Saturday, August 27, 2016

Devotional Thought : Jeremiah 9:25-26

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh — Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the wilderness in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart." Jeremiah 9:25-26

People sometimes mark their bodies with a tattoo to signify a particular achievement or a significant person. Likewise circumcision signified a person's commitment to God but the physical sign meant nothing if their lives were characterised by immoral living. Even in Jeremiah's time there was an understanding that circumcision needed to be more than physical.

Paul explains in Romans 2, "Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised ... A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code (Romans 2:25, 28-29).

It is the state of our hearts that matters not the external thing we do to our bodies or the activities we engage in but rather our heart attitude toward God.

These days baptism has become the outward sign but the inward change still comes by the Spirit. As we allow God's Spirit to work in our lives his promise is, "I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts" (Hebrews 8:10). We are inwardly motivated to pursue holiness by God's Spirit working in us.

The written code wasn't enough to change people in Jeremiah's time and it's not enough now. We need God's Spirit to write on our hearts.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Review : Gentlemen Formerly Dressed

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed by Sulari Gentill is a murder mystery featuring Rowland Sinclair. It is the fifth in the series. I haven't read any of the others and this was not a problem. Sinclair becomes involved in a murder investigation when he realizes their prime suspect, a young girl, is most unlikely to have committed the crime.

The story is a little slow moving at times, but quite interesting as it is set at a significant time in British history shortly before World War 2. The author has cleverly used this history as a backdrop. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had a better appreciation of British politics and of the peerage. Many of the characters had more than one name due to the fact they had received a title which was a little confusing at times. Each chapter began with a historical newspaper cutting from the era. Some of these I found added to the story but others were a bit long and distracting. Despite these minor issues I did enjoy the story. The main characters were believable and well-drawn and I found the interplay between characters well done.

I also liked the humour, not that it was laugh out loud funny, but rather subtle and well placed. It kept the book on a light hearted note rather than being bogged down with politics and history.

I read this as part of a book club and overall it was an enjoyable read.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reciprocation

Once someone unexpectedly gave me a birthday present, my first thought was, when is their birthday? Have I missed it? My reaction wasn't gratitude but reciprocation. It seems to be a natural response to repay people for their kindness, but it's also deeper than that. In my case, I actually don't want to feel indebted to them. Yet, rather tellingly, I don't feel the need to reciprocate if it's my husband or children who unexpectedly give me a gift. My relationship with them is more intimate. I know their heart and their motive. I know they won't take offence if I don't respond in kind.

Likewise our relationship with God is to be on that level of intimacy where we know God's heart towards us. When God gives us the gift of salvation he wants us to accept it the same way as we accept gifts from our loved ones.

He wants our response to be one of love and gratitude, knowing reciprocation is impossible.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Devotional Thought : Jeremiah 7:4-5, 7

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!" If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly… then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. Jeremiah 7:4-5, 7

King Josiah had been a good king who brought about a number of reforms, restoring the temple and removing idols (2 Kings 23). However these changes did not last after Josiah's death. Judah's repentance was superficial, it wasn't a heart-changing revival. Josiah's reforms restored the ceremonial functions of their beliefs but people were worshipping idols in the privacy of their homes and oppressing the poor (v. 6). Their actions didn't line up with their stated beliefs.

In their misguided thinking they thought God would always protect the temple and this would ensure their own protection. The temple became their object of worship instead of the Lord himself.

Earlier in Jeremiah's prophesies we read: "'In spite of all this [seeing Israel being exiled], her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,' declares the Lord. 'The Lord said to me, "Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah'" (Jeremiah 3:10-11).

Israel was "faithless". She didn't cover up the fact she wasn't following the Lord which made her rejection of the Lord at least, honest. Whereas God calls Judah "unfaithful" as she had made a commitment to follow the Lord but didn't. Judah acted as if they were keeping the covenant but it was all a pretence.

God considered Israel more righteous. God prefers honest rejection to people going though outward observances which don't engage their hearts or change their behaviour.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Book Review : Bounce Back!

Bounce Back by Cheri Meiners is a useful resource for the Bounce Back! program which is run in many schools. I have used this book in my role as a school chaplain and found it explains resilience in a way a child can understand.

The story is loosely set around a girl whose best friend moves away but also shows other situations where resilience is important. Such as when we make a mistake or when someone in our family is sick. The book teaches strategies for dealing with difficult situations, such as thinking about the problem from a different perspective, think of things you are looking forward to and learning to do new things. It conveys the message that resilience is something we get better at as we grow up.

The illustrations by Elizabeth Allen are colourful and clear. They are a good fit with the text and add depth to the story.

Overall a lovely book and a valuable resource.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What we win them with, is what we win them to

How we became Christians seems to have a big bearing of how we attract others to Christ. People who became Christians at a camp are often keen to become involved in running camps and sometimes even want to run church services in a "camp style". Others who become Christians at large youth gatherings, like Youth Alive, are keen to attend these events and again have a preference for running church services in a similar format to these meetings.

As I have noticed this phenomena, I wondered is it because when we became Christians, at whatever kind of function it was, it was such an impacting time that we continually try to recapture it?

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Devotional Thought : Jeremiah 5:3

The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. Jeremiah 5:3

The prophets and priests, God's leaders, were preoccupied with their own agendas but God's people 'love[d] it this way'. Self-absorbed leadership isn't healthy but the people didn't want it changed. This is particularly grave. The leadership reflected the heart of the people.

It happens today in churches. Many leadership boards have their own agendas which aren't God initiated. They make comfortable decisions which reinforce the status quo rather than face the challenge of creating a new future in God. And the congregation love it that way. They continually vote or choose the same people to lead them because they don't want to face God's challenges any more than the leadership. The congregation excuses the lack of direction and purpose in the church on the leadership. Meanwhile the leadership blame the congregation for their lack of commitment and support. When new leadership arises they find a culture resistance to new ideas and a group of people happy to cave into church leadership, even if they don't have God's purposes in mind.

As churchgoers we are not always in a position to change the direction of our churches. However there are some things we can do. Importantly we can pray and seek God's direction. Perhaps God is calling us to make a difference by standing for a leadership position. Perhaps God is asking us to be less critical of new styles of worship. Perhaps God is asking us to be more welcoming of young leaders and new ideas.

We often get the leadership we deserve since leadership reflects the heart of the people. Changing leadership begins with changing ourselves.

How prepared are we to seek God and his direction for our churches?

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