Saturday, December 31, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: NEARING HOME

The seminal quote to describe Billy Graham's latest book is found on page 78.


"At my age, I can sympathize with most seniors. The good old days call me back at times, especially when I am with friends who have shared so much. While I choose not to dwell on the past or relive my youth, there are times I long to hike up into the hills with my children or stand in the pulpit to deliver a Gospel message. But the walker, wheelchair and cane near my bed remind me that chapter in life is past. So I thank God for the memories that have enriched my life but look forward to new opportunities, to experiences that can add some dimension to the present. Our attitudes play a major role in the closing scene of life's stage."


Born in 1918, Billy Graham has been an icon of the gospel message for generations. While other evangelists and Christian leaders fall by the wayside, Billy maintains a humility and simple faith that reminds us that the message is true. He is a loving reference point for evangelical leadership and Christian service.


His latest and possibly last book on life, faith and finishing well brings no surprises. The same passion to tell people about Jesus trickles into every chapter. While his last stadium preaching event was in 2005, his message lives on through his writing.


This is valuable material for us. It is a witness to a man's persevering faith, sustainability through ageism and grief and a marker for all of us on the road to old age, our coming death and eternal life.



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"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".  

Monday, December 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: THE NAMES OF GOD BIBLE

With over 70 names and titles of GOD presented in their original language of Hebrew (and a few in Aramaic), we are drawn to the textures and nuances of Eastern tongues. We are drawn into a rich contemplation of God's character as the ancients would have experienced when hearing the Holy Scrolls read.

This translation of the Bible has many practical and inspirational features to aid the reader.

This is God's Word Translation (GW). It is a scholarly and accurate translation that is easy to read and true to the original writing styles of the authors. 

The Scriptures are formatted into a single column on each page, lending to easier reading. 

Throughout the book, Ann Spangler (editor) has written feature pages that explore individual names and titles of God. These make an excellent resource for devotional study and commentary.

LaVonne Neff has written introductions to each of the Books of the Bible. These are easy to read, inspiring and informative.



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"Bible has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group".  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

THE FAST GOD LIKES


God speaks clearly about what matters to Him.

Isaiah 58:
 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
   and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
   “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday. 

Fasting is a temporary ‘doing without’ something. We usually think of food, but it can be media, sex, internet, etc. While fasting is a common religious practice in most religions throughout history, God gives us reasons to consider doing it.

Fasting is tied to the idea that I will do without out in order to share what I have with those who lack. I will fast a meal because I gave it away to someone who was hungrier. I will give up some of my comforts so others can be provided for. I will fast and pray so that I can understand how to help someone else who is being oppressed, unfairly treated or enslaved.

When we catch this idea of fasting, we capture God’s desire. He wants us to stop with all of our critical talk and judgment. Less talk and more acting in kindness… Then, God’s ways, justice and presence will be evident. It’s not longer prayer meetings, louder diatribes or greater protests that win God’s heart. God is looking for us to lay down our lives for others. That’s something to pray about…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CHURCH ON TIME AND SKIPPING A COUPLE MEALS


It seems that God was fed up with Israel and sent them a note through Isaiah. The nation had a certain religious appearance and prioritized their disciplines. But something was way off and it bothered God.


Isaiah 58:
 1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
   Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
 and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
   they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
   and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
   and seem eager for God to come near them.

Israel said all the right things publicly. They projected the idea of being a godly nation. They asked for God’s help in many of the same ways as us. We say we want to know God’s ways, His justice and His presence.

But God felt differently. He saw a nation posing as if they were solid with Him and already living right. Even though Israel fasted and observed spiritual disciplines, they had questions about why God was not changing things for the better.

It’s possible to sound very spiritual and like we are in alliance with the Almighty. But something is still off… God pulled off the mask to reveal their true face.

They did all these religious things, but continued to mistreat their employees. They were busy getting rich off the backs of the poor. Fasting made them cranky. As soon as the observance was over, they got back to their hostilities with one another. They slipped back into being abusive and coarse. God was fed up, because they felt they were really doing something by getting to church on time and skipping a couple meals.

We need to take a hard look at the spiritual disciplines and practices in our life. What is the point? Is there a fasting, prayer and devotional life that God is favorable towards?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: COMPARING THE QUR'AN AND THE BIBLE

In Islamic and Arabic-speaking countries, Christians use 'Allah' in their Bible to denote the person of God. (page 17)

Rich Richter has been a pastor in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod for fifty years. Over the past decade he has held workshops on the Qur'an and the Bible from his extensive research into Islam.

Complete with discussion questions at the end of each chapter, this material would be an excellent source for study groups interested in understanding Islam. 


Richter clearly is interested in presenting  a comparison of beliefs that is fair to Muslims. He has treated the subject matter with objectivity rather than objection.

As a Christian interested in understanding people of other faiths, this book is a goldmine. I have long known that the differences in religious belief cannot be blended without destroying the integrity of each. Richter gives us a careful and accurate study comparing key doctrines with parallel passages from each of the Sacred writings. Islam and Christianity are not similar. We need to know what the differences are if we are to introduce the Jesus of the Bible to Muslims.


The principles of relativism and toleration would maintain that both the Qur'an and the Bible are equal sources of divine revelation. The Caner brothers, Mehmet Ergun and Fethi Emir, both former Muslims, state: "The tolerant postmodernist asserts that both books are divine because both contain some truth. But unless God lies, changes his mind, or makes mistakes-- in which cases He is less than God-- it cannot be that both books are divine... The Bible is either absolute or it is obsolete." (p.177)


Reading this book gave me a fresh appreciation and insight into the world of Islam and a nudge to know the Muslim neighbours of my city.



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"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

WHY I DO NOT FAST


Jesus’ words about fasting make me think about why I do not practice fasting. The biggest reason is that I like eating. Most of the time, I eat healthy food and normal amounts. I can skip a meal without anxiety and do think too much about calories, carbohydrates and such.

Some people lose their appetite if they’re upset. Not me! When I get the flu and feel nauseous, I cannot wait to get eating again. 

I believe that getting back to eating will strengthen my body. I think eating will help me get well soon! I may be way off on this, but it is a deeply held belief. The thought of fasting is a challenge to my appreciation for food.

Another reason I do not fast is the way it makes me feel. Like Jesus in the wilderness (yeah, that’s me…) fasting opens up my mind to temptation. When I have spent prolonged times in prayer and even fasted, I found myself getting less spiritual instead of more. I found myself slipping back into fleshier thoughts.  

Alcoholics talk about H.A.L.T. If you are hungry, angry, lonely and tired you are more susceptible to losing sobriety. This is partly why fasting scares me. Perhaps it ties to the saying about idleness being the Devil’s workshop. Or maybe… I need some really good reasons to pursue fasting. Let me get a snack and think about that.

You could make the case that I need to feel this emptiness and temptation, so I move into greater dependence on grace and less on self-reliance. Jesus seemed to handle the wilderness fasting and temptation well. He came back and fulfilled His mission. I’m more like Peter or Thomas than I am like Jesus. I just might fall asleep in the Garden when Jesus wants me to stay awake and pray. I do feel bad about that. In addition to eating, I also have a real fondness for getting a good night’s sleep.

The last reason for me to fast is to keep up with the ‘Spiritual Joneses’. If I think that fasting or praying will impress God or others following me, I miss the point. If I think that it is going to be a way to have super powers granted to me, I might be missing the point.

Monday, December 5, 2011

EX-POSED


We are all tempted to pose in some way. Jesus wants to ‘ex-pose’ us.

When Jesus looked at the fa├žade of religion around him He spoke up. He would not participate in creating a false illusion of moral success, ethnic superiority or worldly success.

If Jesus were to catch any of us being religious posers, He would pull away our mask. He would tell us to quietly deal with our people-pleasing instincts. He would tell us to believe the words of our Heavenly Father more.

Are there ways that you are looking for others to affirm your religious success? Do you feel that your family or other churchgoers will accept you more if you are more obvious with your devotional activities?

If you were more spiritual, you would probably pray a lot more, right? You would be sure to associate with others who appear to be on the inner-circle of Jesus’ best friends. You would spend a fair bit of time evaluating yourself to see if you’re measuring up. If you were really spiritual, you would probably get into fasting and try to get others to set the bar as high as you do.

Jesus knows all about our way of thinking. He saw the way that ‘the more spiritual crowd’ behaved and spoke up.


Matthew 6:
16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.


A poser works hard at presentation. If they are successful in their illusion, they gain the reward of thinking that other people look up to them. In reality, it is a shallow reward, because people eventually figure out if you are faking it. Then they lose respect. And that is the full reward of a poser.

On the other hand, Jesus tells us to conceal what we’re doing so we do not get caught up in trying to impress people. Jesus tells us to be authentic and focused on what only God can see.


Friday, December 2, 2011

IMPOSTOR SYNDROME


Some people have a very difficult time believing the compliments they receive. No matter how well they perform a task there is an inner voice that tells them it is not true. Their measurement of self is always skewed to devaluing their authenticity.

No matter how many times you praise them, they still believe it to be false. As a young teen I could be that way. I wanted the approval of others and had no way to accept it when given. Eventually, I outgrew that mindset. But what about people that carry that thinking throughout their adulthood?

In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes coined the term ‘Impostor Syndrome’ to describe people who were unable to internalize their accomplishments.

Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
The impostor syndrome, in which competent people find it impossible to believe in their own competence, can be viewed as complementary to the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which incompetent people find it impossible to believe in their own incompetence.[i]

I am reasonably sure that a few of the wannabees on American Idol have the Dunning-Kruger effect, thinking they can sing when no such skill is found in them. They believe something about themselves that has no bearing in reality.

Psychological conditions aside, we see people everyday who are ‘posers’. These are people who try to give you an impression of being something when they are not.

Have you met people who look and act like stereotypical bikers but do not own a motorcycle? Their identity is formed around what they would like to be, but lacking many of the essential requirements.

A poser is a kid who looks and dresses like a skateboarder. They even have a skateboard they carry around. The only problem is they do not have the skills to use the skateboard.

There are posers who have nice cars and lots of bling, but cannot afford the basics of life. They believe that their projection of success is enough. They will fake it until they make it. They want you to believe that they are successful.

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