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A humbling reminder
Deuteronomy 7: God wasn’t attracted to you…because you were big and important…he did it out of sheer love.
It’s a bit humbling. Moses is talking to the “chosen people” who are about to enter the “promised land.” Everything about this causes them to think of themselves as being somehow special. But Moses says “no” to this kind of thinking. Frankly, this shouldn’t be too hard. Their ancestors for ten generations were mere slaves in Egypt. Their parents were nomads without a land to call their own. Moses says to them, “You aren’t special – it’s God’s love that’s special.” Well, that’s kind of what he says, but the other side of this coin is that because God loved them and treasured them — because of that, they are special. As I read these words I find myself, rather than being a somewhat interested bystander, right at the heart of this story. I was on the outside looking in, unworthy and unwelcome. Then, I received an invitation to come in. That invitation was signed in blood, the signature: “Jesus Christ.” Now, I read these ancient words of Moses with new eyes and with a whole new level of respect. God wasn’t attracted to me because I was big and important. In sheer love he reached out to me. Today, I’m humbled by this reminder.
Take Away: I am who I am by the grace of God.
Live long and prosper
Deuteronomy 4: Obediently live by his rules and commands which I’m giving you today so that you’ll live well and your children after you.
So how does it work? Is it that God has given me these rules and regulations and will pay me back with blessings if I keep them? I don’t think so. God doesn’t lay down arbitrary rules just for the purpose of keeping me in line and he doesn’t treat me like a little child who’s rewarded with a stick of candy if I’m good. His purposes for me are filled with grace and mercy. If God says, “Don’t” I can be sure that it’s for my benefit and not his. My Creator, who knows me better than I know myself says, “When I created you I hardwired some very specific things about you. If you want your life to function at its best, here’s how you’re to live.” Following these guidelines doesn’t mean life will be trouble free (after all, there’s that ugly business of the fall in the opening pages of my Bible) but it does mean that I’ll live the best, most satisfying and fulfilled life possible. Not only that, but by living according to God’s plan, I’ll be teaching my children the best way to live. The result will be that my kids will be more likely to adopt my approach to living in a relationship with God and their lives will also be better lived.
Take Away: When I live God’s way, not only is my life better, but I also influence my children to live for God, resulting in their lives also being better.
There’s a remedy
Deuteronomy 4: If you seek God…you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul.
Again, Moses is no stranger to spiritual failure. As the leader of this people he’s seen repeated failure. Even as he warns them against trifling with God, even as he cautions them about having wandering hearts — even then, he knows that they’ll mess up again. The thing is, not only is Moses familiar with spiritual failure, he’s also familiar with God’s grace. Time after time he’s seen God reach out to these people in mercy, love, and forgiveness. In this, Moses has learned some important things about the God who called to him from the burning bush decades earlier. He tells them, “Before anything else, God is a compassionate God.” Even if his warnings to these people go unheeded, God’s character will be unchanged. People, even people who have miserably failed, who seek God whole-heartedly, find God. There’s so much hope here that it takes our breath away. There’s a remedy for spiritual failure. There’s hope for the fallen. There’s a God of Second Chances and if we seek him with all our hearts we’ll find him…and in finding him we’ll find hope and restoration.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
The God of Second Chances
Leviticus 26: On the other hand, if they confess their sins…I’ll remember my covenant….
I can’t imagine anyone enjoying the middle portion of Leviticus 26. It’s the “curse” part of the chapter in which God lists all that will happen if they break their promises to God. Like anyone else, I enjoy the “blessing” section and can happily skip the “cursing” part. However, there’s more to the chapter than those two elements. The final section is about God’s faithfulness. You might say that it’s the best part of all. God says that even if they utterly fail and if the entire “curse” comes to pass…even then, he’ll be just a prayer away. These words are all about grace and mercy and faithfulness. In this the Lord opens his heart to us. When it all falls apart because of sin the Lord waits to reestablish the covenant relationship with them. Here’s a clear view of the Lord as the God of Second Chances. There’s unbelievable power in the words, “I’ll remember.” In spite of failure, in spite of the feeling of a people being utterly rejected – in spite of it all, God remembers. I’m thankful, so thankful, that I serve the God of Second Chances.
Take Away: We all need this God of Second Chances in our lives.
The Day of Atonement
Leviticus 16: In the presence of God you will be made clean of all your sins.
Built into the Law given in Leviticus is a special annual event called the Day of Atonement. Both priests and people are to prepare themselves for this event by fasting. The High Priest is to follow a precise ritual and on this day only he is to enter the most sacred part of the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies. Here, in the Presence of the Lord his, and the sins of the whole nation, will be cleansed. Once this is done a great celebration of thanksgiving takes place. I find it interesting that after all the sin offerings with all the shed blood that there remains the need for a specific encounter with the Almighty for their sins to be wiped out. In this I see that, in the end, these ancient Israelites rely, as I do, on the grace and mercy of God. As this High Priest in his colorful and strange garb prepares to enter the most holy place on the face of the earth, I think of my own approach to the Throne of God. When the Priest comes in humility the result is cleansing from sin. It’s also that way for you and me. We approach the throne humbly but in expectation of receiving grace, mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing. It’s only in the presence of God that we are made clean of all our sins.
Take Away: When all else is said and done, we rely on God’s grace and mercy.
Genesis 8: I’ll never again kill off everything living as I’ve just done.
The flood abates and Noah, his family, and the animals depart the ark. Life on earth gets a fresh start. God’s promise that this will never be repeated is intended to be a source of comfort to us when disasters come our way. God caused the flood with the express purpose of purging the earth. The deaths are his doing, according to his plan. Now, the Giver of Life certainly has the authority to be the Taker of Life, so I have no argument at this point. However, the Almighty knows that unless he assures us otherwise every major disaster will cause people to fearfully look to heaven, wondering if this is the beginning of another purge. After all, it’s not as though we don’t deserve whatever God sends our way. In mercy the Lord promises that the Flood is a once-in-history event that will never be repeated. Because of this promise, we understand that other big disasters are simply the result of living in a world where bad things sometimes happen. The Lord doesn’t want human beings fearing that this is “another end of the world” in the face of every hurricane or volcano eruption or earthquake. Instead, he wants us to live in fellowship with him, trusting him to be with us even in the disasters of life.
Take away: Don’t treat every unwelcome event with a fresh round of self-doubt.
Genesis 3: God put a mark on Cain to protect him.
The murderer has been confronted and has confessed. The sentence is banishment to a hostile world. From now on he’ll be an outsider, apart from the family (it’s not a nation yet) God claims as his own. Cain is crushed by this sentence and already feels the icy grip of loneliness on his life. Not only that, but he knows he’s getting off with a sentence lighter than he deserves. He senses that the proper penalty for murder is death. In addition, he realizes that other people know it too. God may be banishing him, but he imagines other men hunting him down and taking his life that justice might be done. What the Lord does in response is, at the same time, one of the great mysteries of the Bible and also one of many great acts of mercy. Cain’s marked in some way that says to all he encounters “This man is under God’s protection, leave him alone.” I have no idea of what that mark is, in fact, I can’t imagine how it works. However, I do know it’s a mark of mercy and I have a very good idea of what mercy looks like. It looks like the Lord forgiving me of my sins rather than condemning me as I deserve. It looks like hope instead of fear. It looks like Jesus on the cross of Calvary.
Take away: Thank God for the “mark of mercy!”
A different kind of “street service”
Hebrews 13: God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship…that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.
We’re not sure who is the writer of Hebrews, but this chapter (and not just the Timothy, Italy, and prison references) feels a whole lot like Paul’s writings. As he closes the letter, as Paul does, the writer tosses in a lot of one line instructions. As a reader, what I get out of a chapter like this depends a lot on what’s happening in my life right now. Tomorrow I might read it again and have a different “one-liner” jump out at me. Anyway, the instruction to take our faith out of the church and into the streets stands out to me. Christians are to be generous people who not only respond to needs when we’re confronted with them, but who actively go out and seek those in need that we might minister to them in Christ’s name. I tend to think of “worship” as what takes place on Sunday mornings inside the church building. In this passage I’m reminded that God really likes it when I make my “sacrifices” (an Old Testament style of worship) outside the church building and into my everyday life; at home, at work, and out in the general public. In-church worship is important, a vital part of living in Christ. Out-of-church worship is just as important as I take Jesus in practical ways to those “out there.”
Take Away: Worship inside the church and service outside the church are both vital parts of Christianity.
Life in the middle
Titus 3: Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print about the law code.
Since Paul’s somewhat critical of the average resident of Crete I assume that his warning to Titus here isn’t based on some natural tendency of Titus to get caught up in trivial matters. It seems to me that Paul thinks that the people of that island do share this tendency and if he isn’t careful Titus will get bound up in it too. Paul wants Titus, and all believers, to focus on the big picture. The Lord has graciously and in mercy reached out to us in our sinful state to establish us in a new relationship with him. He stepped into this world and knowing full well that we don’t deserve it, loved us anyway and went to work transforming our lives. Now, we’re made new, cleaned up by Jesus, recipients of God’s gift of himself to us. These are the things we’re to think and tell about. We’re to let others, outsiders, have the corner on worrying about the minutia of the law. They’re welcome to it. After all, if such things provide salvation, the Pharisees and Sadducees would have been Jesus’ best friends. Paul tells Titus to “put his foot down” and insist that the business of the Church is declaring Jesus and to provide evidence of what he does in people’s lives by being “bighearted and courteous,” law-abiding citizens. On one side of us are those who are “ordered every which way by their glands.” On the other side are those who focus on debating the finer points of the Law. Here in the middle, we just live for Jesus, telling our story to all who will listen.
Take Away: It’s easy to major on the minors – but to do so is to fail to live the life to which the Lord calls us.
Acts 25: I appeal to Caesar
Paul has been confined in Caesarea for two years as Governor Felix ignores his innocence and hopes for some kind of bribe that never comes. It isn’t that Paul is chained in a dungeon; in fact, he’s invited to chat with Felix several times. Then, a new Governor is appointed. Festus is immediately approached by Paul’s enemies who want him moved to Jerusalem, supposedly to stand trial in their courts, but actually that he might be removed from Roman protection and murdered. The new Governor knows the kind of people he’s dealing with and, instead, invites them to come to Caesarea and make their case there. In less than two weeks, Paul finds himself being wildly accused once again, this time before Festus. When this new Governor wavers and asks Paul if he’s willing to face these people (who obviously can’t wait to get their hands on him) he surprises everyone by playing the trump card available to a Roman citizen: he requests that his case be heard by Caesar, himself. This takes the Jews of Jerusalem out of play and places Paul under the scrutiny of the Emperor. In this case, Caesar isn’t an especially nice guy and he certainly isn’t known for his mercy. From Paul’s point of view, though, it’s better to take his chances with Caesar than face certain death from the Jewish leadership. I’m glad today that when I face the accusations of my failure, guilt, and sin that, rather than face the consequences, that I can appeal to a Higher Court. This Court is known for its grace and mercy. This is a place where love and forgiveness abounds. As my life is on the line and my sin moves to condemn me, I appeal to God, not for justice, but for mercy.
Take Away: Its mercy I need from God and its mercy I receive.