Life to barren places (Pursuing and prizing the presence of God Part 6)

Psalm 84 is full of clues to pursuing and prizing the presence of God. So far I have got to verse 6:

Psalm 84:6  As they go through the Valley of Baca

they make it a place of springs;

the early rain also covers it with pools.

As we seek pursue and prize the presence of God we bring water to dry places, light to dark places, life to barren places. God’s presence is like light and water and life. Light is not simply the opposite of darkness. Water is not simply the opposite of dryness. Life is not simply the opposite of inert matter. These are things of substance. Their opposites speak of lack, something is missing. When light comes, darkness is expelled, where water flows the desert is hydrated. This verse tells us that as we dwell in the presence of God we will bring light and life and refreshing to places of darkness, drying and death. These things will not snuff us out or wear us down. Darkness cannot dim the light but light can illuminate the shadows.

One cannot help but see the Holy Spirit here. Jesus said “come to me and drink”. He was talking about the third person of the trinity who Jesus said would fall down upon us and bubble up within us. The prophet Ezekiel foresaw a temple with a stream flowing from it that turned into a river and brought life to the land around it. God’s dwelling place is a source of life and since he dwells amoung his people the church should be/can be a source of blessing to those around it.

For me there has always been something mysteriouse andexciting about the biblical terms “early rains” and “latter rains“. In the middle east the early rains were in autumn in October and November (some say this is when they planted most crops) and the later rains were in spring in February and March (presumably when they grew and ripened for harvest). Good harvests depended on both rains coming. There is so much said about this vivid picture and much controversy around it that I quickly got bogged down when I looked into it. I will blog on it more later but for now I just want to enjoy the picture of God raining down water on his people as they seek his presence. There they are, walking through a dry valley, the heavens open, and rain pours down. Difficult times, oposition, disaster, sickness – none of these things can seperate us from God; in fact quite the oposite! Pools form around us and life springs up. Wherever the people of God seek his face God pours out his Spirit. There I’ve said it. It’s about his Spirit! I wonder if in fact God leads his people into dark places so as to bring life to them through his poeple.  Open the heavens and rain down again Lord!

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Timelines for Dummies

When I go on holiday I like to take a number of books with me but usually end up focusing on only one. I never know which that is going to be when I’m packing, it all depends on how I feel when I get there, so 5 or 6 books end up being transported around the country or across the world without ever being opened. On my last holiday I took Bruce Ware’s “God’s Greater Glory”, “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan, “Supernatural Lifestyle” by Kris Vallotton, “The Dancing Hand of God” by James Maloney and “The Bible for Dummies”. Which do you think turned out to be “the one”? It was the last one, “The Bible for Dummies”. I actually really like this book. Reading it gives away that I don’t know as much as I should. I may swallow my pride and recommend it to the students at the UEA CU in a couple of months time when I talk about “How to read the bible”. It may just be me but I find it gives a really helpful overview of the whole bible in a way that is clear, interesting and informative. I’ll share here my notes from what I read.

The first things that captured my attention was the chapter about the major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. (They are called major prophets simply because their books are bigger than the minor prophets in the Bible).

Isaiah prophesies to the southern kingdom between 742 BC and 700 BC during which time the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians in 721 BC. In 701 BC Hezekiah was persuaded by Isaiah to repent and an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers who were besieging Jerusalem.

Jeremiah prophesied between 626 BC and 580 BC during which time the southern kingdom was carried off into exile by the Babylonians (first wave in 605BC) and the temple and Jerusalem was destroyed (586 BC). Ezekiel was carried off to Babylon in the first wave 10 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and was the prophet to the exiles there. After 25 years in exile he sees an elaborate vision of the temple being rebuilt and the nation of Israel reunited (573BC).

The second chapter I read was about was the events surrounding the rebuilding of Jerusalem. In 538 BC, after almost 70 years of exile, Cyrus, the great Persian King, overthrew the Babylonians and encouraged people to return to their own homelands. In Ezra 1:24 he says that “the LORD, the God of heaven…has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem..whoever is among you of all his people…let him go to Jerusalem.. and rebuild the house of the LORD.” Some Israelites go but many choose to stay (the Babylonian Jews later wrote the Babylonian Talmud, a important collection of Jewish laws and stories, in the 3rd-5th century BC).

Sheshbazzar leads the first wave of Jews back to Jerusalem and they start rebuilding the foundations of what is termed “the second temple”. For some reason they don’t complete it and 18 years later, in 520 BC, Zerubbabel leads another band of Israelites in finishing the alter and then the foundations. Some are happy, while others weep as it’s not a big as Solomon’s first glorious temple.

The Samaritans get the hump because they aren’t allowed to help rebuild the temple and persuade the local Persian authorities that the Jews will rebel. After looking into it and confirming that the Jews do in fact have a habit of doing just that, they order the work to stop.

God sends Zachariah and Haggai to encourage the Jews to start again. Zachariah takes the role of “good cop” giving encouraging prophecies of the future while Haggai takes the role of “bad cop” telling the people off for sorting out their own homes while neglecting God’s house.

When the Israelites start building again, the local authorities check the situation with Darius, the new Persian king, who upholds Cyrus’ decree and provides money to make it happen.

In 515 BC the temple is completed and the Passover is celebrated with sacrifices for the first time in 70 years.

In 458BC Another Persian king Artaxerxes (According to the Rose Book of Bible and Christian History Time Lines, the order of Kings is Cyrus the great 559-530, Cambysees 529-522, Darius I 522-486, Pericles 500-429, Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) 485-465), Artaxerxes I 464-424, Darius II 423-405, Artaxerxes II 404-359, Artaxerxes III 358-337) sends an expert in Jewish law, called Ezra, with money to see how things are progressing in Jerusalem and help them along. Ezra leads the people, ushering in a long period of priestly rule that was still in place in Jesus’ day. Ezra gets the Israelites to divorce their foreign wives.

In 445 BC Nehemiah, the cupbearer (the royal official in charge of food preparation) to the Persian king Artaxerxes learns that the walls of Jerusalem are in ruins. The King grants him permission to go to Jerusalem and sends him off with protection and resources to rebuild the walls. (These Persian kings seem really determined to rebuild Jerusalem. I am reminded of Proverb 21:1: The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.).     

Nehemiah organizes people to work on the walls near their own homes. The Samaritans are out to cause trouble again but the Jews finish the wall with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other in 52 days (Neh 6:15).

Ezra then reads the law to the people while others walk about helping them to understand it. The next day they discover its the holiday of Booths or Sukkot so they pitch tents and celebrate the desert wanderings.

So if I can summaries all that on a short time line:

742 BC            Isaiah start to prophecy to Judah
721BC             Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians
701 BC            Hezekiah repents and Angel wipes out Assyrians besieging Jerusalem
700 BC            Isaiah stops prophesying BC.
626 BC            Jeremiah starts prophesying
605BC             First wave of Jews carried off into Babylonians exile inc. Ezekiel
586 BC            Temple and Jerusalem destroyed
580 BC            Jeremiah stops prophesying
573BC             Ezekiel’s vision of the temple being rebuilt and nation reunited.
538 BC            Cyrus overthrows the Babylonians and decrees Jews can return home and rebuild. Sheshbazzar leads the first wave of Jews back to Jerusalem to start
520 BC            Zerubbable leads another band of Israelites back and finish the altar and then the foundations. It’s a bitter sweet time.

The Samaritans get the hump and persuade the local Persian authorities to stop building.

Zachariah and Haggai encourage Jews to start again.

Persian King Darius who upholds Cyrus’ decree and provides more money

515 BC            Temple completed and Passover celebrated with sacrifices
458BC             Artaxerxes sends Ezra, with money to continue rebuilding homeland.

Ezra gets the Israelites to divorce their foreign wives.

445 BC            Nehemiah sent by Artaxerxes to rebuild the walls who takes 52 days to do it.

Ezra the reads the law and they celebrate Booths.

and my first attempt at it in picture form:

Greater Prophets to rebuilding of Jerusalem

All in all a very informative holiday.

We are all special people with a special task! (UEA Holy Spirit part 3)

Sampson wielding a donkey's jawbone

On the day of Pentecost when the disciples spoke about the Holy Spirit coming upon people they where not talking about something unheard of. The Spirit had come on David, Saul, Balaam, Sampson, Othniel, Jephthah, Gideon, Moses, Amasai chief of the Thirty, Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest, Joshua, Elisha, Elijah and probably some more I’ve missed out (I think there are a couple of guys that built the temple who had Gods Sprit on them). These were special people with special tasks. They won victories in battle, prophesied, lead, blew trumpets, ripped lions apart, killed hundreds with a donkeys jaw bone, healed people, and did all sorts of amazing miracles.

If someone if offering the Holy Spirit to people who know their Old testaments then they had better be aware of the expectations they are raising. But could it be true? The Spirit poured out on everyone? Yes! The prophets looked forward to this day. Joel, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel. And Jesus spoke a lot about it too. It turns out that now we are all special people with a special task, to boldly take the gospel where it has not gone before. That could be next door or half way round the globe. It can’t be done in the way God wants it to be done without the Holy Sprit. The Christian life is to be lived with power and the batteries come with the gift of forgiveness.