Helper

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

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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.

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.

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.

Detestable

The LORD despises human sacrifice, yet he gave himself as a sacrifice for my sin

Read: Deuteronomy 12

Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles int he fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. (Deuteronomy 12:3)

You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Deuteronomy 12:31)

Reflect:

To many people, the story of Israel coming into the Promised Land, as told in the Book of Joshua, is one of invasion and genocide. At one level, they are right.

But the other side of the argument is that the people who occupied that land at that time acted in “detestable” ways and did horrible and horrifying things. If anyone deserved to be invaded and obliterated, it was these people… they even burnt their sons and daughters to death in fiery sacrifices to their false gods.

Mind you, they weren’t the only people group ever to practice this: in India this decade thousands still want to immolate widows in the barbaric process of sati; in Syria this year the government has used chemical warfare on children. And how different is it in Australia? The people of my nation sacrifice tens of thousands of children every year to the altars of career and prosperity and future options. The full truth is, we deserve judgement and destruction as well.

It is only by God’s mercy that any of us escape his wrath. God has defined the way he is to be worshipped and it does not include child sacrifice. And he has made perfect worship possible through the sacrifice of himself, instead.

crux:

The LORD despises human sacrifice, yet he gave himself as a sacrifice for my sin.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are my Heavenly Father. You orchestrated my birth and then coordinated my new birth. You are glorious and honourable, mighty and fearsome.

Your ways are perfect and you have given complete instructions for perfect worship. You despise the wicked and evil depravities that other religions and governments and individuals approve.

I desire to worship you as you desire to be worshipped; to please you as you have said you may be pleased. So wash my sins away, keep me pure, make me righteous, LORD.

Thank you for Jesus’ death, which rendered all other sacrifice unnecessary. Instead, may my life be a living sacrifice, holy and glorious unto you.

Amen.

Levi

As Levi carried the ark to Israel, Christians carry the gospel to the world

Read: Deuteronomy 10

At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today. That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the LORD is their inheritance, as the LORD their God told them. (Deuteronomy 10:8-9)

Respond:

Once the replacement copies of the covenant law were safely in the ark, the tribe of Levi was chosen to carry the ark. They were selected to be responsible for duties related to the covenant, which the ark now symbolised. This was a solemn duty: to carry the precious, holy (and presumably heavy) wooden box which contained two stone plaques engraved with the words of God by the hand of God.

Also, Levi were to stand before the LORD (possibly before the ark, which symbolised his presence, or maybe before the pillar of cloud and fire which led them in the wilderness). Levi were to minister (serve) and verbally bless Israel as the LORD guided them.

How am I, a Christian, to relate to these tasks given to Levi? I am not of the Tribe of Levi, not is there any longer any ark, for it and the stone covenant within it are long since lost. The key is to understand how Jesus Christ fulfilled these Levitical tasks, though he was of the tribe of Judah, not Levi.

My Lord Jesus carried the full weight of the covenant when “he bore our sins in his body” (1 Peter 2:24), when he hung on the cross. My Lord Jesus stood before the LORD to minister when he prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34) as he hung on the cross. My Lord Jesus pronounced blessings in the Father’s name when he declared, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) and died on the cross.

The crucifixion of Jesus changes the ministry of all God’s people. Now we are all a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Now we all have the responsibility to fulfil the Levite tasks by carrying the gospel (rather than an ark), which is the good news of the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus’ crucifixion, to the world. We pronounce the blessings granted in the Name of Jesus: justification, forgiveness, salvation, sanctification, glorification.

crux:

Just as the Tribe of Levi carried the ark to the Promised Land, Christians carry the gospel to the whole world.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for Jesus, for his crucifixion which fulfilled the covenant of the Law. Thank you for his blood, shed to inaugurate the new covenant.

Please help me to carry your gospel to the world today.

Amen.