Tuesday, May 31, 2016

How many disciples named Ananias?

God has a habit of putting people on the spot, take Ananias for example. God told Ananias to go and pray for Saul. At the time Saul was persecuting Christians, imprisoning them and making life very unpleasant. God told Ananias that he had given Saul a vision in which Saul had seen a man named Ananias praying for him (Acts 9:12).

How could Ananias refuse?

Though I think I'd be asking God how many disciples he had who were named, Ananias!

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Devotional Thought : Song of Songs 7:10

I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me. Song of Songs 7:10

This is intended as a sexual comment, where the woman knows her beloved's desire is for sex. She understands he doesn't want just her body but a relationship with her. The human sex drive is one of the strongest we have.

It's rather odd but God has chosen a man's desire for a woman as the best imagery of God's longing to be in relationship with his people. When God uses imagery in this way it isn't sexual but rather God is using the power of sexual desire to describe the strength of his desire to be close to his people.

Other strong human needs are for food, water and shelter. God chooses to employs these images too: 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' (John 6:35). 'He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence' (Revelation 7:15).

God wants his people to know the strength of his yearning to be in relationship with them and to be all that they need. He longs to satisfy us with good things. 'The Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless' (Psalm 84:11).

Likewise he wants us to have the same yearning for him, 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled' (Matthew 5:6). Yet often our desire for God is relegated to being less important than our longings for wealth, status and significance. God is not able to satisfy us when we are busy trying to satisfy ourselves with the things of this world.

Let's seek God with wholehearted devotion.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Book Review : Wearing God

Lauren Winner has chosen an interesting premise for her book, Wearing God. She looks at the various metaphors the Bible uses for God but steers away from the ones we are more familiar with, such as King, Shepherd, Father. Instead she looks at the metaphors of clothing, smell, bread and vine, labouring woman, laughter and flame.

I liked exploring these metaphors as it provided insights into the character of God that I'm less familiar with and perhaps even uncomfortable with. Thinking of God as a labouring woman is quite disconcerting (Isaiah 42:14). However at times I felt, Lauren took the imagery a little too far. She quotes Carolyn Jane Bohler as saying, 'To be useful, a metaphor for God needs to evoke [two] reactions at the same time: "Oh, yes, God is like that," and, "Well, no, God is not quite like that".' I felt Lauren didn't spend enough space on 'God is not quite like that'. This is particularly evident towards the end of her book where Lauren is quoting Biblical passages about Israel being an unfaithful wife and impending judgement. I think it's too much of a leap to refer to God as a 'battering husband'.

Lauren is well-read and likes to quote other authors, particularly long-dead ones. Mostly I found these helpful but I was a little disappointed that she regularly finished a chapter with a prayer from one of these authors. I would have loved to have read her own prayer and therefore for own application of the material she presented. This would have been helpful for me in as I consider how to apply these metaphors to my own understanding of God.

Overall, though an insightful read.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Quotes About Grace

"The entire Biblical revelation affirms that salvation is by grace. … But this revelation is so utterly contrary to the natural heart of man that it must be emphasized again and again, for man always keeps trying to achieve salvation on his own resources. Nothing is so humiliating to his pride as to owe everything to the grace of God alone, and to be able to live only on the basis of his pardon." ~ From God’s unfolding purpose : a guide to the study of the Bible by Suzanne de Dietrich (Westminster Press, 1957).

And a similar thought, "The cost for the recipient of God’s grace is nothing—and no price could be higher for arrogant people to pay." ~ Dan Allender

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Devotional Thought : Song of Songs 5:3

I have taken off my robe—must I put it on again? I have washed my feet—must I soil them again? Song of Songs 5:3

The idyllic relationship described in the Song of Songs has hit a snag. The woman doesn't want to make an effort for her beloved. She did change her mind but it was too late and he had left (v.6-7).

The poetic nature of these verses make it unclear as to what happened to cause her to lose interest in meeting what seems to be a reasonable request. However human relationships are often not straightforward and any number of things could be going on.

Perhaps she felt taken for granted, that he was only interested in the delights of her body and not her personhood. Perhaps she was upset that he didn't stay with her. It seems they were now married so where had he gone? Possibly it was all a dream since she slept but her heart was awake (v. 2) and she feared losing her beloved.

Whatever the cause, it reveals a universal truth that no relationship is without difficulties, even the wonderful connection described here between the lover and his beloved. People disappoint us. Maybe there are good reasons for the failure. Perhaps they are tired, unwell or experiencing other pressures. When they behave in ways that we don't expect, we may not respond well which compounds the situation.

How do we move forward? The couple in this story move past their disappointments and are able to reconnect again. In our relationships we move forward when we learn acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness. It's a continually process because no matter how well we know someone, things happen that cause them to change.

Let's commit to learning, growing and maturing in all our relationships.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book Review : The Promise of Vision

This short little book explains vision and the need for vision in our personal lives and churches. Robinson begins with stories of people with a lack of vision who predicted all manner of dire outcomes which are laughable today. He then moves on to Bible characters who were given a vision from God and achieved great things. People such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and Nehemiah.

Vision keeps us motivated and trusting in God to bring about what is impossible ourselves. Robinson includes some modern day people who changed history with great vision, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela.

In order to get a vision from God requires us to immerse ourselves in God's word, prayer and to survey the needs around about us. When we do receive a vision from God, expect opposition! It is important to not to give up but persist, by continuing to trust God to bring his plans into being.

Robinson has written an easy to read booklet outlining important principles.

A helpful book.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

More on Measuring Goodness

A few more thoughts following on from last week about measuring goodness: In the beginning Adam and Eve lived in communion with God and had no need to measure their spirituality. God even told them not to eat from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:17) because they didn't need this knowledge. Being in relationship with God would be enough to keep them from evil.

However they did eat, and now we tend to measure good and evil. Is drinking alcohol, dating, surfing the Internet, playing computer games good or evil? If we do those things we think are good, we congratulate ourselves and become self-righteous. If we do those things we think are evil, we feel guilty and condemn ourselves. God didn't intend for us to be self-righteous or self-condemning. I've learnt that I cannot measure our spirituality by observable means. I cannot assume spiritual maturity based on my age or on the amount of Bible knowledge I have or on what I do or don't do. It cannot be measured by my actions; if it's measured at all it must be measured by my ability to love.

So there is no need for us to try to impress God, others, or even ourselves. Certainly we go around doing good, like Jesus did (Acts 10:38), but there is no reason for us to measure our goodness.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Devotional Thought : Song of Songs 3:5

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. Song of Songs 3:5

Good advice here – don't arouse or awaken sexual love until you're in a place where it can be legally and ethically consummated. This refrain is repeated elsewhere (2:7; 8:4).

Today we live in a culture that seems to be doing all it can to arouse and awaken erotic love. Advertisers use scantily clad women to advertise everything from cars to toothpaste. Our world is filled with images designed to titillate the senses. Sex is promoted as an entitlement.

This creates enormous havoc particularly in the lives of young people who aren't mature enough or responsible enough to handle the emotional responses that are involved in sexual relationships. Furthermore sexual satisfaction is best found in committed long-term relationships.

God seeks to protect us from the emotional damage of awakening our sexual desires before they can be freely expressed. In the Levitical laws we find an interesting restriction that woman weren't to be touched for the seven days of her monthly period (15:19-23). This may not be as restrictive as it first appears. Generally women in this culture married early, had large families and breastfeed for longer than is normal in our culture so their cycles were much longer.

Therefore the biggest impact of this law would have been on unmarried teenage girls. The implications would make God-fearing young men cautious of having physical contact with young women and thus not arouse love prematurely.

While we don't live under the Levitical laws today, they serve an important indicator of God's desires. We live in a sex-saturated world and God's word challenges us to live sexually pure lives while living in its midst.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Book Review : Her Father's Daughter

Alice Pung is a talented writer and it's understandable why she has won prizes for her books. In this memoir, Her Father's Daughter, she cleverly uses third person point of view to talk about herself and the relationship she has with her father. She also has an interesting writing style and manages to find unusual metaphors to describe life events.

Initially I found Alice's father overbearing, controlling and manipulative. However as the book progresses and more of his motives and history are revealed, I became more sympathetic to his attitudes. Alice's mother doesn't play a big role in the account, except in supporting her husband.

The book doesn't always make for pleasant reading as Alice describes her father's experiences in Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Rouge. Reading an almost firsthand account is quite distressing. Again Alice has been clever and left this until about half way through the book when you have made emotional connections and are curious about what really happened. The chronology of this book was sometimes difficult to follow because of these flash-backs, but it didn't distract from the story.

This is an insightful book on many levels – the relationship between a father and daughter, the effect of post-traumatic stress, growing up as a migrant in Australia, navigating cultural norms, seeking independence as an adult child and more.

Overall, a perceptive and well-written memoir.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Measuring goodness

When I first became a Christian I'd measure my spirituality by the amount of time I spent in spiritual disciplines. However I found that whenever I started to feel proud about the fact I could maintain a regular quiet time or completed a regular Bible reading program it seemed like God stopped me. Not because having a quiet time was wrong, but because my attitude was wrong. I was becoming proud and self-righteous, and focusing on my ability.

When we measure our spiritual maturity by outward behaviour the Christian life becomes boring. If we constantly have to keep track of our behaviour, if we are anxious about whether we have prayed enough, read enough and if we worry about whether we should or shouldn't attend certain functions, then the Christian life becomes very tiresome.

The goal of studying the Bible and spending time with God is to become more like Jesus and therefore more loving. If a spiritual discipline is causing us to feel proud or arrogant then we ought to stop doing it. We would be better off weaker in our knowledge of God than feeling strong in our own self-sufficiency.

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Saturday, May 07, 2016

Devotional Thought : Song of Songs 2:3

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. Song of Songs 2:3

Our Western ears don't immediate understand the symbolic meaning of what is being expressed here, and this is where a commentary is helpful.

(Hubbard in Constable's commentary) "'Shade', 'fruit' and 'apple tree' are all ancient erotic symbols..."

Various cultures have different euphuisms for love making. We also discover that the roles of men and women in romantic relationships have changed:

"In the Song, as in much of the other ancient Near Eastern love poetry, the woman is the one who takes the initiative, and who is more outspoken…Our contemporary attitude where the girl is on the defensive and the man is the initiator, is a direct contrast with the attitude in the ancient world" (Hubbard).

When did the concept of the woman being the initiator change? And why?

We are more affected by our culture than we realize. We tend to assume that our cultural understanding is the 'correct' one or the Biblical one, when this may not be the case.

Christianity began in the Middle East and spread to Western cultures. When the Emperor Constantine converted to Christian faith, it became an organized religion and the Bible began to be filtered through a Western mindset.

Christian archaeologists and historians are sometimes surprised by what they find – artwork showing female priests or churches containing zodiac symbols. What did these symbols mean to people in their day? Were they merely decorative?

It makes us wonder how much we have been influenced by our culture rather than God's Word. It also ought to make us cautious about insisting that our cultural view is the most accurate.

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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Book Review : Glimpses of Light

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.

Glimpses of Light is a collection of 26 stories and poems based around the theme of light. The collection was put together in 2015 which was the International Year of Light. Profits from the book go appropriately to CBM (formerly Christian Blind Mission).

It's always surprising to read the vastly different reflections that writers can have on a theme – some serious, some light-hearted, some imaginative and some factual. I enjoyed the wide variety of writing styles and the diversity of genres. It was also interesting to see the way writers had weaved, either subtly or overtly, Christian values into their stories.

Some of entries were fantasy. Normally this is not a genre I enjoy, however I found this worked well in the short story context. Fantasy doesn't appeal to me because it usually includes long descriptive passages but this is less of an issue in a shortened version.

I read this book several weeks ago and it is interesting to reflect on the stories that have stayed with me: Ben-Shachar by Naomi Edwards; The last Blood Moon by Charis Joy Jackson; Moon People by Paula Vince; and Revelation by Jo-Anne Berthelsen. I particularly enjoyed the last two stories, probably because they were true and I like non-fiction.

The entries were all well written and Jeanette and Nola have done an excellence job of editing.

An enjoyable read.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Blog Tour : Glimpses of Light

This blog tour is for the anthology: Glimpses of Light, edited by Jeanette O'Hagan and Nola Passmore. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review can be found here.

2 – 6 May

is introducing

(By the Light Books, 15 December 2015)


Edited by Jeanette O'Hagan and Nola L Passmore

About the Book:
Be challenged, captivated and moved by these imaginative reflections on faith, help in time of need, joy in the midst of tragedy, and surprising encounters with God.

During 2015, the International Year of Light, twenty-one authors from Australia and the United States have come together to explore the theme of 'glimpses of light'—finding light in dark places—through short stories, poems, flash fiction and creative non-fiction.

Glimpses of Light includes contributions from respected and award-winning authors and poets Jo-Anne Berthelsen, Paula Vince, Lynne Stringer, Adele Jones, Jo Wanmer, Jeanette Grant-Thomson and Ellen Carr, as well as exciting new talent.

Profits from this anthology go to CBM Australia, giving sight to the blind.

About the Authors:

Jeanette O’Hagan enjoys writing fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. She is writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements. Her short stories and poems are published in Tied in Pink romance anthology, Another Time Another Place, Poetica Christi’s Inner Child, Let the Sea Roar, Like a Girl.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and, more recently, a Master’s in writing. She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

Website: jeanetteohagan.com


Nola Passmore’s poetry, devotions, inspirational articles, and short fiction have appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies in Australia and overseas. Although she’s a former academic with qualifications in creative writing, psychology, and Christian ministry; she’s found that you can never underestimate the power of friends and mentors in the writing journey.

With ringleader roles in Quirky Quills and the Toowoomba chapter of Omega Writers, she’ll be nagging (oops, encouraging) other writers for some time. She and her husband Tim have a freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.

Website: www.thewriteflourish.com.au

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