Thursday, 20 October 2016

The accidental sinner: Deuteronomy 19

The accidental sinner.  The one who unintentionally becomes a murderer.

God tells the Israelites to set aside three cities of refuge, near enough so that: "the avenger of blood racing in hot-blooded pursuit might  (not) catch him since it’s such a long distance, and kill him even though he didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t his fault. There was no history of hatred between them (the murderer and his neighbour)."  God does this so that the Israelites don't "pollute it with innocent blood and bring bloodguilt upon (them)selves."

God is merciful.  I do well to remember this, I who do not 'believe' in accidental sinner. Brought up to take responsibility for my actions, I have an over-developed sense of guilt when my actions unintentionally go wrong. Guilt which has, over the years, fuelled feelings of shame and blame.  And it is worth, hear, referencing Brene Brown's inspiring work on shame and blame and her encouragement to be vulnerable. As I look at her work, I am drawn to this blog with inspiring quotes from her:
"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. ~Brené Brown
2. Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. ~ Brené Brown
3. I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude. ~ Brené Brown
4. A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. ~ Brené Brown
5. Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce. ~ Brené Brown
6. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare. ~ Brené Brown
7. We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions. ~ Brené Brown
8. Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. ~ Brené Brown
9. When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible. ~ Brené Brown
10. If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive. ~ Brené Brown
11. Normally, when someone we love is turning away from a struggle, we self-protect by also turning away. That’s definitely my first response. I think change is more likely to happen if both partners have common language and a shared lens to see problems. ~ Brené Brown
12. As a shame researcher, I know that the very best thing to do in the midst of a shame attack is totally counterintuitive: Practice courage and reach out! ~ Brené Brown
13. Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. ~ Brené Brown
14. When the people we love stop paying attention, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. ~ Brené Brown
15. First and foremost, we need to be the adults we want our children to be. We should watch our own gossiping and anger. We should model the kindness we want to see. ~ Brené Brown
16. Guilt is just as powerful, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement. ~ Brené Brown
17. Men walk this tightrope where any sign of weakness illicits shame, and so they’re afraid to make themselves vulnerable for fear of looking weak. ~ Brené Brown
18. I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our personal values. ~ Brené Brown
19. Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change. ~ Brené Brown
20. I’ve learned that men and women who are living wholehearted lives really allow themselves to soften into joy and happiness. They allow themselves to experience it. ~ Brené Brown
21. The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows. ~ Brené Brown
22. If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm. ~ Brené Brown
23. In my research, I’ve interviewed a lot of people who never fit in, who are what you might call ‘different’: scientists, artists, thinkers. And if you drop down deep into their work and who they are, there is a tremendous amount of self-acceptance. ~ Brené Brown
24. If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief. ~ Brené Brown
25. Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives. ~ Brené Brown
Let’s push past what is holding us back and live a good life."
All helpful and true and I rejoice that Jesus has forgiven me EVERYTHING. The unintentional sins AND the intentional ones.

And yet - God protects his people who live together in society here on earth. He gives clear instructions for dealing with the intentional sinner, the murderer who plans and plots and brutally carries out harm to others.  They are to be pursued and brought to justice, convicted by the words of at least two or three truthful witnesses. There is to be no summary justice on the word of one accuser.

God is good. He loves us all, bringing order out of sin's chaos and ensuring with his words at the end of the chapter that even the intentional sinner is to be treated with dignity and truth.

God is good. He loves us all.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

God's wisdom.

"God reveals his wisdom, his ways and his will through his word."

When God told his people that they would, eventually, want a king for themselves as other nations did, he instructed them to choose wisely. He then said that the first thing which the king should do was to copy God's words down. "That scroll is to remain at his side at all times; he is to study it every day so that he may learn what it means to fear his God, living in reverent obedience before these rules and regulations by following them. He must not become proud and arrogant, changing the commands at whim to suit himself or making up his own versions. If he reads and learns, he will have a long reign as king in Israel, he and his sons."

True for us too. If we read and learn, we will gain insight and wisdom as we come to understand and worship God more.

This is the benchmark.  As God instructs his people about living wisely, listening to prophets - "If what the prophet spoke in God’s name doesn’t happen, then obviously God wasn’t behind it; the prophet made it up. Forget about him." (Deuteronomy 18: 19) - everything has to be looked at in the light of Scripture. This is because THE LORD is our inheritance. Everything about our lives comes from him. 

Wendy Blight @FirstFive explains: "On its face, this (the Levites being the only tribe not to be allotted land - they were supported by gifts from the others) sounds unfair. But in reality, it was a gift. It allowed the Levites to focus on their singular call to serve the One True God and His people and not get entangled with the worries of the world. The Lord, not land, was their inheritance. (Numbers 18:20) That was enough. They lived by faith in God’s promised blessing to be their share and their portion.
That promised inheritance included providing not only for their spiritual needs but also their physical needs through the other 11 tribes. This provision did not depend on the people’s generosity; it was established by law. These laws required the other tribes to share specified portions of their tithes, gifts and offerings to feed and sustain the Levites.
This same word, “inheritance,” appears in the New Testament in Ephesians 1:18“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.”
Paul teaches that just like the Old Testament priests, God has claimed us, believers in Jesus, as His inheritance. He chose us before the foundation of the world, adopted us into His family, redeemed us by the blood of Jesus, indwelled us by the power of His Holy Spirit and claimed us as His own. (Ephesians 1)
Later in the New Testament, Peter identifies believers as a priesthood. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
And just as God provided an inheritance and physical blessings for the Old Testament priesthood, He provides an inheritance and blessings for us as well. Ours are spiritual blessings.
Spend a few moments reading through and thanking God for these spiritual blessings … the riches of our inheritance.
We are …
Forgiven (Psalm 103:3)
Redeemed (Galatians 3:13)
A new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Created with a purpose (Jeremiah 29:11)
God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10)
A temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-176:19-20)"

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Living well. Deuteronomy 16

v19 - 20: "Do not partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you."

Whitney Capps of First Five says: "As the benchmark for what is right and just, God leads, guards and guides his people to act justly."

God is the standard for what is right. And to act justly is a component of right worship and holy living. It reflects humility before God and others - Micah 6:8 says "The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God.”


Monday, 17 October 2016

Be generous

"When you happen on someone who’s in trouble or needs help among your people with whom you live in this land that God, your God, is giving you, don’t look the other way pretending you don’t see him. Don’t keep a tight grip on your purse. No. Look at him, open your purse, lend whatever and as much as he needs. Don’t count the cost.....Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart. The way you handle matters like this triggers God, your God’s, blessing in everything you do, all your work and ventures. There are always going to be poor and needy people among you. So I command you: Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors." (vv 7 - 11, Deuteronomy 15)

Be kind. Be generous. Be as loving as Jesus who gave his life beyond generosity. Thinking of yesterday's thought and how Jesus took time to slow his life down and notice the moment, I too need to live slowly enough to notice and be aware of others' needs, opening my ears to listen and eyes to see.

Such living is rewarded, not least in inspiring devotion:"But if your servant says to you, ‘I do not want to leave you,’ because he loves you and your family and is well off with you,  then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life." (vv 16 - 17)

I am reminded of the song:

"Pierce my ear, O Lord my God,
Take me to Your throne this day
I will serve no other god
Lord, I’m here to stay
For You have paid the price for me
With Your blood You ransomed me.
I will serve You eternally,
A free man I'll never be."

Such a beautiful song which has remained in my heart for thirty years be devoted, committed to God such that all else - even freedom - is worthless. Just yesterday, there were Walk For Freedom marches in cities in the UK, organised by A21 in its fight against modern day slavery. I can't imagine that any slave today is so well treated that they would wish to remain with their master....

...even then, though slavery was openly common, it wasn't in God's plan but arose out of sin and selfishness. 'Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  (Galatians 6:9)

Keep loving. Keep going.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Giving and giving back

Firstly, long and detailed directions on what - and what not to eat. God's amazing provision to help keep His people healthy, including instructions not to eat anything they found already dead.  Of course, who knows how fresh the meat would be, or if it harboured disease. (A little disturbingly, God said they could give or sell such meat to a foreigner...)

But after that, instructions on tithing. vv 22 - 26 "Make an offering of ten percent, a tithe, of all the produce which grows in your fields year after year. Bring this into the Presence of God, your God, at the place he designates for worship and there eat the tithe from your grain, wine, and oil and the firstborn from your herds and flocks. In this way you will learn to live in deep reverence before God, your God, as long as you live. 

But if the place God, your God, designates for worship is too far away and you can’t carry your tithe that far, God, your God, will still bless you: exchange your tithe for money and take the money to the place God, your God, has chosen to be worshiped. Use the money to buy anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, or beer—anything that looks good to you. You and your family can then feast in the Presence of God, your God, and have a good time.

The Israelites were also reminded to take care of the Levites, who served God but had no land of their own and therefore no way to support themselves: "That way they’ll have plenty to eat and God, your God, will bless you in all your work."

So I think of tithing, of giving back to God what he has given me. A way of living in mindfulness that everything I have has come from God. I am humbly acknowledging this when I give back to Him by giving money to those who depend on gifts to help others - the Tumaini Fund, Compassion International, Christians Against Poverty, Barnabas Fund, all in their different ways.

Tithing is a reminder of the slow nature of farming, the steady, faithful work, of tending and caring and praying for good weather and waiting and waiting and waiting. Tithing is a reminder to slow the pace of my life down, to stop and pause and give thanks. It is for the purpose of communion with God, to pause to be in his presence. To enjoy life with him, living life in awareness of him.  Matthew Henry says, commenting on these verses: "Contentment, holy joy, and thankfulness, make every meal a religious feast."

Lysa Terkeust in First Five comments: "Jesus echoed what we learned today during His time on earth. He held fast to God's desire for the slower rhythms. Though he drew a crowd, his heart was drawn to individual connection. He rose early to lovingfy linger with his father in prayer. He sought out opportunities to slow down and notice hurting individuals. He longed for intimate conversation with those closest to him while enjoying long suppers."

It's Harvest Festival time. I'm reminded that giving thanks for the Harvest is just that: giving thanks, remembering anew to trust God for life itself.

Learning to trust God with the pace of my life, my place in the world and for him to provide all my needs, in every way.

"Learn to live in deep reverence before God."

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Deuteronomy 13. Serious warnings.

This is a hard chapter. It ends in a familiar way:
"Obediently listen to God, your God. Keep all his commands that I am giving you today. Do the right thing in the eyes of God, your God."

But oh - what comes before. The chapter is full of what must be done by faithful people to the faithless who do not "...follow only God, your God, hold him in deep reverence, keep his commandments, listen obediently to what he says, serve(in him—hold on to him for dear life."

So what was the consequence if they did not do that? Death. 

I'm following this Bible study on First Five and, not surprisingly, there is little comment about the awfulness of the punishment for those who stray into idolatry.  But what there is, is encouragement to hold fast to God and His teachings.

The dire punishments remind us how seriously God takes holiness, His command that we set ourselves apart to follow him in everything.

So "God wants us to know that there are people and things that look good, sound good and even are good that can distract us and even turn our hearts away from the Lord."

We can protect ourselves by reading God's word for ourselves, filling our hearts with truth,  seeking to continually live obedient lives and praying for guidance, sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Some test questions: does this honour God? Is the focus on Jesus? Is he glorified? Does this line up with Scripture and the counsel of God? Will this lead me closer to God or away from Him?

Moses reminds the people of the past and how they were slaves in Egypt. We do well to remember how easy it is for us to be enslaved by sin and wrong thinking and how dire the consequences are. 

Yet, we do not live in fear. Because of Jesus. Back to Romans.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Just do it. Deuteronomy 12

"When God, your God, cuts off the nations whose land you are invading, shoves them out of your way so that you displace them and settle in their land, be careful that you don’t get curious about them after they’ve been destroyed before you. Don’t get fascinated with their gods, thinking, “I wonder what it was like for them, worshiping their gods. I’d like to try that myself.” Don’t do this to God, your God." vv 29 - 31

How much God loves us. Like a parent, he warns his children about the stuff which will do them harm.  Verse 31 says "They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods." and I think of abortion. Of the millions of children who have been sacrificed to the gods of inconvenience and selfishness and What's Best For Me.

Of course, I haven't been in the position of 'having' to choose. I haven't had to exercise the extreme courage it must take  especially decades ago - to face up to an unplanned pregnancy and keep a child. I haven't had to  unexpectedly have my life turned upside down, face the loss of personal dreams, endure the upset from others about my actions.

But this is indeed a warning, of the dreadful way of thinking we fall into when we turn away from god and start to set our minds and hearts on other ways of living.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator..." 
Colossians 3:2 - 9

Just do it. And, as we put God above all else, seeking to obey his commands, engage with others.

Peter Jobes reflects in his blog sixtystadia : "As Christians it is part of our mandate to engage the culture of our day; we must neither avoid it nor embrace it but engage and challenge and shape it. The idols of our time should distress us and provoke us to action.

Part of this is recognising the true value of what we have, and seeing for ourselves that no idol can ever give the fulfilment and purpose that comes from Christ. An idol will consume all of the devotion or dependence you give it and always demand more, never meeting your needs but creating more instead.

We need to open our eyes to the idols in the culture around us and see them for what they are, because only then can we really offer answers to people hurt and broken by the pursuit of them.

Here's how to live a good God life... Deuteronomy 11

vv 8 - 32 "Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey.  The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden.  But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end."

So, for the Israelites, this is still a reminder that they are utterly dependent on God for their livelihood, as they were in the desert.  Rain comes from heaven and cannot be worked for as a farmer tills the fields, nor can it be made or manufactured.

"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your corn, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.

Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow – to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him – then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. ...No one will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse –  the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.... When you have taken it over and are living there,  be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today."

Obey. Obey. Obey.

And obey. Not for the blessing, but because God is God. He is who he is. He is God.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Unlocking Growth

Inspirational speaking this weekend from Michael Harvey @unlockinggrowth. I think I may have misused Twitter in 'tweeting' his words of wisdom and tagging him in them! I ran out of notebook paper so used Twitter instead, but realised after that then it looked as if Michael's words were mine... ho hum, I only have 3 Twitter followers, and two of those are corporates who don't really 'follow' me anyway...

So thought I'd collect all my jottings here:

All the good stuff is on the other side of fear.

It is only in doubt that you can start to have faith.

'Faith that counts is not the absence of doubt but the presence of action.'

Step forward into growth or step back into safety. @UnlockingGrowth 'A dead fish cannot swim' @NairobiChapel 1998

Fear and faith both believe that something that hasn't happened is about to happen. 

Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

What beliefs do we continue to harbour unconsciously that run our lives? 

Success is when we step out regardless of the outcome. Success is one person inviting another person. Success is the prompted invitation of God where the RESULT lies with him.
"Well done good and successful faithful servant."

"If you lower your expectations until they're already met, you'll never be disappointed."


Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

Feel afraid but don't BE afraid. Fear should not be managed but peered into, examined to see what GOD is saying or doing.  God doesn't take fear away but manages it with his present.  


Instead, we need to know who we are: children beloved of God. Our identity lies in him.
Identity leads to action and feelings then result.  If we act on our feelings, then what happens as a result affects our identity.

Violation of our dignity has the same painful effect in the brain as a physical injury: the responses are identical.  (Research from Matthew Lieberman, professor of cognitive psychology in California.) The body remembers what the mind tries to forget. BUT Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted. 

And he referenced my favourite TED talk: Brene Brown's 'The Power of Vulnerability'.

So this is it... getting it all into perspective.

Deuteronomy 10:12 - 21 " So now Israel, what do you think God expects from you? Just this: Live in his presence in holy reverence, follow the road he sets out for you, love him, serve God, your God, with everything you have in you, obey the commandments and regulations of God that I’m commanding you today—live a good life.

Look around you: Everything you see is God’s—the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. But it was your ancestors who God fell in love with; he picked their children—that’s you!—out of all the other peoples. That’s where we are right now. So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.

You must treat foreigners with the same loving care—
remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.
Reverently respect God, your God, serve him, hold tight to him,
back up your promises with the authority of his name.
He’s your praise! He’s your God!
He did all these tremendous, these staggering things
that you saw with your own eyes."

What else can we say? Paul echoes this in 2 Timothy 1:9 "He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,"

We are set apart to love God, to live to honour him, to obey his commands and to serve his people.

With everything we have in us.

This is it. To live a life passionately devoted to the God who loves us so passionately that he sacrificed his son for our sakes. Remember his mighty power and his relentless desire to save us from ourselves. Left to our own devices, how quickly we descend into selfishness and sin when we lose our grip on His Reality.

"Reverently respect God, your God, serve him, hold tight to him,..."

Hold tight