Saturday, January 31, 2015

Devotional Thought : Joshua 9:14-15

The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live. Joshua 9:14-15

The Israelites entered into a covenant with the Gibeonites without seeking the Lord. The Gibeonites deceived Joshua and the Israelite leaders into believing they had come from a distant country to seek peace with them when in reality they lived nearby. Surprisingly the Gibeonites expressed some faith in Israel's God. They feared for their lives and felt servitude with the Israelites was better than death (v.24-25).

This created quite a problem for Joshua because he had given his oath before the Lord. Yet God had also commanded the Israelites to wipe out all the inhabitants of the land he was giving them. Nevertheless, though it was obtained by deception, Joshua and his leaders honoured their oath and didn't attack the Gibeonites. They let them live amongst them as woodcutters and water carriers.

Constable in his commentary on Joshua compares this story with a Christian who falls in love with a non-Christian. Without seeking the Lord they get married. As time passes the differences in priorities becomes obvious. The Christian may want to justify leaving the marriage by rationalizing they should not have married in the first place. What are they to do?

In this instant Constable suggests making the best of the situation, since breaking the marriage covenant would be contrary to God's will. God doesn't normally rescue us from the consequences of the bad choices we make. However he will enable us to live with those consequences.

This story illustrates the importance of seeking the Lord when making significant life choices. God knows the hearts and minds of the people involved in our decisions. While we may be mislead, he never is.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cut back not cut off

I was listening to a speaker compare the Noahic covenant with the Abrahamic covenant. In Noah's case the sign of the covenant that God gave was a rainbow (Genesis 19:3) whereas with Abraham the sign of the covenant was circumcision (Genesis 17:11). Circumcision means to cut away the flesh.

We always want God to give us rainbows but sometimes he cuts away our sinful nature (Colossians 2:11) and it hurts. Even Jesus said, "My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2).

It may feel like God has cut us off but the truth is he has cut us back to be more fruitful in his kingdom.

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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

Packing

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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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Book Review : Departures

Departures is a pleasant collection of sevens stories about the staff and travellers who frequent Heathrow Airport in London. The stories are all stand alone however there is some overlap where characters reappear in later stories.

All the stories are interesting snippets of life in a busy airport. People using the airport vary from the rich and famous to drug mules, to hopeful romantics and to average families. Each one has a story to tell.

The staff also cover a cross section of society with those spending their first day on the job, or their first years in a new career, along with seasoned staff who have seen every scenario played out.

I was quite impressed with Tony Parsons as a story teller. He was able to take simple daily happenings and provide insights into human nature by adding depth and colour to each incident.

An enjoyable collection of short stories.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Journal of my trip to Israel – Day 11 & 12

Day 11
First up today we went to the mount in Nazareth where they tried to throw Jesus off (Luke 4:29). Whether it was the actual site is debatable but there was a great view!

In Jesus' time Nazareth was only a small village of maybe 400-800 people. We visited a church which has been built around the remains of a house from Jesus' time but the highlight was visiting Nazareth Village. It is a recreation of Nazareth as Jesus would have known it. When they were preparing the site they found a wine press and other indications of village life from Jesus' time which makes it more authentic. They have restored the terraced vineyards and recreated a synagogue, carpenter's shop, weaver's room and kitchen.

Jesus preached in the synagogue at Nazareth saying today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:21). Jesus stood and announced his anointing to his family and friends. Then he sat down without justifying or rationalizing his position.

They explained how the wine press worked. The whole community was involved in pressing the grapes. No doubt Jesus was too. Jesus would have also been familiar with an olive press. They had one there with a real donkey.

Gethsemane means oil press - The olives are crushed three times once for the Virgin oil for the temple, secondly for food and thirdly for fuel for light. Jesus was 'crushed' three times and became the light of the world.

Then we went to Zippori which is only 4-5 miles from Nazareth but not mentioned in the NT even though it was a Jewish town. There are ruins of a magnificent city including a system of streets, public buildings, dwellings, a central market, bathhouses, a theatre a synagogue and churches mainly dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods. There are also many mosaics including one in the synagogue with zodiac symbols but there is a better example at Bet Alpha. The theatre was built in Zippori at the end of the 1st century AD so it was not there in Jesus' time. However there was a lot of other building going on. Since it is felt Jesus was more of a builder than just a carpenter, he possibly worked here. Maybe the people of Zippori were part of the crowds that came out to hear Jesus.

Zippori - Jesus was familiar with his culture. He used the word hypocrite. There is no mention of this place in the NT but that doesn't mean Jesus didn't come here. Possibly he avoided the big cities, also no mention of Tiberias. I like to avoid the big cities too!

From there we went to a lookout on a cliff overlooking the Sea of Galilee – Mt Arbel

Day 12
Today we went to Dan, which is in the very north of Israel so we were close to Lebanon's border, near the Golan Heights area and an important defence area for Israel. The Dan River is an important source of the Jordan River which makes it very picturesque unlike most of the other archaeological sites.

On the way we stopped at Magdala, birth place of Mary Magdalene. There are the remains of a settlement which is interesting because it is just one layer compared to the 22 at Megiddo. It was first built in the 1st century and not built over when the Romans left.

At Dan we saw the remains of the temple that was built following the split in the kingdom after the death of Solomon. Jeroboam the King of Israel built a temple so the people would not have to go to the temple in Jerusalem. Prior to this the area had been the Canaanite city of Laish which was captured by the tribe of Dan since they had found it difficult to deal with the Philistines and headed north (Judges 18:27-29). Archaeologists found a very small piece of a fossilized tablet from the 900 BC in this area which bears an inscription mentioning the house of David. This is the first time that the words, "house of David" have been discovered outside of the Bible.

There are also the remains of the city gates from this time where there is a bench, on which the elders of the city once sat. Plus there is also a Canaanite gate dating from 1800 BC which is 7 meters high. It is a remarkable discovery as the gate is completely intact. Its arch-shaped lintel is one of the earliest complete arches found in the world and one of the only ones still standing.

We then visited the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve Banias which we know as Caesarea Philippi. The Hermon Spring emerges at the foot of Mount Hermon. After the conquest of Alexander the Greek in 332 BC the temple of Pan was constructed at the foot of high cliff. The cliff was apparently the back wall of a giant cave, whose roof collapsed and created rock terraces on which the temples and the ritual courtyards dedicated to Pan were constructed. While the initial temple was built in Greek times the site continued to develop throughout the Roman period. Following Herod's death, Philip called it Caesarea Philippi.

Caesar Phillipa - against this back drop of worship to idols Jesus asked the disciples: who do you say that I am? On this confession God builds his church. It comes by revelation not information.

On the way back to Tiberias we stopped at Bethsaida which was a fishing village located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan River enters the sea. An earthquake moved the Jordan River so the site is no longer on the Sea of Galilee which confused archaeologists for some time. Bethsaida is one of the most frequently mentioned towns in the New Testament – the birthplace of the apostles Peter and Andrew; the home of the apostle Philip; the site of the feeding of the multitudes; healing of the blind man and near its shores Jesus was seen walking on the water.

Link to Day 13 & 14

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

Devotional Thought : Joshua 1:16,18

Then they answered Joshua, "Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go... Only be strong and courageous!" Joshua 1:16, 18

Four times in a fairly short chapter Joshua is told to be strong and courageous (v.6, 7, 9 & 18). It sounds like being strong and courageous didn't come naturally to Joshua.

The first three times it is God telling Joshua but the last time it is the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh who are responding to Joshua's instructions. They tell Joshua they are committed to following him but charge him to be strong and courageous. If God tells you to be strong and courageous it is encouraging but when your peers tell you the same thing, it is slightly worrying. Did they notice that Joshua was prone to fearfulness? Were they worried his leadership was lacking strength? Sometimes those closest to us are more aware of our shortcomings than we realize.

God's directive to Joshua to be strong was based on the promise of his presence (v.5 & 9). Joshua wasn't to find strength and courage within himself or from his soldiers but from God's enabling presence. Sometimes we think this isn't enough for the situations that we are confronting. God's presence is not observable, and often not even perceptible. We would prefer a demonstration of God's power to step in and take over, while we sit and watch. Yet God operates through us and with us, not instead of us.

As the rest of the book enfolds we see Joshua being strong and courageous. He defeated enemies, took possession of cities and generally lead his people well. God's enabling presence was enough.

Since we also have the promise of God's presence we can be strong and courageous - a great thought to take into the new year.

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Thursday, January 01, 2015

My plans for 2015

I have finished all the necessary assignments to complete my Bachelor Degree in Christian Ministry. I'm now waiting for my results which are probably a couple of weeks away. The college only has one graduation day each year and unfortunately all the paperwork will not be completed in time for me to graduate this year. This is mainly because my last subject was the study tour of Israel which concluded much later than other second semester subjects. Nevertheless I will be able to obtain a transcript of my results. It poses the question, what does 2015 hold for me?

This morning we went to the Anglicans' dawn service. It was a great way to start the new year - especially one with so many uncertainties. We are moving soon (yet again!). Hopefully this will be our last move for a very long time as we are moving into a house of our own. After we have settled in we are going on holidays to New Zealand for two weeks. When we get back it will be the end of March at which time I will start looking for a part time job where I can make use of my degree. So the future is both exciting and scary!

It will be very pleasant this year to be reading and writing about those things which particularly interest me rather than having to read and write to a curriculum which I have been doing for the last five years. I'm hoping to spend more time getting to know my grandchildren. I may also end up spending time with my elderly parents who are struggling with failing health.

Hope you have good plans for 2015.

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