Birth

My desires birth my sin; the Father’s decision birthed my salvation

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Read: James 1

Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:17-18)

Reflect:

Two births are described here: the birth of sin, from evil desire and our (Christian) birth through the gospel. The former leads only to death but the latter prefigures the new creation. Sin is birthed by human hearts, but Christians are born as the heavenly Father’s firstfruits.

What does it mean that sin springs from the evil desires of the human heart? It means I cannot blame anyone but myself for my mistakes and bad choices, just as I cannot blame anyone else for my rebellion and disgrace. It was my fault that I went my own way instead of staying on the narrow way of Christ. It is my fault that I am frequently lazy, selfish, short-tempered or fearful.

What does it mean that new birth is a good and perfect gift from the Father? It means that I do not deserve new birth, I did not do anything to earn it and I could not do anything to repay my heavenly Father for it. It is free, ‘no strings attached’. It’s an outpouring of the LORD’s goodness and generosity, his loving-kindness and compassion, his mercy and grace, his choice and creation. I can do nothing to lose this new birth for I did nothing to win it.

crux:

My desires birth my sin; the Father’s decision birthed my salvation.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Please receive my apology: I am truly sorry for my sin, my evil desires, my wicked rebellion against you who are my God.

Thank you for your choice to give me a new life as your saved, redeemed, adopted, renewed child.

I love you. You are good and generous, and I have benefited mightily from your grace.

Please allow me to share your grace with others.

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.

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.

Inclusion

Jesus includes all who believe in him into the family of God

Read: Matthew 17

After Jesus and his disciples arrived at Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matthew 17:24)

“The children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offence, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:26b-27)

Reflect:

I think every time I have heard teaching on this story, the doctrinal emphasis has been on the fact that Jesus is identifying himself as the child of the King whose temple is in Jerusalem. That is, Jesus is proclaiming himself to Peter (and to Matthew, and others who overheard this conversation) as the Son of the Living God, just as Peter had earlier declared in his statement of belief (16:16).

This doctrine, that Jesus is the Son of God, is certainly demonstrated here. There is another vital doctrine on display as well.

Jesus uses the plural when he says “the children are exempt.” And Jesus gives Peter instructions that will yield funds to pay both Jesus and Peter’s temple tax, “so that we may not cause offence.” These plurals and this inclusive speech is very important.

Peter has just seen Jesus Christ transfigured in glory (17:2). He has heard the voice of God the Father speak from his cloud of glory telling Peter, James and John to listen to God’s Son (17:5). And now, with his allegory and his instructions, Jesus is declaring that Peter, too, is an honoured child of God; that Peter, too, is eligible for the privileges of an heir to the kingdom of God. Jesus has, by his words, included Peter as a fellow child of God, a fellow heir of God.

This is inclusion at its most valuable: adoption into the very family of God.

crux:

Jesus, the Son of God, includes all who believe in him into the family of God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your Son Jesus Christ is indeed your one and only begotten Son.

By grace you have extended your family to include Simon Peter and millions of others, including me. Thank you for your grace.

Thank you for choosing me, calling me, for your welcome, your provision. Thank you for you mercy in including me, when you had every sovereign right to exclude me as I deserved. Thank you for adopting me as your own child.

Thank you for giving me a family of fellow heirs. Please help me to see my fellow believers as sisters and brothers in your great and glorious family. Help me to treat them as they deserve because of the honour they share with our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Please help us to love each other with your love.

Amen.

Rest

God is great and the good news about his Son gives rest to my heart

Read: 1 John 3:19-24

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

Reflect:

This passage answers some of the questions raised earlier in verses 6 and 9 of this chapter, which say that Christians stop sinning. According to John, if my heart feels guilty, then my feeling shall be corrected by my mind, which knows that God is greater than my heart, greater than my shame.

I stop sinning because Jesus has taken away my sin (3:5). Jesus did this by fulfilling the law; not abolishing it (Matthew 5:17), but refining and redefining it in himself.

Jesus said the whole law is summed up in two commands: to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love my neighbour as I love myself (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31). Now John reframes this summation of the law. John says, paraphrasing Jesus (John 6:29), that God’s commands are two-fold: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ and to love one another.

If I consider the parallels between these two two-fold summations of the law, I can see how the second interprets the first. John’s “one another” defines Jesus’ “neighbour” as fellow believers, I think, based on John’s previous use (3:10, 3:16) of “brother and sister”. (Which doesn’t mean that Christians should not love non-Christians, merely that this love is not a primary command.)

Likewise, “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” clarifies what it means to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We love God primarily by believing in His Son.

And when I believe in God’s Son Jesus, I know that God is greater than me and he has sent his Son to take away my sin. I stop sinning because my sin is no more – abolished not by the abolishing of the law, but by its fulfilment by Jesus Christ. Sin is lawlessness (3:4) and since the law is fulfilled in Christ and through my belief in him, there can be no more lawlessness in me, no more sin in me.

Aaah! Now my heart is free to rest.

Crux:

God is great and the good news about his Son gives rest to my heart.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Great is your name; great is your glory.
You are greater than me; greater than the condemnation of my heart within me; greater than anything I can conceive or imagine; greater than infinity.
You are greatly to be praised.

I believe in the name of your only Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.

I believe that somehow you, who are more-than-infinite, became less, lowly, a human infant born of the virgin Mary, conceived by your Holy Spirit’s essence.

I believe that Jesus suffered cruelly according to the decision of Pontius Pilate. I believe Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross; that he died there at Golgotha, the place of the skull. I celebrate this as Easter Friday.

I believe that the body of Jesus was buried in a fresh grave by those who sought to honour him.

And I believe that Jesus rose again to life on the third day, which I celebrate as Easter Sunday.

I believe that Jesus was seen alive by honest eyewitnesses before he ascended to heaven, to the God-realm. I believe Jesus is sitting even now at your right hand. I believe that one day Jesus will return to earth to judge all people, including those who have already died and those still alive on that day.

I believe, LORD. Please deepen my belief in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.