Blame

The only person to blame for my sin is me

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Read: Deuteronomy 3

At that time I pleaded with the LORD: … “Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan – that fine hill country and Lebanon.”
But because of you the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me. “That is enough!” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me any more about this matter. … But commission Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he will lead this people across and will cause them to inherit the land that you will see.” (Deuteronomy 3:23, 25-26, 28)

Reflect:

Moses has just reminded the Israelites of their crushing defeat of Og, king of Bashan, and all of his cities and towns. Moses has told how he has apportioned the land of these two conquered kings (Sihon and Og) to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh. Yet the thing Moses keeps coming back to is the limit God has set upon him.

Moses blames the people of Israel again (cf 1:37), but it is his own sin that is keeping him out of the promised land. Moses needed to repent of his sin, not blame others for it. Moses, though a leader of God’s people, was far from perfect. He frequently got angry; and when angry, he made rash decisions.

Thrown down and break the stone tablets on which God had inscribed the ten commandments because the people were worshipping a golden calf? Yep, that was Moses. Burn that idol and make the people drink the ashes? Yep, that was Moses again. Hit a rock twice with his staff because he was frustrated with the people’s grumbling? Indeed Moses did that, and no one made him do it.

How many times do I do things in anger, frustration or just plan grumpiness that I will later regret? Many, too many. Thanks be to God for his provision of forgiveness!

crux:

The only person to blame for my sin is me… and God is always just in his judgements.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are a just judge, yet you are also merciful. You allowed Moses to see into the promised land even while you refused him entry. You did not leave your people leaderless but appointed a successor to Moses, the man Joshua.

Truly, I deserve life in prison – or rather, an eternity in hell – for all my sin of rebellion against you and your commands. Even when I try to keep you as first in my life, I find I am letting other concerns crowd you out. I am to blame. I am the one who is guilty.

Wash me whiter than snow, LORD. Forgive my sin and blot out my iniquities, cover over my transgressions and remember them no more.

Thanks be to you for your Son Jesus Christ and for all he has done for me.

Please help me to encourage and strengthen others around me for the good works you have set before them. Please do not let me be envious, especially when I see others doing tasks I would like to do myself, but make me glad that your people are being served and edified.

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.)

 

War

There’s a war on sin in my heart, a war only Jesus can win

Read: Matthew 20

Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Matthew 20:32)

Jesus had compassion on them. (Matthew 20:34a)

Reflect:

I wonder what I would ask for, if Jesus asked this question of me. Would I even have a ready answer? Or would I mumble and tremble and stumble and end up asking for something worthless, so Jesus felt pity for me rather than compassion?

These two men knew their problem and were bold enough to ask for the solution.

What is my problem? My biggest problem is sin.

Two days ago I prayed asking for a member of my church to rebuke me for any sin of which I was unaware. This afternoon, I got a call from my dear friend who hosts the weekly ladies’ Bible study I lead … in answer to that prayer. I knew immediately that I had sinned, not doing the good I should have done. I even told her on the phone I knew she was telling me [about this situation with another person] because of my prayer to expose my sin.

Yet still, all afternoon, I’ve been struggling with my attitude; battling against my tendency to offer excuses and self-justify; wrestling with my unrepentance. The war on sin is real – the battleground is my heart.

What do I want Jesus to do for me? I want my heart to be purified.

crux:

There’s a war on sin in my heart, a war only Jesus can win.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God. You are righteous, pure and blameless in all you do.

Thanks be to you that your word promises me, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). I need your righteousness, the gift of your righteousness apart from the Law.

Please forgive my sin against X. Please forgive me for being selfish with my time and not visiting her when she was sick and in need of a visit. Please help me to visit her quickly and not put it off again.

You know my heart, LORD. Purify me so my sins that are red as scarlet before me may be as white as snow. Purify my heart, I pray.

Please forgive me for not caring enough about other people’s emotions, and only valuing my own emotional desires. Teach me to love sacrificially, LORD, as Jesus did for me.

Teach me to respond to your Spirit’s niggling voice when I need your prompts to enact love. Speak louder, LORD, when I don’t listen.

Please forgive me. Help me when I go tomorrow to make my apologies to X in person.

Amen.

Squirm

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive

Read: Matthew 18

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. … If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15a,17b)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Reflect:

All eyes must have turned to Matthew, the ex-tax collector, as Jesus gave his advice for dealing with unrepentant sinners. No matter how much Matthew squirmed, though, he still recorded Jesus’ words in his gospel.

Jesus gave three steps of increasingly public rebuke before increasing authority for drawing a sinner’s attention to their own sin. This process gives people an opportunity to recognise and admit their own sin. There’s a reason the saying “blind to their faults” is a saying. Then this person is able to repent privately instead of letting the matter go public.

But ultimately, an unrepentant sinner needs to experience some earthly penalty, or they will go on unrepentant towards the ultimate penalty of all, hell. In this case, social exclusion (from the church) provides a punishment that will hopefully be recognised as the metaphor it is; symbolising the exclusion from God’s presence that an unrepentant sinner risks. Social exclusion such as not eating with the person and not entering their house, while still allowing for public conversation, has the benefit of shielding brothers and sisters in the church from the harm that the sinner’s behaviour might wreak.

Matthew chose to place next in his gospel Jesus’ advice for how often one should forgive sin. Now it’s Peter’s turn to squirm. “Seventy-seven times,” Jesus says. He’s not just multiplying Peter’s suggested seven times by eleven. Rather, Jesus is making reference too the story of Lamech the murderer (Genesis 4:19-24)* who killed instead of offering forgiveness for personal injury, and claimed seventy-seven times vengeance.

As outrageously unrepentant as Lamech was for his crimes, so you are to be just as outrageously forgiving of another’s crimes against you, Jesus seems to say.

crux:

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

“Against you only have I sinned” … yet I have hurt and wounded many with harsh words and hard deeds. I repent of my sin. Please forgive me LORD. Make a clean heart within me and change my ways.

Please allow others in my church who are close to me to observe my sin and rebuke me for it. Make me humble enough to accept such rebuke and be corrected.

LORD, I don’t want to be like Lamech, desiring vengeance. Make my heart soft and tender, eager and willing to forgive. Please help me to love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with the forgiveness that covers over wrongs, for your glory.

Amen.

 

* For this insight I must thank Lois Tverberg and Ann Spangler, authors of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (2009, Zondervan) pp. 38-39, which I am currently reading.

Child

I live forgiven as a dear child of the Father

Read: 1 John 2:12-14

I am writing to you dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (1 John 2:12)

Reflect:

Growing up in a feminist culture, I am tempted to grumble at the lack of female nouns in these three verses. But women like me are addressed here, under the descriptor “children”. Should I take offence at such diminution? Never!

John clearly holds his “children” dear and close to his heart. So far in his letter, John has referred to his readers as “my dear children” (2:1) and “my friends” (2:7).  I too am John’s dear child because he proclaimed the gospel to me through his writings: in his Gospel, in his letters and in Revelation. I am John’s dear spiritual child, his offspring of faith. This is certainly nothing of which to be ashamed or dismayed.

Too, I am more than John’s faith-child, I am a child of God. I am not just John’s dear child, I am God’s dear child. Jesus has revealed the Father to me (John 10:38, 14:9) so that I might know God the Father (2:14) as his own adopted child (Galatians 4:4-5). His Spirit has taught me to call him “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6-7).

And then, what John says of me, God’s dear child, is immensely precious: My sins have been forgiven on account of the name of Jesus Christ. O what joy!

The knowledge of my guilt has been building from reading the last one-and-a-half chapters. Do I really walk in the light (1:7)? Do I truly live as Jesus did (2:6)? This guilt is washed away by the truth that my sins have been forgiven in Jesus’ name.

No, I do not always walk in the light of God. I do not constantly live as Jesus did. That is why I need Jesus.

But, Jesus has been faithful and he has ensured the forgiveness of my sins. He has done this through his identity (“name”) as “Word of Life” (1:1), granting me “eternal life” (1:2). Through Jesus, the Word of Life, I have been made acceptable to enter into the presence of my heavenly Father. Hooray!

Crux:

I live forgiven as a dear child of the Father through Jesus, the Word of Life.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty, Dear Abba Father,

Hallowed be your name!

May your name be great and sacred in all the earth. May your name be revered and worshiped by all people. May we no longer blaspheme, but know and rejoice in your name.

Thank you for your grace to me extended through Jesus, the Word of Life. As Peter said, “To whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.” I have none other but you. You forgave my sin and in that moment granted me eternal life. So though my flesh might die, my soul shall live as a new creation forever with you as your child.

I praise your name, O Word of Life, Jesus Christ.

Please grant me opportunities today to share the good news that in your name is forgiveness; that you love us as dear children; that in knowing Jesus we may know you, God my Father.

Amen.

All

I am forgiven and cleansed because Jesus atoned for all my sins

Read: 1 John 1:8-2:2

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)

Reflect:

1 John 1:9 is the verse that converted me to Christian faith. I saw clearly for the first time (though this was certainly not the first time it had been shown to me) that Jesus Christ had done all that was required by God for the forgiveness of my sin.

I saw that I did not have to be perfectly righteous on my own; Jesus Christ was able to do all that was necessary to cleanse and purify me.

This verse showed me the glory of the gospel and – thanks be to God – I grasped this glorious gospel firmly and clung thereafter to Christ.

Now, as I go on in my everyday ordinary Christian life, I struggle with the Spirit’s help to keep from sin. But I do so in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is my heavenly lawyer; pleading my case, interceding and advocating on my behalf though his own perfect righteousness. He has atoned for all my sins.

Crux:

I am forgiven and cleansed because Jesus atoned for all my sins.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Jesus Christ, you are the Righteous One:
perfect keeper of God’s law;
perfect fulfilment of God’s promises;
perfect sacrifice for my sins;
perfect advocate for my forgiveness.
Jesus Christ, you are faithful and just.

I confess I am a sinner. I am lazy and again today I did not get up early to converse with you, but stayed in bed and did not think upon your word until the opposite end of the day.

I am sorry. Thank you for forgiving me.

Please purify me from my unrighteousness, whereby I do not seek fellowship with you but would prefer “a little sleep, a little slumber” even though this means I spend my day in spiritual poverty. Please cleanse me of my lazy selfishness that is so short-sighted.

Please make me eager again to meet with you and meditate on your word.

Amen.

Regrets

Do not walk willingly into immorality

Read: Song of Songs 2

[She] Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not awaken or arouse love
until it so desires. (Songs 2:7)

Reflect:

Although Jeff and I weren’t Christians when we met and married, I chose to read the first seven verses of Songs 2 aloud as part of our wedding service.* Songs 2:7 challenges me now as then: “Do not awaken or arouse love…”

When we married, I looked back on my previous relationships with regret, remorse and a certain amount of shame – though not yet with repentance at that time. I have long since repented of all my sexual immorality, and I know that I am forgiven by the grace of God. But I still wish I had learnt the lesson of Songs 2:7 long before my wedding day.

Sexual sin – whether in thought or deed – is no different to any other sin in that I need to not do it! And since I didn’t avoid this sin, I needed Christ to atone for this sin (along with many, many others) through his death on the cross.

For my present and future, I need to keep away from sexual immorality. I need to “not awaken” ungodly love. Since I’m now married, the only valid, godly expression of sexual love for me is shared with my husband. I need to flee inappropriate arousal, and whatever might feed it in me. I need Christ to purify my love.

Crux:

Do not walk willingly into immorality.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I thank you once again for the forgiveness and freedom you have given me in Jesus Christ. Please keep me from dwelling on the regret I feel for my past sin and instead help me to enjoy the peace and purity you have given me when you made me a new creation in Christ Jesus.

LORD, please help me to stand firm against sexual temptation and against any temptation to form inappropriately intimate relationships. Please protect me from Satan’s snares. Please counsel me and guide me by your Spirit so I do not ever willingly walk into immorality.

Please help me to teach my daughters especially – and also my ‘daughters in the faith’ – to not walk willingly into immorality. Please help me to show them the value and virtue of purity and fidelity, modesty and morality.

Amen.

* Songs 2 begins with a reference to my namesake, the fertile pasturelands of Sharon.