Exclusive

Love for God is mutually exclusive with lust for the world

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Read: James 4

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think that Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the Spirit he has caused to dwell in us? (James 4:4-5)

Reflect:

According to James, love for the world equates to hatred towards God. Jesus said something similar (Matthew 6:24): “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

This idea of mutually exclusive loves is anathema to many people, but that doesn’t make it any less true. History shows us that it has been common for religious people to try to combine love for God with love for many other things, causing no end of misery and anguish – witness the Reformation. Missionaries have always struggled with finding the balance between culture and faith – working to prevent an ungodly pagan culture from infiltrating a new church, while also guarding against the missionary’s own ungodly personal culture corrupting their presentation of the gospel.

In today’s churches, Christians struggle with idolatry of money (some call it ‘the prosperity gospel’); idolatry of fertility and family (whether it is the ‘quiver-full movement’ or a snobbish exclusivity that shames single parents while also ignoring single virgins); idolatry of education (ascribing salvation-like effects to private schools or homeschooling curricula); idolatry of creation (where the temporal salvation of plants and animals is valued more highly than the eternal salvation of people); as well as idolatry of six-day creation (where one doctrine is elevated in importance far above other core Christian doctrines). The list could go on.

Of course, many things compete in my life for the love that must belong solely to God.  James says God is jealous for the Spirit that he imparted to me – jealous that my spirit might be at one with God’s Spirit, worshiping and giving glory to him, not to his creation. God wants my love for him to be pure and undefiled.

crux:

Love for God is mutually exclusive with lust for the world.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Make my love for you pure and undefiled.

May I not be distracted nor dissuaded from my faith and love for Jesus Christ. Keep me from idols and help me to resist the devil.

Enable me to seek and find my satisfaction and joy in you alone.

Amen.

Held

The LORD holds his holy ones in his hand

Read: Deuteronomy 33

“Surely it is you who love the people;
all the holy ones are in your hand.
At your feet they all bow down,
and from you receive instruction.” (Deuteronomy 33:3)

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
who rides across the heavens to help you
and on the clouds in his majesty.
The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:26-27a)

Reflect:

As I fly home across the vast expanse and emptiness of the Pacific Ocean, it is a marvellous comfort to me to read these words: “All the holy ones are in your hand. … Underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Truly the LORD has blessed us, his holy people, greatly with his written word. He reveals himself and speaks to us with promises and encouragement. The LORD Almighty, the God of the universe, does this! He constantly shows himself to be caring and compassionate. The LORD is a good, good Father; a good and gracious God.

It is – I can only say wonderful, marvellous, awesome – that he, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, should deign to hold one such as me cupped within his hand, cradled within his arms.

Through Moses, God has made known his plans for his people. These are good plans, which were brought to fruition through the obedient ministry and willing death of God’s Son. Through Jesus, the people of Israel, “Jeshurun” the upright one, have become “a people saved by the LORD” (33:29). Truly, there are none so blessed as those the LORD saves.

crux:

The LORD holds his holy ones in his hand.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Who am I that one such as you should care for me, have compassion on me and comfort me? Who am I that you, who are Lord of All, should seek me, save me and succour me?

I bow down in worship and love before you, LORD God Almighty; you who ride across the heavens to help me, you who stride upon the clouds in all your majesty.

From you I receive instruction and I am blessed.

Keep me safe LORD, and bring me home to those I love. Bring Ari and Alistair and Anastasia home to your kingdom as well. Save them and make them your holy people.

Amen.

Home

Jesus brings spiritual exiles home to God

Read: Deuteronomy 30

Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:4)

Reflect:

I know it is not good hermeneutics, good biblical interpretation, to read a verse like this and jump straight to its apparent applicability to my present situation, a foreigner half a world away from my home, for which I shall depart tomorrow.

The context  is Moses’ sermon series before Israel enters the promised land. It is clear that this verse was spoken and recorded as a promise to Israel that although their faithless descendants would be exiled, yet a remnant who returned to faith would also return to the land. Biblical theology enables me to see the Jesus connection, whereby it is Jesus’ death that brings spiritual exiles home to a reconciled relationship with God their Father. It is Jesus’ Spirit who enables faithful righteousness among an otherwise unfaithful, unrighteous people.

Now, I had a small upset today. I got mild hypothermia swimming 500m in Lake Ontario and very nearly fainted as I got on the bus to return to my hotel. (Yes, the world really does go black when you are on the verge of fainting.) So, despite my knowledge of proper biblical hermeneutics, I am comforted by the immediacy of the promise in this verse.

God will bring me home. Whether to my temporary home in my hotel, with my head between my knees as I pray silently, “LORD, help me,” over and over; or to my earthly home half the world away via a mis-booked airport shuttle, 25 hours of flights plus ten hours more of layovers and a five-hour drive; or to my heavenly home, through the veil of death or through my Lord’s glorious return. The LORD my God will bring me home.

crux:

Jesus brings spiritual exiles home to God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Once again I am overwhelmed by your loving-kindness, your grace and mercy, your compassion. You comfort me and reassure me.

You know what I need before I cry out to you. You brought an ambulance-trained bus driver to collect me from the lake just as I was starting to realise the full effects of my frigid swim. Never was I alone, though it may have appeared so to those who saw me walking and swimming and shaking. You were with me as you always will be.

Oh, how eagerly I look forward to coming home to my family! Make me just as eager to see you face-to-face when the time comes for me to come home to you. I love you. May I love you always.

Amen.

Revealed

Righteousness requires worship of the rightly revealed Redeemer

Read: Deuteronomy 29

When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. (Deuteronomy 29:19)

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Reflect:

The LORD my God is holy. This is an inescapable fact. So I must go his way, no matter how hard that is. There are serious consequences, for myself and for others, if I go my own way.

But what does this mean when it comes to, say, choosing a restaurant in which to eat my evening meal? Tonight I am eating at The Elm Street Restaurant, and I think it is will be the one pricey, high-class meal of my holiday in Toronto. I even ordered “sweetbreads,” something I have only heard about before on the Masterchef grand final. It was delicious, but was my choice to eat here and eat that evidence of going my own way, or was I legitimately going God’s way?

And earlier today, when I spent hours admiring Inuit art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, appreciating the magnificent skills which God has granted to people to re-create his creation … was I going my own way of God’s way?

Sometimes I think this sort of question is one of the “secret things” 29:29 talks about. But verse 29 also says the LORD has revealed what is required in the Law. The New Testament tells me this is ultimately through the revelation of Jesus Christ his Son. Jesus belongs to me and I belong to him, so I may be righteous in all these everyday ordinary choices, because Jesus followed the Law on my behalf.

crux:

Righteousness is not merely a matter of right choices but of worshiping the rightly revealed Redeemer.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for your many blessings to me, temporal and material as well as spiritual.

May I never be so caught up in the enjoyment of what my eyes see and my mouth tastes that I forget the overwhelming glory of you, the One who created all things and gave skill to the artist and chef. May I be ever thankful for your creative beauty that is reflected only dimly in the beauty of human artistry. Many I be a witness to your heavenly glory and not solely a consumer of human art.

Amen.

Grants

The LORD grants his people perfect rest through Jesus Christ

Read: Deuteronomy 28

The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. (Deuteronomy 28:7)

Reflect:

The thing about Bible reading is that the more you do it, the more you get out of it. Even a simple, short passage like this single verse has more to it than a surface reading would suggest.

The basic interpretation is that the LORD would ensure that Israel’s enemies will be defeated, as the first sentence states clearly. From the second sentence, the enemies would approach from one direction, but after they are defeated they would scatter:

from one direction = unity, cohesion
flee … in seven = disunity, disarray

There’s a bit more depth here; though it takes careful reading and biblical thinking to see it. It has to do with significant numbers in the Bible story. The word seven becomes, through the course of the Bible, shorthand for the seventh day of creation. On the seventh day God rested from the work of creating. Upon this seventh day pattern, God ordained sabbath rest for all his people.

seven (7) = sabbath; perfect completion, peace, rest, no work

So, while the enemies approach together and leave scattered, the more important concept here is that God will grant his people sabbath rest from their enemies. This is rest from work, rest from the struggle to achieve, rest from the battle to overcome. Far more than the temporary amelioration of hostilities, this is true, eternal rest.

So what’s the Jesus connection? It is Jesus Christ who grants this true and complete rest from our enemies: from Satan and his demons, from our past sins, from our character flaws, from our sinful nature. It is Jesus who grants rest from the battle with our enemies, within and without. It is Jesus who grants rest from the struggle to win our own salvation, because he provides it for us.

crux:

The LORD grants his people perfect rest through Jesus Christ.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are a good, good God. You are a good, good Father. This is who you are.

You take great delight in granting good things to your people who are called by the Name of your Son Jesus Christ, the Christians. We are your new covenant people, the people redeemed and rescued by your only Son Jesus, whom you sent to die in our place.

LORD, you saved me from out of the clutches of the enemy Satan, that liar and deceiver. He fled before me because you drove him away. You have kept me safe, LORD, and you have granted me the sweet restoration and refreshment of fellowship with your people in Wichita, in Indianapolis and now here in Toronto.

LORD, may I long abide in the peace you have granted to me. Keep me safe from my enemies. Keep me safe because Jesus has defeated sin and death so I have nothing to fear. Make me a hope dealer.

Amen.

Listen

I will listen to the LORD

Read: Deuteronomy 26

Say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our ancestors to give us.” (Deuteronomy 26:3)

You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his commands, decrees and laws – that you will listen to him, (Deuteronomy 26:17)

Reflect:

I’ve been trying to develop a new habit lately. Before I read my Bible, I pray as Samuel did (1 Samuel 3:10), “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” 24 hours ago, I told my husband Jeff we’d just have to keep reading our Bibles according to our regular Bible-reading schedules and keep asking God to show us clearly from his word the decision we should make regarding a particular major opportunity.

So today, as as soon as I asked the LORD to speak, he did. Not in an audible voice, as Samuel heard. Not in some kind of mystical impression, some vague pastiche of popular self-help culture ‘baptised’ with Bible-isms, like the “Jesus Calling” book by Sarah Young. But clearly, concisely, obviously, overtly, undeniably, because it was black and white in the pages of his Word, the Bible.

“I declare … I have come into the land.” (26:3). I am already here, doing what God wants me to do in the place God wants me to be. Jeff is already obeying and serving God in “the land” God has desired Jeff to be in. We don’t need to take a new opportunity, to seek a new horizon. We’re already in the place God put us, walking in obedience to him.

In case I wasn’t sure God was speaking specifically to me, to our situation, God spoke my words back to me with the words of Deuteronomy 26:17, “You have declared this day that the LORD is your God … that you will listen to him.” Message received, loud and clear!

crux:

I will listen to the LORD.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for your words, your message, your direction and counsel. Thank you for the vivid way you get my attention by speaking my words back to me through the ancient words of Moses.

You are all-seeing, all-knowing. You are Sovereign and you are wise. Thank you for your timing, which is perfect.

I don’t know why I’m surprised at your prompt response to Jeff’s and my prayer, to my pre-reading prayer. James tells me you are generous in granting your wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). Thank you.

Please help me, help us, to walk in obedience to your word, to be contented with your command and to be satisfied with your speech.

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.