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Showing posts from April, 2013

Prayer for Persecutors

Good practical advice from Open Door’s Jan Vermeer onpraying for North Korea and Christians in the persecuted world: The apostle Paul also taught me valuable lessons about how to pray for North Korean Christians. His prayers are legendary. He prays so differently than us. We are used to pray for suffering to end, prisons to open and regimes to fall. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:11: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power….12….so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What is the calling of this church? Paul says so in verse 5, that the Thessalonians suffer for His Kingdom. This teaches me that when we do intercession for other believers we need not only identify with the person you pray for, but especially with God. What is He after in this circumstance? How will He us…

Misreading History

1492: The Year Our World Beganby Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is a great read. It is only the second book I have ever read by the renowed historian - the other being the incredible Civilisations. The book argues that the process of forging the new modern world begun in 1492! Fernandez-Armesto traces key elements of the modern world back to events of that year. He takes the reader on a journey around the globe, drawing the together the threads that began to bind the planet. 
The tour begins in Granada, where the last Islamic kingdom in Europe collapsed, then moves to Timbuku, where a new Muslim empire triumphed. With Portuguese explorers, we visit the court of the first Christian king in the Congo. He then traces the frozen frontiers of the dynamic, bloody Russia of Ivan the Great, and explores the mystical poets in Asia. The book is perhaps not on the level of "Civilisations", but it is well worth the read. It will appeal mostly to those who love world, maritime or exploratio…

The Necessity of Pain

The keeper jabbed his finger at the vellum. “Let her heart be a sign of that promise. You will see, you who have life and aren't grateful; you who speak to an old man who would give his head to see a single day of the life you now have.” “Keep your words. This pain is no life.” “You only feel pain because you’re alive, boy!” the keeper thundered. “This is the mystery of it. Life is lived on the ragged edge of that cliff. Fall off and you might die, but run from it and you are already dead!” “Then I would rather be dead!” “And Avra’s death will have been in vain. The world fled the precipice of life once. It stripped us all of humanity and established its Order of death. Now you speak like those who conspired to kill every living soul.” From Forbiddenby Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee. It is the first of the trilogy Book of Mortals series. I had read this book before but thought I should read it again before turning to the next instalment. It is the challenge of trilogies that one us…

Imaginary Peer Pressure

Tina Rosenberg observes that human beings deceive themselves about their rationality. We don’t usually decide how to behave by weighing the pros and cons. In reality, the strongest influence on our decisions is the example of the people around us. More importantly such “peer influence” is usually imaginary. We have a tendency to overestimate other people’s bad behaviour and therefore we end up behaving more badly ourselves. Calls therefore to reform behaviour by emphasising how bad people are don’t always work very well. In her words : Bad behaviour is usually more visible than good. It’s what people talk about, it’s what the news media report on, it’s what experts focus on. Experts are always trying to change bad behaviour by warning of how widespread it is, and they take any opportunity to label it a crisis. “The field loves talking about the problems because it generates political and economic support,” said Perkins.

Is God Jealous?

A fundamental aspect of God is that he is a person.  God has his own his character, will and feelings. That is a tremendous opportunity to us because it means that in many ways God is just like us. We are made in his image and likeness despite our sinful nature. We are able to relate to him. But it is also a danger because in thinking about God we may wrongly think him in terms or concepts that are solely familiar us and not pause to think thoughts about him from his perspective. 
There's no greater danger of this than in the opening lines of Nahum. In the previous meditationson Nahum, we saw that that God is introduced as extremely angry and filled with vengeance. The target of this anger is Nineveh who has been oppressing God's people. Here is what the verse says:

Why should I read fiction books?

Russell Moore provides a helpful answeron the value of reading fiction to Christians : Fiction helps the Christian to learn to speak in ways that can navigate between the boring abstract and the irrelevant mundane. It also enables you to learn insights about human nature. I’ve never had a problem with drug addiction. I can’t imagine why on earth anyone would take meth. Reading stories of life in Eastern Kentucky and about the motivations behind a meth addict can teach me to address those things biblically, and to see where I have similar idolatry that would be just as incomprehensible to someone else.
I would say that fiction, along with songwriting and personal counseling, are the most constant ways that God teaches me empathy. It’s easy in evangelical Christianity to assume that everyone who opposes us or disagrees with us is simply to be verbally evaporated as an enemy to be destroyed. But no false teaching and no wrong direction has any power unless it appears to someone to be goo…

Am I Becoming A Gadget?

Barbara L. Fredrickson has just completed new research on how social connection impacts on our physiological connection. It suggests that one of the costs of increased electronic access is that it impacts on our biological capacity to connect with people : The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.
Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — l…

Inescapable Escape

When you’re disappointed with your life, you will find ways to escape it. That may come in the form of busyness. You fill your schedule to the brim to keep yourself from having a moment to think. Or you may try to escape by watching way too much television. You’re watching not because you’re addicted to the content before you, but because you’re addicted to the escape that content provides for you. Or you may try to flee life by spending endless hours on the Internet, in the dark escape of the buzz of pornography, or in the temporary pleasure of too much food or alcohol. Maybe your escape is a hobby, sport, or outdoor activity. The point is that you are either facing life with hope and courage or you are finding a way to escape it. - Paul David Tripp (Source : Forever)

Loneliness

A recent fascinating BBC article Is modern life making us lonely? suggests that 1 in 10 people in Great Britain are lonely and it is not just due to an ageing population. People from all walks of life across the western world are becoming lonely. According to Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the UK’s Mental Health Foundation although there is no hard historic data to show loneliness there is some sociological evidence that it is getting worse :

Faith

It is usually the case that unexpectedly God brings to sharper focus truths that I have buried and not paid much attention to. I say unexpectedly because the re-focusing more often than not happens through unexpected avenues. And so it was this week as God brought into sharper focus truths about faith as I meditated on the following text from Apostle Paul's letter to the Church at Colossae : We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [Colossians 1:3-4a] There are several observations we may note from Apostle Paul’s remark.  The first is that Christians have faith in Jesus.  That is to say the Colossians' faith was found not in anything else but  Christ Jesus.  But what is faith? The writer to the Hebrews says, "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. (Hebrews 11:1). I would paraphrase it like this. Faith is having a deep confidence (conviction) that is…

Proud Illusions

One of the preachers at our local church shared this weekend on the sixth commandment from Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder”. He went on to rightly observe that the narrow application of this commandment is “capital murder”. But the broader application includes hatred and other vices. And though he did not make the point, I would add that in between actually is a more broader interpretation of violence offered by Prophet Obadiah.
What really struck me was this important observation he made. He said that deep down our hearts we are no different from those who commit the worst atrocities. It is only by the grace of God that we ourselves have not done the crimes that fill us with disgust when we read about them on television or watch them on Crime and Investigation television channel. For after all it was our sins that nailed Jesus Christ to the cross. But even more than that without other restraints we too are just as capable.

Econometrics of Prayer

Sam O'Neal in his bookField Guide for Small Group Leaders reports an interesting statistical study by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable on the impact of prayer on small group performance.
The econometric study was based on a comprehensive survey of three thousand small group leaders in over two hundred churches across the United States. It contained hundreds of questions that probed into every detail of a person's role as a small group leader. It covered group dynamics, leader behaviour during the group meetings, leader preparation before group meetings, leader qualifications (such as having a Bible degree) and more general variables (e.g. gender, socio-economic variables). O’Neal summaries the results of the econometrics study : "...The leaders whose answers revealed a strong relationship with God had groups that were healthier and faster growing. These groups experienced a deeper level of care between members, had a clearer sense of mission beyond their group, and produced…

True Leadership

True leadership is not a matter of having a title, a position, or an overwhelming personality. Leadership is first and foremost a matter of the heart. Who is the leader we need? The one who is a servant. Find the servant, and you've found your leader. He's not the big shot sitting at the head table. He's the one out in the kitchen serving the meal. - Bob Briner (Source: Leadership Lessons of Jesus)

Images of God (Legislator)

We have already seen that God reveals himself  in the Bible as judge, prosecuting attorney and defence lawyer. The final image of God from the court of law is that of God as the legislator or law give. The most well known scripture on this is Isaiah 33:12, which declares “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us”. God is the legislator, the one who sets forth the law.

This is not the place for a full treatment of this area. But suffice to say that God’s law is a revelation of God himself. And this law goes beyond “moral laws” set out in the Bible. His law includes his general standards and norms with respect to the cosmos as a whole. God has put in physical and spiritual laws for the functioning of the universe. These laws are for our good and for His great glory.

The Presentness of Pain

I think of a physician whose son was born with an incurable birth defect, leaving him crippled for life. I asked the father how he felt when he, who had dedicated his life to treating the illnesses of other people, was confronted with an incurable condition in his own son. He told me his biggest problem was the tendency to capsule the next twenty years of his son’s life into that initial moment when he learned of his son’s condition. Viewed that way, the adversity was overwhelming. God does not give twenty years of grace today. Rather, He gives it day by day. As the song says, “Day by day, and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here; trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment, I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.” - Jerry Bridges (Source: Trusting God)
Bridges captures very well the challenge of pain and suffering. The challenge is simply that in the moment of pain the future is infinitely distant. Pain is in the here and now. The past no longer matters and the …

Is God Angry?

Danger, threats and opposition are part and parcel of our existence. Sometimes these dangers are global. Around the world from China to Mali many Christians are constantly persecuted for their belief in Jesus Christ. But more often than not it is local. Every day we make choices to stand with God and often such decisions have costs. We lose friends, suffer job losses, incur financial hardship and face general ridicule, to name a few. 
Such events can often shake our trust and confidence in God. We are forced to ask “who is truly in charge”? God’s people around 680 years before Christ faced similar suffering. The military superpower Nineveh (Assyria). Where was God in all of this? They needed a fresh vision from God to comfort them. Nahum means “comfort”. God sent Nahum declaring an oracle / burden steeped in the heart of God to comfort His people. God’s vision to Nahum was clear. I am still the God of Israel who is present in your suffering.

Margin Call

Margin Call has been sitting on my “watch list” for sometime having previously dismissed it as the usual business movie. Easter break provided a natural opportunity to catch up with it, and aren't I glad that I did!

The film is set during the 2008 credit crisis when financial engineering (and greed) reaped the whirlwind which left many financial traders out of work. It tells the story of a respected financial firm that is downsizing its trading floor department. In the melee it is discovered that the firm is on the brink of collapse.