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.

Tithe

The LORD is always good, even when the harvest is small

Read: Deuteronomy 14

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling place for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. (Deuteronomy 14:22-23)

Reflect:

After banning pagan mourning practices and forbidding the eating of a long list of foods, God, through Moses, tells the Israelites what they should do in the land: celebrate!

If I were playing that psychologist’s game of word association, and the word “tithe” was presented, my automatic associations would certainly not be to celebration and feasting. But that is the connection Moses wanted the people to keep coming back to, year after year, harvest after harvest.

When God had provided bountifully, they were to take a tenth of their bounty to Jerusalem and feast there with the priests, for the LORD had given abundance. If God had provided scantily, they were to take a tenth of their scarcity to Jerusalem and celebrate there with the priests, for the LORD had kept them from starvation.

In times of gain and times of less, God’s people are to celebrate his provision and revere him.

crux:

The LORD is always good, even when the harvest is not good in our eyes.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are gracious and generous, the giver of gifts.

You provide for my daily bread, and I thank you.
You grant me daily rest, and I thank you.

You have given us the funds to be able to buy our new-to-us car, and I thank you.
You taught us to be wise with our resources so we could save those funds, and I thank you.

LORD, your generosity to our family this year has been huge, and I thank you.
The blessing you have given has not just been for our physical needs.
You have brought new people to our church, new ladies to my Bible study, and I thank you.
You have grown the western congregation, which seemed so small, and are restoring it to flourishing, and I thank you.

You have given me good friends and an encouraging, challenging job, and I thank you.
You have given our kids great teachers, marvellous opportunities, and the help and support to make the most of them, and I thank you.

Thank you for your manifold blessings. May I always revere your name.

Amen.

Rain

The LORD sends rain because he cares for his people and their land

Read: Deuteronomy 11

But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to the end. (Deuteronomy 11:11-12)

Reflect:

This morning as I went in to work there was a rainbow arcing over the razor wire, a beautiful promise from God. The rainbow reminds us (and God – Genesis 9:14-15) of God’s covenant to never again destroy all life with a flood. It is a promise of forgiveness, rather than punishment.

In Egypt, where the land was watered through irrigation from the Nile, rain seldom fell. So the people of Israel would have missed the constant reminder of the rainbow while they were in Egypt. Now, they were entering a new land where rain fell seasonally and the land drank “rain from heaven” – not solely from the clouds or from the sky, but from the hand of God. The LORD, the author and sustainer of the water cycle, cared for the land and it is he who would water it, ensuring rain fell in the necessary seasons.

Today, as farmers enjoy the heavy rains of the past few days here in the Great Southern, I am thankful for God’s caring provision. I thank God that his eyes are on his land and his people, throughout the world. And I thank God for the promise of forgiveness and restoration that I read in his rainbows.

crux:

The LORD sends rain because he cares for his people and their land.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the rain that has fallen from heaven in the last few days. Thank you for the rain that is drunk thirstily by our dry land.

Thank you that the rain seems to have put out a multitude of fires that were spreading fast in the high autumn winds. Thank you for keeping me safe on the highway on Friday as I travelled through fire, wind-storms and rain-storms.

LORD, please send more rain. You know our farmers depend on the rain you send to grow the crops that feed others and themselves. Please help the farmers here in the Great Southern to receive the rain their land and crops need because they rely on your merciful provision.

Amen.

Giver

The LORD is good and he gives good gifts to his children

Read: Deuteronomy 8

Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land – a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out of the valleys and hills. (Deuteronomy 8:5-7)

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:10)

But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant. (Deuteronomy 8:18a)

Reflect:

This morning when my alarm went at 5:20am, I faced a choice. Often, the choice is between getting up to read my Bible (as I plan to do every morning – plan being the operative word) or rolling over to sleep an extra 40 minutes until I must get up to wake the kids. But I felt quite alert this morning. Today, the choice was between getting up to read my Bible and lying in bed to finish a memoir I’ve been reading. The choice was a particularly conscious one because just yesterday I had prayed, “Help me to know what I must cut out of my life and cast away.” I’m sorry to say, I chose badly, despite my prayer, wilfully putting human words ahead of God’s Word. (Thanks be to God for Christ’s forgiveness, especially for so-called ‘small’ sins!)

Yet God is gracious, answering my prayer despite my sin. In the 15 minutes left after I finished the novel, I was able to read Deuteronomy 8 and feel the sting of God’s rebuke – the discipline God exerted upon me as his daughter (8:5) as I read of God’s life-giving word (8:3).

I had chosen to finish reading a memoir about frugality and wealth, privilege and provision. Then in his Word, God spoke to me to remind me it is he who has given me my ability to produce wealth (8:18). The novel included the story of the author’s move to homesteading. In his Word, God reassured me that it was he who brought me into the good land I presently dwell in (8:7), and it is he who promises me a place in the new heavens and the new earth. It is God who must be praised when I have experienced his bountiful provision and am satisfied (8:10).

crux:

The LORD is good and he gives good gifts to his children.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are good and you give good gifts. I delight in your providential care for me and in the privileges I enjoy as your chosen child.

LORD, you gave me birth into a family and nation where I could experience your blessing, most especially the blessing of attending church services regularly as a child, even though you did not unveil my eyes to your gospel until much later. You blessed me with an ability to read fluently and with abundant access to Scripture in my first language, English.

You gave me a church family who prayed for me for a decade while I wandered far from you in my early adult years. You gave me godly pastors and Bible study leaders who brought me to the refreshing living water of your word and taught me to drink and be satisfied, who brought me to the life-giving manna of Scripture and taught me to eat my fill.

You have made me truly wealthy through the gift of your Son, no matter the dollar value in my bank account.

Thank you for blessing me so richly. I have indeed eaten and am satisfied, LORD. Praise be to you, the giver of good gifts!

Amen.

Purity

God calls his people to purity so they won’t fall into paganism

Read: Deuteronomy 7

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serving other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)

Reflect:

At the end of his first sermon (chapter 4), Moses reintroduced the people of Israel to their God in a homily related to the first commandment. Now, after listing the core laws (chapter 5) and explaining the responsibility set upon parents to instruct their children in the law (chapter 6), Moses returns to the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” He explains the implications for living in such a way to fulfil this command.

Moses gives instructions for entering the promised land, where God will drive out the nations before them. The people are to show no mercy (5:2) nor look on the people with pity (5:16). Instead, they are to destroy the people of these pagan nations. Why? If Israel does not destroy the current occupants of the promised land, they will be led astray by them, led into idolatry by them. Then the LORD will punish Israel, just as he is punishing these seven nations now. The LORD says his people must stay separate from the people they dispossess.

Today, God is not calling his people to dispossess other nations. Rather, he calls us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). But we are still to remain separate in some ways so we do not become ensnared by the trickery of false gods and the lies of idol worshippers. For this reason, it is still only appropriate for Christians to marry fellow Christians (1 Corinthians 7:39, 2 Corinthians 6:14).

crux:

God calls his people to purity so they won’t fall into paganism.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are holy, holy, holy. You despise sin and detest wickedness. All such things shall come under your righteous judgement, including me and my sins. Please forgive me; do not destroy me. Thank you for your Son who paid for my sins.

Please help me to be holy as you are holy. Help me to know what I must cut out of my life and cast away. Please help me to see clearly what needs to change, whether it be the way I spend my days or my character, habits and choices.

Please mould me in the shape of Christ my Saviour and keep me from conforming to the patterns of this world. Please keep me pure and holy, washed by the blood of the Lamb.

Amen.

Parents

Christian parents must demonstrate obedience and explain salvation

Read: Deuteronomy 6

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” (Deuteronomy 6:20-21)

Reflect:

Deuteronomy 6 has several mentions of parents teaching their children. Parental teaching is to be two-fold: first they are to teach by example, then by explanation. Living their own lives in accordance with the law God has given them, parents will teach their children mimetically. Then their children will witness their law-keeping and ask questions about it. After that, the parents are to take the second step of explaining the salvation of God that predates and underpins the keeping of the law. For Christians, this means explaining the salvation that has been won for us through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Demonstrate obedience to God and explain salvation by God – these are the two lessons parents are to teach throughout the everyday ordinary; at home and away, morning and evening.

Vitally, it is not enough to teach either of these lessons without the other. If we only demonstrate obedience to God, our children may grow up defeated and disheartened if they fail to be obedient, or self-righteous and proud if (they think) they are successful in their imitative obedience. Either way, the children will not be saved because they won’t know that it is God who saves them, not their obedience.

Likewise, if we only explain salvation to our children and do not model obedience, they will never learn to hate their sin, never learn to yearn for holiness, never appreciate righteousness, never be thankful for forgiveness. They need both lessons.

crux:

Christian parents must demonstrate obedience to God even as they explain salvation by God to their children.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are my heavenly Father. You adopted me through the work of your Son. You parented me perfectly and yet I still sinned, and needed (and still need) your forgiveness. Thank you for rescuing and redeeming me. Please help me to be obedient to all Jesus has commanded me to do.

Please help me and help Jeff as we parent our children in one flesh unity. Please help us to demonstrate obedience to you and to your will in ways our children will see, which will cause them to ask, “Why do you do that?” Please help us to (again and again) explain your salvation, your mighty hand, to our children so they may be drawn to you as their Saviour.

Please help our children to obey you and to love your Son as their Saviour, even as he is ours.

Amen.

Winner

The LORD wins every battle he fights

Read: Deuteronomy 2

“Today you are to pass by the region of Moab in Ar. … I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” (That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; … They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The LORD destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place.) (Deuteronomy 2:18, 19b-20a, 21)

Reflect:

It must have been encouraging to the people to hear that the Ammonites had driven out the people “as tall as Anakites” from Ar before settling there. If the Ammonites could do it – or rather, if the LORD would do it for the Ammonites – surely the Israelites had nothing to fear as they entered their promised land.

Their parents may have feared Anakites 40 years ago, (Numbers 13:31-33) but Moses reassured them this day. If God could choose to establish Esau and Lot’s descendants in lands of their own, they could trust the LORD to establish them in their own land, Anakites or no!

Then Moses went on to remind them of their defeat of Sihon, erstwhile king of Heshbon. Again, if God would give them power to defeat Sihon’s army, surely he would do the same for any remaining opposition as they conquered the rest of the land he had promised to them.

crux:

The LORD wins every battle he fights.

Reflect:

LORD God Almighty,

You are strong and powerful, a mighty warrior who fights to provide your people with the blessings you have promised to them.

Thank you for fighting for me so I may enter your promised land of rest and provision, bounty and flourishing, the kingdom of your Son.

LORD, sometimes I am tempted to forget that you are strong, to forget that you are mighty. Please help me, in those times, to look back on the many ways you have fought for my benefit in the past. Please help me to recall that what you have begun in me, you will carry on to completion. Please help me to recognise the way you have blessed others and delight in your provision for them, as well as seeking your blessing for myself.

Thank you that in answer to our prayers, you brought A to KYB today. Please continue to comfort her by your Spirit, to uphold her in your love and to forgive her by the blood of your Son.

Amen.

Guilty

Every person is guilty – only some are forgiven

Read: Matthew 27

A:  But Jesus remained silent.
B:  The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the Living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. (Matthew 26:63-64a)

B’:  Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
A’:  When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. (Matthew 27:11-12)

Reflect:

In the overlap of chapters here, Matthew has constructed a chiasmus*.

Remember, the chapter divisions and verse numbering system was added over a millennium later, so it makes no difference that this literary feature should occur over a chapter boundary. The beginning and end of the X crossover literary shape are 26:62 where the high priest asks Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony?” and 27:13 where Pilate asks Jesus, “Don’t you hear this testimony?”

Throughout the chiasmus, different responses to Jesus, particularly to the identity claims of Jesus, are highlighted. Jesus is identified as “the Messiah, the Son of God” at the beginning and as “the king of the Jews” at the end of the chiasmus. Then, after dual mentions of death (26:66) / burial (27:7) and prophecies (26:64 and 27:9), there is a major contrast set up in two passages. Peter disowns Jesus and repents of his sin with weeping; Judas, who has betrayed Jesus, regrets his sin and commits suicide.

Finally, there is the centre of the chiasmus where the main idea is revealed and the crux of the rhetorical form displayed. 27:1 reveals the guilt of those who planned to kill Jesus, the Jewish leadership: “Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed.” They planned, they plotted. They deliberately determined to put Jesus Christ to death.

This chiasmus reveals that Jesus was the only innocent person present on that day. Jesus was not guilty of blasphemy, because Jesus really was the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus was not guilty of treason, because Jesus really was the king of the Jews. Jesus Christ was innocent, but those who put him to death were guilty of blasphemy and treason both.

crux:

Every person is guilty – only some are forgiven.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for forgiving my sin and thank you for the surprising pleasures you have given me today.

Thank you for the opportunity to pray for my friend as she enters her 36th week of pregnancy, after I saw her at the shops during my lunch hour.

Thank you for the chance to talk to my students about who I believe you are, for the chance to tell them that all people are sinners, but those who submit to Jesus as Boss and trust in him as Rescuer are forgiven sinners. Thank you that they raised the questions, so I was free to answer.

Thank you for the time to hold my daughter’s hand as I drove her home from the bus.

Thank you for the quiet conversation with my son in the car as we drove to the city.

Please help me to keep honouring you in my everyday ordinary.

Amen.

* Rhetorical Ramble:

A chiasmus is my favourite literary structure. It is a rhetorical scheme “in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order.” It has its origin in the meaning “crosswise arrangement” from the Greek name of the letter chi, which looks a bit like the English letter X. (Oxford Dictionary of English)

John 1:1-2 is a short and sweet chiasmus :

A: In the beginning was the Word,
B: and the Word was with God
X: and the Word was God.
B’: He was with God
A’: in the beginning.

The centre of the chiasmus is the centre and most important point of the author’s argument. Hence, in John 1:1-2 above, John is using claims of Jesus’ eternal existence and presence with God to prove Jesus’ identity as God.

In the same way that a chiasmus is a crosswise arrangement of words or ideas used to highlight the central idea, this blog is about the crux: “the decisive or most important point at issue… the ‘cross’.” (Oxford Dictionary of English)

The crux of life at crux.live is Jesus Christ and the Cross, and the truths that I need Jesus, so I seek to know Jesus, so I may love Jesus and live in Jesus and live like Jesus.

(This rhetorical ramble was originally posted as part of Light.)

 

Sorting

God will judge people on their response to his Son, their faithfulness with his gifts and their love for others

Read: Matthew 25

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.'” (Matthew 25:10-12)

Reflect:

This chapter has three parables that Jesus told to warn people that they would be judged by God at a certain time for their deeds on earth. Judgement is not a popular idea today, or, I imagine, in Jesus’ day. No one likes to be told that their present way of life doesn’t measure up to someone else’s standard. But Jesus told at least three parables warning of coming judgement, so I need to take notice.

In the first parable, the virgin brides are judged on whether they are ready to receive their groom.

In the second, the servants are judged on the way they managed their master’s money in his absence; on whether they were faithful or not with the tasks that he gave them.

In the third parable, the people are judged on how they responded to Jesus in his “distressing disguise” (as Mother Teresa described it); how they responded to the sick, poor, hungry, thirsty, needy, imprisoned.

crux:

God will judge people on their response to his Son, their faithfulness with his gifts and their love for their neighbours.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are the Good Judge, the Just and Fair Judge, the Righteous Judge.

You have the right to judge because you are our Creator and King.
You have the right to judge because you are Righteous and True.
You have the right to judge because you are Steadfast and Sure.
You have the right to judge because you are Love and Light.
You have the right to judge because you are God, the only God.

Please grant me mercy LORD, for I am a sinner, guilty before you, in need of the forgiveness won by your Son for me.

Please enable me to keep watch; to stand firm in faith and be ready to receive Jesus Christ when he returns to claim his kingdom. Please help me to be faithful with the gifts you have given me through your Spirit; please help me to use them wisely and generously to equip your saints for the good works you prepared. Please help me to care for my neighbours, especially my family and my church.

Amen.

Teacher

I want to be a teacher who opens the door of the kingdom to others

Read: Matthew 23

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13)

Reflect:

As a teachers, I can imagine few greater professional criticisms than this one.

It’s like saying to a literacy educator, “You make it harder and more confusing for your students. You don’t read yourself, and you take books away from people trying to learn to read.” This criticism sounds extreme when translated to a modern parallel in this way. But that is the sort of complaint Jesus made against those who were meant to be teaching God’s Law.

Jesus told the Pharisees they were blocking the way to God’s kingdom when they should have been showing the way and leading the way. They weren’t just bad teachers, they were anti-teachers.

Alas! Jesus said their end will be desperate: “Look. Your house is left to you deflate.” (23:38) All their hypocrisy would leave the house of God, the temple in Jerusalem, empty and deserted; a wasteland rather than a place of worship.

In contrast, I see Jesus, the perfect Rabbi, who led his disciples faithfully and humbly. How his heart must have ached to see such anti-teachers as these influencing God’s people.

crux:

I want to be a teacher who opens the door of the kingdom to others.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your Son Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived. Your Scriptures are the greatest revelation that has ever been given. Your Spirit is the greatest guide who ever led the way.

May I follow in Christ’s steps. May I be a teacher who opens doors, not shuts them. Please use my teaching at work to reduce recidivism. Please use my training to help people to gain the skills to work to support their own needs and those of their families. Please use my teaching to help men keep in contact in a positive way with the families from whom they are separated.

But LORD, I want so much more than that for my students. May they learn how to read and then choose to read your Word. May your Scriptures be plain before them so they know the glory of your grace for them in Jesus Christ. May they read their way to meeting you and entering your kingdom by the blood of your Son.

Thank you for your love to the “least of these”, LORD. Please bless them with an open door to become citizens of your kingdom by your mercy. Please grant them a future with you.

Amen.