Saturday, December 20, 2014

Devotional Thought : Ezra 6:3-4

In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. Ezra 6:3-4

"The temple that King Solomon built for the LORD was sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high" (1 Kings 6:2).

The new temple was expected to be much larger and twice as high as Solomon's. Furthermore Cyrus was prepared to pay for it, yet it seems the resulting temple was smaller than Solomon's (3:12).

According to Josephus Herod blamed Cyrus for determining the measurements "… nor let any one condemn our fathers for their negligence or want of piety herein, for it was not their fault that the temple was no higher; for they were Cyrus, and Darius the son of Hystaspes, who determined the measures for its rebuilding; … they had not the opportunity to follow the original model of this pious edifice, nor could raise it to its ancient altitude" (Josephus 380-390).

The Bible does not apportion blame or explain why it wasn't built to specifications. Was the project was too overwhelming for the small group of newly returned exiles? Perhaps they lack the faith or willingness to commit to such an undertaking.

It is interesting that it was Herod, of dubious Jewish heritage, who restored the Temple to its original glory. Even Jesus' disciples were impressed: “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1).

God will fulfil his purposes. Let's exercise our faith and be part of that fulfilment, rather than leaving it to others.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Belated Blog Tour : The Songs of Jesse Adams

I was in Israel when the blog tour for The Songs of Jesse Adams by Peter McKinnon was organized by Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance . However I thought I would post the details now:

is introducing

Acorn Press


Peter McKinnon

About the Book:
Set in the turmoil of social change and political unrest of Australia during the 1960s, The Songs of Jesse Adams traces the meteoric rise of a boy from the bush – a farmer’s son who breaks away to follow his heart, his dreams and his love of music. But, as Jesse travels with his band and the crowds gather, it becomes clear that something else is afoot. This rock singer captivates and transforms a host of fans who hear his songs and encounter his touch.

Lives are changed in unexpected ways and the enigmatic Jesse becomes a symbol of hope and freedom for those on society’s edge. But not all will celebrate the rising tide of influence of this charismatic figure whose words and actions challenge those in power – the media, the politicians, the church. In one tumultuous week this clash of ideals comes to a head – with profound consequences.

Awash in all the protest and collapse of conservative Australia, the colour and madness that was the sixties, The Songs of Jesse Adams is a tale of conflict, betrayal and tragedy, but ultimately the triumph of love.

*Warning this book contains some language that some readers may find offensive*

About the Author:
For seventeen years, Peter McKinnon held senior roles in some of Australia’s largest corporations, with a focus on human behaviour and organisational effectiveness. This culminated in his appointment in 1999 as Executive General Manager, People & Culture, of Australia’s then largest financial organisation, National Australia Bank.

In late 2006, Peter was approached to head up the global human resources function of World Vision International(WVI), based in Los Angeles. WVI is the world’s largest humanitarian aid organisation, with over 40,000 employees in 100 different countries and countless volunteers working in highly diverse and challenging settings.

When he returned to Australia in late 2009, he committed to pursuing his creative interests more directly and began to write. ‘The Songs of Jesse Adams’ is the result.

Peter has been published in publications as wide-ranging as the ‘Age’, ‘The Australian Women’s Weekly’ and ‘4 x 4‘ magazine and regards winning a Pacific cruise for his writing as his crowning achievement in this field ! He has also written and produced several musicals.

Peter is a qualified psychologist, has studied theology, worked briefly as a minister and served on the Council of the MCD University of Divinity.

He lives in Melbourne with his wife Julie. This is his first book.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Journal of my trip to Israel – Day 5 & 6

Day 5
This morning we visited three museums. First the Israeli Museum which had an enormous model of the Old City which was very helpful in understanding where things were in Jesus' time.

Second the Shrine of the Book where they keep the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls were very neatly written.

Dead Sea Scrolls spoke of dedication, excellence, skill of the scribes. Their work blessed future generations. Excellences points to God whereas perfectionism points to man.

Third the Holocaust Memorial which was quite confronting. However the most amazing thing was the connection made between the loss of six millions Jews in World War II with the fact that three years later Israel was declared a nation.

In the Holocaust memorial there was no sense of blaming God or disbelieving in God but rather that out of suffering came rebirth. Their suffering had a purpose. There was no sense of blaming God or disbelieving in God. Germany is now Israel's biggest supporter after the US.

This afternoon we started visiting some of the sites connected with Jesus' last week - upper room, pit where Jesus was held overnight and courtyard where Peter denied Jesus. In the 4th century when Christianity was recognized they seemed to build a church on every significant Christian site in Jerusalem. Still, it is the location that is important not the building.

Day 6
Today the bus took us to the base of the Mount of Olives and we walked in the Kidron Valley where there are some huge tombs there carved from the cliffs. Then we went to a garden which is very probably Gethsemane. There is now a church there but it was good to be there and read the Gospel account. This church had good acoustics and it is common for groups to sing. Our group sang How Great Thou Art and How Great is our God. The Canadian group after us sang, Holy Holy Holy so we stay and sang that too. It was like a foretaste of heaven to sing with Christians from other nations.

Garden of Gethsemane - in a challenging situation like the one the disciples found themselves in, the human response is fight or flight. Peter's response was to fight but the other disciples' response was to flee. However God often wants us to stay and wait for his purposes to be revealed. The disciples were forgiven yet they learnt more godly responses through God's enabling.

Then we went into the Old City and saw the pool of Bethsaida where Jesus healed the man who was apparently waiting for the angel to stir the water.

Pool of Bethsaida – was possibly by a temple to another god. People hedge their bets thinking if one god doesn't heal me maybe another one will. God's miracles are not like pieces of a pie. God has unlimited resources. No one else can steal my blessings or my miracles!

From there we walked the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross). The path Jesus walked after Pilate handed him over to be crucified. It is quite likely the path as the roads are basically in the same place as they were then. After lunch we went to the Holy Sceptre - the place where Jesus was crucified and buried – it is unrecognisable with religious buildings all over and around it.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Devotional Thought : Ezra 4:1

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel …and said, “Let us help you build…" Ezra 4:1

Ezra immediately identifies these people as "enemies" yet it seems they want to help. They said, "because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here" (v.2).

The problem was they did not worship the Lord exclusively. If the returning exiles had let these people help them they would have had some claim to the temple and used it to worship other gods. These people eventually became Samaritans.

Some commentators criticise the Jews for not letting these people help and suggest that the Samaritans would not have become a separate group of people if they had. Yet the Jews' motive was to keep their worship of God pure and have nothing to do with foreign gods. This is entirely understandable when you consider that they have just returned from a seventy year exile which came about largely because of idol worship.

Perhaps the things that really confirms these people as enemies is once they weren't allowed to help they become persistently discouraging (v.4-5). It revealed their mixed motives.

Sometimes not being allowed to help is the thing that reveals motives. How to we feel when we are stopped by others from performing some act of service or helpful deed? Do we become angry and disillusioned? If so, perhaps we need to consider why we offered to help. Were we hoping to gain something in return? A monetary gift, grateful acknowledgement, favour, or a boost in our self-esteem?

Let's do our giving unconditionally simply because we want to bless someone else.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bringing God pleasure

Eric Liddell is credited with saying, “God made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” God was the one who created us with the ability to do certain things well. It is therefore somewhat surprising he can take pleasure in those very things. If we have artistic ability and create a painting, God is pleased. Yet surely God could have produced a much better painting and he has. He has given us sunsets and sunrises which far outstrip our abilities with paint and brushes. God is an extravagant Creator. He does not just create one type of flower or one type of dog but he created masses of varieties. He doesn’t create one type of grass or one type of heavenly body but a vast assortment. Nevertheless God is like a parent who takes pleasure in the pictures his children bring home from kindergarten.

For a long time I associated God’s pleasure with more “sacred” activities like going to church and Bible study groups. However God does not distinguish between secular and sacred activities. Everything is sacred. This means whether I am using my creative abilities, my homemaking ability, or my abilities in church activities, we can bring God pleasure by the way we use the gifts he has given us. God intends for us to enjoy doing things for which he has gifted us. 1 Timothy 6:17 tells us that people should “…put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” He expects us to enjoy those things he has provided.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Journal of my trip to Israel – Day 3 & 4

Day 3
Today we travelled to Tel Arad where there is an archaeological site with six levels of settlement dating from the period of the Judean Kingdom – 900 to 600 BC. The fortress area contained a temple with a Holy of Holies which is surprising since the only Holy of Holies was supposed to be in Jerusalem. Residential structures were also found. On the same site there are also remains of a Canaanite city from about 3000 BC.

Archaeology often has different chronology to Biblical history. Is this because the Bible doesn't record history accurately? Is this because archaeological timing is inaccurate? Is it because we only have some of the information and not all? Interesting that the central stones in every house in Tel Arad are broken and suggests a deliberate act of violence perpetrated against foreign gods.

Next went to Tel Beer Shev - where there are also many layers of civilizations. They keep building on the same sites because they are on a travel route and near a water source. The first fortified city was established here in about 900 BC as one of the important administrative centres of the Kingdom of Judah. A four-horned altar was reconstructed from stones found buried in the storehouse. The fact that it has been dismantled and buried attests to a change in the kingdom's ritual customs. This is in line with the religious reforms initiated by King Hezekiah (800 BC) according to the Bible 2 Kings 18:1-4. (The temple discovered at Tel Arad was also done away with in this reform.). A well was also found at the gate and some feel this is connected to the one mentioned in Genesis 21:27-32.

Then we visited the Australian war memorial for Light Horse Brigade in WWI. The Australian Light Horses secured the water supply at Beersheba and thus ensure victory over the Turks which lead to freeing Jerusalem and eventually paved the way for Israel to become a country again.

Arrived in Jerusalem just as it was getting dark.

Day 4
This morning we went to the Mount of Olives where there are great views of the Old City. It was emotional looking at the Old City from the Mount of Olives thinking about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. There are churches on all the significant Christian spots so there is a church here called Dominus Flevit meaning, The Lord has wept.

There's lots of grave stones in the Kidron Valley. This is where it is believed that Elijah had his vision of the dry bones being resurrected.

Interesting people wanted to be buried in the Kidron Valley in order to be the first to be resurrected! They spend big money to get this prime real estate to be buried here. Do they really think this is how God operates?

We then went to Herodian - another of Herod's palaces and an important archaeological site.

From there we went to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity which was somewhat of an anti climax since the church has been built over the spot and looks nothing like it would have done. However we also went to the Shepherds Fields where there are caves and it felt a bit more like Jesus' time.

When King Herod asked where the Messiah would be born the religious people of the day knew, but they did nothing because he didn't met their expectations. Likewise God may want to do something outside our expectation.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Devotional Thought : Micah 4:2

Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Micah 4:2

One day the nations will want to know God's ways. One day it will be obviously living God's ways is the best way to live. One day the world will realize how wonderful it is to live under God's government.

God chose the nation of Israel to show the world how good it was to live under his Sovereignty. Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations. Through Abraham it was clear that God's intention was for his blessings to flow to all nations (Genesis 12:3). Yet Israel did not follow God's commands and therefore did not give God a good name among the nations. In fact God's complaint against his people as recorded in Ezekiel 36:16-38 was instead of making following God attractive to other nations, they had profaned his holy name.

Nevertheless in the New Testament we find Paul and Barnabas quoting Isaiah 42:6 in Acts 13:47 expressing the thought that they were called to be "a light for the Gentiles."

Today God's intention is that Christians are light to their communities so that people will see how good it is to live according to God's ways. The way we live our lives is suppose to be attractive to others. It doesn't mean our life will be without difficulties but it should be seen that our lives have meaning and purpose, that we have a source of strength and peace beyond ourselves, and that we have a hope that defies logic.

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