God and Treasure

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We hear a lot today about nations operating in the national interest. Sometimes, hopefully often, that is a good thing. Like keeping people safe and protecting them from aggression. There are times though, when ‘national interest’ is code for naked national self-centredness.

The book of Exodus was written after God delivered his people from a superpower which, to put it bluntly, was just operating in the national interest.

Ancient Egypt was a mighty nation, dominating the world stage at the time. And Pharaoh was using the people of Israel as cheap labour – the cheapest, actually, because they were slaves and had no choice in the matter.

So God’s people cried out. And the Lord heard their cry.

Pharaoh, however, ignored it. He made the people of Israel work even harder. Worked them to death.

Why?

Because Pharaoh valued production above people. Pharaoh would have fitted comfortably into some of today’s developing world labour markets. Places where the dollar matters most, where questions are never asked about the actual human cost of the item or the project.

Into this kind of ugliness came the Lord of life: Yahweh the Rescuer, the Saviour.

“The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (Exodus 3:7–9, NIV)

The Lord hates it when any people are oppressed. Even more so when they are his people. So he led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He led them across the Red Sea on dry ground. The Lord did this because of his covenant with Israel. He had promised to bless them, and make them a blessing. He had promised to make their descendants as numerous as they stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. God’s promises matter. He never goes back on his word.

So now, with the Red Sea sand still stuck between their toes, as they camped on the border, ready to enter the land of promise, God renewed his covenant with them:

“‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”” (Exodus 19:4–6, NIV)

These verses show the kind of nation Israel was to be:

First, in contrast to Egypt, and other nations, Israel was not to be a nation driven by seeking treasure. They would find their comfort in being treasure. Yahweh’s treasure! They would not need to find their security or significance in things because Yahweh was their security. The fact that they were loved and saved and rescued by him was their significance.

Second, Yahweh called Israel to be a kingdom of priests. It sounds like an odd thing for a country to be. How can a nation have a priestly function?

Well, we know that a priest is someone who represents others in a religious context. A mediator. A go between.

So, Israel was to represent the nations to the Lord. They were to bring the needs of the nations around them to his throne of grace. In times of famine they were to pray. They were to act compassionately in times of disaster. They were to ask the Lord to be merciful and gracious to all the peoples around them.

But it wasn’t just bringing the nation’s needs to the Lord. They were also to bring the Lord and his will to the nations. They would proclaim the truth of God and invite other nations to accept him in faith and live under his covenant. As priests, then, they spoke on the nation’s behalf to God, and on God’s behalf to the nations.

Third, they were to be a holy nation. We tend to think holiness has to do with religious acts and places. In the Old Testament, holiness is not first and foremost religious acts and things. Holiness is a personal quality. To be holy is to be separate, to be distinct, to be set aside for a particular purpose.

So, thinking that through, how would this nation show their holiness? The answer is that they would reflecting the character of the Lord in their national and personal lives. This would happen as they followed the Lord’s commands as a nation and as individuals:

1. worship only God
2. worship no idols
3. use God’s name only with reverence
4. remember the Sabbath day, allowing for rest and worship
5. Honour your father and your mother
6. You shall not murder
7. You shall not commit adultery
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall give false testimony or lie
10. You shall not covet what belongs to others

As God’s people did this, they would be displaying a life and values radically different from Egypt and every other nation on earth.

 

…a life and values radically different from every other nation on earth … this transformed life is one of the ways they would be a blessing

 

What was their motivation? Well, they did not obey in order to be loved and rescued. Yahweh already loved them and rescued them. They were already his special possession. The answer is that their obedience was all about gratitude and thanksgiving. It was not a requirement to earn love, but a response to the love the Lord had freely given. This changed and transformed life would be one of the ways they would be a blessing to the nations around them.

It was as if the Lord was saying, you have come out of a nation where people treasured wealth and power more than people…

You will not live for treasure or possessions. You will live because you are my treasured possession.

You are a Kingdom of priests: you will bring the nations needs to me, and you will bring my will to the nations.

You will be a holy nation. You will separate yourself from all the dehumanising values of oppression that you saw in Egypt. You will be different, distinct, to all that.

This call presented Israel with their identity. They would be totally unique as compared with all the nations around them. The Lord’s work in them was to be a total reorientation of life. A radical alteration how they were to engage the world around them.

This call was to shape the national ethos of God’s people. In my next post I’ll pose the question of how that is relevant tot God’s people today.

– Dave

Retreat day – Guilderton

I am sitting at a picnic table on Stephen’s Cresc in Guilderton, WA, looking over the Moore River.

It has taken me 90 mins to drive here, and before I do any of the things I have in mind for today, I just want to sit and listen in the quiet.

The descending call of a Whistling Kite, the gentle cooing of some Spotted Doves, interrupted by angry staccato bursts of some unidentified Honeyeaters.

Across the small waterway – just another little inlet on the Moore River estuary, a couple of men engage in animated conversation. I can’t tell what they’re saying. It doesn’t matter. Seven kayaks ply their way across the inlet.

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A pair of ringnecks burst past in a flash of fluoro green and yellow. A Red Wattle Bird calls. A congregation of White Tailed Black Cockatoos scriyaws their morning choir practise, while a Wedge Tailed Eagle slides in large lazy circles, magnificently indifferent to smaller birds’ attempts to pester him out of their territory.

The sun is on my neck.

The wind is at my back. It blows away the business of recent weeks.

God is close. His world is beautiful.

Our Church Council is working through Greg Ogden’s Leadership Essentials, and recently I was challenged to reinstate monthly prayer and process retreat days. This is the first of those days for a long time.

God is with you – whatever is happening

A middle aged man grieves the loss of his father. Confused and confronted by some family reactions, he prays for peace among his siblings so they can honour their father’s life.

Two young people are prepare to marry. Their ‘right now’ a juggle of plans for a wedding breakfast, settling a guest list, a honeymoon, and their day to day lives.

A middle aged man sits in the morning traffic, mind blank with the yawning sameness of his daily commute. His mind flickers between being free from the grind, the financial reality of a mortgage, the boss’s expectations, and uncomfortable relational realities at home.

A young woman plans a community event, desktop stacked with schedules, memos, invoices. Under pressure. Phone rings. Plans change. Again.

Another walks home, weary from an early start. Thinks about her lack of love, and ponders shallow friendships. She doesn’t like to think about it, or where her life is headed. Or whether.

Some people say that God is only with us when we’re doing the right thing, when our lives are heading in the right direction, when we’re honouring him with right living and acceptable behaviour.

Others will say that God is really only present when were doing spiritual stuff. When we in ‘quiet time’. We read our Bible regularly, we use the right version, we pray in a humble spirit, we worship in spirit and truth, witness regularly.

Ask them, and they won’t have an answer for the people in the grind of life, except that faith is probably not strong enough, and that it’s no surprise they are doing it so tough.

The God of grace is not impressed with the musings of the comfortable, who believe their responses somehow make him present. Scripture reveals a God who is present and who is there, whatever is happening.

When the people of Israel gathered on the promised land’s fenceline, the Lord reminded them that if they were faithful to him they would be blessed in the field. He would protect them fro the enemy. Their sons and daughters would be strong, healthy. Their harvests plentiful.

Best of all: The Lord will dwell with them. He would be with them. He would be their God, and they would be his people.

Scripture reveals a God who is present and who is there, whatever is happening.

Later, when the Lord points out the implications of any future disobedience – and they are awful, horrible things – he never says ‘and I will not be with you, I will forsake you and leave you alone forever.’ Whatever happens, and whatever path his people would tread, whether faithful or rebellious, God would still be with them. Yes, he would despise their behaviour and hate its outcomes. But he would still be with them because of his covenant. His promise to be their God would never fail, because he is faithful, even when they were faithless.

Whatever is happening in your life today: whether it brings a cheer, or whether you are overcome with pain and grief, God is with you.

He knows your life is broken. And he gently whispers that his plan is to heal, and mend, and make right. He is with you. Trust him.

Upon a Hill

Three men shared death upon a hill,
But only one man dies;
The other two—
A thief and God himself—
Made rendezvous.

Three crosses still
Are borne up Calvary’s Hill,
Where Sin still lifts them high:
Upon the one, sag broken men
Who, cursing, die;
Another upholds the praying thief,
Or those who penitent as he,
Shall find the Christ
Beside them on the tree

“Upon A Hill”, Miriam LeFevre Crouse

“When I was a stranger…”

This morning’s news reports Bernie Fraser, former Governor of Australia’s Reserve Bank, as saying, ‘For a long time I’ve thought Australia could become something of a special country, a demonstration of a country that was competitive, fair and compassionate and I’m afraid those hopes have been dashed…’ [ABC News]

One area where compassion and consideration could be brought to bear is how we receive asylum seekers.

At the outset, we recognise there needs to be expedient processing of claims and an even handed establishment of the bona fides of those who seek asylum. While around 90% of all claims are typically found to be genuine, we need not neglect due process because most seem legitimate. We do wonder, though, whether it needs to take as long as it does sometimes take.

Muddy

Jon Owen’s book, “Muddy Spirituality: Bringing it all back down to earth” tells the story of how one local Melbourne pastor collaborated with Hotham Mission to provide lodging for a group of asylum seekers:

“Aside form having to keep strong communication lines open, and with nearly daily cultural misunderstandings from a multi-national household, we also sought to make the house a home. When men live together the natural tendency is to shut off and make the place more like a boarding house, rather than a place where support can be found … it was a place where God was regularly sought, as we all learnt what it meant for people who were never meant to meet, to be forced by circumstances to live together. Regular common meals were the place where community was formed and relationships built”

They called it “The House of Hope” because they received people who have so few rights and so little protection, and they created a place where they received shelter, support and community. For the asylum seekers who stayed there and for those who oversaw the project, “The House of Hope” provided an opportunity to rediscover God’s compassion and the meaning of humanity.

“We got to meet many men from many nations and hear heart breaking stories of murder, torture and painful separation that left them scarred and traumatised”

See, all of us get to choose how we respond to the issue of refugees and asylum seekers. We can listen to the voices of fear and suspicion, and retreat into isolation and rejection. Or we can live in the values of mateship, a fair go, of justice, humility and peace that reveal the kingdom of God.

We can listen to the voices of fear and suspicion, and retreat into isolation and rejection. Or we can live in the values of mateship, a fair go, of justice, humility and peace that reveal the kingdom of God.

“Ministry begins with noticing the people who are all too easily overlooked. For those of us seeking to follow Jesus there are no invisible people. We need to pray that God provides us with the same eyes as Jesus. This vision begins when, instead of looking upwards, we look down at those who exist at our feet. The image of the Good Samaritan, getting off his donkey can truly become an icon for our transformation if we begin to allow the donkey of our culture’s hopes and dreams to stop driving us along the road, and we hop off for long enough, we will meet the people Jesus met.”
[Jon Owen, Muddy Spirituality]

On the night before one of the residents left to marry his fiancee, he spoke these moving words to everyone in the house, “thank you for helping awaken something within me what I thought was lost forever – the ability for my heart to once again love and trust, what I once lost has now been found, my heart thanks you.”

Read those words. Listen carefully, and you may be able to hear angels rejoicing…

Rethinking Refugees

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I have just had a vivid dream. And not being one who dreams a lot, I thought it was worth sharing.

I was at an outdoor venue listening to my daughter (@melodyjoyg) speak about Australia’s current treatment of refugees. Melody always speaks with passion and warmth, and this time was no exception. Except that I can’t remember anything she said. Toward the end, though, she said “I’ll now show you how we should welcome those who have risked all to come here…”

She asked us to close our eyes, and when we opened them Melody had transformed herself into a Old English Sheepdog puppy. I know. That’s pretty crazy. But think about it: what do you do with an old English Sheepdog Puppy? You walk up and pat it, cuddle it, play with it. You love a puppy like that, and you want to take it home, and make it part of your family.

So, how does all that work when we’re thinking about refugees?

Well, we all know that there are good processes to determine the bona fides of those seeking to be recognised as refugees, and we know Australia needs to guard her borders.

We should also know that over 90% of those who come to Australia in boats are eventually recognised as refugees. That is, nearly all have a valid case!

While not neglecting due process and assessment, my dream is that we can love and receive refugees warmly and openly and lovingly. As Australians, we need to learn how to ‘take them home and make them part of our family’. Like how we are drawn to embrace a puppy. We want to give them a home so we can care for them and provide shelter and safety. It may sound childish, and it probably should. Then again, children tell us a lot about how to treat people in need.

Yesterday I heard one voice that breathed a little light into the refugee question. Foreign Minister designate Bob Carr, almost as an aside in his press conference with the Prime Minister, said he was passionate about the plight of refugees. That’s what we need here: the language of heart, instead of the fear driven three word slogans of ‘Stop The Boats’.

Truth be known: Melody doesn’t work with refugees, although in her position with Compassion Australia, she has a great opportunity to bring the plight of the broken and the needy into our lives.

And really, I still think the whole sheepdog puppy thing is a little weird. But I know this: refugees need safety and care. They need love and friendship. They need to know there is a place where they can live without fear, where the nightmares can be stilled, and where they can breathe again.

Australia, we can do this.

Q: what are your thoughts about how we treat refugees?

Next: one inspiring example of how this has been done

Will God really protect me?

One of the primary questions people ask about Christianity is whether it produces actual outcomes: whether it makes a real difference to their lives. We know that Jesus is God’s son, that he died and rose again, that he rules the universe, and that he is returning to complete his restoration of all things. But does this make a difference to how we live?

This morning I read in Ps 94 how God is the avenger of those who are victimised and oppressed. He judges the earth. He does not reject his people or forsake his inheritance. He rises up for his people against his enemies. God is our fortress and our refuge.

Can you see how our view of God influences how we engage with our world and how we live in it and how we live with others? If God is our fortress, I don’t need to bolster myself with my status, or my possessions, or my reputation. If God is my refuge, I don’t have to take refuge in my orthodoxy, or in my church.

My comfort is that God’s plan will come to fruition irrespective of my circumstances

Today, my day is in God’s trusting hands. I move into my day knowing that I am working in his plan, so I don’t have to cajole him into working in mine. My comfort is that God’s plan will come to fruition irrespective of my circumstances. This is true for his plan for me, as well as his plans for my world.

Here’s the question we all need to ask: Do I actually believe God will protect me today? In my work, my living, my witness, my relationships, at my rock and my hard place?

Or are these things just nice thoughts to start the day with, but they have no ultimate power to impact my reality?