Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Reflection : The Bible and the Land

Recently I wrote a book review of The Bible and the Land by Gary Burge where I dealt with the content. Now I would like to explore the impact this book had on my thinking in light of my trip to Israel last year.

It has been difficult for me to articulate but I found my trip to Israel somewhat disappointing and puzzling. Prior to my trip I understood Israel was the "Promised Land"; a "land flowing with milk and honey". I was not expecting there to be so much desert, so much desolate country or so many rocks.

I read the story of the 12 spies coming home with a single cluster of grapes carried between two poles and imagined the whole country was extremely fertile but in actual fact these grapes came from a fairly small area - the Valley of Eshkol.

As I said in my book review, Gary's insights helped me better understand God's purposes in giving his people the land of Israel. It is a demanding land with an uncertain water supply, situated in a dangerous corridor with unforgiving wilderness and unruly neighbours.

Moses understood Israel was not like Egypt (Deuteronomy 11:10-12) and they would not be able to rely on flood irrigation, rather they would have to rely on God to supply rain. "This is a land that demands faith" (Burge 2009, p. 26). Another unusual feature of Israel is the lack of defined boundaries. It antiquity it was situated between two major powers Egypt and Mesopotamia. It was a land bridge between them and later on between Europe as well. This was another area that required faith in God to protect them from invasion and occupation. This also meant that the cultures of other nations were often pressing in upon them. Would they be faithful or would they lose their distinctiveness and compromise with other cultures?

"The Promised Land is not an easy land – it is not paradise, neither today nor in Biblical times" (Burge 2009, p. 25). It is not a land designed for comfort and ease but rather to teach faith. It is such a metaphor of the Christian life. We expect a life of comfort and ease but rather God is using our lives to teach us to trust him.

Perhaps Israel is best described as the Land of Promise rather than the Promised Land. Isaiah prophesied, "Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert" (Isaiah 35:6). One day it will live up to its promise and be a land of milk and honey. Interestingly the only place in the Bible where the term "Promised Land" is mentioned is Hebrews 11:9 – the chapter on faith.

The promise of the land is like many of the promises God makes to us, they are for those who have the faith to receive them.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Devotional Thought : Psalm 52:8

But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. Psalm 52:8

David understood he had not achieved spiritual maturity, but rather he was engaged in a process of growing like an olive tree. Even more than growing he was flourishing as he trusted God.

Olive trees are very resilient. They can survive and produce fruit even in harsh conditions such as hot, cold, dry, wet, rocky or sandy environments. It is believed that you can't kill an olive tree since they live for thousands of years. When olive trees are cut down and even burned, new shoots will emerge from the roots. Therefore olive trees are the perfect picture of faithfulness and persistence.

When David was looking for a simile for his relationship with the Lord he chose the olive tree. It pictured the necessity of being faithful to God and his purposes as well as persistence even in difficult circumstances. David had his fair share of difficult circumstances. Psalm 52 was written when David was fleeing from Saul who wanted to kill him.

David found that even while his situation was not conducive, he could still, not only grow in this relationship with God, but flourish. Wherever he was he could trust in God's unfailing love. This enabled David to feel safe despite being pursued by enemies with murderous intent.

Are we growing like olive trees? Or are we waiting for more favourable conditions? Perhaps when we have more time to read the Bible and pray. Perhaps when we are less stressed and have ourselves better organized.

However, the opportunity to tap into God's unfailing love is always available. We can focus on God's love and we can grow. And not just grow but flourish.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review : The Bible and the Land

The Bible and the Land by Gary Burge is a short book that contains main valuable insights into the land of Israel from a biblical perspective. It covers seven topics: the land, wilderness, shepherds, rock, water, bread and names. Each of these topics has a different cultural understanding attached to it that is unfamiliar to those of us who live in the West.

I was surprised after reading the Bible and various commentaries for years, plus going to Israel myself, that Gary Burge was able to enlighten me on so many incidences in the Bible. When we have more insight into the cultural setting of the Biblical stories we are able to understand at a deeper level the point God is making through the Biblical writers. Suddenly little things can open up a new level of understanding. As an example, I have always thought it odd that Mark tells us that the crowds sat down on "green" grass (Mark 6:39). It always seemed to me an unnecessary adjective. Yet Gary points out in Mark 6:34 how the people are described as sheep in need of a shepherd and by using the word green he has connected it with the "green pastures" of Psalm 23:2.

Gary's insight also helped me better understand God's purposes in giving his people the land of Israel. It is not an easy land with an uncertain water supply, dangerous wilderness and unruly neighbours yet God uses the land to teach his people many important spiritual lessons that we can still apply today.

A fascinating read with great photos and art work.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On having to wait

"Waiting is very difficult for most people, for it is an admission that there is nothing we can do at the moment to achieve our ends. Yet that admission is the first requirement for spiritual blessing" (From Oswalt's Commentary of Isaiah).

Have you ever thought about why people hate waiting? Oswalt is suggesting it is not about impatience but rather about self-sufficiency. Waiting tells us that we are not completely independent, we cannot control everything or everybody, and we are not self-reliance. It is a blow to our pride to have to wait and be dependent on something or someone else.

Perhaps this is why God often keeps us waiting, to teach us our limitations and our need of him.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Devotional Thought : Psalm 51:12

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Psalm 51:12

David requested a willing spirit to sustain him. A willing spirit that would motivate him not a driven spirit that would push him. How do we cultivate a 'willing spirit'?

In Isaiah 6 we read the account of Isaiah's call to prophetic ministry. There is a three part progression. In the first three verses there is the revelation of God's holiness. Next is Isaiah's realization of his own sinfulness. Then, after being cleansed, Isaiah's willing response is, "Here am I. Send me!"

Isaiah had a unique encounter with God and while we may not have this same experience we can still understand the depth of God's holiness. God is not just a bit better or a bit nicer than us, he is in a total different category. In the Bible the most common response, when someone became aware of God’s holiness, was to fall facedown, usually terrified (Matthew 17:6, Revelation 1:17).

A true realization of God's holiness makes us aware of our un-holiness. In our own sight we often excuse ourselves since we avoid the more obvious behavioural sins. Yet God "judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

Receiving God's cleansing is such a relief when we have seen the depth of our sin from the perspective of a holy God. Then it is out of immense gratitude that we want to serve God.

Serving God out of our own resources causes driven-ness. Alternatively responding out of appreciation for all God has done causes us to be motivated by gratitude. Often we can tell our motivation by our reaction to the outcome. A driven spirit wants to see results, a willing spirit leaves the outcome to God.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review : God Loves Broken People

God Loves Broken People by Sheila Walsh is a greatly encouraging book full of hope. Regardless of the extent of your brokenness or even your lack of it, this book speaks to the needs of many weary, disillusioned and wounded people.

Sheila makes the comment that if could only write one book in her life, this would be the one. This is because her passion is to see broken people find healing and wholeness in Christ. That's not to say that all their problems will be solved but rather they will find strength and courage to live fulfilling lives.

Sheila addresses a number of issues that cause brokenness. Some self-inflicted, some inflicted by others, some simply the result of living in a broken world. She illustrates her points with illustrations from the Bible, other people's stories and her own personal stories which I enjoyed the most.

Sheila writes in an easy to read, down to earth style and by the end of the book she has convinced the reader of the value of brokenness in revealing God's love. Not that you look forward to difficulties but rather you so firmly believe that a good God loves you that whatever comes your way must have a good purpose behind it.

A great read.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

On writing and publishing

I read this recently on facebook. It is a gentle reminder that we all make mistakes. Of course, there are far worst decisions we could make than not recognizing what will be popular. There are also worst decisions than mere financial ones.

Yet as I writer I find it encouraging that publishers don't always know the public mind. It gives me hope when my writing is rejected or ignored, there still might be a market for what I write, it might even be larger than I imagine.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Devotional Thought : Psalm 47:6-7

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. Psalm 47:6-7

Five times in two verses we are told to sing. According to Keith Getty the command to sing appears over 400 times in Scripture. It is clear that God wants his people to sing to him. Yet often we fail to realize that praising God benefits us.

When we sing praises we focus our attention on God and forget about other issues. Hymns and spiritual songs remind us of God's attributes, they recall what God has done for us and give us hope for the future. By getting our mind off ourselves and onto God gives us a better perspective of our life. We remember God is the king and nothing happens outside his Sovereignty. Songs can build our faith and be a great encouragement.

Elsewhere in Psalms we are told to make a joyful noise and it really doesn't matter to God whether we are in tune or not! We can get so fixated about the quality of the music we forget its purpose is to help us focus on God.

Sometimes we may come to a time of singing during a church service and feel completely unable to join in because we are overwhelmed with our own issues. However as we listen to the worship leader and those around us singing praises to God we can allow the words and music to sink into our hearts so that it inspires us to join in. Our spirits are then lifted as we participate in praising God.

Let's make the most of every opportunity to corporately and individually worship God by choosing to deliberately engage in singing his praises.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Book Review : Mirage

This book is currently being featured on the Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance. Information about the author and more details about the book can be found here.

Mirage by Jeanette Grant-Thomson is a fascinating read. Jeanette's portrayal of life in a cult was convincing. The decisions characters made in joining the cult and their decisions to stay or leave all made sense in the light of their backgrounds. The story was engaging and easy to read. It had drama, tension and a touch of romance. I also enjoyed the spiritual aspects and liked the way Jeanette weave this into the storyline.

The cult Jeanette created was a particularly corrupt one but I'm sure they exist. Nevertheless all cults would have similarities with the one Jeanette describes. Cults often attract those from broken or dysfunctional home who are looking for a sense of belonging and security. Often the 'converts' are like Miriam who abdicate decision making and want someone to take on their responsibilities. I found Miriam's struggles to leave the cult realistic and well depicted.

Most of the information I have previously read about cults has been in non-fiction biographies so I found it very interesting to have this subject explored in a fictional setting from multiple points of view. It shows the ripple effect on the families and friends of those involved.

There is a little 'head hopping' in the book but I didn't find this too distracting.

Overall an enjoyable read.

Thanks to Jeanette for providing a free book for review.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Blog Tour : Mirage

This blog tour is for the novel: Mirage by Jeanette Grant-Thomson. This book is part of a blog tour organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

My book review can be found here.

8 - 12 June

is introducing

Ark House Press


Jeanette Grant-Thomson

About the Book:
Miraim is desperate. Her mind is a fog of drug-induced forgetfulness. She has forgotten her past, her family, even who she is. But who is the disturbingly familiar girl in the shopping centre?

Enmeshed in Soleternity, a cult in the Queensland outback, Miriam is pregnant. She believes her future - and that of her baby - lies with the cult.

Bronwyn is determined to rescue Miriam. She has not bargained on falling in love with the journalist helping her.

Away from Soleternity, Miriam faces conflicts. Sol . . .Soleternity . . .and now Anna and Christianity. How can she know the truth? Who is to be trusted?

About the Author:
Jeanette Grant-Thomson has been writing since she was a child, having short pieces published. Her first book was Jodie's Story (Anzea 1991 and two later editions), followed by two more biographies and two novels. She is a teacher and a writer, living in Redlands.

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Saturday, June 06, 2015

Devotional Thought : Psalm 42:5

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5

I've found this verse to be a great encouragement during times when I've felt depressed or discouraged. "I will yet praise him" reminds me that though I might currently be going through a difficult time, there will come a time when I will be again praising the Lord. I imagine myself in church, singing with passion and as I picture this I find strength for the day. It gives me hope that hard times won't last. Rather than focusing on the present troubles I can look forward to better times.

Likewise David knew from past experience that God would come through for him. So he asks himself why he is upset. He knows God is faithful so he has a talk to himself to get his mind and thoughts back on a positive track.

It helps us to do the same. We can question ourselves as to why are we disheartened. What exactly is it about our present circumstances that is causing us to feel down? What is it we are believing about the situation that is discouraging us? Sometimes we may find God reveals to us that we have made assumptions or believing things which aren't true. Often our dejection comes from a feeling of hopelessness that things will never change. Although things have always been a certain way in the past this does not mean that they will be in the future.

David exhorts himself to, "Put your hope in God". With God different outcomes are possible, with God all things are possible. Even if God doesn't change our circumstances, he can enable us to cope with whatever comes.

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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Book Review : The Manse

The Manse by Meredith Resce is set in colonial Australia when life was difficult and opportunities for women and the poor were very limited. So when Kate is left homeless and penniless she has to use her resourcefulness to find a solution. Unfortunately her solution is based on deception which is eventually exposed but not before she has gained the attention of John Laslett the new parish minister.

John struggles to help Kate because of social etiquette and his unwillingness to stand against the status quo but eventually lights upon a surprising solution which is even more challenging than he expects. John and Kate individually work through the issues of the impact of family of origin, the need to stand up for one's beliefs and the ongoing need for forgiveness.

I enjoyed this tale which exposes some of the struggle colonial Australians experienced especially as these impacted the church. Ministers felt limited in the way they were able to respond to the circumstances of their communities because they were stifled by the wealthy land owners who paid their salaries. Offending your employer meant you could quickly find yourself unemployed which was a real possibility for John and in some churches continues today.

Overall it's a well told and enjoyable story.

The book was first published twenty years ago. In 2016 Meredith is planning to release a re-written 20th anniversary edition.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

True Love Sacrifices

My favourite TV series at the moment is Castle. I like mysteries, and I enjoy the context of the main character, Rick Castle, being a writer. Even more than that I find it romantic that he is prepared to sacrifice so much time and money to help Detective Beckett solve murders because he loves her. Consequently it changes him. Over the course of several series he gave up his flamboyant playboy ways and became more responsible.

Herein is a problem, love changes us. If you don’t want to change, then don’t fall in love. Likewise if you want to know if someone loves you, think about whether they are prepared to make sacrifices for you.

One of the most well-known verses in the New Testament is John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God loved, so he gave. He sacrificed his Son.

If there had been another way for God to forgive our sins, he would have chosen it but there was no other way. Out of the great reservoir of God’s love, he gave Jesus for us.

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