Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Is God hard to please?

Sometimes we act as if God is easily frustrated and ready to pounce. As if we need to perform some ritual or be involved in some tradition to appease him. Sometimes I notice others going through spiritual ceremonies as if God is impressed by their skills or work ethic, as if it's their job to work hard so God is not frustrated. It seems they walk around on "egg shells" trying hard not to cause any upset. This may be the way they relate to their earthly father but it is not God's intention for us to behave this way with him.

In a healthy relationship children don't find their father hard to please. Little children will run to their father when he comes home from work. They will be pleased to see him and will excitedly tell him what they have been doing. They expect a warm reception and don't struggle to impress him. They don't take on the responsibility of keeping their father happy.

We are God's children. We don't have to work hard to please him since he is already pleased with us. We don't do him favours, rather we are on the receiving end of his favours. God doesn't need us to serve and worship him, rather it is good for us.

We are free to bask in the love God has for his children, without the pressure of trying to keep God happy.

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Devotional Thought : Numbers 19:19

The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them. Those who are being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and that evening they will be clean. Numbers 19:19

Medical research tells us that the incubation period for most bacteria is within seven days—a fact unknown in Moses' day. In a primitive culture without antibiotics, bacterial infections could be fatal. These instructions were important so deadly diseases weren't spread. Furthermore waiting until evening effectively meant waiting until they and their clothes were completely dry. Pathogenic microbes live in moisture and die with dryness. This is why we have hand dryers in public toilets. Yet God's people were oblivious to the practical applications of the directions God gave via Moses.

There are other God-given instructions in the Old Testament, particularly in regard to the eating of only 'clean animals' which have hygiene or other medical benefits, but not all. Some we still don't understand why God gave them. Perhaps they had benefits in an ancient culture that archaeologists are yet to discover. Or maybe they were part of Israel being a distinctive people and set apart from other nations. Whatever God's reasons—and he has his reasons since he act with purpose—we can take great encouragement from knowing that God's directions are given in our best interests, even when we don't know.

It builds our faith to remember that God created us and knit us together in our mother's womb (Psalm 139:13). He knows what's best for us and acts for our health and well-being, even in the practical matters of life.

A God who pays that much attention to our needs, is worthy of all our attention.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Quote from Mark Buchanan

Quote from, The Holy Wild, by Mark Buchanan:

"And faith is finally this: resting so utterly in the character of God—in the ultimate goodness of God—that you trust Him even when He seems untrustworthy."

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Death of King David's child

King David's reaction to the death of his first child to Bathsheba is amazing. God had told David the child would die as the result of his sin (2 Samuel 12:14). Nevertheless David prayed and fasted for the child's life. After the child died David stopped praying, washed and went to the house of the Lord to worship. Then he ate. Later he explained his actions by saying, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live'" (2 Samuel 12:22).

Even though God had told him that the child would die, David still thought there was a chance God would be gracious and allow the child to live. David had a lot of faith in the compassion and grace of God. However on this occasion God did not relent.

David accepted God's decision without a word of complaint. David understood God was Sovereign and worthy of worship, even when God disappointed him.

These two things: David's strong belief in the compassion and grace of God and David's understanding of the Sovereignty of God, help us to understand why God called him "a man after my own heart" (Act 13:22).

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Devotional Thought : Numbers 16:3

They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" Numbers 16:3

Leadership in Christian communities has always been difficult!

There is some truth in what these people were saying, "the whole community is holy"–set apart for God. We also find this in the New Testament. "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Peter 2:9).

God has made us all holy and able to hear from him ourselves, but this does not eliminate the need for leadership. We tend to think because we are in relationship with God that we know his plans. and don't have to submit to others, or be tolerant of other ideas. The reality is that we don't like others being in leadership over us, so we wonder about their motives and question their integrity.

The rest of 1 Peter 2:9 tell us God's purposes in making us a holy nation is, "that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light". We aren't a holy nation in order to eliminate leadership but rather to be witnesses to God's character and carry out his mission in the world. It's about God's purposes not ours.

It was actually the Levites who went too far (v. 7). The Lord had already made it clear that he had chosen Moses and Aaron for leadership responsibilities. In the rest of this chapter and the next God again clearly confirmed Moses' and Aaron's special roles but these Levites wouldn't accept it and sadly experienced the consequences of their rebellion.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Quotes from Philip Yancey

Some quotes from The Bible That Jesus Read by Philip Yancey, focussing chapter 2, Job: Seeing in the Dark:
"Satan's accusation . . . implies that God is not worthy of love in Himself, that people follow God only because they get something out of it."

"Will a man cling to faith when every self-interested reason for doing so is yanked away? 'He will curse you to your face,' Satan gambled. And he loses. Job's character holds up."

"When tragedy strikes, we too will be trapped in a limited point of view. Like Job, we will be tempted to blame God and see him as the enemy."

"Job convinces me that God cares more about our faith than our pleasure."

"Somehow, in a way the book only suggests and does not explain, one person's faith made a difference."

"How we respond matters." "By hanging onto the thinnest thread of faith, Job won a crucial victory in God's grand plan to redeem the earth."
The Bible That Jesus Read by Philip Yancey, p.45-72.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

God's perspective on time

God is beyond time and able to see past, present, and future events simultaneously. He is able to take in the full panorama of human existence yet he is also able to focus on a moment in our time and celebrate its significance.

It is something we need to do to. There is much suffering and difficulty not only in our world but in our own communities. Despite this, there are times to stop for celebration, when we put aside the difficulties and rejoice in what we have—our physical blessings, our relationship with God, our spiritual inheritance. Times of thankfulness and appreciation help us to gain a better perspective and encourage us to be more generous, as we realize how blessed we are.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Devotional Thought : Numbers 14:13

Moses said to the Lord, "Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them." Numbers 14:13

When the people rebelled against their God-appointed leaders and refused to enter the Promised Land, God wanted to destroy the whole nation and start again with Moses. However notice Moses' first response, "the Egyptians will hear about it". His first concern was the Lord's reputation. He was worried that the Egyptians would conclude, "The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness" (v. 16).

Moses was more disturbed about God's integrity amongst a pagan nation, then excited about the possibility of becoming a great nation (v. 12). I wonder do we consider the Lord's reputation, especially when tempted to behave poorly?

People who know we are Christians rightly connect our actions to our relationship with God. When Nathan confronts David over his adulterous affair and murder of Uriah, he tells him that his child will die because "… you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme" (2 Samuel 12:14 NKJV). Our actions are more far-reaching than we realize.

Moses' second request is for the Lord to display his strength in terms of patience, love and forgiveness, not in terms of destruction. "Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. … In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people'" (v. 17-19).

When we have experienced the depth of the Lord's patience, love and forgiveness in our lives, we want to honour the Lord, and make his character known. His reputation will become our concern.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book Review : Captain Sneer the Buccaneer

Captain Sneer the Buccaneer is a great story written by Penny Morrison and Illustrated by Gabriel Evans. It is a fun book about a pirate trying to be brave while looking for gold. It is well-written, rhymes and uses anticipation very well.

However I felt the book was spoiled by the dark illustrations which didn't reflect the light-hearted nature of the writing. The illustrations were well-drawn but the colouring was gloomy. At the critical moment of the story the details in the picture are almost obscured by the dull hues. Many young children may miss the point in regard to Captain Sneer's mother. However for older children this might not be such a problem, as they are better equipped to realize the humour of the situation.

Overall this is still a good book, but could have been improved with lighter, brighter illustrations.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Walking in the Spirit

It our choice, whether we walk by the Spirit or walk by the flesh, and Paul exhorts us to walk by the Spirit. "So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want" (Galatians 5:15-17).

As I was reflecting on why walking by the flesh is not what God wants for me, I realized that my flesh is never satisfied, it always craves more—more food, more possessions, more attention. Yet even when I succeed in getting more, I am still not satisfied. This is the nature of all addictions, and also the source of much of our dissatisfaction.

Walking in the Spirit frees us from the perpetual cycle of constantly striving for more and instead we learn contentment for what we already have. It means we learn how to say "no", not out of duty, compulsion, or our strong self-will, but from the grace of God. "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives ..." (Titus 2:11-12).

In the work place it is commonly thought, that if you "give people an inch they will take a mile" meaning if you show grace, they will expect to be shown more leniency in the future. From a worldly perspective, grace teaches people to continue in their wrong behaviour. But God's grace operates in the exact opposite way. The more we understand and receive his grace, the more we want to behave differently.

It took most of us well over a year before we could physically walk any distance. It may take much longer to learn to walk in the spirit. However, despite the cost and discomfort, it brings a freedom that is worth the effort.

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Saturday, January 07, 2017

Devotional Thought : Numbers 13:31

But the men who had gone up with him said, "We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are." Numbers 13:31

Moses directed the spies to report on the land as follows, "See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land" (v. 18-20).

This is the account they gave to Moses: "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there" (v. 27-28). If they had stopped there, they would have completed the task they were given but they overstepped their authority when they said, "We can't attack those people" (v. 31). It wasn't their place to be making those kind of decisions.

In our churches, if we don't hold a leadership position we need to be careful about how we present our opinions. God has entrusted our churches to leaders who need others to gather information as they discern God's will for a particular course of action. If we give our opinions without reference to God's overarching purposes, we overstep our responsibilities. It then becomes difficult for leaders to move forward when others are undermining their leadership by spreading bad reports (v. 32).

Let's trust our leaders and be discerning about how we express our opinions.

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Thursday, January 05, 2017

Book Review : Becoming Me

Becoming Me : finding my true self in God is Jo-Anne Berthelsen's memoir of her faith journey. It's an honest account of her struggles, joys and disappointments whilst engaging in a number of different roles—teacher, editor, secretary, pastor, wife, mother, grandmother.

I've also read Jo-Anne's other non-fiction title, Soul Friend and it was interesting to read the further insights Jo-Anne has had since that time.

I did find the first couple of chapters of Becoming Me hard to relate to as Jo-Anne's background is very different to mine. However, once the book progressed to her conversion to faith, I was hooked. I found Jo-Anne to be very self-aware and brave as she recollected the moments of her life that significantly impacted her faith. Her insights were thoughtful and helpful.

I suspect her heighten self-awareness came from her experiences with a mentor and other spiritual advisors who worked with her as she entered pastoral ministry and later as she ministered in other settings. Her story is very encouraging as Jo-Anne shows us God's desires for us to be free of insecurity, perfectionism, self-doubt and other obstacles that would hinder us from achieving all God intends. However this takes time and effort on our part to do the spiritual work of growing in our relationship with God.

The book is down-to-earth and easy to read. Each chapter finishes with some reflections so that it isn't just about someone else's spiritual experiences but the material can be applied to the reader.

Overall a good read.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

In 2017 I will celebrate

We live in a broken world and discouragements are bound to come and sometimes from surprising quarters. When David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem it had entailed many difficulties and even loss of life, but now it was finally entering the city and David was flamboyant in his joy. But Michal, David's wife, tried to spoil his fun by making disparaging remarks about David's enthusiasm. She said to him, 'How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!' But I love David's response, ' … I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified that this …' (2 Samuel 6:21-22).

He wasn't put off by her attitude nor does he accept her perception of the situation. David made up his mind to celebrate and now promises to celebrate with even more vigour and zest in the future.

Today we may find people trying to spoil our fun or dampen our enthusiasm by telling us not to be so full-on for God. They may even suggest we'll 'get over it'. As we start a new year, let's be like David, promising to be persistent and more enthusiastic in our celebrations of God.

In 2017, I will celebrate before the Lord.

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