Helper

Be a helper to the poor – this could, so easily, be me

Read: Deuteronomy 24

Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

Reflect:

I’ve been thinking a lot today about poverty, the reasons people might be poor and the inherent disadvantages of being poor. There are many things that can happen that are outside of our control, yet which can cause a cascading slide into poverty. James described the unpredictable withering of wealth in his letter to Christians (James 1:10-11), “the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.”

Once you are poor, you are extremely vulnerable. If you can’t afford to buy a decent car, you are at the mercy of dishonest salespeople and risk buying a ‘lemon’ because that’s all you can afford; then you spend more on repairs than those who can afford a good car in the first place. If you don’t have money to fill your car’s tank, you might not be able to make it to a job interview on time, or you might have to pay extra for groceries because you can’t travel to the reasonably-priced stores. Your health will suffer because you can’t afford nutritious, fresh food; you have to work long hours in low-paying jobs so there’s no time nor energy left for exercise and fresh air. Poverty is often an intergenerational problem. It’s no baby’s choice to be born to poor parents, yet those whose parents live in poverty are, themselves, at elevated risk of living in poverty as adults.

For all these reasons, it is vital for Christians to do what they can to alleviate poverty and the potential causes of poverty. This is part of loving our neighbours. We need to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God, as Micah 6:8 says.

crux:

Be a helper to the poor – this could, so easily, be me.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the material wealth you have given to me. Please help me to never take it for granted but to be wise and generous, just, merciful and humble in its use.

Please open my eyes with compassion for the people around me who struggle with poverty and all its pitfalls today. May I be helpful to them and not a hindrance; may I act for their advantage rather than my own, and for their benefit rather than their detriment.

Amen.

Empathy

It takes wisdom, compassion and empathy to love my neighbour well

Read: Deuteronomy 23

If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them. (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)

Reflect:

In Deuteronomy 23, Moses provides a list of circumstances and the right and righteous way for Israelites to deal with these circumstances. Many of Moses’ instructions, like the one above, seem obvious within the West’s cultural mores. Essentially, these are ways to “love your neighbour as yourself”, a command that was first explicitly stated in Leviticus 19:18 and emphasised by Jesus (eg Matthew 22:36-40). But these ideas haven’t always been universally accepted as wise.

Many acts of love for others that are taken for granted in Christian or post-Christian societies were birthed from the Mosaic Law or from Jesus’ teachings. The West’s present-day customs are heavily influenced by historical Christianity.

There are some things that the Mosaic Law requires which are no longer valid in the time after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For example, Moses said (23:1), “No one who has been emasculated … may enter the assembly of the LORD.” But Philip explained the good news about Jesus from the Old Testament Scriptures to an Ethiopian eunuch who was soon baptised as a sign of his entry into God’s kingdom. Jesus’ life and ministry opened the kingdom wider than it had ever been.

No matter the historical or geographical context, loving your neighbour never goes out of fashion.

crux:

It takes wisdom, compassion and empathy to love my neighbour well.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for a marvellous day. Thank you for helping me to talk to people and show my loving kindness with my words, something that did not come easily for me until you made me new with your Spirit.

Thank you for moving me to be next to Elizabeth on the plane so we could talk and she could be less nervous about the flight. Thank you for keeping me awake and alert so I could chat with people at the party and be friendly with people I had only just met. Thank you for the opportunity to stay with my friend Amy and her family and fit in with their everyday ordinary life. Thank you for all these new ‘neighbours’ you have brought into my life as I travel.

Please help me to be wise and compassionate in my interactions with Amy’s family and any other people you will have me meet.

Thank you for all the ways your Law was fulfilled in Jesus.

Amen.

 

Union

Marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman

[This may appear as a bonus post, because I crossed the international date line today so this is my second run through Friday 8 June 2018.]

Read: Deuteronomy 22

If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must be put to death. You must purge this evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 22:22)

Reflect:

God takes marriage very seriously. His instructions for the people of Israel reflect that. In this chapter, Moses warns against a number of evils:

A husband who decides he doesn’t like his wife must not lie about her to others and he is not to divorce her (22:13-19). A bride who is found to not be a virgin (obviously this does not apply to widows marrying a second time) shall be stoned to death (22:20-21). Adultery is punishable by death also (22:22). Consensual sex outside of marriage is punishable by death (22:23-24). If a woman engaged to be married is raped, her attacker shall be put to death (22:25-27). If an unmarried, unengaged woman is raped, the attacker must pay a massive fine, but they are to be married and he may never divorce her (22:28-29). A man may not marry his father’s wife (22:30).

Without contraception and protection from STDs, these laws provided for the protection of the vulnerable, including women and any children born from a forced sexual union. However, the biggest messages from these laws are the sanctity and sacredness of marriage, the immense importance of the one flesh union, and the seriousness of sexual sin which would harm this one flesh union.

Though the laws of my county differ sharply, as a Christian and as a wife I must recognise my marriage is precious in God’s eyes – and live accordingly.

crux:

Marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the huge blessing and privilege of my marriage relationship with Jeff. Thank you for enabling us to keep our marriage bed pure and undefiled for nearly 18 years of wedded joy.

Thank you for Jeff’s faith, for his sacrificial love for me, for his compassionate care for our children and for his desire to serve you by serving your people as a pastor.

LORD, please help Jeff while I am away (and when I return) to remain faithful to you, to me, to our children and to our church. May he have the strength and patience, insight and kindness to love and lead in our marriage, our family and our church in a way that brings glory to Jesus.

Amen.

Cursed

Jesus died under God’s curse to lift God’s curse from me

Read: Deuteronomy 21

If someone guilty of a capital offence is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

Reflect:

For some of the Old Testament, it can be hard to find the ‘Jesus Connection’. Not so here. These verses clearly refer to an execution in a similar manner to Roman crucifixion, by which Jesus was put to death.

This is odd, because according to the previous verse (21:21), and the rest of Moses’ sermons in Deuteronomy, Israelite executions were to be carried out by stoning. At the time Moses spoke these words, the Roman Empire did not yet exist as a political entity, let alone perform crucifixion. Yet Moses gave a clear description of the death of one cursed by God, a description that in effect prophesied the crucifixion of Jesus.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians quoted verse 23, to explain the purpose of Christ’s death under God’s curse:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is anyone hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:13-14)

crux:

Jesus died under God’s curse to lift God’s curse from me.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your grace and generosity in the gospel are clearly displayed here in Deuteronomy. Thank you for Paul, who explained to the Galatians (and to me) that if I rely on the works of the law to save me I am accursed, but that Jesus’ death under your curse lifts that curse from me.

Thank you for redeeming me from your curse, and offering me a life of blessing and honour for your glory. Thank you for your Holy Spirit, who lives in me by faith in Jesus Christ, just as you promised.

LORD, may I not be shy about reading my Bible in this busy airport. May I be confident to be seen studying your word, spending time with my Saviour Jesus. Do not let me fear judgement or rebuke, but help me to be fearlessly honest in this necessarily public worship today.

Thank you for your peace and joy in your gospel in the midst of a busy, noisy, crowded place.

Amen.

With

The LORD goes with his people to conquer

Read: Deuteronomy 20

He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be faint hearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight against your enemies to give you victory.” (Deuteronomy 20:3-4)

Reflect:

The LORD went with his people into battle because it was he who sent them into battle. The LORD had judged the nations and decided they were to be “completely destroyed” (20:7) because they were guilty of “detestable things” done as part of their worship of false gods.

The Israelites must have been very determined to never let themselves be likewise found guilty, yet the LORD still needed to warn them not to do as their enemies did.

I find it comforting to think that the LORD goes with me, as I head off on my first plane flight this evening. I am sure it was a comfort to Israel as well, to know that the LORD who sent them went with them to conquer.

I am reminded of Jesus’ words before he returned to heaven, “surely I am with you, even to the end of the age.” In place of his physical presence, Jesus imparted his Holy Spirit, so he would always be with his followers, conquering his enemies still.

crux:

The LORD goes with his people to conquer.

Respond: with

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the security and comfort of your presence with me. Thank you for always being with me, for promising never to leave me nor forsake me.

Please comfort me, Holy Spirit. You know I am unsteady and unsure because I have left Jeff and he kids behind at home and now am leaving Perth and Western Australia behind as well when I get on this plane.

Please bless me with your peace, the peace that comes from knowing your will shall be done and your kingdom come. Please help me to trust you with things I don’t understand (like how aeroplanes stay up in the air) and to rest in you, to hope in you, to love you.

Keep me safe LORD, whatever I face.

Amen.

Refuge

Jesus Christ offers refuge to all who flee to him

Read: Deuteronomy 19

Then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess. Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.
This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety – anyone who kills a neighbour unintentionally, without malice aforethought. (Deuteronomy 19:2-4)

Reflect:

Israel had a fresh start in the new land they were about to enter, a second change. But with fresh starts and second chances came bad mistakes and slip-ups, because the people of Israel, like me, lived in a fallen world. Sometimes terrible things happen – and occasionally unfairly, other people get blamed when bad things happen.

God knew human nature, our propensity to blame others when things go wrong. It started back in the Garden of Eden, which Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent (Genesis 3:12-13). God knew also our tendency to want revenge. That also started right back at the beginning, with Cain fearing a revenge attack after he committed the first murder (Genesis 4:14).

So God made a way for those innocent people who were blamed for bad things, who had undeserved bad reputations, to stay safe while they were granted their fresh start. God wanted his people to be free to love and serve him without the hindrance of a bad reputation, and he ensured they would have this freedom. He gave them good land, as well: land in cities where they could blend in with the crowds and leave their sad pasts behind. God didn’t want these people to have difficult lives in barren places. He offered mercy and grace.

Even today, God offers grace and mercy to all who run to his Son Jesus, seeking refuge with the One who also was once a refugee (in Egypt, Matthew 2:13-15). He is the One who came to seek and save the lost, and his name is Jesus Christ.

crux:

Like Israel’s cities of refuge, Jesus Christ offers refuge to all who flee to him.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for Jesus and the refuge he has provided for my soul as I fled from my bad choices and mistakes and also from my deliberate, wilful sins. Thank you for the fresh start I have through the blood of Jesus. Thank you for the new, eternal life I live because Jesus died in my place.

Please grant me today the opportunity to tell someone else about this second chance at life that is offered by Jesus – and please help me to be bold to take up that opportunity with graciousness and kindness.

Amen.

Prophet

God raised up Jesus Christ as his supreme Prophet

Read: Deuteronomy 18

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. (Deuteronomy 18:14-15)

“I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.” (Deuteronomy 18:19)

Reflect:

Moses had earlier spoken of God’s choice of Joshua, the son of Nun, to succeed him (Deuteronomy 1:38), leading the people into the land to inherit it. God had told Moses to commission Joshua, to encourage and strengthen him (Deuteronomy 3:28).

Now, Moses tells the people that God will provide them with a leader like himself, a prophet, who will relay to them the messages of God. Moses may well have been thinking of Joshua, or of the long line of prophets that would following after him. But God placed these words into Moses’ mouth and God meant them to be also a hint of his final, supreme Prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would one day dwell with God’s people in the flesh.

Jesus himself said, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (John 7:16), indicating in his following words that the one who sent Jesus was the LORD God. Jesus Christ is God’s Prophet because he spoke all God’s words and he spoke only God’s words.

Here, in Deuteronomy, I am warned to listen to Jesus, because God will judge people for failing to listen to his prophet. The same words were proclaimed by the voice of God the Father from heaven at Jesus’ transfiguration, when he was revealed in the fullness of his kingdom glory: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5; my italics).

crux:

God raised up Jesus Christ as his supreme Prophet.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are Light and Word and Truth.
You spoke and your creation began.
You are the source and sustenance, the joy and delight, the plumb-line and straight-edge by which all else is measured.

LORD, you are Light and your Word is Truth.
You speak through prophets and you spoke through one supreme and ultimate Prophet, the LORD Jesus Christ.

He is your image, the full revelation of your divine essence, making visible the invisible.
He spoke only what you wanted him to say and spoke all you wanted him to say, including the words, “It is finished!” when he had completed the task you set before him at the cross.

Thank you for Moses, for Joshua and most especially for Jesus. Help me to listen to their words, to your words to me, spoken by them.

Amen.

Godly

A godly society has pure worship, fair judgement and faithful leadership

Read: Deuteronomy 17

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully this law and all these decrees. (Deuteronomy 17:18-19)

Reflect:

In this chapter, Moses tells the people that their worship must be pure, their judgements must be fair and their future king must be faithful.

Their worship will only remain pure if those who would corrupt it are eradicated or expelled from the community. Their judgements will only be fair if they incorporate multiple witness testimonies and disinterested judges. Their future king can only be faithful if he keeps himself away from those things that easily could become idols (military power, sex and money) and if he keeps himself close to the word of God, allowing it to humble him.

I think there is a huge value in writing the words of God in my own handwriting. That is one reason why every time I read my Bible to meditate upon it I also copy a few verses into my journal. Writing helps to focus my attention and solidify the vague observations I have made during my reading into more concrete, deliberate thoughts.

crux:

A godly society has pure worship, fair judgement and faithful leadership.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are pure, you are fair and you are faithful.

May my worship of you be pure, untainted by idolatry. May my decisions be fair, may I take no part in injustice. May I lead faithfully where you call me to lead and not attempt to lead anywhere else.

Please continue to keep me strong in your word, especially as I leave on Thursday for my overseas trip. Please help me to read and write your word, even as I reflect upon it and respond to it.

Please help me to be even handed with each of our four children, especially in the next few days as I am busy preparing to go away from them for a few weeks. Please help me to listen carefully when they speak, without making snap judgements or decisions based on input from only one. Please help me to be unbiased at work, consistent in the way I train and assess each one of my students.

Please keep me from idols. Please enable me to recognise those temptations that are particularly strong for me and to reject them quickly.

Please keep me pure, fair and faithful in my everyday ordinary life.

Amen.

Deliverance

The Passover celebration was a foretaste of God’s final act of deliverance

Read: Deuteronomy 16

Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night. Sacrifice as the Passover to the LORD your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the LORD will choose as a dwelling for his Name. (Deuteronomy 16:1-2)

Reflect:

The Passover was the key festival of the Israelite calendar. On it, the people were to remember that the LORD had delivered them from slavery, and to sacrifice a lamb or calf in memory of their deliverance. This was an annual festival, which lasted a week and required the people to gather together in Jerusalem.

Over 1000 years after Moses gave the people these instructions, during another Passover celebration, the final sacrifice was made in honour of God’s deliverance of his people. Jesus Christ, the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), was put to death.

By Christ’s death I am delivered from sin and death and slavery to the evil one. By his death I am delivered into forgiveness, eternal life and adoption as an heir of the LORD Almighty.

crux:

The Passover celebration was a foretaste of God’s final act of deliverance from sin.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

At the heart of the history of your relationship with your people are two great rescues. With the Exodus, you rescued your people from slavery in Egypt so that they would be physically and politically free to worship you as you desire. With Easter, you rescue your people from slavery to the evil one so we are spiritually and completely free to worship you as you deserve.

Thank you for the freedom Jesus’ sacrifice won for me. Please help me to worship you in Spirit and in Truth.

Please help me to delight in your Son, to admire his holiness and imitate his compassion. May I be willing to sacrifice for your glory, even when it is very hard, knowing that Christ’s sacrifice for my sake will always be more than I could ever give. May I understand that your way of salvation is the only way, there is no other.

Amen.

Openhanded

The LORD richly blesses me, so I may be openhanded toward others

Read: Deuteronomy 15

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart. (Deuteronomy 15:10a)

Reflect:

Ungrudging generosity is a very difficult habit to cultivate. I generally have little difficulty in being generous in a single instance, or making a single commitment to future generosity (eg monthly payments for a particular person, family or need). However, I frequently struggle with a “grudging heart” when someone asks for bread one day, and I see them buying 2L of coke the next… and then a week later they are back, asking for baked beans.

There is utter selfishness in my heart in this matter.

Who am I, who delights in eating freshly cooked, healthy meals each night courtesy of a husband who enjoys cooking, to deny a can of beans to someone who is hungry? Who am I, who has been blessed this week with a long-saved-for purchase of an almost-new secondhand 8-seater van, to begrudge a lift to the next town to someone without a license or a car of their own? Yet I am selfish.

The LORD has been generous with me, both materially and in the gift of “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). I repent of my selfishness. I must give generously to those in need. The LORD has given me my prosperity to be used as a tool to love and serve others with gladness; to extend mercy, just as he has had mercy on me.

crux:

The LORD richly blesses me, so I may be openhanded and generous to others.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for your blessings, both material and spiritual.

Thank you for choosing me to be holy and blameless in Christ.
Thank you for predestining me for sonship through Jesus Christ.
Please help me to be constantly aware of your blessings and graciousness toward me.

Thank you for your gift of redemption and forgiveness through Christ’s blood.
Thank you for making known your will to bring unity to all under Christ.
Please forgive me my selfishness and help me to be more openhanded to others.

Thank you for the reassurance and hope and joy brought by your many blessings.
Thank you for the opportunity to praise your name, for your glory.
Please help me to offer your blessings to others freely, generously and with open hands.

Amen.