Friday, June 19, 2009

Humility: True Greatness

Book Review - Humility: True Greatness, C.J. Mahaney

I chose to read this book solely on the recommendation it was recently given in the Briefing (Issue #363, Dec 08). Admittedly, the review was written by a friend, so I trusted what he said and I was certainly not disappointed. This is a great book.

It's an easy book to read, it's not long, it's not heavy in its language - but it packs a punch. If you read it, be prepared to acknowledge how much pride really has a hold on your life and be willing to have your heart changed.

In fact my only hesitation in reviewing it now is that I am still thinking about much of what it said and how to apply it personally. Rarely has a book's points of practical application caused my to think so much.

Mahaney has broken his book into three parts. Part I: The Battle of Humility vs Pride. Here he outlines what humility and pride are and what they look like. Mahaney says that
Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness (p22)
In many ways this is the grounding of the entire content of the book. Mahaney points us both to the true holiness of God and our own sinfulness. When we have a true view of these, humility follows close behind.

He goes on to deal with pride and why God hates it so much:
Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him. (p31)
He notes how God opposes the proud (James 4:6, from Prov 3:34), he hates pride and arrogance (Prov 8:13)and that he detests the proud of heart (Prov 16:5). A quibble here is that he states that from God's perspective, pride is the most serious sin. I have not thought about this enough yet, and I can see his point. Pride is saying we can do it without God. However, complete rejection of God as King and Saviour is perhaps more serious?

Part II - The Great Reversal. Here Mahaney shows from Jesus what true greatness is: "Serving others for the glory of God" (p44) and he stresses the point that we need Jesus' death to learn true humility:
Consider your own life for just a moment. Where would you be today if He hadn't ransomed you, if He hadn't liberated you? I'll tell you where. You would be self-sufficient, seeking to cultivate self-confidence for the purpose of self-glorification.

But what has happened to you? If you've been genuinely converted, you've been forgiven and transformed. And though for now there remains in you a temptation and tendency to sin, a fundamental and radical change has occurred so that you have the desire to serve others and to see God glorified. We know the inner call to lay down out lives for one another because He laid down His life for us. (p58, original italics)

Part III: Our Great Pursuit - Practice of True Humility is where it starts to get very personal.

Seven chapters cover all aspects of our lives and how we can try to learn humility in all of it. They include: how we start the day, end the day, how we look for signs of grace in other people, how we encourage others, to invite and pursue correction from others and how we respond to trials.

This entire section was very helpful, so I am going to comment on those that were highlights for me:

1. The suggestion to identify evidences of grace in other people. That we should remind ourselves regarding every believer we encounter: "This individual has been previously acted upon by God" (p103). Therefore we look for signs of grace in their lives, rather than deficiencies. I found this a very helpful suggestion. When I am tempted to look at someone without grace and find a fault, instead I now want to find signs of God working in them. For example, instead of noticing that someone is always late, perhaps notice that they always have time for people in need. Instead of notice that someone does not 'parent' in what I think is a wise way, instead notice that they are always kind and gentle with their children.

As part of this he suggested writing a list of the fruit of the Spirit and the different gifts that the Spirit gives (having given bible verses such as Gal 5:22-23, 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28). I actually did this and have two little cards on my desk reminding me of the many and varied ways people can show God's grace in their lives and how different people can be. It's quite helpful.

An added bonus is that is has encouraged me to do it in my children too, so now I have more words to use when I praise them: "You are a good helper", "You encourage me when you are kind", "You had patience then", etc

2. His challenge to parents - to be the example they need in this area, to teach them about true greatness and to teach them how to discern and admire true greatness. He made the suggestion that no matter how well your children do academically, athletically, etc, "don't celebrate anything more than you celebrate godly character in your children" (p160). Make the special celebrations those for when you have noticed "humility, servanthood or godly character," rather than exam results.

3. The challenge to invite and pursue correction, from trusted friends who will ask you really how you are going, and what sins you are struggling with. This is a great idea. Not one I have ever implemented well, but the challenge remains to do so.

4. His focus on the words of God and how they should change us. He challenges one to study:
  • the attributes of God, especially those that have no human equivalent (eg. omnipresent, self-existent, infinite),
  • the doctrines of grace (election, calling, justification)
  • the doctrine of sin
A proper attention to each of these will help to keep us humble -for who cannot spend time learning more about God and how holy and gracious he is, as well as being reminded of how sinful we are, and not be humbled as a result?

In many ways I felt like this book was a starting point for me, there is lots more I can do - read more of God's word and other books, but this was a great place to start - to challenge my own pride and to work, with God's help, towards true humility.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The last will be first...?

Competition in our house is a daily event. Mr 6 and Miss 4 turn everything into a race - who can eat fastest, get to the car quickest, get dressed first, be at the front waiting first. You get the picture.

I find it extremely irritating! There are always little people racing around trying to beat each other and be the winner, be the best.

So, in a moment of exasperation the other day as they both pushed their way into the house and raced down the hall, I blithely made a comment that Jesus said that "the last will be first and the first will be last".

Fast forward a few days, and everyone is out of the bath and supposed to be getting dressed. They are both taking forever, for no reason. I finally told Mr 6 to finish up and go brush his teeth, which he did. Miss 4's voice chimed in behind me "I'm first then, because I'm last"

The penny dropped! All of a sudden I realised why things had been a bit slower of late - they were both trying to 'win' by being last.

So, we talked about how Jesus wasn't telling people to be slow so they would win, he was talking about serving other people, taking care of them, showing kindness to them and making themselves less important for other people.

What was my lesson in all of this? If I am going to quote the words of Jesus to my children, I had better also take the time to explain them!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

And you thought your life was busy...

Spare a thought for this couple, blessed with sextuplets last month...

"It just didn't sink in at first. We were so shocked," she said.

Now she says she just cannot wait to bring her ready-made family home.

"I just feel lost without them. We have a house here but it feels so empty. It's not a home until all our babies are here safe and well," she said.

I will think of her this week when I feel overwhelmed by my three singletons!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sons of Fortune

Feel like a good read? Here is a fiction option - Jeffrey Archer's Sons of Fortune. It is the story of twin boys separated at birth and raised in two separate families. It details their lives over many years, their schooling, marriages, children and eventual decisions to both run for the office of Governor.

It is an engaging read, and the lives of the men are interesting, but what I liked most is that they were both good men. I actually liked both of them.

It's enjoyable to read a book where you truly like the characters!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Today's Bible Readings

Hey, I'm on a roll! Shorter comments today - I only have the amount of time covered by Play School!

Deuteronomy 9

Moses reminds the Israelites that as the enter the land, they are not to assume that it is because of their own righteousness that they will possess it:
It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deut 9:5)
God is achieving two things at once then with the possession of the land - the fulfillment of his promise to his people Israel and punishment for the surrounding nations and their wickedness.

It's quite a harsh chapter in many ways - Moses does not spare from telling Israel how disobedient to God they have consistently been, ever since he saved them from Egypt, in v24 he says "You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you." Not a shining endorsement!

However, even with the evidence of their ongoing sin (and we are no better!), Moses still pleaded for the people before God,
But they are your people, your inheritance that you brought out by your great power and your outstretched arm. (v29)
They are still the people of God, and still the ones he chose to be in relationship with. Of course, they will need to also have hearts that are changed to show that they want to be in relationship with God, but at the moment they are the people of God.

Psalm 92 & 93

Psalm 92 starts with:
It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to your name, O Most High,
2 to proclaim your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night (Ps 92:1-2)
Without reading too much into it, is this perhaps some guidance on how to approach the day? Praise God for his love for you as you wake and start the day, amazed that you have another day to serve him on this earth. And at night, thank God for his faithfulness in sustaining you through the day.

Psalm 93 is one of my favourites, because G wrote a song about it years ago (which did make it to a CD). It is a great picture of our God who reigns in power, and who in in control of all things for all time. God indeed is mighty.

Isaiah 37

The account continues of the Assyrians trying to invade Jerusalem under Sennacherib. Near the end, God speaks against Sennacherib, saying:
But I know where you stay
and when you come and go
and how you rage against me. (Isa 37:28)
A reminder for those that think they can avoid God, that he still knows everything! You can't hide.

And, even with the threat (and eventual) certainty of the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem and Judah, God still promises hope:
Once more a remnant of the house of Judah
will take root below and bear fruit above.
For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this. (Isa 37:31-32)

Revelation 7

A glorious vision of heaven and the praise of God by all there. I will just include a few verses:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb." (Rev 7:9-10) ....

Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their
he will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Rev 7:16-17)
I know there are people who fear Revelation a little: it is confusing, challenging to get your head around and people interpret it so differently. But it does contain great passages of praise! And it certainly opens your mind to see how glorious our God is.

Hope you have a great day praising and thanking God.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Take some responsibility

Have you noticed how these days nothing is your fault?

You can blame anyone or anything else, but you don't need to take responsibility for your own actions. For example:
- "I was drunk, I did not know what I was doing"
- "He told me to"
- "That intersection isn't safe - I didn't see the other car"
- "I didn't know (because I did not bother to find out)"
- "The coffee wasn't labelled 'Warning - Hot' and it burnt me"
- "No-one told me junk food was fattening"

It sounds like my children on a national level. All day I hear my kids' voices telling me "She did it first", "He started it". To which I try to reply - "But what did YOU do?" Surely we should be asking the same questions of adults and ask them to have:
- a little common sense
- some acceptance of responsibility for themselves.

Which leads me to an article published last week by our previous Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, in Adelaide Now (also referenced in the Weekend Australian):

...After about 10 minutes as foreign minister I was a little surprised to learn I was "responsible" for miscreant Australians who got into trouble in foreign countries.

No, no, no, don't get it wrong - drug traffickers, drunks, kleptomaniacs and fraudsters weren't responsible for their own stupidity - I was.

It's about time that great nanny in Canberra, the Federal Government, turned around and told people they are responsible for their own decisions...

I don't know whether I am stretching things a little far here - but is it possible that our lack of individual responsibility is directly related to the lack of Christian thought and values in society?

Think for a minute about the 'responsibility' that comes from being a Christian:

1. You realise that you are sinful, and that you are responsible for your sin.

2. You ask God for forgiveness for your sin, acknowledging your own faults and failings.

3. You continue to come before God daily, remembering how you have failed him and thankful for his grace.

4. You try to change and become more godly, all to honour your Heavenly Father - so that you can show him to others.

5. We are called to love God and also to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

Just a little something to ponder...

Today's Bible Readings

The readings continue daily... so here are some more comments for today!

Genesis 8

A warning chapter. Moses reminds Israel how he provided for them in the desert.
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deut 8:3)
This is one of two references in today's readings that Jesus uses to argue with the devil when he is tempted in the desert (see Matthew 4). Yet another example of how often when you read different passages of the bible they all link up together!

In this chapter God explains how wonderful the land will be for it is truly "a good land" (v7-9). Then he warns them:
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
What is the risk? When life is good, they will forget God. They will forget he is the source of their blessing and instead they will claim that they are responsible for the good times themselves.
17 You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.
When are you tempted to claim blessing as something you brought upon yourself? From your wise desicions? Or your careful planning? Instead, we should thank God for his many blessings upon us. As it says in v18:
18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth...
Even our abilities to do things well come from God.

Psalm 91

Here is the second passage which is used in the account of Jesus' temptation in Matthew, although interestingly, it is used by Satan to try to tempt Jesus:
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
Jesus rebukes Satan for using this verse against him, saying "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Matthew 4:5-7). I guess this helps to show us that anyone can use part of the bible to their own means and out of context. Perhaps we should take it as a warning to be careful as we use the word of God?

I found the last few verses of this Psalm struck me:
14 "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation."
In this passage we can see that God is with 'him' (perhaps the one in v1-2 who trusts in the Lord?). God will be with him in trouble, protect him, rescue him and he show him salvation. A reminder perhaps, that God is with us at all times and in all circumstances.

Revelation 6

An interesting reading, which evokes a number of images of judgement. Following on from ch 5 having found the Lamb who alone was worthy to open the scrolls, here the scrolls are opened. There is a strong picture of judgement at the end here and the fear that results, for everyone wants to hide:
16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"
There is great truth to the phrase "The great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31, Mal 4:5. The day of God's judgement is certainly real. However there is also great promise, as Joel also says:
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
(Joel 2:13b)

Let's thank God that while he judges, he is also slow to anger and abounding in love.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Today's Bible Readings

As I shared a few days ago, I am now following along with the M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan. I will admit that I am only a week in and so it is early days, but I am loving it. G has been following this plan for a while now, and I have also done so a few times. What strikes us both again and again, is how linked all the passages are to each other. While you could attribute this to how M'Cheyne put the plan together, when you look closely he is just working through the bible in order! Rather we give the glory to God - who authored all of scripture and who reveals his plan of salvation throughout - it is all one unified account.

Occasionally I will share what I have read, and what I have learnt from it.

Here are some notes on some of today's readings:

Deuteronomy 7
What a great chapter! The Israelites are camped on the edge of the promised land and Moses is speaking to them before they enter. He reminds them that they are his chosen people, v6:
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
He goes on to remind them, that he chose them, not because they were special, or more numerous than the other nations, but because:
8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
He chose Israel because he loves her, and out of his grace he chose to redeem her. Moses goes on to talk about how because they are saved, they now need to live in obedience to God and his way. He is guiding them on how they must now live as his people.

(I have recently done a series of bible studies and talks on God's promises and how he fulfills them over time. This is yet another passage we could have looked at!)

Isaiah 35
Isaiah is speaking about the joy that will come when the Lord comes to save his people. He talks of how in that day,
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Reading this, we are reminded of Jesus, when John asked if he was the one to come. Jesus replies in Luke 7:21-22:
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
Therefore, that day of the Lord arrived with Jesus.

The end of this chapter in Isaiah is one of those great passages:
10 and the ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
To which I break into song:

The redeemed of the Lord shall return
And come with singing unto Zion
And everlasting joy shall be upon their head, upon their head.
They shall obtain, gladness and joy
And sorrow and mourning shall flee away, shall flee away... etc etc!
Therefore the Redeemed, Scripture in Song, 1972 (which can be downloaded from i Tunes!)

Revelation 5
A mind-broadening passage. The Lamb, and no one else, is the only one worthy to open the scroll:
9And they sang a new song:
"You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth."
Jesus, the Lamb, is the one whose blood purchased men for God - from all peoples to serve him always.

And then it goes on, and I will quote in length - for the word of God is always better than my words!
11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!"

13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!"

14The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshipped.

To which all we can really do is agree with the living creatures and also say "Amen"!

All bible references are NIV.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cooking & allergies

This recipe book is a 'must-have' for all cooks out there. We count ourselves very lucky in our family to have no food allergies at all. However, amongst our friends there are allergies to nuts, gluten, eggs, soy & dairy. Up until now I have felt completely unable to cater for these friends. Now my problems are solved!

This easy to use recipe guide allows you to cook allowing for all 8 main allergens - nuts, eggs, milk, soy, sesame seeds, what, fish & shellfish. She also gives details on what standard products contain each of these allergens (eg. soy is in some canola sprays) and also has lists of products & ingredients available in supermarkets (in Australia) that do not contain these allergens (eg. the brands of gluten free baking powder). It is a great resource. She also shows you how to have variations - so in some recipes you can choose whether to use milk, soy milk or rice milk, depending on the allergies. You can have eggs or egg replacer. Gluten free flour or normal flour.

I used it to cook a nice, edible egg, dairy, soy & nut free birthday cake for my children this year, so that all their friends could eat it - and they all liked it. I have cooked yummy gluten free pear muffins.

So, come one, come all to my place for a meal - I can now cater for you!