Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

21 February 2010

Loving Leviticus

I remember sitting in church one day a good ten or more years ago.  One of the readings was, from memory, what I regarded at the time as a tedious description of some apsect about how the tabernacle was to be constructed.  After the reading I jokingly whispered to the minister's wife sitting next to me, "Not much devotional juice in that."  To which she gently rebuked me by commenting that if it was in the Bible it must be important and so there must be something for us to learn from it.  Ouch!!

If you started a Bible reading plan on the 1st January that gets you through the Old Testament once in the year then there is a fair chance that like me, you reached Leviticus this week.  Leviticus, I'd be pretty sure, has been the undoing of many a resolve to read through the Bible in a year.  Even a resolve to just get through the Bible from cover to cover regardless of how long it takes.  You've done the hard yards in the back half of Exodus.  And then BOOF! - you hit pages and pages of Levitical law.  And beyond that looms lots of census material and long lists of genealogies to wade through in Numbers and more laws in Deuteronomy.  For those in the southern hemisphere, add to this that the holidays are well and truly over and the busy year is up and away.  For those in the northern hemisphere, it is the end of a long, cold winter. (Especially this year, it seems.)  It all just gets too hard.

So it may be surprising to learn that there is someone out there who really enjoys Leviticus.  And that would be me.  And yes, that astonished, shocked, quizzical, amused look that you're giving me through the computer screen...I've seen it before.  But yes, I love reading Leviticus.  So if you are up to Leviticus in your reading plan and you're finding yourself floundering, or if you tend to skip over it altogether, let me give you some hope.  It is really worth persevering through this book of the Bible. 

If you are one who marks up your Bible, take a new colour (maybe it doesn't need to be new...maybe you haven't underlined all that much in Leviticus before!) and underline every repetition of "...because the LORD commanded it" and "Be holy because I am holy" or words to that effect.  If you don't mark your Bible, make a mental (or written) note of every time you strike these phrases. 

What comes forth is a picture of a God who commands.  A picture of a holy God who has every right to command.  And whose commands deserve to be fully respected and observed because of His holiness.  It is easy to get lost in the detail of the Levitical laws.  But riding over the top and right through the middle of these long, long lists is a truly magnificent portrait of God's holiness.  Watching this theme grow and develop helps to make sense of the detail.

And it is worth keeping Leviticus in its bigger context as the middle book of the Pentateuch.

In Genesis we meet God - the God of eternity who creates, sustains, judges, shows mercy, deals with humanity in a personal and loving way.  This is amplified in the first half of Exodus as we see His dealings with the Israelites in Egypt and as He delivers them out of slavery wondrously. 

The second half of Exodus is where it all starts to get hard...twenty chapters of law and extremely detailed instruction regarding religious observance and the building of the tabernacle. 

But something really amazing happens in the middle of this part of Exodus too.  After eleven chapters of detailed description, just as we are beginning to get a little bored, it turns out the Israelites were getting bored too and got tired of waiting on God and Moses.  So instead instead of waiting any more, they built themselves a statue of a golden calf and started to worship it.  The statue is roughly hewn - thrown together in a matter of days. It is striking that after chapters and chapters of minute detail about the tabernacle where God would dwell, the golden calf incident is covered in one short chapter - all that it is worth. There is no careful detail.  And then we return to more careful detail of the actual construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings, following to the letter all the instructions that were given beforehand.  Why? This God's tabernacle and He is worthy of the care and the detail.  It is really worthwhile pushing through the second half of Exodus, just to experience the flow of the writing and the jarring golden calf incident in the midst of the precise beauty God commands for His tabernacle and for the exacting worship that will take place within it.

And so we reach Leviticus.  More detail about religious observance and also personal and civic conduct.  Why the detail?  Because God is holy and He is worthy of being worshipped appropriately.

In Numbers we see these themes further amplified - God's holiness, the attention to detail in honouring and worshipping God, the Israelites thriving under God's rule and being punished when they failed to observe it.

And if you keep tracking these themes of following God's commands because He is holy - and keep underlining them as you go - it will have built up to such a crescendo that it will just take your breath away in Deuteronomy.

These are hard books to read.  But they are magnificent and foundational in knowing God.  Ask Him to help you as you read through these books.  Ask Him to help you get through them. Ask Him to help you learn more about Him and His holiness.  Ask Him to help you to love these books.  You won't be disappointed.  And for now, stick with Leviticus. 

Keep my commands and follow them.  I am the LORD.  Do not profane my holy name.  I must be acknowldeded as holy by the Israelites.  I am the LORD, who makes you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God.  I am the LORD.  Leviticus 22:31-33

17 February 2010

Christ is Wonderful in His Love - Octavius Winslow

Christ is wonderful in His love. Love was the first and eternal link in the golden chain lowered from the highest throne in heaven down to the lowest depth of earth. That Christ should love us was the beginning of wonders. When we endeavor to comprehend that love, measure it, fathom it, scale it—we learn that it has heights we cannot reach, depths we cannot sound, lengths and breadths we cannot measure! Such love, such divine love, such infinite love, such everlasting love, such redeeming, dying love, is an ocean whose eternal waves waft into our fallen world every wonder of God and of heaven.

That Jesus should love such beings as us—that He should love us while we were yet sinners—that He should set His heart upon us, choose us, die for us, call us, and finally bring us to glory, knowing what we were, and what we would prove to be—oh, this is wondrous love indeed! Plunge into this fathomless, boundless Ocean of love, O sin-burdened one! It will cover all your sins, it will efface all your guilt; it will flood over all your unworthiness—and, floating upon its golden waves, it will gently waft you to the shore of eternal blessedness!

How often have you wondered why Christ should set His heart upon such a one as you! And is it not a wonder that, amid all your fickleness and backslidings and cold, base returns, this love of God towards you has not chilled or changed? But do not rest, do not be satisfied with your present limited experience of Christ's wonderful love. It is so marvelously great. This Ocean of love is so fathomless, boundless, and inexhaustible, you may plunge, with all your infirmities, sins, and sorrows, into its fullness, exclaiming, "O, the depth!" The well is deep! Drink abundantly, O beloved!

Octavius Winslow (1808 - 1878)

15 February 2010

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

It took me a little while to get used to my new Bible (which isn't really all that new any more) with its different font and layout.  Of course the words are all the same.  But as it turns out, even though it is sometimes a bit harder to fine a particular verse these days, a different layout does have its benefits.

As I read Mark 5 and 6 recently, instead of having the story of Jesus raising Jairus' daughter and healing the woman subject to bleeding for twelve years on one page and Jesus being scoffed at by those in his hometown over the page, there they were, separated by a column, on the same page.  Side by side.  And seeing them side by side made for a striking comparison. 

On the left hand side of the page there was Jairus, the synagogue ruler and a sick woman. 

Seeing Jesus, Jairus fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." So Jesus went with him.  Mark 5:22,23

And then a little down the track...

While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher any more?" Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe." Mark 5:35,36

"Just believe," said Jesus.

And Jairus, in the tumult of that moment, in the midst of a large crowd pressing in on Jesus, even when his own worst fears for his daughter had been realised, even still, Jairus believed.  At the end of that chapter we read that Jesus went to Jairus' house and his daughter was brought back to life.

In the middle of the Jairus story is another of a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.

She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. Mark 5:26-29

This woman had experienced twelves years of increasing weakness due to her condition, consistently ritually unclean according to Jewish law because of her bleeding and as a result of both, poor and marginalised in every respect.  She dared to be in the crowd (which would have cause all who brushed up against her to become ritually unclean as well) and then despite her circumstances, she dared to touch Jesus.  Like Jairus, she believed.  And Jesus healed her.

Really, you couldn't hope to meet two more different people.  Jairus was a respected male leader of the synagogue.  The woman was a ritually unclean female outcast.  But there were many similarities too.  Both approached Jesus with reverence and honour -  Jairus prostrating himself at Jesus feet and pleading for help, the woman approaching him trembling with fear.  Both believed that Jesus could help them and pursued him with a desperation and urgency founded in trust and faith.  Both experienced healing because they believed.

And then on the right hand side of the page...

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
Mark 6:1-6

No falling respectfully at the feet of God's Son here. No taking risks to be in Jesus presence. No faith or trust driven by a sense of urgency. No reverence.

Seeing these two groups of people side by side was striking.  I was truly amazed at the faith of Jairus and the woman.  And all the more for the scoffers sitting on the other side of the column. 

It was amazing and yet it was condemning.  When I read these passages, flat from too many busy days and too many late nights in a row, I felt more like the folk in Jesus hometown than Jairus or the woman.  No, I wasn't scoffing at Jesus with my words.  But my tired, yawning ambivalence spoke louder than words.  That morning I didn't approach Jesus with a sense of desperate hunger or reverence. There was no urgency or honouring Jesus.  And I was ashamed.

But shame brought repentance.  And repentance brought forgiveness.  Jesus came for all.  For men and for women.  For adults and for children.  For the esteemed and for those marginalised and cast out.   "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Romans 3:23,24.

I am forgiven.  But I am still challenged.  And that is a good place to be for now.

12 February 2010

Can you trust a CD of hymns?

I'm pretty loyal when it comes to CDs.  A few years ago it this...

And then two years ago it was this...

And then last year it was this...

One CD seems to take my attention at a time. 

And here is the test of good CD.  Listen to it almost exclusively for a year or more.  When at last you have finally overdone it, put it away for time.  Down the track pull it out and put it on again.  If, even after its previous hammering, it moves you as it once did - to joy, to tears, to love God more - it is a good CD.  These three all stood up to the test of time.

But can you trust a complition of hymns?  Not always. I've listened to a few that have been scarring experiences.  I still shudder at the memory!  And the title of this one...
The Best Modern Hymns
...well, that would scare me off in an instant.  So it's a good thing my husband bought it and played it before I saw the title!  It is now loaded onto my iPod and I listen to it a lot. This will be the CD of the year for me.

In fact this one comes with three CDs featuring 50 hymns in total.  It was produced in England in 2008.  It includes some of the modern classics like "How Deep the Father's Love" and "In Christ Alone."  There are some of those older hymns in their modern guises like "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less".  In some cases they have taken a dear old hymn like "It is well with my Soul", written new words and music for the verses and blended the new material into the original chorus.  And there are some which I assume are just new.  I have to say that there is a small handful of songs that are not to my taste but that is going to happen in a collection of fifty songs. But for the other 45 hymns, this is a GREAT collection.

To my ears it is well produced.  The balance between instruments and voices is good - one doesn't overwhelm the other.  The instrumental arrangements are terrific.  And the vocal performances are plain and unfussy (no jazzing about, they just sing the songs) but they are beautifully interpreted and well delivered. The overall sound is clean and crisp.  And the words...the words are inspiring.

This is a CD that invites joy, comfort, challenge, worship.  If you love God, singing in church and good music, you will probably enjoy this collection.  This is a CD of hymns I think you can trust.

08 February 2010

The Victorian Bushfires - a Year Later

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of "Black Saturday" - the day of the catastrophic bushfires in Victoria that claimed 173 lives and shattered countless others.  Last night the ABC screened a documentary called Inside the Firestorm which outlined the events of that day, narrated mostly through the stories of some of those who were there, and it showed a great deal of footage from various sources - a lot from home video and mobile phones.

It was sobering television.  I saw very little last year as the events were unfolding.  We had a total media ban in our household because we didn't want our boys to see the horror of it.  I kept up with events via snippets of news heard on the radio and reading the ABC News website when they weren't around.  Last night was the first time I saw the extent of the fires and the extent of the damage to property and to people's lives. 
When I reflected on the Victorian bushfires last year I finished up with a list of prayer points.  That list went like this...

We grieve and we feel helpless. But we can pray. For those of us who are physically remote from the fires and in no danger, let us make good use of our safety to give time over to praying for those so desperately in need – for those grieving the loss of loved ones, homes (and all that was stored away within their walls), livelihoods and community; for those who have escaped and are numb but will soon start to feel again; for those who are at work tirelessly fighting the fires and tending to the injured and grieving; and for those who will work out how to manage this dreadful situation in the short term and the long term. And let us pray that those deeply affected may turn to the deep comfort found in God who gives real hope when all else is lost. Amen

It strikes me that apart from the prayer for "those who are at work tirelessly fighting the fires", the rest of these prayer points remain relevant a year down the track.  Some of the survivors have built new homes or are in the process of doing so, some have bought new homes and some have moved away and won't be coming back.  The work of rebuilding the physical shells in which these people live is underway.  But that is only the very beginning of getting over something like this.  I imagine yesterday was a very hard day for most who experienced the fires (and we ought not to forget those who fought the fires, those involved in emergency services and those in front line caring services.)  First anniversaries of hard events are never easy.  Maybe today things will be a little easier for those affected by the fires.  But I think they still need our prayers.

[The photo is an original, taken looking over our back fence, while the local fire brigade put out a small fire in the bush behind us last summer.  This is one reason (although not the main one) we sheltered our boys from too much information about the Victorian fires.] 

02 February 2010

Calling all Bloggers - Help Needed

In my public service announcement two posts ago, I commented on how the updated Blogger editor makes it easy to download photos and move them around in one's blog without all the previous frustrations of blogger completely re-arranging one's post.  I discovered this new editor a few weeks ago quite by accident.  I'm guessing it was somewhere on the dashboard but it may have been buried further in.  (Not too much further in, mind you because I wouldn't have otherwise found it!)  To update the editor simply requires you to find the "Update your editor" (or words to that effect) link and click. 

Sarah would like to know where this update can be found.  Could some sweet blogger who hasn't done this update yet have a look around and if you find where it is and what it says, could you please place a comment here telling us all where it is and what it said exactly then I can direct Sarah to it and others will benefit too.  Just imagine, no more Blogger grey hairs!! 

And while I am asking for help, some of you clever bloggers have a function on your comments page where I get to tick a box to receive an email notifying me of comments others have made in relation to posts where I have left a comment.  (That's a very long sentence!)  Can anyone tell me how to do that?