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July

The Bible Readings and Exercises for the month of July are now available. Use the main menu or click on this link.

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The Exile: Daniel 7

Life in exile under a foreign power was full of challenges for the jewish people. However, God’s power to rule over and through the Babylonian kings repeatedly vindicated Daniel and his friends. Tom Tokura completes our week of devotions in the first half of the book of Daniel.

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The Exile: Daniel 1

Life in exile under a foreign power was full of challenges for the Jewish people. However, God’s power to rule over and through the Babylonian kings repeatedly vindicated Daniel and his friends. Tom Tokura explores life in exile in this week’s daily devotions.

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The Exile: Lamentations 1

Stuart Holman explores the book of Lamentations, responding to the grief and tragedy of Judah’s exile into Babylon. As the Christian enters into Jeremiah’s lament, they also learn to lament over their own sin, their own failures and the tragedies of their lives in a fallen world. Lamentations trains God’s person to rightly grieve in the context of faith.

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Ecclesiastes part 3

In the very turbulent times of Israel’s decline away from God, a selection of Solomon’s great wisdom sayings is set before us in the book of Ecclesiastes. In this third part of ‘Ecclesiastes in Uncertain Times’, Vanessa Hughes helps us to draw upon God’s wisdom even when nothing makes sense.

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Submission

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline– The Path To Spiritual Growth

A summary of Foster’s chapter on the topic of submission:

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Suggestions to Consider

Here are some suggestions to consider including in your Regula Vitae. Please don’t try to include them all– choose some. And add your own, which will probably be much better than someone else’s! These are intended to start you thinking.

Simplicity and Generosity

  • Keep a diary of my discretionary purchases and reflect on them
  • Make a habit of giving things away

Silence and Solitude

  • At least four times a year, plan a half-day alone
  • Speak less. Listen more.

Community

  • Host people for a meal once a month
  • Build intentional friendships with…

Resting Well

Fasting and Lament

  • Fast at least one meal once a month
  • Observe the anniversary of a personal tragedy this year

Celebration

  • Thank God more often
  • Celebrate people’s milestones

Patience and Submission

  • Walk more. Drive less.
  • Meet with a mentor at least once every two months

Meditation and Prayer

Authentic Worship

  • Commit to a church community and join them for regular worship services
  • Regularly ask myself what “living authentically before God” might look like. See Micah 6:8.

The Discipline of Service

  • Sign up to volunteer regularly
  • Put others before myself in all things

Living the Story

  • Read scripture at least 5 days a week
  • Read two Christian biographies this year

Taken from Appendix One, The Tortoise and The Hare, by Andrew Shamy, Sam Bloore and Roshan Allpress

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An example Regula Vitae

Chris Webb from the Renovare Movement shares his own Regula Vitae. It seems pretty daunting at first but remember he’s be at this kind of thing for years. As you can see, he has committed himself to a range of activities and attitudes for the year– some regular, some occasional. But notice also that there are only twelve things, each with a certain simplicity. Chris himself says of them, “I would be the first to admit, it is not exactly earth-shaking. This handful of simple, straightforward commitments is not about to change the world. But it did change my world.”

A Personal Rule of Life

  • Pray the daily morning and evening prayers from the Anglican Common Book of Prayer (editor’s note: Dickson did not make me write this!)
  • Make a retreat once every year
  • Fast until the evening meal one day every week
  • Practice an ‘examination of conscience‘ one a week
  • Worship together with the church every Sunday, whenever possible
  • Participate in the Franciscan Community, including spiritual direction (mentoring).
  • Practice Simplicity: give generously and travel light
  • Practice Hospitality: open my home to all
  • Read Scripture daily
  • Study at least one other Christian book each month
  • Participate in the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) on Sundays and holy days, whenever possible
  • Seek to serve and honour God in my daily life and work.
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Welcome

Join us on a journey of following Jesus together. This blog is intended as a resource to help us all grow, to try new things, to read the bible in an organised way; all with the aim of being transformed more in the likeness of Jesus. There are opportunities for us to share our insights and experiences (its public so be thoughtful about what you share) as we read the broad sweep of the biblical narrative in a year and as we engage in some spiritual disciplines. Interested? Why not jump to the Introduction to find out more.

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Welcome

Join us on a journey of following Jesus together. This blog is intended as a resource to help us all grow, to try new things, to read the bible in an organised way; all with the aim of being transformed more in the likeness of Jesus. There are opportunities for us to share our insights and experiences (its public so be thoughtful about what you share) as we read the broad sweep of the biblical narrative in a year and as we engage in some spiritual disciplines. Interested? Why not jump to the Introduction to find out more.

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Isaiah 1:21-31. The City

21 See how the faithful city has become a prostitute!
She once was full of justice;
righteousness used to dwell in her—
but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross,
your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves;
they all love bribes and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them.

24 Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty,
the Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes
and avenge myself on my enemies.
25 I will turn my hand against you;
I will thoroughly purge away your dross
and remove all your impurities.
26 I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.”
27 Zion will be delivered with justice,
her penitent ones with righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will both be broken,
and those who forsake the LORD will perish.
29 “You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks
in which you have delighted;
you will be disgraced because of the gardens
that you have chosen.
30 You will be like an oak with fading leaves,
like a garden without water.
31 The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark;
both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire.” 

A city is its people. There are buildings and infrastructure, spaces and services– the physical environment. But the city is the collective identity of her inhabitants, displaying the collective will, values, culture and priorities of the people. That’s why Kiwis say, “The only problem with Australia is the Australians.”

And so Isaiah’s condemnation of Jerusalem is really all about her people. They have rejected righteousness, their pride turgid with sin. Corruption and oppression taint the leadership. They are culpable but the people have allowed them to continue (we get the leaders we tolerate and deserve).

And so God will act decisively (v24). He will avenge himself on his enemies– those people of the city who have defied his ways. The leadership of the city will be purged and God will provide the kind of leadership like Jerusalem enjoyed at the beginning: like King David, like Nathan the Prophet. Already in the book of Isaiah, the new future that God promises centres on a new leadership. Someone will come to Jerusalem who will once again rule in righteousness. All who oppose him will be brought low.

In the New Testament, the New Jerusalem is the Church. We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Learning from Isaiah, as the people of God, we are responsible to uphold our leadership in prayer, to honour them, to follow them, and to appoint those properly qualified under God to lead us. We want them to serve with excellence. We back them. We encourage them. And we are to hold them accountable if they should deviate from God’s ways.

Father, I pray for the leadership of our churches. Please raise up such godly people, well qualified and equipped, that we are guided and nurtured in righteousness and holiness. Amen.

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Isaiah 1:10-20. Leadership fail

10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts? 
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. 
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The people are guilty but who is responsible? The word is addressed to ‘the rulers of Sodom’ as well as ‘the people of Gomorah’. Sodom and Gomorah were the cites in Abraham’s day that had become a by-word for sin and debauchery of every kind. Their transgressions had so outraged God that he acted in judgment immediately, raining down fire and brimstone and wiping out all the people. But now God is calling his own people ‘Sodom’ and ‘Gomorah’. Something has gone badly wrong.

So who are these leaders that have so failed their people? Possibly the four kings listed in Isaiah 1:1, but verses 11-15 also insist that the religious leaders share  the responsibility for Judah’s and Israel’s failure. Their religious activities– rather than impressing God– are detestable to him. They are disgusting in his eyes; a joke. When the priests and religious leaders spread out their hands to pray, God blocks his ears and turns away. Why? Because those very hands are covered in blood.

There is no point trying to impress God, or ‘buy him off’, or placate him, with sacrifices, acts of worship, religious zeal or pious talk; there is no point when sin stains our souls, when justice is ignored, when wrong-doing oppresses the fatherless and the widow (v16-17).

This condemnation throws the Christian onto the horns of a dilemma. Does God mean that he won’t forgive me until I improve my life? Do I have to become ‘good enough’ for God to take away my sins? No more church until I stop lying, lusting and law-breaking… After all, verse 16 calls me to ‘wash and make myself clean’. Certainly, I must own personal culpability for my sin. I own up to it before God. Further, the call to repent requires a personal act of the will. I do choose to participate in God’s process of forgiveness and restoration. I respond to his invitation to, “Come now, let us settle the matter” (v18).

God promises that though our sins are like scarlet– brazen, public, red, gauche and shameful– he will make them like snow. Not just ‘white’ but blazingly white. Pure snow in bright sunshine is so dazzling that we wear protective sunglasses or goggles so that the reflection doesn’t harm our eyes. In the same way, God’s desire is that his righteousness and glory would shine through his purified people. He wants to remove our sin so that his true nature is revealed by his image bearers to a marvelling creation. God wants to forgive us because he loves us, but also because in this way his greater glory is revealed.

Continuing our meditation on verse 18, we notice that the tense is future. God promises that we will be white as snow. Though crimson, we will be like washed pure wool. The prophecy looks forward to the day when Jesus Christ will shed his blood, will take responsibility for our sin, and will bring forgiveness and reconciliation. We can look back on that event at Calvary. And we also look forward to its final consummation, at his Return, when we truly will reflect God’s majesty to all of creation. Bring it on.

For this reason, the New Testament holds religious leaders to a higher standard than their flocks. It matters not whether we are Small Group Leaders, Sunday School teachers or Archbishops. The Christian leader must embody the character of Jesus Christ with authenticity and transparency. Who is worthy of such a calling? No one. Except that God himself qualifies us by his gracious work of forgiveness, transformation and commissioning (2 Cor 5:18-21; 1 Thess 2:3-6).

Dear Lord and Father, please forgive all my sins. Turn scarlet to snow, the blood of your Son into purity for sinners such as me. By your grace at work in me, grant than your righteousness and goodness would shine through me for the benefit of others and glory of your name. Amen.