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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 25: Transformed by Trouble?

The Day 25 chapter is a troubling one for me. 

It does contain some comforting thoughts, such as:
  • everything that happens to you has spiritual significance
  • it is by experiencing the same troubles Jesus went though (eg loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection), that you become like Jesus
  • God knows what is best for you and has your best interests at heart
  • instead of asking "why me?" when facing problems, ask "what do You want me to learn"
In relation to this last point, as a trivial example, my body corporate manager is annoying me again.  Back in August 2009, they sent around a circular saying they had arranged for a hard rubbish collection so people could get rid of any items in their car park.  They threatened that if people didn't remove the things stored in their car parks, they would be removed by the body corporate manager at the cost of the owner.  They claimed that this was because the insurer was threatening to withdraw its insurance policy.  If I was the body corporate manager, my response to the insurer would be "fine, we will find another insurer".  Given the size of the building, I'm sure any insurer in danger of losing a signficant chunk of revenue would find a way to accommodate the odd bit of furniture in the car park. In any case, I didn't believe this story at all, because only a few weeks before the minutes of the annual body corporate meeting had arrived and it made no mention whatsoever that the insurer had taken this view.

I was throughly pissed off at the body corporate manager for using a passive aggressive tactic, for threatening to steal its clients possessions, and for going well beyond its rights as a body corporate manager.  I wrote a letter to them pointing out that the car parks are on freehold title, to enter them would be tresspass and to take anything out of them would be theft, for which I was prepared to go to the police.  I also took the opportunity to clear out my car park space, which I was intending to do anyway, and had to admit that by organising the hard rubbish collection they had made it significantly easier for me to do so.

I got no response to my letter, however, as months had passed and the stuff in the carpark remained, I figured they had perhaps realised that stealing people's stuff is not such a good idea.  That was until yesterday when I recieved a follow up circular stating that a contractor had been appointed and would be removing everything on the 13th of April.  They also included virtually impossible to decifer black and white photocopies of photos of the car parks being affected.  I wondered whether this was an attempt to shame people, felt instantly angry again and started googling to find out how to obtain an injunction to prevent it.

Later, when I was lying in bed unable to sleep because I was still angry, I asked God "what am I meant to learn from this?" and then a thought occurred to me "was I loving my neighbour as I loved myself?"  Quite obviously I was not.  I had to admit that the body corporate manager had actually helped me to clear out my car park which I needed to clear out anyway to get a car in there, that other people may be quite pissed off by all the crap in the car park, that is it a potential fire hazard and that while they could have approached the problem with a greater degree of charm (for want of a better word), the body corporate were probably just doing what they had been told to do by the building committee (which comprises four of the owners).

Immediately, my anger subsided and I thought, well those people who are affected by this may actually appreciate having someone else clear out their car park for them and if not, no doubt, are big enough and smart enough to deal with the body corporate themselves. 

So that's all good, but there are a couple of points made in this chapter that are not so good.

  1. Rick Warren again asserts that your life is predestined "Because every day of your life was written on God's calendar before you were born, everything that happens to you has spiritual signficance." I would say that because you are a child of God, everything that happens to you has spiritual significance, that it is impossible for anything not to have spiritual significance, but as I discussed in Day 2: I am not an accident, the idea that God has every day of your life set planned in advanced is not set in stone.
  2. Rick Warren also writes "Regardless of the cause, none of your problems could happen without God's permission". I can accept that proposition for my life because most of my problems are small and some could be categorised as nice-to-have eg I need to buy a house because we can't fit all our stuff into our apartment. But when it comes to serious problems that some people have to go through, such as child abuse or domestic violence, I cannot accept that a God who loves you would allow these things to happen. I realise this implies that God is not omnipotent, so I'm not sure what to make of this. What are your views on this issue?    

Day 24: Read the bible

The Day 24 chapter discusses the importance of reading the bible and putting what you learn into practice.  It is one of the tools to help you become like Jesus.

A few years ago I decided I would read the bible, because a lot of people say they don't agree with the bible but how can you decide to agree or disagree with something if you don't know what it says?  I think I managed to read about half.  When people asked me what I thought about the bible, the only answer I had for them is "It's long!".  When I read The Purpose Driven Life, I am amazed at the practical advice the bible contains, but when I read the bible directly, I had real trouble getting anything out of it.

Looking back, I can see two barriers that got in my way:
  1. I just wanted to get it finished, so I read the words on the page but I didn't think about what they meant;
  2. I was looking to find things that interested me, rather than trying to understand what God wanted me to learn;
Rick Warren recommends that when you read the bible you ask simple questions (who, what, where, why, how) and take the time to write down your thoughts about what you have read.  In order to apply its principles, he recommends that you write out an action step and a deadline for taking that action.

As I am finding it hard to read each chapter of book and write this blog, I will wait until I have finished to start reading the bible again.  On the PDL website there are 30 day and 90 day plans for reading the New Testament and a 1 year plan for reading the whole bible, see

Have you tried to read the bible? What was the experience like for you?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 23: Think about others

The Day 23 chapter sets out the first thing you can do to promote your spiritual growth and become like Jesus - think about others.  Before getting to this, however, it makes a few other points along the way.

Rick Warren writes "It takes an intentional commitment.  You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing."  I like these words because a lot of people these days talk about committment like its an emotion akin to desire or ambition.  Along with various other definitions (eg perpetrate a crime), the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines commit as "bind oneself to (a course)".  In other words - you just keep turning up - it doesn't matter whether you want to or not. 

In January 2007, I made a commitment to attend "boot camp" exercise training twice a week for six weeks at 6.15am.  I was never one for exercising and no-one who knows me would mistake me for a morning person, so I didn't really think I would last six weeks. However, I ended up going for over two years, increasing my attendance to three times a week, doing additional exercise by myself including a 10km fun run, and only gave up when I was six weeks pregnant.   

I started going to boot camp because I wanted to lose weight, I didn't lose weight and I didn't really care because I experienced a range of other benefits - I got stronger, I had more energy, I had better balance, I developed more self discipline because I realised that having that internal argument with yourself about whether or not to do something you don't want to do is usually far worse than just getting on with it, I developed a louder voice which made people listen to me more (true - it was bizarre), I made friends with people at boot camp and people at work who liked to exercise, on days when I go up to exercise I felt like I had achieved something for the day and all before the time that I would have got up on the days when I didn't exercise.

The point I am trying to make here, in a very long winded way, is that when you decide to start doing something good and keep doing it, you will reap a whole host of rewards that you cannot foresee when you start.

Rick Warren writes that we should think of others instead of ourselves because it is what Jesus did.  He doesn't give any other reasons, even though I'm sure people would be quick to shower you with cliches about this if you asked.  I think commiting to this will reveal a whole host of benefits that I might make the subject of the blog once I finish reading The Purpose Driven Life.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 22: Life wasn't meant to be easy*

At Day 22 we are onto Purpose #3 - to become like christ - the goal of your life is character development.

Many people have asked the question "if God exists, why do bad things happen to good people?".  Although Rick Warren doesn't explicit address this question, I think he answers it when he says "life is supposed to be difficult! It's what enables us to grow." So perhaps when we are going through a difficult time, we should in part be pleased that God believes we are ready to learn a significant lesson.  If we start asking ourselves "what does God want me to learn from this?" instead of "why is this happening to me?", it might be easier to get through.

*Some may recognise the title I have chosen for today's post as a quote by Malcolm Fraser, former Prime Minister of Australia.  In an interview with him I found here:  he made the following comments on this:

"not many people are well enough read to know that it's a quotation, and also only part of a quotation. It's the old man in George Bernard Shaw's Methuselah. 'Life' - I'm not sure that I've got it exactly right but - 'Life's not meant to be easy, but take courage child for it can be delightful.' 
And you know, the Labor Party, when they got hold of it they thought, ah, now we can hang Fraser, and if I had some enemies in the Liberal Party they would have thought, ah we can hang Fraser. But most people - which they did not understand, what so many people did not understand, that you don't con the Australian public - for most of them it is not easy. For many it is damn difficult. And the recognition that whether it's meant to be or not, it is just not easy, but it can also be delightful, was a recognition of a truth."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Do not be afraid ...

its the same old blog, just trying out a new look.

Not sure I will keep it.

Day 21: Protecting the unity of your church

The Day 21 chapter talks about the importance that God places on unity and presents ways to promote it at your church.  As I have not had a lot of experience going to church or even being part of a group, I've justed noted below the things that stood out to me.

  • Focus on what you have in common with other members,  Rick Warren makes an interesting point "We must remember that it was God who chose to give us different personalities, backgrounds, races and preferences, so we should value and enjoy those differences, not merely rolerate them." But we should focus on what matters most - loving one another.
  • Be realistic in your expectations - Nobody's perfect
  • Choose to encourage rather than criticise - Rick Warren writes that four things happen when you criticise: (1) you lose fellowship with God, (2) you expose your pride and insecurity, (3) you set yourself up to be judged by God, (4) you harm thefellowship of the church. Also "The bible calls Satan "the accuser of our brothers". It is the devil's job to blame, complain, and criticize members of God's family. Anytime we do the same, we are being duped into doing Satan's work for him."
  • Refuse to listen to gossip - "Gossip is passing on information when you are neither part of the problem or part of the solution." You should not even listen to gossip, instead ask the person gossiping whether they have spoken to the person directly andmake it clear you do not want to listen to gossip.
  • Practise God's method of conflict resolution - If you have an issue with someone, don't complain to a third party, instead follow the steps provided in Matthew 18:15-17:
"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him — work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won't listen, tell the church. If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love."

  • Support your pastors and leaders - they have to act as mediator between arguing individuals.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 20: Restoring Relationships

This chapter presents a seven step strategy for conflict resolution based on the teachings of the bible.  But first it talks about the importance of being a peace maker.

In the sermon on the mount, one of the things Jesus says is:

"God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God."
(Matthew 5:9) 

It struck me as I read this that these days its fashionable (for want of a better word) to focus on winning and success.  But in a way we are trying to get to the destination without taking the journey, because to win is to be blessed by God and is solely in His control.  It is only how we act and what we focus on that is in our control.  So maybe we should focus on making peace and let God focus on who wins.

Here are the seven steps for conflict resolution.

Step 1. Pray first

Often this is all you need to do because when you vent your feelings to God, he my change your heart or may change the other person.  As I mentioned with the "extra grace required" person in my last post, I don't know what changed but after I prayed, that person stopped annoying me.

Step 2. Make the first move to fix things and do it without delay 

Not only does delaying resolution make things fester in your mind, but Jesus said that resolving conflict takes priority over worshipping God.

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)

Step 3. Sympathise with their feelings

When you approach the person to resove the conflict, first let them talk and focus on their feelings.  The Listen - Acknowledge - Explore - Respond technique I discussed yesterday, is useful for this.  It is important for people to feel they have been heard, often this is all that is needed to resolve an issue.

Step 4. Confess your part of the conflict

As Jesus said
"Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well
enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (Matthew 7:5).

I have found when I open with the things I have done to contribute to an issue, it immediately disarms the other person and they relax. They are then likely to volunteer an admission of what they have done wrong.

Step 5. Attack the problem, not the person

Insulting people will immediately make them put up their defenses and will kill the dialogue.  Instead use phrases such as "when you [x], I [x]".

Step 6. Cooperate

Rick Warren writes "do your best to compromise, adjust to others, show preference to what they need".  I have a problem with this because it assumes what is called a zero-sum game. That means, it you get something, I lose something.  This is where the concepts of lose-lose, win-lose and win-win come from, with win-win being based on compromise.  However, when I did the conflict resolution course I learnt that there is another possibility, and that is to come up with a creative solution, so by working together you actually create something new and better than what either party originally expected. 

Step 7. Emphasise reconciliation, not resolution

If all else fails, it comes down to the question Dr Phil likes to ask "would you rather be right or be happy?". Agree to disagree. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 19: Developing Relationships

The chapter for day 19 looks at the characteristics you need to develop to create fellowship - in other words, what you need to do to build relationships with people in your small church group.

The first characteristics is honesty with a focus on approaching people who are doing the wrong thing, or what academics would call conflict resolution.  Conflict resolution doesn't come easily to most people.  I think because it is not something that gets taught and it is rarely something that people do.  Even on TV it is usually violence or insults that are passed off as conflict resolution.  In real life, this does not resolve conflict, it creates more.

Working in a bank with long-term clients means you sometimes have to say "no" to them.  Because I felt I was particularly bad at this and usually when I had a conflict with someone I would try to just ignore it (not an option when the powers that be won't approve a loan), I went off and did a conflict resolution course. There were three things I learnt that were key for me:
  1. to resolve a conflict you have to talk to the relevant person about it, 
  2. its much easier to deal with a small conflict than a large one, and 
  3. a small conflict will escalate to a large conflict if you don't deal with it.
A couple of years ago, I saw someone loose hundreds of thousands of dollars because they wouldn't pick up a phone.  The other party told a third party about their problems with this person.  The third party passed on the information.  Rather than try to resolve the conflict, this person tried to avoid it.  As a result the relationship was severed and they are now chasing their money through the courts. If they had of made the phone call the relationship still might not have been saved, but it would at least have removed any doubt that the money was theirs and they would not now be in court.

The second characteristic is humility. Obviously no-one likes people who think they are better than everybody else, and the bible tells us neither does God:
  "In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, 
serve each other in humility, for 'God opposes the proud but favors the humble.' " (1 Peter 5:5)

Rick Warren writes "Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less".  I did a google search to find out what it means to be humble. There are a lot of people with varying views on this, but I finally concluded that being humble is a variation on being honest.  No matter what you do, other people had to help you, even things you might consider to have been done alone by yourself.  Lets say you cooked a really good meal by yourself and without anyone's help, well unless you did all of the following, you had help:
  1. hunted and butchered a wild animal;
  2. collected and planted seeds to grow vegetables and fruits
  3. where necessary, processed the plants, eg ground wheat to make flour
  4. dug up iron ore, processed it to make steel and then produced pots, pans and knives and cutlery
  5. dug up clay and made plates, bowls and cups
  6. grew a forrest of trees and lit fires by rubbing two sticks together in order to cook the food (not to mention tasks 4 and 5) 
  7. made the meal using your own reciepe
And even if you did do all those things, you still needed God's help to make everything available. So with anything we do, we can acknowledge the contribution of others and then we are being humble.

The third characteristic is courtesy. Rick Warren writes "Courtesy is respecting our differences, being considerate of each other's feelings, and being patient with people who irritate us."  He calls people we find difficult "ERG people" for "extra grace required".  When I first read The Purpose Driven Life, I was working with an ERG person.  The leader of the PRL group I was in suggested to for help when dealing with difficult people.  So I did, and while others I know still have issues with this person, he and I now get along well.

This also reminds me of a technique I learnt while working at a consultant firm for when you are criticised.  I think it would also work for any disagreements:
  1. Listen - listen to the criticism eg someone tells you "This report is rubbish"
  2. Acknowlege - acknowledge their view with reflective listening, eg "You think this report is no good"
  3. Explore - ask for more details, eg "What needs to be done to improve it?".  The person might say something like - "Well, it is supposed to include information on X but it has been left out."
  4. Respond - now you know the real problem you can fix it - "We can add that in."
It's tricky at first to not jump straight to "Respond", but it is worth persisting.  I was at a wedding a few years ago, while I was still working at the consultancy firm, and when I told someone on the table I worked there he said my firm had done a project at his work and it was rubbish.  In the past, I would have ended the conversation and just thought "well isn't he a bastard" but instead I said "That's no good, what was wrong?" after a long rant he talking himself around to saying that the team did a good job.  So in the end I didn't even need to "Respond".

The fourth characteristic is confidentiality or "what goes on tour, stays on tour".  Whatever is shared within your small church group, should stay within it.  You should not go and gossip about it to others and should confront anyone who does.  I know when people tell me unsavoury stories about others, which generally seem too over the top to be true anyway, I immediately wonder what that person is telling others about me and make a mental note not to share anything significant with them.  Fortunately, I have found that people like that generally have a reputation for being gossips and everyone is wary of them.

The fifth characteristic is frequency. It takes time to build up relationships, so you should attend the meetings regularly even when you don't feel like it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 18: Fellowship

This chapter gets down to the nitty-gritty of fellowship. Its not just about attending church services, you need to participate in the church community.

This is done by breaking up into small groups because when groups get too large, people stop participating. I have recently experienced this myself with the local mothers club group. There were 20 people invited to join the group with the local maternal and child health nurse giving a presentation each week. After this, the idea was for the group to continue on its own. But I have quietly slipped away because there were too many people involved and I didn't feel comfortable dealing with such a large group. In the end I thought "I have lots of friends and not enough time to do all the things I want to do, so why am I wasting time with this group." I'm not sure that anyone has noticed that I'm gone as I still get group emails.

Just attending church services can be like this too. You could feel that if you didn't turn up no-one would notice you were gone. But in a small group you have the opportunity to build greater bonds.

The book identifies four benefits of being part of a small group within your church:
  • authentic relationships with others,
  • helping each other out,
  • understanding and having your feelings validated, and
  • mercy - forgiveness of sins.
In relation to this last point, Rick Warren makes the point that forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. You forgive people for what they have done in the past, but that does not mean you must instantly trust them to do the right thing in future or place yourself in danger of being hurt again. Instead the person you forgive must rebuild your trust.

I think this applies to entering a small group as well, which Rick Warren doesn't appear to acknowledge. Obviously, you can't just rock up to a bible study class and instantly expect to experience the benefits listed above, but I can see how these would develop over time if you made the committment to keep attending.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 17: Going to church

The Day 17 chapter is about the importance of going to church.

Interestingly, this chapter was not included in relation to the purpose of worshiping God, but instead in relation to the purpose of being part of God's family. Rick Warren writes "While your relationship with God is personal, God never intended it to be private."

On an objective level this makes perfect sense - if you have an interest in something, you tend to like being around others who have the same interest. With that in mind, its a little strange then, that a lot of people make an exception to this rule when it comes to their belief in God and going to church.

When I started writing this blog and decided to focus on religion (at least for a while), I mainly expected people to make fun of me. Religion seems to have a bad name these days. Generally you hear negative things about it - things like "people start wars and kill each other because of religion" (I tend to think that, if there was no such thing as religion, people who kill other people would have found another excuse to do so) or "monks take a vow of povety but the catholic church is the richest organisation in the world" (Luke 12:31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and [God] will give you everything you need). So having assumed that no-one believes in God these days, I've been surprised to be picking up readers of this blog as each week goes by.

I only know one person who goes to church, my mum. In the lead up to my marraige I went to church but avoided talking about it in case people thought I was some strange bible basher who on the first opportunity would try to pressure them into coming with me. So the only reaction I got, that I can recall, is from a work collegue who said something along the lines of "its a shame they make you go to church if you want to get married there". I explained that my attendance was entirely voluntary and that I enjoyed having a hour a week where nobody was bothering me. He agreed that that would be a good thing.

Rick Warren identifies a number of reasons for going to church and being an active member of the church community:
  • it identifies you as a genuine believer - this may or may not be something you want the world to know about you, but if there truely is a Judgement Day, you might want God acknowledging you as a genuine believer
  • it moves you out of self-centered isolation - it gives you to opportunity to demonstrate that you do love others as you love yourself.
  • it helps develop your spirituality - it is unlikely that you will regularly learn about God in the remainder of your daily life
  • it is where God intends you to use your gifts
  • it is part of Jesus's mission in the world to build a church, so attending means you are a part of it
  • it helps you overcome temptation
Having read this I can see that it is silly not to go to church and so have decided to start attending again after Easter (gives me a couple of weeks to get used to getting up early on a Sunday and means I miss out on the crazy Easter services which are full of people who only go to church at Easter and Christmas.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 16: Love makes the world go 'round

The Day 16 chapter is about a topic many people appear to forget, Jesus's command to love others as you love yourself.

A friend of mine was telling me recently about her two brothers, both of whom are religious but attend different churches. One brother is refusing to go to the wedding of the other brother because he goes to the "wrong" church and is, therefore, destined to go to hell. It is attitudes like this that drive people away from church and, quite frankly, if a church is promoting this belief I think it is a good thing that people are driven away from it. Fortunately, not all churches are like this. In the lead up to my wedding I attended church (because it seemed silly to me to get married in a church I didn't attend) and it certainly didn't condemn people for going to the "wrong" church.

Anyway, back to the book. This chapter explains that love is the most important part of life because:
  • life without love is worthless - relationships, not possessions, are what matters in life
  • love lasts forever - people remember how you treat them above everything else
  • God will judge you on the basis of the quality of your relationships because it is a measure of your spiritual maturity
Rick Warren writes that being busy is the enemy of relationships. Having worked in a very demanding job I am well aware of this - going to work early and getting home late leaves little time to talk to your spouse, let alone catch up with friends. I did this because I was brought up to believe that work hard and being successful was important. Lately, I have been questioning this because the payoff just isn't there, and this chapter makes me question it even more.

The book suggests that you wake up each morning and tell God of your intention of spending time during the day loving God and loving other people. Something tells me that if I had done this for the last 20 years, instead of spending so much time at work, I would have had a far more fulfilling life.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 15: Purpose 2 - Being Part of God's Family

We are now onto the second purpose - being part of God's family.

God created us to be part of his family and this is achieved when we accept Jesus into our lives. So, if you believe Jesus is the son of God you are a child of God and the brother or sister of everyone else who also believes Jesus is the son of God.

The Bible tells us that God provides for you in this life. I'm not sure why Luke 12:23 - 32 isn't quoted, but here it is:

23 For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. 24 Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! 25 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? 26 And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

27 “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 28 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

29 “And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. 30 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. 31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

32 “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

And in the next life we will:

  • be with God forever
  • be changed to be like Jesus
  • be free from pain, death and suffering
  • be rewarded and assigned positions of service(?)*
  • share in God's glory
*The idea that we will be given jobs in heaven comes from the Parable of the Three Servants in Matthew Chapter 25. Before going on a trip a man, who has three servants, gives the first servant five bags of silver, the second servant two bags of silver and the last servant one bag of silver. The first two double their money and give the master back ten and four bags of silver respectively. The master's response to both of them is "You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities." The one given one bag of silver buried it in the ground so he wouldn't lose it and so gives the Master only one bag back. The Master goes troppo at him, says "you could have at least put it in the bank to earn interest", and takes the bag and gives it to the first servant with the ten bags of silver.

29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

(Gotta love the weeping and gnashing to teeth - very bibilical.)

I really don't think the point of this parable is to tell people they will have jobs in heaven. I think its about spreading God's love and God rewarding those who spread his love and punishing people who hide his love.

I was surprised, however, that putting money in the bank was an option, as I thought the bible was against borrowing and lending money. I was also surprised that the Master is described as "
a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate", particularly as the Master can be interpreted as representing Jesus and theft doesn't seem to me to be something he approves of.

Interestingly, wikipedia presents an alternative interpretation of this parable (see, in which the third servant who hides the money and does not follow the sinful ways of the Master, is the one representing Jesus and the parable is about how Jesus was punished for doing the right thing.

Either way, I think infering from this parable that we will all be given jobs in heaven is a long bow to draw.


Here's a link to a "Wordle" of this blog:

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 14: When God goes MIA

The Day 14 chapter is about the times in your life when everything is going wrong and you think God is ignoring you or even begin to question whether He exists.

These times are another way God tests you. When you are a child (and perhaps when you have just recently returned to the Lord?), God answers your prayers so you know he exists. But as you get older, God tests your faith so it matures.

Rick Warren spends a bit of time explaining that feeling the presence of God is not the same as the omnipresence of God. God is always with us even when we can't feel his presence. I have to say I have never felt the presence of God until I started typing this paragraph. Now I feel like there is someone in the room with me, even though I am by myself, which is very spooky.

During the times when God feels absense, Rick Warren recommends the following (with frequent references to the book of Job):
  • Tell God exactly how you feel - God can handle it even if you are angry with him. While it may not be obvious, this is an act of faith becuase it shows you believe in God, you believe God is listening to you and you believe God will still love you even when you express negative emotions
  • Focus on who God is - God is good, God loves you, God has a plan for your life
  • Trust God to keep his promises - I'm not sure what his promises are and the book doesn't say, must start reading the bible once I finish this 40 days
  • Remember what God has already done for you - sent his son to die on the cross to save us from hell (now I know that my knowledge of God is limited, but I don't understand why, given God sets the rules, that he set them up this way.)

Day 13: Worship

The Day 15 Chapter is about how to worship God. There are four characteristics of how to worship:
  1. Accurately: worship the God that is in the bible, not a version of God that you made up yourself.
  2. Authentically: Your emotions should be engaged when you worship God and the best style of worship is the one that suits that background and personality God gave you.
  3. Thoughtfully: Don't just repeat cliches, use your own words and be specific, ie tell God what you are praising him for
  4. Practically: Offer yourself as a living scarifice through, for example, thanksgiving, praise, humility, repentance, offerings of money, prayer, serving others, and sharing with those in need.
Its great to learn that I don't have to enjoy those awful hymns that accompany church services, but I think I need to start reading the bible to learn what God is really like.

P.S. The body corporate today agreed to refund my $120. Yeah! My prayer was answered.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 12: Bringing you closer to God

The Day 12 chapter continues the discussion of ways to build your relationship with God. This includes:

Being honest with God - surprisingly this includes complaining and arguing with God. Rick Warren writes "It is likely that you need to confess some hidden anger and resentment at God for certain areas of your life where you have felt cheated or disappointed." I'm not sure my anger is so hidden. Having devoted most of my life to my career, I'm angry that I still have a shitty, low-level job while other people seem to be catapulted into greatness, not to mention the multitude of people who just don't seem to care about their careers and are still doing better than me. Time will tell if God's reason for making me want something and not giving it to me becomes clear.

Rick Warren says the answer to this is to realise that God always acts in your best interests and to tell God how you feel. "Expressing doubt is sometimes the first step toward the next level of intimacy with God."

Obeying God in faith - God is pleased when we do things, no matter how small, out of loving obedience.

Value what God values - just as friends care about the things their friends care about

Desire friendship with God more than everything else - you are as close to God as you choose to be. I think this is another thing that needs to be developed over time. Rick Warren writes that God sends you problems to draw you closer to him, but I query this because with a friend like that who needs enemies.

I prefer to think of the problems as a way of teaching us or developing our character. I'm not sure how to reconcile this with why I don't have an extraordinary life, except maybe that I haven't followed God, so why should I expect any gifts from him. Thinking of things from this perspective now, I actually think God has been very good to me. There you go, things have become clear now.

Re the body corp issue - have not heard from them today, not sure whether I should call them tomorrow or continue to "let go and let God".

Monday, March 8, 2010

Day 11: God, my BFF

The Day 11 chapter is about becoming best friends with God. It includes a number of bible versus to show that God wants to be our friend, all including the word "friend". However, when I read more traditional versions of these bible versus there is no use of the word "friend". The problem I have with the word "friend" is that it implies equality and I don't think people are equal with God, so I'm going to call it building a relationship with God.

This chapter presents two ways of building a relationship with God.
  1. Hold a constant conversation with God. This has been discussed in previous chapters and here it explains that the idea is of changing your attitude to what you do every day so you do it for God and spend the whole day talking to God in your head so you are praying all the time.
  1. Meditate on bible versus. "When you think about a problem over and over in your mind, that's called worry. When you think about God's Word over and over in your mind, that's meditation". So we all have the skill of meditating.

The chapter concludes by explaining that in the first method you are talking to God, but in the second God is talking to you and in this way God reveals secrets to you. I like the sound of that.


On another note, going back to coincidences (see Day 2 Postscript) and my issue with the body corporate manager (see Day 10 post): I taped a few of the religious programs that channel 10 show on Sunday mornings. Today I watched one and they spoke about waiting on God. I thought that maybe this is a message from God telling me to wait for him to sort out the body corporate. Today was a public holiday, so I'm interested to see what happens tomorrow.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day 10: Handing your life over to God

The Day 10 chapter is all about surrendering to God. It spends a bit of time talking about how surrender goes against the grain for most people. Somehow I didn't have a problem with it, but I did find a lot of excuses poping into my head about why it didn't apply to me.

Lets first look at what it actually means to surrender to God. It means saying yes to what God asks you and gives examples from the bible (eg Mary the mother of Jesus). But God doesn't send angels to talk to me, so I suppose again this means doing what the bible says.

Rick Warren says "You know you're surrending to God when you rely on God to work things out instead of trying to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation. You let go and let God work."

When I read this I immediately thought about my issue with the body corporate manager and paying $120 for a car park remote that is soon to become obsolete (see first comment on Day 5 post). Ihave wasted a lot of time over the last few days going over strategies in my head because I don't trust the body corporate manager and believe they are going to refuse to refund my money and I'm really angry with them because of this. (I have just realised I'm angry with them because of an assumption that I have made about what they are going to do, rather than about what they have done. That's pretty stupid of me.)

Anyway, now I'm in a quandry about "letting go and letting God". I was going to give them until Tuesday afternoon to call me back with an answer about whether they are going to refund the money (I also have no faith that the body corporate manager is going to do anything without me pushing them.) Now I'm wondering whether I should call them at all? Maybe I should pray for guidance. I usually don't pray and haven't been praying for the 10 days of this journey. In my comment to the Day 5 blog I said I thought this was a test but I didn't know what God was testing me on. Maybe, it was to lead me to surrending to God and praying for guidance on things instead of torturing myself by obsessing over things (which I do in OCD proportions).

Rick Warren warns that when you decide to totally surrender your life, God will test you. I'm not sure I'm up for it, but lets see how things work out with the body corporate manager.

Day 9: Making God Smile

The Day 9 chapter examines things you can do to make God smile - "the goal of your life" - and uses Noah's life (as in Noah and the ark) for examples.

This includes:
  • loving God supremely - I can't say I feel love towards God because you can't see or hear God, you can't even be sure he exists, but maybe it comes with time.
  • trust God completely - Noah did this by spending 120 years (!) building an ark, but how does it apply to us? I suppose by reading the bible and following the commands in there.
  • obey him wholeheartedly - do everything the bible tells you to do, no cherry picking. I think I need to do what AJ Jacobs did (see my first post, he lived biblically for a year) and make a list of everything it tells you to do - or just find his list*. Its interesting that Rick Warren says that you will never understand some commands until you do them first and AJ Jacobs found the same thing.
  • praise and thank God continuously - while in my last post I wrote about the benefits of gratitude, I have found it a hard ask to praise and thank God continuously, because I don't think of God continuously throughtout the day.
  • use your abilities - this seems straight forward enough.
*Found a summary of AJ Jacob's list on his website ( This list is on this page:

He says the bible says to give thanks for food but he started giving thanks for everything and it was great because it made him aware of how much goes right each day. So maybe I should just try a bit harder.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 8: Purpose 1 of 5 - Pleasure

When I first learnt about the book The Purpose Driven Life I assumed that it was about finding your individual purpose for your life. But as the first line says - its not about you. Instead, the book is about the five purposes which God created for everyone.

In the Day 8 chapter, we get onto the first purpose. We learn that God created people for his "pleasure". (I really think Rick Warren could have employed a better choice of words.)

We give pleasure to God by worshiping him. Worship is more than going to church, worship is something we are supposed to do continuously. This can be done by:
- praising God
- dedicating any activity you are doing to God
- carrying out a conversation with God in your head

The first suggesting, praising God, reminded me of the practice of being grateful. Many people keep gratitude journals and one of the websites I read ( has a message board where people write daily posts on what they are grateful for (amongst other things). Many people say there is a psychological benefit to keeping gratitude journals, so I did a google search (of course, because the internet knows all) to see if I could find any studies.

Turns out two blokes at the University of California are doing a study on this very topic (see their website here: and have found a range of evidence that being grateful improves your life eg:
  • "In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events" and
  • "Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions. Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life."
To test this for myself I thought I would do some sort of wellness test now and at the end of the 40 days. I did a google search for "wellness test" and found the following site:

I took the test which asks you to assess various aspects of your life and got an overall score of 772, which falls into the range of Excellent. I will do the test again at the end of the 40 days and see if it improves.

In relation to the second and third suggestions:
  • I think dedicating any activity you are doing to God will give it more significance and motivate you to do it better, just because that's what I do when I'm doing anything for somebody else.
  • As our minds never stop thinking anyway, we might as well think of it as a conversation with God.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 7: Its all about God

In the Day 7 chapter we read the corollary to Day 1's "Its not about you":

"It's all for Him".

The universe was made to show the glory of God.

I find christianity full of jargon - glory, worship, witness. What do these words mean?

My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines glory as:
- exalted renown, honourable fame
- subject for boasting, special distinction, ornament, pride
- adoring praise and thanksgiving

and glorious as:
- possessing glory, illustrious
- conferring glory, honourable
- splendid, magnificent, intensely delightful

So its a way of saying God is really good. The universe was made by God to show that God is really good.

Rick Warren says "All sin, at its root, is failing to give God glory. It is loving anything else more than God. ... In different ways we have all lived for our own glory, not God's."

If we accept that God created the universe (regardless of whether He did it by creation or evolution - which is a whole other debate that just doesn't interest me) then its not a hard ask to see God as glorious. Certainly I don't know how to create a universe.

So the point of our lives is to bring glory to God, we can do this by:
- fulfilling our purpose on earth - God made you to be you
- worshiping God - apparently everything you do can be an act of worship
- loving others
- becoming like Jesus
- serving others with our gifts - note this says "with our gifts", so I'm thinking doing something you hate doesn't qualify (unless its a test?)
- telling others about God (think this qualifies)

Back to the definitions:

- worthiness, merit, recognition give or due to these, honour and respect
- reverant homage or service paid to God
- adoration or devotion comparable to this felt or shown towards person or principle
- adore as devine, pay religious homage to
- idolise, regard with adoration

- testimony, evidence, confirmation
(really don't see how this applies to God)

Day 6: A postscript

After a bit of a google search, I found a theory regarding Genesis 3:22 - that the reason God did not want Man to eat from the Tree of Life is that Man was in a "fallen state" (due to disobeying God), and if "Man" were to gain eternal life in this state "Man" could not be saved.

But I thought God could do anything - so I'm not buying it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 6: Life is a temporary assignment

I think it was Rosanne Barr (of all people) who I first heard say "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience". That pretty much sums up the Day 6 chapter.

Perhaps I haven't had enough sleep but I found this chapter, shall we say ... uninspiring. It makes the point that life is all about getting to the after life. That nothing you do in this life will necessarily make your life better (eg John the Baptist ended up beheaded).

So we just have to put up and shut up because we will be happy in the after life? Its a bit "trust me, it will all work out" isn't it?

Thinking about this also reminded me a of question I was concerned with some time ago. In the Garden of Eden there was not one tree, there was two trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. Adam and Eve were told not to eat from the tree of knowledge - which they did. So God gave them a range of punishments, and then kicked them out of the Garden of Eden, not as a punishment but so they could not eat from the tree of life:

Genesis 3: 22 -
God said, "The Man has become like one of us, capable of knowing everything, ranging from good to evil. What if he now should reach out and take fruit from the Tree-of-Life and eat, and live forever? Never—this cannot happen!"

When did God change his mind about people living forever?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day 5: Tests and Trusts

The Day 5 chapter lists three metaphors for life:
  1. a test
  2. a trust
  3. a temporary assignment
God tests peoples' "character, faith, obedience, love, integrity and loyalty". Aparently all of life is a test - God is watching everything you do. The ways in which you are tested includes "major changes, delayed promises, impossible problems, unanswered prayers, undeserved criticisms and even senseless tragedies" but also small interactions or decisions made everyday.

Some people react badly to this idea as it implies God initiates evil acts and acts unfairly. Another way to think of it is when you are going through a bad time, that it is a test and if you pass you will be rewarded. If another person is the cause of your trouble, that person is failing a test and will be punished. This way of thinking may help get you through it, along with the assurance that God provides people with the means to pass any test.

The second metaphor is that everything you own has been granted into your trust by God, so you should look after everything as well as you can. At the end of your life, God will reward you based on how well you looked after things in your trust. If we think about possessions in this way, we may be more reluctant to buy things, because you wouldn't just focus on the initial pleasure of obtaining the item, you would also think about how to look after it and whether you have the time.

The third methaphor, a temporary assignment, is the subject of Day 6.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day 4: Getting to Heaven

Day 4 is about acknowledging that life is a dress rehersal for the after life. Your relationship with God will determine whether you go to heaven.

So what is heaven like? Despite all you may have heard about heaven, the bible says very little. I did a key word search on for the word heaven and the vast majority of uses were in relation to God, ie "God in heaven". There is mention of angels in heaven and there is mention of doing good things so you can accumlate riches in heaven.

The only place in the bible where heaven is described is in Revelations. I tried to have a read of Revelations, but the overall impression I got was that John (the author) was on some serious drugs and only read about seven chapters.

To get a better handle on it I pulled out my copy of The Complete Idoiot's Guide to The Bible. Chapter 7 mentions a group of people in white robes. An elder identifies these people as those who have come out of the great tribulation and says "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 centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

In Revelation 15:2-4 the people who had been saved are playing harps and singing God's praises.

After the apocolypse and judgement day, God creates a new heaven and earth. A Holy City, new Jerusalem, comes down from heaven and God lives with people on the new earth. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Rick Warren says that in heaven we will be:
  • reunited with loved ones who are believers,
  • released from all pain and suffering
  • rewarded for our faithfullness on earth
  • reassigned to do work that we will enjoy
He doesn't where he got this information from. I can only find references to the second point (see above), meanwhile that last one turns me off the whole idea just a little - since when do we have to work in heaven!

The question to consider for the chapter is "since I was made to last forever, what is the one thing I should stop doing and the one thing I should start doing today?" In my copy of the book I originally wrote "I should stop working all the time. I should start building a relationship with God." As I am now on maternity leave I have stopped working all the time and I reckon this blog is helping me to build a relationship with God.