Saturday, June 25, 2016

Devotional Thought : Leviticus 9:24

Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. Leviticus 9:24

Wenham in Constable's Commentary writes: "This chapter brings out very clearly the purpose and character of Old Testament worship. All the pomp and ceremony served one end: the appearance of the glory of God." It's also interesting to note that this is the first time in the Bible a word for joy is used.

The purpose of worship is to draw near to God. Then he will draw near to us (James 4:8) and we will experience his presence. Sometimes this will be almost tangible but most times we will simply know we are in his presence because of his promise (Matthew 18:20).

We might view worship as a duty or a sacrifice and while there is sacrifice involved, God's intention is to bless. David writes in Psalm 16:11 "you will fill me with joy in your presence". God wants us to draw near to him so we can receive his joy.

The sacrificial system in Old Testament times was quite elaborate and costly as they sacrificed animals which could otherwise have been eaten. Yet they remind us of God's costly sacrifice – his own Son. As we focus on God surrendering his Son for us, anything we forego is minor in comparison. Any sense of duty we feel dissolves, as our response becomes one of gratitude.

Perhaps we are reluctant to draw near to God? May be we are challenged by his holiness and our lack of it. God's presence can be like a refining fire to us (Malachi 3:3). Yet his intention is to purify us so we can experience his joy.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book Review : No Ordinary View

No Ordinary View is the second in Naomi Reed's series of books about her time as a missionary in Nepal. It overlaps slightly with her first book, My Seventh Monsoon and like her first book is autobiographical in nature.

It is set in Dhulikhel in the Himalayas and the views from their house are amazing but sometimes the most beautiful places in the world seem to be furthest from God spiritually. It is challenging to read of the poverty and the political uncertainty of Nepal and it makes you wonder how one family or many families can make a difference. Yet God would say, 'Who dares despise the day of small things' (Zechariah 4:10). Naomi and her husband Darren were able to leave Nepal knowing they had trained ten Nepalese to carry on their work and a replacement for Darren's position arrived on their last day. So it is also an encouraging book and finishes with a sense of achievement that they had completed the task God had given them.

Naomi writes in an easy to read way which connects with the reader. She relates many of the lessons she learnt in trusting God during difficult times. It was heartening to read how God provided and worked through their circumstances, even though they weren't able to help everyone in need. I was glad I knew they arrived safely back in Australia as I read, because there were several times when their lives were in danger and the tension was apparent.

Overall an entertaining read.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Being Better Than Average

If we compare the parable of the prodigal son and the parable of the talents, we notice the youngest son received no rebuke for wasting his father's inheritance on wild living (Luke 15:22), whereas the man who had buried his talent received what is an unusually severe rebuke. "And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30). We would be more inclined to be compassionate toward this man, as he had not done anything illegal, immoral, or even wasteful or wild. Both the Pharisee at the time and the Church in our day may applaud people who avoid wrongdoing, but the absence of wrong isn't enough to earn God's approval.

The parable of the talents suggests this master would have been satisfied with even a small return—just interest—so there was no sign he was a "hard master." The man's laziness suggests deep down he thought his master was "soft." He expected his master to be lenient and let him get away with his inaction. This parable has worrying implications for those who think they will get to heaven because they have lived a better than average life.

Researchers have found 90% of people think they are a better than average driver. This is of course not possible, but it points out how easy it is for us to compare ourselves to others and think we are better than we are. I'm sure there are lots of other areas in life where we think we are better than average. It's this belief of being better than average that makes us think we will gain God's approval but we are seriously mistaken.

It was the prodigal son who was welcome into his father's house when he didn't try to justifying himself. Instead he became humble and received the father's mercy.

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Devotional Thought : Leviticus 6:4-5

… they must return what they have stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to them, or the lost property they found, or whatever it was they swore falsely about. They must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day they present their guilt offering. Leviticus 6:4-5

A common theme in the Old Testament is restitution which varies according to the offense and the attitude of the offender. In the situation described here, restitution is made in full plus a fifth when they 'realize their guilt' (v. 4). They have voluntarily realized the error of their ways and sort to make amends.

Elsewhere when someone is caught with stolen goods in their possession they are to pay back double (Exodus 22:4 & 9) and if they are unable to give back the stolen property because they've disposed of it, they are to pay back four or fivefold (Exodus 22:1). These directives were known and taken seriously as we can see in Zacchaeus' response to Jesus (Luke 19:8).

It's remarkable that after restitution has been made the victim is better off than if the item hadn't been taken. The forgiven person is better off than before they sinned. This is a Biblical principle and even God restores people double for their misfortune. This restitution represents stolen property being found in another's possession. Not that God steals from us but sometimes he removes his protection and the devil has an opportunity. This is seen most clearly in Job 1 & 2 and in his restoration in 42:12 (also Isaiah 61:7, Zechariah 9:12). God accepts responsible for evil being in the world, even though it was caused by Adam's disobedience.

We always receive more than we lose.

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Review : Original Design

Original Design : Set Free to be Who God Created by Denise Buss is an autobiographical account of a three year period in Denise' life where she experiences much emotional healing.

Denise's story begins with an emotional crisis where she is suicidal. She is about forty at this time. Her relationship with God had started well enough but now has grown distant. Nevertheless she has a pastor friend, Ed who she calls and asks for prayer. This relatively small step towards God begins an amazing journey which continues for the next few years.

Ed and Denise meet together regularly, sometimes several times a week for several hours. God reveals many of Denise's false beliefs which stem from childhood traumas. The devil had been able to use the pain of her childhood to plant his lies. Over time Denise gradually replaces these lies with God's truth but the book illustrates this is not as easy or simple thing to do. Lies which have been part of our lives for decades are hard to dislodge. Nevertheless through Denise's persistence, Ed commitment and God's enabling power, Denise experiences many break throughs and healing. So much so she senses that God has returned her to his 'original design' for her life.

Denise was fortunate to have such a good friend in Ed who was available to spend so much time praying with Denise. So while the book offer much hope for healing, it's also a challenge as to how we ministry to people with deep emotional problems. Are we prepared to spend this much time helping someone in need? Is it sustainable? Are there other way of ministering that we should be considering?

I found Denise story easy to read, though towards the latter stages it became a little repetitive. I was also disappointed with the ending. Our journey with God never ends and he always has new things to teach us, so it can be difficult to find a good place to end a testimony. For Denise, she believes she is about to face another challenge but the book finishes before this eventuates. It made for a slightly unsatisfying ending.

Despite these minor issues, overall I found it an amazing and absorbing read.

With thanks to Denise for providing a free book for review.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

On why you need flour in a flood

My husband first pastoral position was with a small church in rural Queensland. I have mostly lived in small country towns and thought I was reasonably familiar with country life but moving to this isolated farming community was a cultural shock.

One day, not long before we went to Queensland, I was making a cake, which means it must have been one of my children's birthdays, since I had no other reason for making a cake, and I ran out of cocoa. I left my kitchen walked over the road, down a couple of shops and entered the supermarket. I bought the cocoa, returned home and finished making the cake. We then moved to Queensland where my nearest shop was a 20 minute drive.

I remember the ladies at the church trying to be helpful and telling me to make sure I had plenty of flour in case there was a flood. I had no idea why I would need flour during a flood. The only picture that came to mind was people on television making sand bags to keep the water out of their homes and I wondered if flour could be used as some sort of sand bag. This didn't seem likely so I didn't buy flour. I eventually found out that the flour was to make bread if the roads were flooded and I couldn't get to the shops. I thought, "Wouldn't I need yeast for that?"

God was kind. When we were flooded in for several days, I had been shopping the day before the rain started.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Devotional Thought : Leviticus 2:2

The priest shall take a handful of the flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. Leviticus 2:2

(From Constable's Commentary) "By offering this sacrifice, the offerer was saying that he viewed all the work that he did as 'an offering to the Lord'. The meal offering appears to have been acceptable only when offered along with the burnt offering. This requirement taught that one's works were acceptable to God only when they accompanied the offerer's consecration of himself to God."

From the beginning, God was seeking to teach his people that our works aren't an acceptable way of atoning for our sins. It's remarkable that people never really believe this and generation after generation continue to look for ways of relieving guilt feelings by performing either penance or works of service.

Seeking God for forgiveness doesn't occur to us because it doesn't seem just to receive something as precious as forgiveness for free. Besides, we are looking for ways to feel better without admitting our inadequacies, without losing our self-sufficient attitude and without humbling ourselves. Deep down we think we are able to pay off our sense of indebtedness since our sins aren't that bad and we aren't too far short of God's standard.

God's word paints a different picture. God's holiness is much more intense than we realize and our good works are nothing more than 'filthy rags' (Isaiah 64:6). We are like the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) who has no idea how much he has been forgiven so he thinks he is able to pay it back.

Forgiveness is available if we are prepare to come to God on his terms. Before offering our work, we offer ourselves.

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