relationship.

Susanne Timpani does a good job of creating believable characters and circumstances. However I found it emotionally draining as both characters have experienced major traumas not only in their pasts but also in their current situations. Perhaps I relate too deeply.

The novel looks at many issues, the impact of our childhoods, dealing with major health issues, the long term effect of political policies and Aboriginal culture. The question of Christian values enlightening our lifestyle was not addressed consequently Aboriginal culture came across as a bit idealised.

I'd like the way Susanne weaves Christian content into the story, especially the Song of Songs. It was an insightful look at the book and a novel way of adding romantic touches to the story. I also liked the Australian setting and the outback scenes which really come alive.

Overall a good read.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Blog Tour : Twice Stolen

This blog tour is for the novel: Twice Stolen by Susanne Timpani. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance.

My book review can be found here.

4 -8 April

is introducing

(Armour Books, 14 February 2016)


Susanne Timpani

About the Book:
After the death of his grandmother, Dimitri finds he's been lied to most of his life. His journey into the Outback to unravel the mystery of his identity leads to an encounter with Leah, a nurse with a tragic secret.

About the Author:
Susanne is married, has four beautiful children and works as a community nurse with children and families. Themes of her work and her faith appear in her writing.

Susanne is the author of the blog, 10 Minute Daily Retreat. These twice weekly reflections on scripture can be read via:

Her first novel, Twice Stolen, was released in February 2016. It fits the genre of Inspirational Fiction, has Australian Aboriginal themes and is flavoured with a sprinkling of Medical Romance.

Twice stolen won the CALEB prize for an unpublished manuscript. The book is published by Armour Books

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Saturday, April 02, 2016

Devotional Thought : Psalm 78:20-33

True, he struck the rock, and water gushed out, streams flowed abundantly, but can he also give us bread? Can he supply meat for his people?...he rained down manna for the people to eat, he gave them the grain of heaven…He rained meat down on them like dust, birds like sand on the seashore…In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror. Psalm 78:20-33

Faith is supposed to build on past experiences. You would expect that seeing God provide for your needs would build trust for future trials. Yet this wasn't the case for the Israelites.

It wasn't the lack of evidence that caused their lack of faith but rather an unwillingness to change their thinking in view of the evidence they saw. Before their eyes God supply water, manna and meat. Yet no matter how much God provided it was never enough. They continue to question God's ability or perhaps his willingness to provide for them. "In spite of his wonders, they did not believe." They made the choice not to believe.

Sadly their refusal meant their lives ended in futility. God was preparing them for a future in a land of their own but without faith to accept this, their lives had no purpose. Wandering around the wilderness was meaningless if they didn't realize God had a greater plan for them. Without faith they were also terrified because if they didn't trust God there was no basis for their security.

Today we can reflect on the ways God has kept us in the past and believe he will continue to do so in the future. If we don't trust God our lives will lack purpose and security.

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