Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Deuteronomy 28 - Heaven or Hell on Earth

Deuteronomy 28 is one of the favorite "go to" passages for stewardship studies. It has some wonderful conditional promises for God's people. IF we are obedient.  Abundance, peace, power and honor will come our way at the hand of God. No doubt we should obey God's commands and be a holy people, but let's be honest...you and I don't full obey all the commands of God. We all fall short of God's standard. Prosperity gospel hawkers would lead us to believe that the misery we experience in life is our own fault and if we could just do better, look what waits in store for us. I think that is why so many prosperity gospel believers are so depressed. If perfection is what it takes for God's blessing we are surely doomed. But that is exactly our condition apart from a Savior. We strive and strive for better but we can never quite make it. We might strive until we nearly collapse before we realize that Heaven does not depend on us, we depend on it. 

An interesting point to see in this chapter is just the vast number of verses dedicTed to the curses that are stored up for disobedience. 15 verses of blessing andore than 59 of curses. But if we continue to strive in our own efforts and depending on our strength we will land on the side of curses more often than blessing since we are born sinners and we tend to revert to our natural state. 

We encounter almost daily, strife, disease, disaster, betrayal and oppression. Our footing is not sure and our balance is off. When we encounter hard times our propensity is to cry up to God and say "why me?", as if God was punishing us inappropriately. We view our ways as best by default and we fail to see that we are on a path that leads to destruction.  We experience a bit of hell here on earth that should lead us to repentance and to plead for forgiveness, but we stand up to God and act confused. 

Hell is what we all deserve if perfect obedience to the law is our only hope. No one gets into heaven by obeying the law. All our good works are insufficient to meet God's holy standard. There is only one man who was able to meet the standard and that was God in the flesh, Jesus  Christ. Jesus not only met the standard, but his holiness was able to cover us all if we will look to him for our security. 

Because of Jesus' sacrifice for us we do get to enjoy some of those blessings on earth that we don't deserve. We have provision for our needs, we have peace with God and enjoy His protection. We get it all, but not based on the conditions of the law. We fell short of that. But because of the finished work of our Savior, Jesus Christ we enjoy Heaven in Earth and look forward to the day when we no longer have to live among the curses. Our security is in Christ alone. 

The law holds up a perfect standard that we cannot achieve. It is designed to help us see our need for a Savior and how sinful we are. We get a glimpse of what is desireable, then we are left to consider out true state and what we really deserve. Praise God He made provision for not only our bodies but also our souls!

Heaven can be ours if we will give up our striving and accept the only perfect provision. We have life and abundance because Jesus gave His. Enjoy that provision of God and peace with God today. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Deuteronomy 27 - Take Time to be Holy

Moses is coming to the end of his ministry. He know time is short so he wants to be sure that Israel keeps God close. He really begins this message starting in Deuteronomy 26:16 reminding the people to keep God's commands because they are a chosen people called to live distinctly for God alone. He reminds them how God longs to bless them with honor and praise among the nations. 

The key to holiness is to keep God's thoughts close. Especially when we are living with abundance and plenty, our alliegiance a have a propensity to wander from the Lord's eternal bounty and take refuge in the temporal - the temporary pleasures of the here and now. God is about to give th the land flowing with milk and honey. Moses will not be going with them to give counsel and guidance so they are charged to write God's laws on stones set up as an altar. When we keep God's standard of holiness in front of us all the time we are less likely to slip into the standards of the world. 

God also provides a vision of the future for one who violates His standard. It is the future that we all have if left to our own devices - cursing. Our legacy is marred forever by the sin exposed by God unless God provides the hope of Salvation. The latter half of the chapter is dedicated to listing abominations that no man should contemplate. All sin leads to the curse. If we were not given a hope of salvation in Jesus Christ we would all be doomed. 

If we really believed that God curses sin and that hell is a real judgement for those who will not look to Christ as their hope of salvation, we would be brought to tears over loved ones, colleagues and neighbors who face an eternal separation from God - forever cursed. While we do not in judgment, the coming judgment is real and eternal. Only the work of Christ can save us. Our own merits fall short. 

It is important that for as long as we are here on earth that we keep our focus on God; living a life of holiness as an example to the world of a life lived for Him. We are blessed when we do. Not only will God honor our prayers but also men who may be willing to accept the path of everlasting life have a living reminder of what that life looks like. Keep God's commands in front of us so we can always have a touch point for holy living. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Deuteronomy 26 - Biblical "Giving"

When most people consider the topic of stewardship their minds immediately leap to the tithe. Many churches don't teach stewardship apart from an annual giving campaign. It is sad that so many Christians do not have sound teaching. Today the topic is the firstfruits and tithe. 

Interesting in Deuteronomy 26, God does not refer to the tithe as a gift, though we often refer to offerings before the Lord as gifts. It indicates some warped theology on our parts to refer to the tithe or firstfruits as a gift. In this chapter the rationale for the firstfruits is to publicly recognize the gifts we have received from God. God provides the land, the strength, the sustenance and the increase that we have what we need. It is only right to acknowledge the only giver in this equation - the Creator, Almighty God. We are merely beneficiaries of His generosity. When we begin to consider the tithe a gift, it removes God as the giver and elevates our contributions as if we are the provider. 

The purpose for the tithe was firstly to call to remembrance that we have been abundantly blessed by God. God gave us more than our needs. The second purpose was to use the abundance to care for those in the service of the tabernacle (our pastoral staff and missionaries). This allows them to focus on the service to God and not have to earn a separate income to supply for themselves. The tithe was to be offered for widows, orphans and the poor in the third year. God uses His abundance to provide for those who otherwise have little provision. As we learned in Deut 24, God cares for all people an makes provision for the poor. 

What can we learn about the tithe that we can apply?  As with the Israelites, the tithe is done on recognition of God's provision for our needs. We should remember our heritage and how God has made provision for our physical needs but also for our souls. God is the great giver of all time. Likewise, as we grow in the character of Christ His son, we also should be generous not only in returning a portion for the work of the church but also to provide for the poor and disadvantaged. We are Christ to these who need a message of hope. God uses his people to be beacons in a world that does not know Him. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Deuteronomy 25 - Justice

Justice is a double edged sword. As a sinner unworthy of any favor before God, I never want to ask for justice because it would fly in the face of the grace I have received through Jesus Christ. We should never ask God for our just desserts because Justice would land us all in Hell. Only Christ's righteousness gains us any standing before a Holy God. But when we are discussing our dealings with other people here on Earth, we want to be as fair and just as possible so as not to bring even greater judgment down upon us. 

This chapter discusses various ways we as God's people can be the bearers of Justice and guard against oppression of the vulnerable. 

Sentencing of Criminals Deut 25:1-3
When a criminal is found guilty the criminal must have a sentence appropriate for the crime. There were limits placed on the number of lashes. We too should use caution when retaliating against an offense. There is a place for justice and a place for mercy. 

Muzzling an Ox - Deut 25:4
This seems like God is reminding men to take good care of their animals. No doubt we should, but Paul helps us with an application in 1Cor 9:9 suggesting that it is a principal we should apply to those who share the gospel. We should pay them their wages and not expect them to work without reward. 

Heir for the Widow - Deut 25:5-10
Next of kin were expected to stand in the gap for a fallen brother and care for his widow and assure that there would be an heir to carry on the legacy of the fallen brother. It was called the kinsman redeemer.  The application of this law is seen in Ruth chapter 4 as Boaz offers the right of redemption to the near relative and then assumes the responsibilities of the kinsman redeemer when the first refused. Justice stands up for the vulnerable and provides for those who have no hope. This is also a picture of what our Lord Jesus did for us when we stood bankrupt before God facing eternity of punishment and without hope. our Redeemer bought is and made us His own. We have a legacy forever because of His payment on our behalf. 

Differing Weights -Deut 25:14-19
Our business dealings should be honest. We are not to scam or take advantage of another. God sees every dishonest act and hates them. Absolute honesty is a high standard, but we are called to live rightly. An example of a just weight and measure was applied to the Amelekites as they had measured out to the nation of Israel, they were to receive back in executing God's Justice.  When we take a stand against God and His people we can be sure God will not take that lightly

While we are not in the place of God to execute eternal Justice, we are called to live rightly and to treat others justly so that God receives the glory and we do not heap punishment for ourselves. Weust not ignore offenses but address th me appropriately and without malice. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Deuteronomy 24 - God Protects the Vulnerable

When your ability to turn labor into the means to sustain your family is threatened, you need a Champion who will protect you from those who would seek to use your situation for their gain.  The people of God are challenged in this chapter to defend the cause of the needy, not being a party to oppression. 

In this chapter God mentions a few classes of people who should be protected: 

1. The divorced woman (Deut 24:1-4)- specifically charges the man who has divorced her not to remarry if she should be divorced a second time.  Perhaps so that he will not receive the dowry twice. 

2.  Newly weds (Deut 24:5)- Not to send the husband to war so that he may have opportunity to father children with his new wife. 

3.  Debt Collateral (Deut 24:6, 10-13). - if someone comes to you for a loan, you shouldn't remove their means to gain income as collateral or their necessities of life (coat etc). This person is on a vulnerable state and you shouldn't make his situation worse. 

4.  Slavery (Deut 24:7) - I wish I could say this doesn't apply to today, but sadly servitude continues with those in power victimizing their captives. 

5. Withholding Payment (Deut 24:14-15). If someone has worked and provided a service we should be careful to pay infill and promptly. They depend on their wages to provide for their families. God hears the prayers of the poor and will charge you for any mistreatment. 

6.  Accountability. (Deut 24:16) - the criminal is the one accountable for his crime. Friends and family are not held responsible for the unrighteousness acts of the criminal. 

7.  Victimizing the Outcast (Deut 24:17-18) the passage specifically mentions the alien living in Israel because their nationality was so intertwined in their culture. But beyond nationality, there are classes of people you can think of even now who don't get fair treatment. We was to consider their needs and not mistreat these people. We could be in the same state but for the grace of God. 

8.  Providing for the Poor (Deut 25:19-22). When we provide for our own families, we should set aside a portion for the poor and allow them to have some. Note the poor were to harvest their own grain and it was not just a hand out. I believe if we as the church body took this to heart we would see any be helped and transition from the need to stability. 

As you can see there are a net of types of vulnerable peoples in this passage. Each could become a post of its own, but I trust the Holy Spirit can instruct your heart to become a Champion for a vulnerable one in your life. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Deuteronomy 23 - Financial Principlea

Chapter 23 is chocked full of good words to grow on, but I just want to highlight a couple of principles we can apply for ourselves. If we take them to heart, God will surely bless the labors of your hands. 

Tainted Money
Deut 33:17-18 show us that there are professions that dishonor God and we should not pretend that we can make up for vile gain by giving our portion to God. If we are involved in a business or a business practice that doesn't honor God, we should turn from it and plead for forgiveness. We shouldn't ignore it and ask God to ignore it too. 

Charging Interest
Deut 23:19-20 - We are not to charge our "brother" interest. We are not to profit from our fellow believers misfortune. We are not on opposite sides, but joined together in love to benefit our believing brothers and  sisters. It is perfectly OK to charge a foreigner interest, as he hasn't shared your faith and does not stand to inherit God's favor. 

In this section we have a "so that". I love these because they give insight into the rationale behind the command. Verse 20 says "you may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the Lord your Godsy bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess".   I can see people saying that even a Christian bank needs to make money, but it is Gods economy and it it He who blesses our work. We can trust Him even when we don't understand His ways. 

Contracts and Vows
Deut 23:21-23 give us principles we can use in honoring our commitments. Whether it is a vow to God or to men. We are Gods people and our word should be our bond. If we make a commitment to God and He may require it from you. It would be better that we do not make a vow than to not honor what we have said. 

Likewise, we should be careful to honor our word among our business dealings as well. It is far too easy to make a contract that extends into the future when we don't know what the future holds. I think of people who are deep in credit card debt and cannot meet their monthly obligations.  If only they had not made the commitment by buying things on time they would be better off. When we sign on the dotted line our reputation and Gods is at stake. 

Neighbors Bounty. 
Deut 23:24-25. When you are waking through your neighbors vineyard it is Ok to enjoy some of the harvest, but not to store up for yourself treasure at his expense. Enjoy his hospitality but don't presume upon it. 

In applying this principle in our lives we shouldn't take advantage of our neighbors, believers or not. To store up his fruit or grain would be akin to stealing, but if you are hungry, it would only be right and kind for him to share of his bounty. 

Gods ways are not natural to us, so we must study and apply if we are to enjoy the best of life God desires for us. Our success is completely in His hands but He looks on our faithfulness as His servants. 

May God richly bless you as you seek Him and as you serve Him.