Exclusive

Love for God is mutually exclusive with lust for the world

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.

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.

One Flesh

A “one flesh” marriage is a worthy goal, but it can’t become my god

Read: Matthew 19

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

Reflect:

One flesh. As a married person, I love that expression, but I know it also has its dangers.

In recent years, Jeff and I have started celebrating what we call “one flesh moments” with a high-five. When both of us answer a question from the children with identical words, we high-five. When we both laugh at a joke no-one else understands, we high-five. When we look down at ourselves and realise we are wearing coordinating outfits, we high-five. Actually, that one’s just me. I high-five Jeff on that occasion whether he wants to celebrate or not. And when we sit down to talk about a big issue and realise in the first 60 seconds that we already think exactly alike, we high-five for another one flesh moment.

Of course, these moments of mutuality are partly a natural result of living in the same household for almost two decades. Our first memorable one flesh moment came when, after a decade of marriage, we sat down to a game of Articulate! Your Life and absolutely blitzed the opposition, a newly-married couple, because we could anticipate what our spouse would say; we had a shared language developed from shared experiences.

These one flesh moments are also the fruit of our very deliberate efforts to love each other biblically: to make decisions together that bless each other and our children; to set goals together and work towards them as partners; to support each other as we develop our interests and passions; to support each other in our weaknesses and struggles; to work as a team in our parenting and in ministry. We work very hard to be united in all we do.

I thank God for my husband, but it is important I don’t let my husband become a false god, an idol in my life. I need to remember that it is God who loves me best, even when he chooses to show his love through Jeff. It is God who leads me, even when he uses Jeff to provide the guidance. It is the LORD who is the true God.

crux:

A “one flesh” marriage is a worthy goal, but I can’t let it become my god.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for the gift of my husband. I am very aware that he is fairly awesome, as husbands go, for you have made him so.

Thank you for the many blessings you bring into my life through Jeff, including:
the delicious dinner he’s cooked tonight,
our helpful Bible talk this afternoon,
his hugs when I came home from work,
the way he apologised for not getting up to be with me this morning before I left for work having already made my lunch the night before,
and his care for our kids on their last day of school holidays.
Please help me to always be aware that it is your Spirit within Jeff who warms his heart to love me.

Please help me to treasure our marriage and always seek too be closer in unity with Jeff. Please also keep me from idolatry, so I may never value my husband above my God, nor my marriage above my salvation.

LORD, I’m very conscious that not every single Christians wants to be single and not every married Christian enjoys the one flesh experience. Please comfort them, strengthen them, encourage them, bless them with your love, with your companionship, with union with your Son and your Spirit. Please grant them and us deep, abiding satisfaction in our relationship with you our God.

Amen.

More

Devotion to God in all his glory means despising wealth with all its worries

Read: Matthew 6

“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.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:24-25)

Reflect:

A crowd has come to hear Jesus teach on a mountain, just as Moses once gathered the Israelites to hear God’s voice thundering from Mount Sinai.

Jesus asks the crowd, “Is not life more than food?” Of course life is more than food, but you’d never know it from the dozens of wanna-be-chef shows on TV; the hundreds of cook books on bookstore shelves; the decades many women spend dieting.

Jesus also asks, “Is not the body more than clothes?” Yet so many people today believe the body is not more than clothes, at least, not more then clothes and cosmetics. That’s why we have aphorisms like, ‘The clothes make the man.’ It’s why so many countries are allowing people to surgically alter their bodies to match the clothes they want to wear, whether it be through breast enlargement, stomach staple shrinking, or so-called gender-reassignment surgery. It’s why millions, probably billions of dollars is spent worldwide on advertising that is mostly aimed at making women think their body, clothes and cosmetics are inadequate.

Many people do actually seem to believe that the end goal of life is nothing more than to acquire delicious food and delightful clothes. Jesus disagrees.

Jesus says people who follow this life are worshiping an idol. These people are worshiping Money.* Jesus says there is another choice, a better choice.

I have chosen this better choice: to be devoted to God, to serve God, to love God. I consider money, food and clothes to be rubbish in comparison to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (just as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8).

crux:

Devotion to God in all his glory means despising wealth with all its worries.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

It is tempting to go along with the sweeping tide of my surrounding culture, to be swept into building my life around the things money can buy, things my culture trains me to desire.

I like nice clothes. I like fine food. I appreciate living in a country where true poverty is rare. But LORD, I don’t want these things to be the foundation for my life. That isn’t a ‘good life’ at all.

I need my life to be built on the firm foundation Jesus Christ laid with his blood.

I need to find my satisfaction and enjoyment in your grace, your providential care, your loving-kindness to me.

Please help me, LORD, to love you and hate money. May I love you and not forget your benefits. May I love you and celebrate this glorious eternal life you have given me. May I love you and appreciate every spiritual blessing that you have given me in Christ. May I love you.

Amen.

 

Rhetorical Ramble:

That’s what the ‘therefore’ is there for, to link these two verses:

“You cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…”

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.

Start

I start loving because Jesus laid down his life for me

Read: 1 John 3:10-18

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

Reflect:

Jesus said to “love your neighbour” was the second most important command of God, superseded only by the command to love God. At the Last Supper, which Christians remember and celebrate tomorrow (on Maundy Thursday), Jesus told his disciples he was giving them a new command: “Love one another.” John repeats Jesus’ commands here.

But what does it mean to love? According to Jesus’ perfect example, to love means to “lay down our lives” for our brothers and sisters, our fellow believers. We must share with other Christians in need. We must love actively, truthfully. I must share generously. I must love actively, truthfully, compassionately, sacrificially.

I was telling someone today about my husband’s flight over Antarctica, which he did a year ago with a dear neighbour and friend, without me. The other person said their spouse would never let them do such a thing because they’d be too jealous. Something was even mentioned about scratching eyes out, I think. But love is not envious, nor self-seeking. I was happy to release Jeff to his exciting flight because I love him and I want him to experience joy.

In the same way, my husband loves me and is generous rather than jealous with me. In the last few weeks, Jeff has said I can fly overseas in June for two and a half weeks for the Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference. Jeff has committed to parenting our four children without me for the weeks I’ll be gone, and he’s freed up the money from our income so I could buy flights to get there. He’s suggested I visit a friend and bring her to the conference with me, and committed funds for her to join me so I won’t be alone. He’s even encouraged me to do some exciting touristy things while I’m there and helped me find the best way of doing them in keeping with my personal limitations. This is abundantly generous love. This is sacrificial love, and it springs from what Christ has done for both of us, not just from our mutual married love.

Love is generous. Love gives unreservedly. Love is happy to see the beloved rejoicing. Love shares whatever it has. May I love like this.

Crux:

I start loving because Jesus laid down his life for me.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are love and you have shown me true love in the generous, humble actions of your Son.

Thank you for your love, for the love of your Son, and for the love of my husband in imitation of the Son.

Please make me like Jesus. Let me learn from him how to love rightly. Make me willing to lay down my life for the good of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Help me to be willing to give my time, my money, my attention, my skills, even my future for those who need them. Please help me to give up my aspirations that are selfish, my habits that get in the way of relationships, my hobbies that take up what you want me to give away. Make me generous with all you have given me.

May I be especially willing to give away knowledge of the gospel!

Amen.

Live

I live Christ in my everyday ordinary by loving other Christians

Read: 1 John 2:3-11

But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:5-6)

Reflect:

To live in Christ is to live as Jesus did. This is a huge undertaking: to obey Jesus’ word and to love God completely (2:5); and to love fellow believers (2:10). So what does it look like, in my everyday ordinary, to ‘live Christ,’ as I put it in my blog tagline?

It means to obey Jesus’ word: In 1 John 1:5 I read “the message” John and the other apostles “heard form him” and have “declare[d] to you”; this message is that “God is light.” To obey Jesus’ words (in this context) thus means to “live in the light” (2:10) because “the true light is already shining” (2:8).

To live in the light is to “love [my] brother and sister” (2:10): not specifically my biological brothers and sister-in-law, but to love my fellow Christians, my local church brethren.

I live Christ in my everyday ordinary Christian life by loving other Christians; loving them “as Jesus did” (2:6). I must love others joyfully and willingly, continuously and sacrificially, according to their need and not necessarily according to their wishes.

Crux:

I live Christ in my everyday ordinary by loving other Christians.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

You are light and truth. In the person and work of your Son Jesus Christ, the true light is shining forth, a brilliant blaze of glory.

May you be forever praised, forever loved, forever obeyed. May I praise you always, love you always, obey you always.

Please help me to live in Christ by living as Jesus Christ lived. Please help me to love my fellow Christians in acts of everyday ordinary sacrifice.

Thank you for helping me, in response to yesterday’s prayer, to be up and receiving and reflecting upon and responding to your word in the quiet peace of the early morning today. May I remember throughout this day your command to love my neighbour as I love myself.

Please help me to proactively love my son who is going through an unsettled time at the moment and my friend who has asked for my assistance with transport. Please keep me from being selfish with my time and talents, my money and means today LORD.

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.

Kisses

The love between a wife and her husband is delightful

Read: Song of Songs 1

[She] Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth –
for your love is more delightful than wine. (Songs 1:2)

Reflect:

According to my Bible’s brief introductory notes, the songs in Song of Songs “are arranged to tell the courtship story of a man and a woman, of their marriage (described as a royal wedding) and its consummation, and of the beginning of their new life together.” A series of songs authored by or for Solomon, these are songs which celebrate the particular expression of love in the context of marriage. With the newest laws of my country conferring the right to ‘marriage’ upon same-sex couples, it seems prudent to me to re-read Song of Songs to learn or re-learn God’s ideal for marital love.

Songs begins with the woman seeking kisses! This is a shock to me, because somewhere along the way I caught the thought that the man must always be the initiator of intimacy. Hmm. I guess maybe that’s a cultural standard that isn’t necessary biblical.

I am thinking I need to memorise this verse to quote to my kids when they’re all “Ick, Gross!” because Jeff and I are kissing in the kitchen…

Crux:

The love between a wife and her husband is delightful.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for including Solomon’s Song of Songs in the Scriptures so I might learn better how to love my husband rightly. Please help me to understand, interpret and apply the words in your book wisely to my own life and to our marriage.

Please also use your words to give me words to explain righteous Christian marital relationships to others: to our children, to the women in my Bible study small group, to others with whom you grant me an opportunity to converse on this topic.

Please make me wise on the topic of marital and sexual love.

LORD, I also ask that you continue to grant me delight in the kisses of my husband. May our children see our affection and be inspired to seek godly spouses when your time for that comes to pass.

Amen.