The Little Things

Day 31

Prayer for the day

Bow down your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and in misery. Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant who puts his trust in you.

Scripture for the day

Exodus 25-26, Matthew 20:17-34

I can’t count the number of times someone has told me that nothing is beneath God’s notice, that nothing is too small for God to care about. But I regularly struggle with that. If you’re like me, you think that God really cares about the big stuff, and that the little stuff is only important on a superficial level. Sure, he sees the sparrow when it falls, but it’s not that big of a deal, so he just sort of takes it easy with the sparrows.

The giving of directions about the tabernacle are spectacularly detailed. Measurements, materials, spacial relation, pictorial representation, and exact shapes. God’s explanation of the tabernacle to Moses shows God incredible care for the minutiae of the dwelling place of God with the people of Israel. When speaking to Moses, it seems that God has already given him previous directions regarding this dwelling place, plans on the mountain, even, yet God repeats himself to ensure that Moses gets it all down. This is a God who is meticulous in crafting the place where he will meet the Israelites.

The story today in Matthew has a similar feel. Jesus is walking through the crowd, and a couple of blind men are shouting for him to notice and heal them. The crowd around Jesus is always shouting. People are trying to be noticed in order to be healed, in order to have their relatives healed, and to be forgiven. In the midst of the din, Jesus catches the voices of these two fellows, and goes to meet them.

Jesus allows the men to name their desire. He asks what they would have from him, and they answer that they would have sight. He heals them in his compassion. Just an ordinary day for Jesus. But an extraordinary day for these two men. They were just two fellows, blind, likely facing the wrong direction when shouting. They were two small voices in the midst of the crowd. But the God of the details focused in on the noise of their voices, and approached them. These two societally useless fellows who couldn’t manage for themselves, who were shouting toward the teacher, or so they hoped, caught the ear of the God of the details. And it made all the difference to those two.

There’s a little book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” I get the point. But in the Scriptures, it seems that we get to rely on the one who does. Nothing is beneath the notice or the care of the God of the universe. Even you. Even me.

Thanks be to God.

A Generous God

Day 30

Prayer for the day

Seven times a day do I praise you, because of your righteous judgments.

Scripture for the day

Exodus 23-24, Matthew 20:1-16

It’s hard to imagine generosity as an undesirable trait. Generosity, even generosity to a fault, is usually seen as something to strive for, particularly for Christians. We love to see God as a God who pours out his love on us, who lavishes his favour on us, who gives us exactly what we need and a whole bunch more. What really sticks, though, is when God pours those things out on the undeserving.

Generosity to those who don’t deserve it is something that offends our sensibilities. We scoff, we heap scorn, we sing our songs of lament and mockery, convinced that God must have made a mistake in blessing the un-bless-able. And like the landowner in Jesus’ story, God shakes his head.

The joy of generosity is stifled by the measuring of mean and base people with little left but a self-righteous sense of deservedness.

The incredible thing is that God continues to give anyway.

The people of Israel were not necessarily a deserving bunch. They were a homeless folk without much going for them. Indeed, they were runaway slaves, nomads, and whiners to boot.

But the mercy of God was poured out on this people in the form of an everlasting covenant. God drenched them in his favour, desiring for them a life lived in the presence of God and the knowledge of his holiness. He promised to fight for them, to be vigilant for them, and to strive for them, not because of their deservedness but because of his generosity. Their response to this lavished love was the response God sought, though they would continue in unfaithfulness: “we will obey.” God’s generosity engendered one response: gratitude working itself out through obedience.

God is a good and a gifting God, regardless of our hang=ups and faults. God chooses to bless, without any thought to deservedness. God simply blesses. Are we really so naive to think that we are any more deserving of God’s generosity than anyone else? Do we think we stand so far above others that where they could never merit God’s favour, we deserve it?

We stand with our brothers and sisters around the world, complete in the knowledge that God blesses, and God blesses, and then God blesses some more, in complete defiance of our unworthiness.

Thanks be to God.

The Shape of the Kingdom

Day 29

Prayer for the day

Come, let us sing to the LORD; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.

Scripture for the day

Exodus 21-22, Matthew 19

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The Law. I’ve said before that the law is a gift of grace to the people of Israel designed to make them into the people God designed them to be, to bear His name and character to the nations around them. This calling was accomplished through the giving of the law, which placed boundaries around the people of Israel in order to ensure that their life together was consistent with God’s design.

It’s easy to take the law and make it an oppressive thing. Paul discusses this in the New Testament a few times, but it bears remembering that the law was given, given by God, and was good for the people. It was the way they approached the law that was detrimental.

When Jesus starts talking law in the Second Testament, things really heat up. Jesus is confronted by a rich young man who is genuinely trying to follow God. He claims that he has followed the law. He wants to know what he’s missing. He believes he’s got it all together but checks with Jesus, just in case. Jesus asks if he’s followed the law, and the young man seems to be doing pretty well. He reminds me of me, so many days. You? How often do we think about the Kingdom of God and think “yeah, I’m doing pretty well. I’m not perfect…but I’m no Judas Iscariot.” We play little comparison games to convince ourselves we’ve got it all together.

Jesus throws the young man a curve ball. He tells the young man that he’s doing well, but that his riches are a hindrance. He needs to sell all he has and give it to the poor.

Jesus cuts straight to the issue with the young man. He has been attempting to follow the law, which is good, but in ticking off the boxes he has missed the spirit of the law as God intended it. Many of the laws in today’s passage deal with the equity of the people of God, with God’s special care for the poor and concern for the downtrodden. The young man had seen the boxes and the prize, and ticked the boxes to get the prize. He had missed the most important thing: the law was designed to form a people, to bind them together in mutual care, and to show the world the love of God for all of His people. The young man wanted the boxes ticked, but when it came to the spirit of the law, caring for his neighbour, he couldn’t handle it.

How difficult, says Jesus, for the rich to enter the kingdom. Couldn’t we add the rest of us to that list? How difficult for the rich, the prideful, the greedy, the self-righteous, the [fill-in-the-blank]…

May the Spirit guide us to the spirit of the law, and the grace therein.

…to forgive, divine.

Day 28

Prayer for the day

Deliver me, O LORD, by your hand from those whose portion in life is this world.

Scripture for the day

Exodus 19-20, Matthew 18:21-35

Forgiveness. The word itself is sometimes enough to send shivers down our spines. Forgiveness often conjures images of bruised and battered people meekly accepting their fate, doormats walked over and crushed by the heels of life and loved ones. Too often, forgiveness means supporting those who would do us great harm. It’s not a fair fight, forgiveness. It’s tough.

Jesus speaks about forgiveness to his disciples. He talks about the necessity of regularly forgiving offenses against them. Jesus’ advice to his disciples seems irresponsible. How can they know how wrong they are unless we teach them by refusing to forgive until we really believe they’re sorry? How can we have psychic health if we’re constantly enabling their sin against us? How can we possibly forgive someone who wrongs us so regularly?

These very strong words on forgiveness have echoes in the law of the Old Testament. God gives the law to his people in order to form them as a people, and in doing so, he teaches them the way to reflect His character. The law is certainly a list of dos and don’ts, but goes far beyond a simple checklist. The law is to be grace to the people of God. They are not only to obey, they are to learn what it means to be a people. And when a law like this is given, it puts in place the right kind of environment for forgiveness.

The greatest feature of the forgiveness environment is humility. Humility is the recognition that every single one of us is entirely dependent on God for everything we have, everything we do, and everything we are. The law teaches us this, because none are able to fully and perfectly obey it. When you look at your own sin and the sin of your brother and sister, you see people who are equally incapable of keeping the law, people who are equally reliant on God. And it is that reliance on God, and the forgiveness we all are able to receive from God, that allows us to truly forgive one another.

God wasn’t commanding doormat status when Jesus told the disciples to forgive. God was commanding humility. The servant was to be gracious and forgive because he too had been forgiven.

How much more the people of God?

A Good Guide

mash_signpost.imgDay 27

Prayer for the day

But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Scripture for the day

Exodus 16-18, Matthew 18:1-20

There’s almost nothing worse than being lost. And it’s particularly bad when you’ve been following someone who claimed to know where they were leading you.

Jesus has some fairly harsh words for bad guides in this passage in Matthew. He seems to lean fairly heavily on those who lead other people astray, away from the path of Truth and Love in God. His words concern those who cause others to stumble in their faith. Jesus is looking to those who have influence in the lives of others, who care for others and who are models of faith. Those people, people who are mature in their faith and people who, while immature, still wield influence, bear a significant responsibility to uphold the truth of Christ to the people with whom and to whom they minister.

Jethro has some words of counsel for his son-in-law Moses regarding leadership, good leadership, and what it entails. He is concerned that Moses will burn himself out and suggests delegating some of his judging to other trustworthy guides. These “capable” people will aid Moses in his work, as he aids the people of Israel in the work of God.

As Christians, as people of faith, it is a God-given responsibility we bear to bear God’s name well, and part of bearing that name well means pointing others to the good God well. Many times we make awful guides because our actions do not point to God, but instead away from God, and usually to ourselves. Jesus has choice words for us. His words bear the connotation of being people of integrity, people of wisdom, people who fulfill their God-given mission: be a good guide. Lead people not away from God, but to Him, to trust in Him, that together we move toward the future God has destined.

Be a good guide. Point well.

Path of God

Day 26

Prayer for the day

When your word goes forth it gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

Scripture for the day

Exodus 14-15, Matthew 17

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of my favorite movies. I love the end when Indy has to pass the tests set before him before he reaches the Holy Grail. He has to duck the deadly blades in the “Breath of God” test, traverse the tricky falling tiles in the “Name of God,” and finally, he must leap from the lion’s head in the “Path of God” test.

During the last test, Indy states that “it’s a leap of faith…oh geez.” His disappointment is echoed by the watcher, who has seen Indy use his brains and his brawn to get out of every other deadly situation. Now, all of his wits and strength are discounted. It is only in a leap of faith that he is able to save his father.

The phrase “leap of faith” is often used to describe a step we must take where there is no surety, no guarantee, no reasonable explanation, and no possible way of knowing. It is the step of the believer, and is ridiculed as such. And in some ways, rightly so.

However, the steps of faith required by the Israelites in the story of the crossing of the Red (or Reed) Sea and in the story of the exorcism are steps of faith that make sense to the ones taking them. How can that be?

It only makes sense when we consider where the locus of faith really lies. Often when we think of a leap of faith, we think of a ridiculous step taken with no real surety. But the faith of the Israelites and the faith Jesus asks of his disciples is faith that rests not on some mindless optimism, but on the character of the God in whom they trust.

And this is why I don’t like the definitions of faith that have more to do with optimism. They don’t really take into account what Christian faith is all about. It’s not about the power of positive thinking and it’s not about just really hoping that everything will turn out ok. Christian faith bases its entire premis on the character of God. I believe that things, in the end, will work out, because God is a god who works things out in the end. He’s said so. And He tells the truth. My faith is based not on randomness nor on hope, but firmly on the character of God. It’s the only guarantee that’s worth anything.

Rise to the occasion?

Day 25

Prayer for the day

Our help is in the Name of the Lord; the maker of heaven and earth.

Scripture for the day

Exodus 12-13, Matthew 16

It’s funny, the Bible seems to have a hate-on for yeast.In the Exodus story for today, God says that anyone who eats bread with yeast in it during this feast is not only in trouble, they must be CUT OFF from their people. Jesus warns his disciples to beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The disciples take him a little too literally and Jesus has to explain to them what a metaphor is. Regardless, yeast gets a pretty bad rap.

So why the hatred for little ole yeast? After all, it’s what makes bread big and puffy, fluffy and delicious. Yeast is a good thing in cooking. I remember many times in my youth when mom would make a dough that would need to rise (usually for pizza), and she’d put it in a container covered with a cloth and lay it in my (heated) waterbed. A few hours would pass and that thing would be busting through the cloth, all huge and delicious smelling. How could God be angry with something that makes bread so excellent?

The problem with yeast in these two accounts is not actually yeast, as you may expect, but is symbolic in several ways:
1. Yeast takes a long time to work. The bread the Israelites were to eat was to symbolize the speed with which God delivered them. They had to leave so quickly, they couldn’t wait for the bread to rise!
2. Yeast pollutes the purity of the grain offered to God. While this doesn’t mean yeast is bad, the symbolic purity was important in celebrating a feast to the Lord’s goodness.
3. Yeast invades. Just a little bit will invade the whole dough.

Each of these points guides us to Jesus’ words about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. His concern with them wasn’t actual yeast, but the fact that their teachings could pollute, their teachings could take a long time and their teachings could invade. Their teachings sounded a lot like truth…but the way they acted fought the truth.

I think it’s true that few Pharisees or Sadducees joined up because they were awful people who wanted to hurt the people of God. But it’s also true that that’s the case for most of us. Most of us don’t work in positions of leadership or influence because we want to hurt people. It’s because we want to HELP people. The problem is when we lose sight of the goal, when we forget that purity is the purpose and not checkboxes for our laws. The problem with yeast is not the yeast. The problem is that we forget the purity.

In Exodus as in Matthew, God is not putting down bread, or hating on real yeast. His concern is for His people, that we understand the truth, and that we follow it unerringly. That we never lose sight of the goal, which is union with and purity in Christ.