Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Holy Spirit, Prayer and Community (I)

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses, and the Jews were facing an important transition time in their lives. Deuteronomy presents Moses, standing on the Plains of Moab, east of the River Jordan. Across the river, on the west, lies the Promised Land. After forty years wandering in the merciless desert, they were poised to enter the promised land.

With Israel assembled before him, Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell address to the people of Israel. His last sermon. When he completes it, he will leave his pulpit on the plains, climb a mountain, and die."[1]

Thus In many ways the book is the last will and testament of Moses

The first key issue confronting Moses on the eve of Israel’s entry into the promised land: How should Moses prepare his people for such an important transition?

Dt 6.

Israel, a rag tag, motley collection of tribes poised to enter the promised land

New way of life

New challenges

New culture

New religions

New opportunities and new and old temptations

How should Moses prepare them to remain faithful, holy and committed to the Lord their God ?

This should be the basic issue confronting us as we face major transistion points in our life.

(Note: This blog was written at the begining of the year, 2006. You may face different transition points, but the principles articulated in this article will be the same.)

We should not be taken up over our worries and anxieties as to whether 2006 will or will not be a good year for us. Whether we will experience blessings, heath and success. Or whether disasters, ill heath and losing our jobs will be our lot.

The question is : no matter what happens in 2006, will we be found faithful, obedient and committed to the Lord?

Will be we able to say with Paul:

Phil 4.12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Secondly : Moses insisted that the challenge to be found faithful is to be faced, not alone, as individuals, but as a community.

Dt 6 is a call to wholehearted commitment on the part of the whole community, present and future. The response of the present community has dire consequences for their children, the future community.

Think back to 2005. How has the community of God here in Emmanuel help you.

Have we been there for you?

Supporting you?

Helping you?

Encouraging and strengthening you?

Have you called upon the community?

Or have you soldiered on yourself, alone?

Young :

Absolutely dependent

Learn to be independent

Sign of maturity : importance and necessity of inter-dependence.

Community building is difficult. Some say impossible.

Think about it – as Peterson puts it:

“Community is intricate and complex. It consists of many people of various moods, ideas, needs, experiences, gifts and injuries, desires and disappointments, blessings and losses, intelligence and stupidity, living in proximity and in respect for one another[2], and believingly in worship of God. It is not easy and it is not simple.”

Haggai Institutive:

One wants to sleep with air con, the other doesn’t

One thinks teamwork is him leading and the others following him

Time is elastic in Africa, Singapore is run on precise Swiss timing

Yet this is what Jesus prayed for just before he was crucified. That we may be one. That we may be a united, caring, compassionate community. Deeply committed to one another – in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad times. When we like one another and when we do not like one another.

For Jesus’ sake.

Jesus’ High Priestly prayer in Jn 17 :

20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

The sad thing is that we have not considered the unity of the church as urgently, as importantly as Jesus.

Almost at a drop of a hat, Christian communities disagree, quarrel, split and go our separate ways – most of the time in self righteous indignation and with no hint of regret. Certainly without grief, sorrow, or lament.

Or we are so caught up with our own lives that we have no time, nor interest in the lives of others in our communities.

Individuals and families are in great need. And we shake our heads and say,” it is difficult for one family to take care of another. I am sorry but you are on your own. Good luck and best wishes. If we are Christians, we say, the Lord bless you and we will pray for you.”


How did Moses build the basics, the foundations of community in Deuteronomy?

The basics: The Ten Commandment. Law

Moses began by going over the basics with the people of Israel, just as he did forty years ago at Sinai. He reminded them again of the Ten Commandments.

In the NT we find the apostle John, the apostle of love agreeing with Moses. In 1 John 2 we read:

3And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By obeying his commandments. 4If someone says, "I belong to God," but doesn't obey God's commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. 5But those who obey God's word really do love him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in him. 6Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.

Law is important. We cannot live safely and meaningfully in community unless there are laws to protect us, to set down boundaries and parameters. More importantly laws are important to create, sustain and nurture a community that is free, loving and just.

Besides Ten Commandments, lots more do’s and don’ts in Dt. As Peterson observed: “ there are a hundred details involved in daily living that can’t be left up to the individual to decide on the spot: ‘what if’ details. What if you unintentionally kill someone…? What if a virgin is raped…? What if…?

If we want to be the community of God – law and guidance, the proper way of doing things are important.

Similarly if we want to be the people of God in our times, certain devotional practices and disciplines are vitally important for us. Like QT, prayer, bible reading and study, fasting.

We are not freed by Christ to dispense with all these means of grace!

The Creed –the basis for the Ten Commandments

To mitigate the downside of emphasising the Law, Moses did not just remind them of the Ten Commandments, he went on to give Israel's creed – their beliefs and understanding about God. This is the single most important teaching of Moses in the whole of Deuteronomy.

Dt 6. 4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.*

This is the first words, any Jewish baby hears.

This teaching has kept the Jewish race unique, separated and distinct through three thousand years of extremely turbulent history.

The creed answers the question: why would you want to obey, to observe, to practice the Ten Commandments.

He is the Lord who delivered Israel out of slavery. The Lord your God is one God – Decalogue reflects God’s character. His justice.

However Law alone can never help us to be faithful, to be obedient, to be committed to the Lord. Law in and of itself, useful, important, needful as it is cannot prevent us from failures. When we fail, law cannot pick us up, redeem us nor reconcile us. It can only condemn. That is its function.

Law has its downside

Legalism, leading to self righteousness

The scrupulous among us would know that it is impossible to keep all the laws, all the time. Further there is the sin not only of commission, but of omission. We fail to do the good we ought to do.

Form more important than substance or relationships

So law alone, important, necessary though it is, is unsatisfactory.

Moses knew this – for the fact is, as soon as the people of Israel entered Canaan, all that he worked for in leading, training and praying for his people would unravel. They would disobey, be faithless, be idolatrous.

So, lastly Moses gave the people of Israel, the motivation for the Ten Commandments: Love. In the hope that a remnant will always remain faithful, obedient and committed to the Lord.

A life of love

6.5 love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.

Not just rightness of our beliefs

nor just the obedience of our lives

or correctness of our behaviours

Love exists only in the context of relationship. Not forensics, not dos and don’ts, oughts and musts. More importantly :

Love is a response of grace and to grace.

This is made possible because of the prior work of the Holy Spirit in convicting us and then prompting us to respond.

The prodigal son, LK 15

11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[b]'

22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

The murderer crucified with Christ

39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"

40But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[f]"

43Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Jesus and the woman caught in adultery

John 810 The prostitute Mary to whom our Lord say, “ do no one condemn you? 0Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

11"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

Mary’s response in Jn 12:

1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages.[b]" 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. " It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

Modern day parallels:

  • Drug addict, criminals, murderers, terrorists of all shades, stripes, ethnic and religious persuasions
  • We ourselves : we covet, we gossip, we judge, we lose our tempers, we are lazy, jealous, harbour unclean and unkind thoughts and …..who knows what other rats, cockroaches and other unclean things dwell in the dark corners of the cellars and basements of our lives?

Unconditional love is prompted, sustained, practiced through grace made possible by the ministry of the HS.

This means that much prayer, appeal, dependency upon the Holy Spirit is needed.

Apart from prayer and the enablement of the Holy Spirit , we cannot love as we are loved and we cannot build community.

Hence it is not surprising that in answer to the Pharisees’ question as to which is the most important commandment, the fulfilling of which fulfils all other commands, Jesus quoted Dt 6.5

Cf. Mk 12.28-30

28One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the discussion. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29Jesus replied, "The most important commandment is this: `Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength’. 31The second is equally important: `Love your neighbour as yourself.' No other commandment is greater than these."

And the command to love worked. Throughout the history of Israel, right up to the coming of Jesus, there remained a remnant who has remained faithful, obedient and committed to the Lord.

We read of Rahab, King Josiah, the prophets, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel.

We read of Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, the apostles, Peter, Paul, James…..Corrie ten Boom; Martyn Lloyd Jones, Billy Graham, John Stott……


Challenge for us today:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength

To obey this we need community – unity and compassion and caring

We need the Holy Spirit – prayer

[1] ibid, p 248 ff.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. p 252

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