Saturday, January 24, 2015

Devotional Thought : Joshua 7:3

When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” Joshua 7:3

At Jericho the Israelites knew they needed God's supernatural power to bring down the walls but at Ai they thought a small army would suffice. However they suffered a massive defeat. Not only were they under manned but they were also unaware of the sin Achan had committed. When Joshua ultimately conquered Ai he took the whole army with him as God directed (8:1).

When we experience a victory in our Christian life it is easy to think that it was due, in some part, to our own competence. Even in capturing Jericho the Israelites may have appreciated God's intervention but still took some credit for taking the city. They did not realize how truly dependant on God they were until they were crushed at Ai.

When we are called to lead worship, teach a Bible study group, preach a sermon, write a devotional article or any God directed task even if we have done it a hundred times before, we would do well to acknowledge our dependency on God. Our familiarity with a task should not assume competency.

Sometimes God allows disappointment and disillusionment to humble us so we will acknowledge our inadequacy and accept his help. It is not easy to do in a world that values self-sufficiency. We go against the wisdom of the world when we chose to rely on God's grace rather than our own abilities.

After a spiritual victory are we like Paul who said: "We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace" (2 Corinthians 1:12)?

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Thursday, January 22, 2015


I'm in the midst of packing for our move in a couple of weeks which I wrote about here. So I may not be here as often as I would like. Hope to get back to regular blogging in a few weeks.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review : You Have A Soul

You Have A Soul is a short little book containing valuable gems. It is like reading a well thought through sermon.

In addressing the issue of our soul, Ortberg is discussing our motivations and our deep seated attitudes towards life that often go unnoticed. He starts by stating that our soul is needy and this is the driving force behind our addictions. God intended our cravings to drive us to Himself but more often they drive us to food, drink, money, fame.

In part two of the book Ortberg describes how our soul needs rest and how God provides this for us in a circle of grace. A circle helps us realise we are constantly in need of God's grace. The first part of the circle is resting in our acceptance by God. Second is resting in God's sustaining grace. Third is resting in knowing that our significance lies beyond ourselves and finally resting in achievement. When we tried to go against the flow of grace we end up in a circle of works. We try to achieve so we will be significant which will sustain us through the difficulties of life and bring us acceptance. However this leaves constantly trying to achieve and never gaining the acceptance we desire.

Ortberg is easy to read with interesting illusions and Biblical insights. A worthwhile read.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Devotional Thought : Joshua 5:12

The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan. Joshua 5:12

Overnight something the Israelites took for granted stopped. Now they had to find food for themselves which would require more initiative, thought and effort.

It reminds me how at the end of each year we wish everyone a happy new year and there is an underlying expectation that the new year will bring comfort and ease. Even as Christians we often expect things to become easier as we grow in our spiritual lives and we become disillusioned when this is not the case.

Yet God doesn't tell us life will get easier, if anything the opposite is true. As we grow in faith God is able to send us bigger challenges! He expects us to mature in our faith. The Israelites entered the Promised Land and their first challenge was to find their own food, no longer would they be spoon fed. Likewise as we grow in our Christian life we have to learn to feed ourselves spiritually. We cannot rely on our spiritual leaders to feed us on Sundays or once a week at a Bible study group. We learn how to find spiritual nourishment for ourselves by engaging in spiritual disciplines.

Furthermore they entered the Promised Land "armed for battle" (4:13). They were expecting conflict. We also should not be surprised when we encounter conflict. There will be those who oppose us, disagree with us and make life difficult. However we are armed for battle when we know how to rely on God for his strengthening and enabling.

Life isn't easy in the Promised Land! It requires faith that God is with us and for us.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review : Your Church is Too Safe

Mark Buchanan is one of my favourite authors, however I initially struggled to connect with Your Church is too Safe until chapter eight. On reflection this was probably because I read a lot of books about churches and up until this point Buchanan was setting a scene I know well. However from this point on the book came alive for me and I found it fresh and engaging. Buchanan shared some changes they made at his own church as well as insights from Biblical texts.

Buchanan's fictitious description of a person who grows up to have a religious spirit was incredibly helpful in chapter thirteen. As was his advice to "eat whatever" in chapter eight. In chapter nine he pinpoints our reluctance to engage in the world and in chapter ten he asks why was it necessary for the paralytic's friends to wreck the roof? The disturbing answer is that all the healthy people were blocking their way and unwilling to move. This, of course, relates to us today. Do we block the way for others to come to Jesus by our selfish attitudes? Buchanan has other challenges to do with unity amongst Christians, our acceptance of those whose moral standards are different to ours and our willingness to be channels of God's healing.

There were times when I sensed Buchanan's frustration and anger with the church for failing so badly in many areas yet his finishes the book on a note of hope and encouragement for the church to become all that God intends.

A very worthwhile and challenging read.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Journal of my trip to Israel – Day 13 & 14

Day 13
Today we spent the day visiting the towns around the north western side of the Sea of Galilee where Biblical events happened. We started the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias to Ginosar. The 'Sea' is quite large and would be some distance if you were walking across! It is very picturesque as it is almost surrounded by hills - green and not so rocky.

Sea of Galilee - when Peter's boat overflowed with fish, he called James and John to share the blessing. Peter and Andrew didn't just collect enough for themselves. Likewise we should share the blessings God gives us.

We saw the fishing boat which was discovered in 1986 on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee and dating from Jesus' time. Next we visited Capernaum where they uncovered the remains of a village from the time of Jesus and possibly Peter's house. The house had been redeveloped to accommodate group meetings – perhaps early Christian meetings? Capernaum was at an important junction geographically for trade routes.

We visited the "Bread & Fishes" church at Tabigha. Tabigha was also known as Heptapegon, "Place of the Seven Springs" and is also the spot (apparently) where Jesus reinstated Peter. At this spot hot springs enter the water so at the time of the resurrection this was the most likely place for the disciples to have gone fishing.

Sea of Galilee shore - Jesus reinstates Peter. Failure isn't final. Jesus not only forgives but also restores. Likewise we can be restored regardless of how we lost what God has given us.

Nearby is the likely spot of the Sermon on the Mount where there is also a church – The Church of the Beatitudes which has very nice landscaped gardens.

Mount of Beatitudes - bless meaning to kneel thus not a passive thing but active as we cultivate these attitudes.

Day 14
We started the day by visiting a baptismal site, unlikely to be the one where John baptised Jesus but one that is convenient. Many in the group 'rededicated' their baptisms. It was a very encouraging time.

We then went to Bet Alpha where they found a 6th century synagogue with one of the most beautiful mosaics discovered in Israel. The central section of the mosaic contains a zodiac with the symbols of the months. In the centre is the sun god Helios riding in a chariot drawn by four horses. In the four corners are figures of women, symbolizing the four seasons of the year. By the time this zodiac was laid, idol worship had lost its hold so we hope the zodiac was only for decorative purposes. These types of designs are not found in 1st century synagogues as previously they were very particular about not having 'graven images', which meant no depictions of people or animals.

Next we went to Bet She'an. The Israelites tribes had not succeeded in conquering Canaanite Bet She'an and after the battle waged at Mt. Gilboa, the injured Saul killed himself. The Philistines displayed the bodies of Saul and his sons on the city walls. The city was later taken by King David. In Jesus' time Bet She'an was one of the ten cities of the Decapolis. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD and not rebuilt.

Bet She'an - where Saul died but David refused to celebrate his death but continued to honour him and his son. Even with bad leaders we still need to do the right thing.

On to Jericho and the remains of a city wall which is dated prior to Joshua's time. However it is possible they may have built on top of the original wall with mud bricks which have not survived. Jericho claims to be the oldest (fortified) city in the world. It is in the desert but has some natural springs which makes it an oasis.

We stopped and looked at the only sycamore tree in Jericho. It is very old maybe Zacchaeus climbed it!

The following morning we travelled back to Amman in Jordan to catch our flight home.

An amazing two weeks of reflecting on Biblical events and spiritual insights.

The End!

If you have missed any of the previous entries, click here to go back to Day 1 & 2.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Devotional Thought : Joshua 2:10-11

We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt...for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Joshua 2:10-11

Rahab said this forty years after the Israelites passed through the Red Sea. Everyone knew about it and remembered. It was this, plus, "what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed" (v.10), which caused Rahab to have faith. This raises the question, why was she the only one who acknowledged that the God of the Israelites was "God in heaven above and on the earth below"?

Some people, even Christians, conclude that God was unjust in the Old Testament because he told his people to wipe out the people living in Canaan. Yet all these people had the same opportunity as Rahab to come to faith. The Mosaic Law provided for foreigners to be included in God's people (Numbers 15:14-16).

At the time of the exodus many foreigners left with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38). Likewise Ruth was a Moabite but was accepted because of her profession of faith to Naomi, "Your people will be my people and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16); and Uriah the Hittie fought with David's soldiers. His loyal was clearly with God's people (2 Samuel 11:11). God spared the Ninevites who believed God and repented (Jonah 3:5). There were many unnamed others. The people of Jericho could have also be included if they acknowledged the God of the Israelites.

God "is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). God gave the people of Jericho forty years to come to faith. God is not unjust.

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