Monday, April 16, 2018

5 things to pray for your church

5 things to pray for your church, Rachel Jones

I recently discovered this excellent prayer resource by the Good Book Company. It’s one in a series which guide you in biblical, specific prayer for various things, this one obviously being for your church. It’s a little book (smaller than A5) and just under 100 pages, but it packs a punch and is chock full of ideas for prayer.

Reading the title, I thought that there would only be five main things to pray for your church, but it is so much more than that. It is actually five things to pray under each of four main categories and with extensive sub-categories under them, so you might pray for:

1. Praying that my church would:
  • Remember what we are
  • Be a body growing in maturity 
  • Love and serve one another
  • Make known God’s glory
  • Give generously
2. Praying that I would:
  • Use my gifts well 
  • Persevere when I get weary
3. Praying for people in my church:
  • For my church leader 
  • My small group
  • Children and young people
  • Not-yet Christians
  • The elderly
4.  Praying for the wider church:
  • Another church near us
  • Our mission partners
  • Churches far away
  • The unreached. 
All in all, there are 21 things to pray for, each supported by different bible verses and then five prayer points drawn from that scripture. Each prayer point is explained slightly, so you have actual specific ideas to bring to God, drawn from his word. So, there are ideas for praying for your church to keep you going over a month and then you could start all over again. Because of the way the prayer suggestions and who to pray for are worded, you could use it a little differently each time you use it. I've been praying for my church for years including people, leaders and ministry families, but this is more extensive and biblical than anything I have used before. Having said that I did notice that when praying for ministry leaders, their families were not included, which I would have liked to see. In addition, while young people, children and the elderly were prayed for – there was nothing about marrieds, singles, families, etc; and nothing about the sick, the unemployed or the marginalised. If the other books in this series as good: 5 things to pray for people you love, …for your heart, and …for your city (this last one by different authors), they would be well worth investigating. They would be a great set of resources to encourage you to biblical prayer that is wide ranging yet specific. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Last Jedi

Not surprisingly, the eighth episode of the 40-year-old franchise was highly anticipated by three generations of this family. It was with a sense of adventure that 2 grandparents, 2 adult daughters and 2 children saw this together. As we emerged blinking into the light 2.5 hours later, it was clear that all were satisfied.

We are fans, but not overly critical ones. So we are willing to overlook re-used plot ideas, repeated lines of dialogue, about 30 minutes too much movie, and a time sequence that further thought suggests is impossible. We overlook it because the overall idea is still captivating. Light vs darkness. Good vs evil. The strength of family bonds and a desire to understand who you are and where you come from. A fantastic music score that still grabs and haunts or excites. The familiar faces we’ve come to know and love. And always the impressive space and battle scenes on the big screen.

We pick up where we left off in Episode 7: The Force Awakens – Rey having found Luke Skywalker. Leia leads the rebellion forces, including renegade pilot Poe with BB8 as his sidekick, and Finn is wondering where Rey has gone. I was pleasantly surprised how much of the movie contained Leia (Carrie Fisher) as she died over a year prior to it's release.

It is really one very long extended chase scene as the First Order try to extinguish the Rebels for good. Will they succeed? Well, there has to be a ninth movie – so you know some good and some bad have to survive to battle it out in that one. All in all, a good addition to the collection, but probably unlikely to capture that attention of those who aren’t already fans.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Wise Up

Wise Up, Marty Machowski

This devotional by Marty Machowski adds another resource to the list for those looking for biblical material to study together as a family.

Based on the book of Proverbs, Machowski has designed a 12 week (5 days per week) set of readings, each designed to be 10 minutes long. As such, it’s very manageable. My biggest issue with family devotionals is how long they are, so something that’s planned to be used for 3 months is achievable in my opinion. It maintains interest for that time, but by the end everyone is ready to try something different. I should also add a disclaimer here - it took us over a year to get through Wise Up, by the time we had the natural breaks common to all when life is busy, as well as breaks for Easter and Christmas readings. So, we never really got a good run straight through it. Having said that, it was easy to pick up where we left off, remind ourselves what we were up to, and keep going.

While anchored in the book of Proverbs, the 12 weeks are thematic, covering topics like:

  • The Real Wise Man (Jesus)
  • Our hearts
  • God’s word – the greatest treasure
  • Listening to wisdom
  • Learning to follow your parents’ instruction
  • Welcoming correction
  • Learning diligence
  • Learning to give (generosity)
  • True friendship

Each day’s reading has a short bible passage with some comments and observations, often with illustrations that children easily connect with. There are a few questions to talk about, and an idea for prayer. The questions include indications of where you want the conversation to go, so a parent who is less confident with handling God’s word will find ample help to ensure the family stays on a gospel-centred track. Each week also has an activity suggestion and a song to listen to or sing connected with a Sovereign Grace album, Walking with the Wise). [We skipped those optional extras].

Machowski has woven the truths of Proverbs with the Jesus’ fulfilment of true wisdom and so the gospel is brought to bear through the discussion and application. As such, the family is taken through a gospel-centred guide to wise living. He suggests in the forward for parents:
“Enjoy all of the practical direction in Proverbs, but remember, don’t try this without turning to Jesus for forgiveness, help, and direction. Jesus lives in the hearts of his people, empowering them to become like him, the wisest King of all.”
This was a helpful corrective and it is clear Machowski was trying very hard to apply the wisdom and practical living of Proverbs without it becoming a book of “you should / you shouldn’t”. He kept trying to bring grace to each topic. I particularly noticed this tension in the week on diligence, when it seemed to keep building up how we should work faithfully to honour God, but gave a breath of freeing grace on the final day reminding us we cannot pay for our sin by how hard we work, it is through Jesus’ work that we are saved.

Some nights we headed into longer, deeper discussions. One reading on friendship focussed on a marriage partner being a faithful friend who shares your love of Jesus. These are conversations we need to have early and regularly with our children. Extended discussions about honesty, generosity and what it means to be obedient also came up.

We read it with Mr 14, Miss 12 and Miss 10. It was a bit old for Mr 14, by his admission and our acknowledgement; and Miss 12 was borderline. Partly this was because the some of the discussion questions were a bit repetitive, requiring only comprehension skills of the previous comments. However, there was usually one question for discussion that made us all reflect a little more on the application of wisdom in that context. So, this is a very helpful, biblical and applicable devotional resource for families, and would be of particular benefit for those with children in the primary school years.

Monday, April 2, 2018

White Fang

White Fang, Jack London

I must have read this at least once when I was young because I recalled it was good. It was very enjoyable to return to.

It tells the life of White Fang, a pup born to a runaway sled dog, and fathered by a wolf. His early days know the life of a burrow, famine and exploration into the world. A chance encounter with an Indian group reveals to White Fang that people are gods: they rule everything and even his feisty, protective mother gives her obedience to the owners she once lost.

His character is strongly affected by those around him: bullying pups, a harsh master and cruel children. In time he becomes the property of Beauty Smith, who uses his vindictive streak to turn him into a dog fighting champion.

One day Weedon Scott, a compassionate engineer breaks up a dog fight and buys White Fang outright. In the same way that cruelty and meanness shaped White Fang, now the patience, tenderness and care shown by Scott begin to change him. An incredibly close bond develops between them.

It's a very insightful book by someone who knew and understood the nature of canines, humans and the various bonds that develop between them. White Fang is never personified, although his actions are explained and detailed. This is a highly intelligent animal who has instincts as well as learned behaviours and responses.

This is definitely worth reading for adults and older children alike. Originally published in 1906, it still is very readable and understandable. There's a depth to it that children and teens may miss and it does require a certain level of vocabulary and intuition, but adults will appreciate the insights and comments throughout. I suspect it will resonate with dog lovers for it will describe things they already know and understand about canines, and those who aren't may appreciate them a little more.