Strong and Courageous

Day 77

Prayer for the day

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being. May these words of mine please him.

Scripture for the day

Joshua 1-3, Mark 20

It seems like a litany, running throughout the entirety of the scriptures. Whenever anyone encounters God, or one of God’s angelic emissaries, that person is instructed to put off fear. “Do not be afraid” say the angels. God amplifies this command a bit when it comes to the commissioning of His new servant, Joshua. Not only is Joshua to put off fear, he is to be strong, and courageous.

In fact, God tells him regularly to be strong and courageous. Almost enough that we start to worry whether this fellow is listening.

Joshua is commanded to lead the people of Israel in what will be their most difficult test of trust. They will cross over the river Jordan and take possession of this new land, the land they’d be warned previously was inhabited by giants and full of enormous cities (and fruit).

Joshua is commanded to be strong, not weak, and courageous, rather than fearful. Do not be afraid, says the command of God.

It sounds a lot like the command of the “young man” in the book of Mark who declares the resurrection of Jesus. The women who’ve come to anoint Jesus’ body see him sitting beside or on top of the rolled-away stone, and are rightly frightened. “What happened to Jesus?” they must have thought. But he reassures them with a simple command: “do not be afraid.”

Two groups of people separated by a few centuries or more, but the same command resounding. Do Not Be Afraid. There must be a human connection here. And there is. We’re fearful. We’re afraid when God commands us to do something uncomfortable, afraid when God surprises us, afraid when God answers, and afraid when God answers differently than we expect. We live lives steeped in fear of the unknown, of the known, of the future and the past. And the command rings through the ages:

Do not be afraid. Be strong and courageous.

The End

Day 76

Prayer for the day

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 32-34, Mark 15:26-47
(Just so you know, because I’ve heard it a few times, the above scriptures are “clickable”…click on them and you’ll be taken to biblegateway.com with the appropriate scriptures)

“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses”
“Surely this man was the Son of God!”

In the two scriptures for today, we read accounts of lives lived and of the evidence of favour in the lives lived. All of us at one time or another worry about posterity, about the way we will be remembered. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is mourned as a great leader of the people, a prophet, a friend of God, a man whom God chose to do mighty things for the people. It is true, of course, that Moses was not perfect. Moses was FAR from perfect. But at the end, when it really mattered, Moses was remembered as a godly man.

Jesus, on the other hand, was perfect, and that perfection caused him to be hated and despised. His last hours present an horrific picture of the depravity of humanity as Jesus is treated in an unspeakable manner. There is violence and death on all sides, and people hurling insults and hatred toward the Lord. Yet his reaction to this, the manner of his death, causes a Roman to pronounce that this man is certainly what he claimed, the son of God.

Two men are presented. Both lived lives of service to God. One lived a perfect life, one far from perfect. But both are now remembered as some of the greatest men who ever lived.

And the reason they are remembered this way is that they lived according to the God who called them. Jesus refused to take what God did not want him to take…the easy way out. Moses refused to surrender to the people’s wish for another God, and clung steadily to the God of the Israelites.

And both are remembered well.

What will it take for us to be remembered similarly? Maybe a life lived similarly?

Hard Hearts and Stiff Necks

Day 75

Prayer for the day

Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? be gracious to your servants.

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 30-31, Mark 15:1-25

It’s seems a common refrain in the scriptures. God and Moses constantly call the people of Israel stiff-necked and hard-hearted. It’s a well-deserved reputation, unfortunately. The story of Israel is the story of a people constantly turning to God, and then turning away from God. They turn to God, they turn away from God. The story is so easy to predict that it seems ridiculous each time they repeat the cycle.

Throughout the scriptures and throughout history, the twin attributes of hardened hearts and stiffened necks will typify people’s response to the God who created and loves. It happens in our Second Testament story today, as we see the people of Jerusalem screaming their vitriol against the Christ who so recently was hailed as the coming Messiah, the king who comes in the name of the Lord. They, like we do, scream over and over for his blood. They call for his death. They see in him the threat to their security, their lifestyle, their way of treating one another and relating to their God at arms length. In Christ, they see danger and they call for his death to minimize the danger to themselves. Their hard hearts and stiff necks can’t allow something so radically good, so incredible.

We follow in their footsteps every day. We seek out the worst. We refuse to allow God to calm our hearts and to all our necks to bend to God’s will. We regularly deny the power and goodness of God in our lives and we seek our best without consulting the God who created us and created our best. Once we move beyond our hard hearts and our stiff necks we see the glory of the God who cares, and we can be blown away.

Let’s open our hearts, bend our necks, and submit to the God who is desperate to bless us.

In Denial

Day 74

Prayer for the day

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 28-29, Mark 14:54-72

The story of Peter has to be one of the most depressing in the scriptures. Here is one of the most beloved disciples, the one Jesus is going to leave in charge, and Peter flat out denies that he even knows Jesus, let alone being a follower.

Peter’s denial rests heavy on the people of God because we all, if we’re honest, recognize ourselves in Peter. We claim followership of Jesus but when difficulty rears its head, we immediately lapse into Petrine denial. “Him? I don’t know him.”

The denial of and disobedience of God is something taken very seriously in the First Testament. God tells Moses that disobedience of the covenant is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. But why? Why is this covenant so important to God, and why is it so awful to contravene?

In short, the answer is that the covenant, the law, serves as the binding mechanism between God and God’s people. It is the love of God in tangible form, a vehicle of God’s grace to the people to embody what God’s plan for the people truly is. God wants the people to prosper, but knows that even prosperity must be contained and subsumed under the larger understanding of peoplehood. Prosperity needs to be recognized as the gift of God before it can truly be appreciated for what it is.

God’s insistence on obedience to the covenant means that God wants the people to prosper appropriately. He wants them to be thankfully prosperous, and to spread that prosperity.

It may come through wealth, it may come through family or crops, but in the end, it comes as a result of obedience and as a gift of God.

Peter experienced the mercy of God in his denial. God could have cursed Peter as Peter cursed God. God could have denied Peter. But instead, God prospered a repentant and a broken Peter. And that is the crux of the covenant. Not that obedience will always equal prosperity and disobedience always cursing, but that the heart of the follower is what matters. God desires true worship, true repentance, and true followers.

Let us be true.

to obey…

Day 73

Prayer for the day

Let me know you, you who know me. Then shall I know, even as I am known.

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 25-27, Mark 14:27-53

I have kids. Quite a few kids. Four, in fact. And the more time I spend as a father, the more I understand the necessity of obedience. I’m trying to teach my kids to obey. I insist on it sometimes. And sometimes they resend me for it. Just like I resented my parents for it. But in the end, I’m appreciative of the teaching I received and hopeful that my children will one day be appreciative.

The Israelites are regularly encouraged to be an obedient people. They are asked to obey, reminded to obey ,commanded to obey, and ultimately punished for not obeying, though that’s a spoiler for another post. They are not only to obey, they are to set up reminders of the need to obey all over Israel. They are to keep the law with them, write it on their hearts, teach it to their children, bind it to their bodies, and build it into their homes.

Jesus has a similar command to the disciples. He gives them an instruction to stay awake, to pray, to keep watch, and they can’t handle it. And then Jesus puts his finger on the pulse of the problem that the Israelites and the disciples and you and I all face: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak.

In the case of the Israelites, they would be constantly wooed by ease, by other nations, by other gods, by other distractions, even by the law itself, so that their spirit wanted to obey God, but the flesh had so many other drives and ideas.

For the disciples, they maybe didn’t understand the implications or the times, and they also were dead tired. Staying awake to pray didn’t seem that important. For us, obedience to God seems easy, but the distractions, cares, and lures of the world around us often prove too cunning, too attractive, too distracting, and it the end we lose our focus.

May our lives regain the focus of obedience. May we reclaim the obedience that is required of us, for our best. May we live lives of obedience to Christ.

The Poor

Day 72

Prayer for the day

The LORD, the God of gods, has spoken; he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 22-24, Mark 14:1-26

“The poor you will always have with you.” Jesus speaks these words to those around him, letting them know that what the woman is doing, pouring perfume on him, is something that is praiseworthy…they should not be limiting her. He uses this phrase next, saying that the poor will always be among us and we can help them any time we want to.

It would be easy to take this statement of Jesus as dismissive. Jesus could be saying it casually: “the poor will always be here…focus on me. Stop worrying about them so much.” Or he could be saying that it’s a matter of timing and priority. Or, Jesus could be using the time and opportunity to teach. There could be a bit of an edge to his speech. It may well be that these people who seem so concerned with the poor at the moment may not be as aboveboard as they seem.

What if the people around him are being chastised by Jesus for seeming concerned, and for not doing something about the poor on a regular basis? What if these people around him have been neglecting the poor and are only mentioning them now because they don’t understand the extravagance being shown to Jesus.

This care for the poor is supposed to run straight from the First Testament. The people of Israel are commanded to care for one another, usually at the expense of personal gain. God seems determined that this people be formed around something much more important than economic prosperity (at least personal). The poor are with us, the poor always have been with us, yet the economics God designed for the people was supposed to be an equitable one that would limit hardship for the poor and allow everyone to participate in the good God had for the people.

Sounds like something that could still be useful.

Times

Day 71

Prayer for the day

Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard; Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip.

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 19-21, Mark 13:21-37

It’s a worry, sometimes, that God seems to allow some absolutely crazy stuff int he First Testament, stuff that we find abhorrent today. We wonder, as we read, how God could allow slavery, allow the capture of someone’s wife as a spoil of war, how God could seemingly encourage polygamy and all sorts of vile and detestable practices.

It’s amazing to me that God did allow these things. Why didn’t He completely do away with everything that would harm our sensibilities? Why didn’t God make it clear right from the outset how wrong these practices were?

What’s even more amazing is the condescension of God. One of the best answers to these questions is to say that God knew the context of the people of Israel and in knowing that context allowed for a certain amount of latitude. He allowed them to be as they were before, as the nations around them, yet insisted on some gradual changes over time. God knew the times and knew how to lead the people through the times to different and better times.

In the Second Testament passage in Mark today, Jesus says we’re to be aware of the times also. We’re to be watching and waiting, looking for signs of the end. This is not to say we should be preoccupied with the end as some preachers have been in recent years, but that we shouldn’t be ignorant of the times in which we find ourselves, watching for signs of God’s presence, watching for signs of Christ’s return.

As we watch and wait, it’s wise for us to remember the Israelites, that God gives us revelation according to our context and according to what He knows we can handle. Our responsibility is to be engaged with that revelation, to watch, to listen, and to wait for the voice of God.

The Voice

Day 70

Prayer for the day

When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 16-18, Mark 13:1-20

It seems too common a claim these days (and all days). Someone comes along with “a message from the LORD.” They speak, and we’re left wondering whether we’ve just heard the voice of God or something a little less heavenly. We debate, discern, pray, and seek God’s wisdom. Or we just write them off as “crazy.”

In the story from Deuteronomy today, Moses clearly states that there is only one way the Israelites are going to hear from God: it will not be through divination, through child sacrifice, through magic, or any other means. It will be through the voice of the prophet. The Israelites are warned against believing a prophet too quickly, lest he (or she) be a false prophet, and lead them astray. They are to watch the prophet and ascertain by historical account whether what he or she has said comes from YHWH.

Interestingly, Jesus speaks of the disciples having a similar experience. They will undergo horrific hardship and tribulation (this certainly comes to pass) and they will speak when arrested. They are not to worry, says Jesus, because what they speak will not come from them, but will be the words of the Holy Spirit.

Both of these passages talk about God’s ability to communicate. And God uses the strangest means of communication we can think of: fallible humans.

It’s incredible when you think about it. God entrusts messages that are vital to the survival and flourishing of the entire species, or at least entire nations, to people. And we are responsible for discerning, with God’s help and the help of the scriptures, whether or not God truly is speaking through someone.

This should give us considerable pause. Whether we are the one speaking, or the ones hearing, we have an enormous responsibility to be faithful to God. Let us not take it lightly.

Shema part II

Day 69

Prayer for the day

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; you are my crag and my stronghold.

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 13-15, Mark 12:28-44

In the Markan passage for today, Jesus tells a certain teacher of the law that the greatest commandment (and the second that is like it) is the Shema, that we should love the Lord our God with everything we have and are, and that we should care for our neighbour as we care for ourselves.

In giving this answer to the question, Jesus sets the law in its proper perspective. The law, according to Jesus, is not a way of oppression, but a way to live out the greatest command, to which all the law truly points.

The First Testament has a similar point as Moses outlines the law for the people. The first section delineates the punishment for leading anyone to worship another God. The worship of YHWH is so all-consuming and important that straying from YHWH to any other god is punishable by death through stoning. God recognizes how susceptible the people are to straying, and so gives them extremely sever punishments for what is the greatest sin: breaking the greatest commandment.

This commandment, and the second which is like it, is quite simply the easiest to break, and it happens all the time, even to the most enlightened of us. God has set out strict guidelines concerning who we ought to worship, and how, and yet we decide on such a regular basis to see how we fare following other gods, gods like success, power, celebrity, acclaim, gods like sex, beauty, and youth.

We are so susceptible to the lure of other gods that God gives us constant reminders in the scripture of the dangers and of the sever consequences. He gives us the scriptures, the Spirit, prayer, and the Church to ensure that we have safeguards in place. And still we falter.

Help us Lord to be a faithful people.

God’s.

Day 68

Prayer for the day

May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

Scripture for the day

Deuteronomy 10-12, Mark 12:1-27

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

Jesus spoke these words to the Pharisees in order to evade their trap. They were trying to snare Jesus by presenting a seemingly impossible question: should the Jewish people, the children of God, pay to their Roman overlords the taxes which they considered wrong, or should they withhold? Both were unpopular answers, one with the Jewish people, and the other with the Romans.

Jesus sidesteps the question by showing that the money is already Caesar’s…it bears his face already. But Jesus adds what must be one of the most difficult verses in scripture: give to God what is God’s.

The Israelites were learning the same thing. Moses was careful to lay out for them the importance of dedicating everything they had and were to their YHWH God. This YHWH did not require a lot of sacrifices, necessarily, nor did they have to do elaborate rituals to please Him. They simply needed to give this YHWH absolutely everything, and He would prosper them.

The Israelites and the Pharisees (and we) were faced with the same proposal: will you commit everything to YHWH, or will you hold something back?

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees was brutal, not because it was crafty, but because he exploded their (and our) ideas of what belongs to whom. In Jesus’ economy, nothing truly belongs to Caesar, because everything in the end belongs to this YHWH God.

Jesus places the same colossal requirement before his people today. Should we pay taxes? Where does our money belong? At the end of the day, Jesus calls those questions irrelevant, not because they’re unimportant, but because they miss the most important question of all: what will you do with your EVERYTHING?