The Way of Love

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The Way of Love

Deuteronomy 5:22-33

Moses the Mediator of God’s Will1

These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”

The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.

1 Peter 3:8-12

Suffering for Doing Right

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

“Those who desire life

and desire to see good days,

let them keep their tongues from evil

and their lips from speaking deceit;

let them turn away from evil and do good;

let them seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

and his ears are open to their prayer.

But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Love and suffering go hand in hand. We preach it at weddings. We preach it at funerals. For some reason, all the great romance stories involve suffering and usually dying. I finally got around to watching Star Wars: Rogue One last night and that entire movie was focused around the concept of love and suffering together.. Alan Tudyk, one of my favorite actors played the robot “K-2SO”, and even he had a death scene as he gave his life for the “love” of his companions.

The Mosaic covenant began as God showed love for the Hebrew people by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt and setting them on a path to the Promised Land. Instead of gratitude, they were fearful of that love. While that might seem weird, think about it again. When has true, deep, life-changing love ever come “naturally”. Many guys know the sheer terror of asking out a girl they really care about – fearful of rejection. Many girls get butterflies in their stomach when those guys come near them. Putting on the act and going through the motions is so much easier when you don’t really have feelings for the person with whom you are entering the relationship.

By feelings, I don’t just mean physical attraction either. It is the deeper love that calls forth the willingness to sacrifice – often the kind of love parents feel the first time they meet their newborn baby. Sure, it comes and goes with diaper changes and other messes babies make, but there is a part of it that is truly covenantal, in that it lasts until they are parted by death.

God wanted to show this kind of love to the Hebrew people, and they were terrified of what it might cost them. So they chose to hide from God. Instead of chasing after them, God, did something strange. He used Moses as an intermediary, to go between Him and the people. In a sense, Moses was supposed to carry God’s love to the people. In order to do that, Moses had to act and talk a certain way. He could no longer just be himself, because He was always representing God to the people. Moses had to change. Moses had to learn and begin to love the Hebrew people the way God did.

It was like one of those crazy Shakespearean romances where the guy playing matchmaker falls for the girl he is supposed to win over for his friend. In those type of stories conflict ensues and it either ends as a comedy or tragedy – rarely anything in between. With God however, it is a different kind of story. God actually encourages us to fall in love with the people He loves. He commands it. In fact, He helps us do it.

Jesus came as another kind of mediator between us and God, and He explained that all the laws that Moses taught could be summed up in two simple rules: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. All the rules simply help us know how to do those two things well in different situations. But it is more than just following rules. Rules help you stay on the path, but that does not mean you will go anywhere. Real love means walking the walk, and that is where the suffering comes in. Moses suffered for the Hebrew people. Jesus suffered for us all. God continues to choose to suffer as we give our love away to people and things that do not love us back, while we ignore Him Who is Always Faithful. He does it because that is the way of love.

How have you been called to the Way of Love?

Where does fear hold you back?


  1. (Ex 20:18–21)

Sacrificial Worship

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Sacrificial Worship

Exodus 24:1-11

The Blood of the Covenant

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

On the Mountain with God

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

It is hard for most of us to imagine what life must have been like for those Hebrew people recently liberated from Egypt. They, like Abraham before them, were called to follow God out into the wilderness and worship Him. While they were set free from harsh bondage, digging clay and making bricks without straw, building the pyramids of Egypt… they had no real plan for the future and did not know where they were going. Moses, their prophet and leader had never been one of them. He had first appeared as an adopted prince of Egypt and then later as a Midianite foreigner. Multiple tribes had come together and likely had some individuals vying for power and leadership over the others. These were many people who had been strangers brought together under the common enemy of Egypt and Moses was trying to bring them together under the common benefactor of YHWH.

Generally it is easier to unite people under a common enemy, playing on their prejudices and hatred. This is where the idea of political unification by going to war comes from. Gratitude is often harder to facilitate in the short term than prejudice. God was taking Moses the long way around building this new community of Israel. Instead of war, they were going to worship themselves into unity.

From the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to the potlucks of today’s Protestant and Catholic congregations, eating together has been an important connection between worship and community. On one level, it makes sense that, having traveled several days into the wilderness, they would want to stop, make camp, and cook up some food for the community. Furthermore, it would make sense to cook some of the livestock they brought with them from Egypt. Where we run into some of the logic issues is in terms of which livestock were picked.

Think about it. If you were wandering through the Sinai wilderness (read desert) with no sure plan about where you were going to end up, would you offer up your own livestock first? Even if everyone was pitching in, would you offer up your bulls and oxen first or would you rather start small with some sheep or goats and save your oxen to continue carrying your possessions until you got to the Promised Land, wherever that was? Sinai was too soon to celebrate for anyone who was even half a skeptic, so these sacrifices, whose meat were shared by the community were more than a community picnic. They were costly. They were sacrifices.

The Hebrew people became the nation of Israel not through the invitation to a free meal or pitching together for their common good, they were unified by the commands of God which required real sacrifice from them. As they slaughtered and cooked their best chances for surviving in the wilderness, they were turning over their faith to God and the community around them. It was, in its own way, an act of love and trust to God and their neighbors.

What does this tell us about worship? Real worship is much more than a feeling. It involves trusting God and your community sacrificially. And it probably involves food. Let’s be honest now. We’ve been to many concerts where worship music was played and we felt warm and fuzzy, but we couldn’t tell you the name of the person sitting three seats away from us because real relationships were not formed there. The concert may have inspired us to get closer to God, but we did not pack our bags, quit our jobs, and head off on tour with the band. We just waited until they came around next year. Real worship asks more of us than that,

Gifts from Heaven

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Gifts from Heaven

Exodus 16:9-21

“Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’ ”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’ ” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. ”

Love the giver, not the gifts. Love is not jealous . Love doesn’t get greedy.

Easier said than done.

How about, just follow the directions… hahaha.

Welcome to existence. It is not overly complicated. It is not impossible to live a life that blesses others and leaves the world better than you found it. However, it does require you to surrender your desires to control, to know everything, and to be humble enough to receive the help God has sent your way.

God provided the means for the Hebrew people to survive in the wilderness. He sent them food from Heaven every day but the Sabbath and Moses gave them specific instructions on how to use that gift. “But they did not listen to Moses…”

Too often I want to blame my problems on some kind of inability to do right, but God gives me everything I need. It is not everything I want, but it is everything I need to follow Him. It is easier to claim that I do not have the secret knowledge I need to really follow God, or to act as though I am powerless to choose otherwise. If you do not believe you have any choices, simply ask yourself, “Can I think of a worse person than myself?” Most of us can probably think about someone who has done something worse than our many misdeeds. I could have followed their example, but instead I chose a better path. Even if it was not the best option, I made a conscious choice to be better.

The trick is, taking that same motivation and trusting God to give us the direction instead of making something up ourselves – following directions instead of making our own way.

The Apostle Paul wrote this about battling our desires:

Romans 8:4-11

“ For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. ”

God does not just provide for our bodies, He provides for our souls as well. God has made sure that we have the choice to follow Him if we are willing to receive His help and follow His direction.

What directions do you struggle following?

What directions has God given you today?

 

Wearing God’s Commandments

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Wearing God’s commandments

Deuteronomy 11:18–28 (NRSV)

18 You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

22 If you will diligently observe this entire commandment that I am commanding you, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and mightier than yourselves. 24 Every place on which you set foot shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the Western Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you; the LORD your God will put the fear and dread of you on all the land on which you set foot, as he promised you.

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.

I had a friend several years ago who refused to wear a cross. He was a believer and follower of Jesus and now works as a missionary overseas, but he was convinced at the time that if you had to wear something to show you were a Christian, you probably were not living a Christian life the way you ought to. While it may seem a little odd to think about having the Ten Commandments hanging on your forehead and written on your hands, think about how many places we put crosses or other symbols of our faith. Our clothes, our jewelry, our cars… we even erect huge signs on the side of the road with messages about our faith. We may have gone a bit further than the Old Testament Law asked of the Jew.

I think Christians do that more, partially because we have a less complicated message. Jesus told us that the Old Testament Law could be summed up in only two commandments: Loving God, and Loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Most of us, bypass the whole commandment thing altogether and just use a cross with an entirely different message. That message, if not articulated well, can often sound like: “Join us or go to hell.”

The other way it can be misused is simply as a symbol of love. Honestly, between the two choices, I would rather make the mistake on the side of love rather than partisan spirituality. It is still not what Jesus taught though.

Both sets of commands (Old Testament and New Testament) begin with faithfulness and love toward God. Love of others is an important and integral part of following Jesus, but if you have to trade your relationship with God in order to love others, it probably is not real love.

The first message of the cross is that God so loved the world. The second part, which stands as our first example in response to God, is that Jesus so loved God that He came to earth willingly and went to the cross willingly. Jesus died in obedience to the will of the Father and Jesus died for love of us because the Father loved us. Philosophically, this gets really messy because Jesus is God and part of the Trinity, and because God is not subject to time the same way we are… but bear with me for just a moment. The human part of Jesus loved us because God asked Him to love us, and since Jesus loved God, the Father, Jesus wanted to love the things (and people) that the Father loved. It is here that we can truly see that loving others begins as a fulfillment of faithfully loving God.

But it doesn’t end there. I believe that love for one another may begin out of obligation, but as time passes, we find other unique reasons to love people. Jesus did not go through life telling people He only put up with them because God told Him to. No, He found unique reasons to love those around Him… and so should we.

The cross can still stand as our symbol of faith, one bar reminding us to look up and love God and the other reminding us to look alongside us and love our neighbors. It is God’s mercy that allows us to enter in to this relationship and His daily grace that helps us do it… and maybe we too need that daily reminder of who we are called to be hanging off our forehead, before our eyes, and written on our own hands.

Where do you see reminders of God’s call on your life today?

Breaking things

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Breaking things

Deuteronomy 9:13–21

13 Furthermore the LORD said to me, “I have seen that this people is indeed a stubborn people. 14 Let me alone that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and more numerous than they.”

15 So I turned and went down from the mountain, while the mountain was ablaze; the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 Then I saw that you had indeed sinned against the LORD your God, by casting for yourselves an image of a calf; you had been quick to turn from the way that the LORD had commanded you. 17 So I took hold of the two tablets and flung them from my two hands, smashing them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the LORD as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the LORD by doing what was evil in his sight. 19 For I was afraid that the anger that the LORD bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you. But the LORD listened to me that time also. 20 The LORD was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him, but I interceded also on behalf of Aaron at that same time. 21 Then I took the sinful thing you had made, the calf, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it thoroughly, until it was reduced to dust; and I threw the dust of it into the stream that runs down the mountain.

-The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Dt 9:13–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Yesterday I wrote about the power of God in breaking down our idols and Temples we build in ourselves that we use to serve other gods. Today’s scripture shows us what happens to the idols we refuse to give over to Jesus.

Those idols break us.

There are so many instances of brokenness in this passage. First the people turn from God and break their relationship of gratitude with Him. Then, Moses, moving down the mountain to inspect the situation becomes broken-hearted over the unfaithfulness he sees. He responds by breaking the two stone tablets – the physical representations of God’s promise to the people and the people’s promise to God. Then Moses breaks the idol of the gold calf down before the people. By the end of the story, everyone has experienced brokenness.

That is what sin does when we let it sit and stay with us. It festers and rots away at us, eating into the good parts of our life until nothing is left.

Moses intervened on behalf of the people. God was ready to wipe them out that day, but Moses acted on their behalf and pleaded for mercy. Then Moses went and disciplined the people, destroying all of the wealth they had used to create that golden calf. That was wealth that could have been traded to make things easier in the Promised Land, but because of their unfaithfulness, it was destroyed.

Jesus is the one who mediates between us and God. It is He who pleads for mercy on our behalf and then disciplining us.

Where are you feeling the grindstone in your life?

What can you turn over today to God so that your life does not get broken along with your idols?

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Third Priority – Find the Root

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“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” – ‭‭Mark‬ ‭1:21-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It is only after preparing yourself (Priority #1) and recruiting a team to help you (Priority #2) will you be ready to start making waves in the world. So, once you get yourself ready, how do you go about bringing about the change the world needs?Jesus faced many oppositions in the course of His ministry, but Mark proposed a particular order of priority in which Jesus engaged those foes. The first foe He faced was spiritual oppression.

Moses, in the days of the Exodus from Egypt, faced many challenges in trying to lead the Hebrew people from a place of slavery in Egypt to being faithful servants of God – a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They had lots of changes to make to get to that point, but the first and foremost was freedom from the oppression of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Not much else could be done before that was accomplished. Jesus faced a similar foe in his attempts to bring Israel (and through His disciples, the rest of the world) back into that role of kingdom of priests and holy nation. He was not facing a foreign king and army though. Jesus faced Satan and all of his fallen angels that had the people in another kind of bondage – sin.

A person who is truly enslaved has no ability to choose for themselves. Not only is it impossible for them to change themselves, it may actually be rather cruel to ask them to do so. The standards to which Jesus was asking His people to live by were, and are, impossible for those who are slaves to demonic spiritual oppression. So, whenever his teaching was challenged by those under spiritual oppression, Jesus did not chastise the challenger – He delivered them from bondage. More than simply asking people to change – Jesus made change possible for them.

Jesus looked at all the mess in this world and located the root of all of it and cut out the root first before trying to clean up the fruits of evil. As we work to make a difference in this world, if we have not discovered the root of the problem, we need to do more digging before we start cutting things down. If the experience of Jesus is any kind of guideline for us, we may have some spiritual battles to win before we can make any lasting change in this world.

This may drive us right back to Priority #1 if we find ourselves unprepared and unequipped to handle the root cause of the problems we face, and that could be quite frustrating. Think though of the cost of moving ahead while leaving the root of the problem to fester. The same problem will only crop up again somewhere else, perhaps somewhere nearby. How many political rebellions against tyrant dictators have resulted only in a new tyrant dictator on the throne? What is truly saddening is the number of times those who raise up the revolt end up being as bad or worse leaders once they win. If you truly want to bring change into the lives of others, sin must be factored in, and until you can give people freedom from it, any change they experience will be short-lived at best.