Saturday, July 04, 2015

Devotional Thought : Psalm 56:12

I am under vows to you, my God; I will present my thank offerings to you. Psalm 56:12

Being under the new covenant means we are free from the animal and food offering we see outlined in the early books of the Bible. However they provide us with an understanding of how God wants to be approached in worship.

The various offerings for sin shows that God wants us to come to him with a clean heart free from sin which is now possible through Christ's death on the cross. However there were also other offerings such as the thank offerings which spring from the fellowship offerings that show a desire to be in fellowship with God.

Today, while it is not necessary to make the various food offerings to be in fellowship with God, it shows us the importance God places on having a thankful heart. When we have a thankful heart we have a truer perspective of our inadequacies and God's sufficiency. True thankfulness comes from humility, since we are thankful for those things which we cannot provide ourselves and we recognise God's goodness in his provision.

When we read Psalms we often find the phrase, "sacrifice thank offerings" which tells us thanksgiving wasn't an emotional response. Making these offerings were a sacrifice that was costly in time as well as money. It required preparation and commitment.

In the above verse we see David's commitment to fulfilling his vows and present thank offering to God. It wasn't dependant on whether he felt like it but on a decision he had already made.

This is quite a challenge. While we don't have to make the food preparations we still have to prepare our hearts and make a commitment to be thankful whether we feel like it or not.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Book Review: Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller

After reading and enjoying Gary Burge's The Bible and the Land, I was eager to read Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller. However I found much of the information in this book I already knew. I suppose as modern day Christians we spent a lot of time studying the Gospels and other parts of the New Testament, to learn about Jesus and his context. We hear more sermons about Jesus than we do about the land of Israel and this is as it should be. Jesus is the focal point of our faith and therefore the focus of our studies. In comparison we know less about the context of the Old Testament than we do the New Testament.

However the fact that much of the content this book was not new to me was not the fault of Gary Burge who has done an excellent job of researching, explaining and recording many details from well-known stories of Jesus. In this short book, Burge covers six groups of Jesus' stories: The friend who came at midnight, the stories of excuses, stories about compassion, stories of forgiveness, finding the lost and the foolish builder. Burge does a great job explaining the background and the customs associated with these stories to give us a greater understanding of Jesus' message.

Again the book contains lovely photos and artwork.

A useful resource.

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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 be able to rely on flood irrigation rather that 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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