What can satisfy the soul, part 1

22 Oct
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Do any of you watch satisfying videos? 

They’re a thing.  Every now and then, someone in my house enjoys watching them.  Just go on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean.  There is a whole genre of satisfying videos.  Here’s an example of one that caused a delay in writing this post…because I couldn’t stop watching it!

These satisfying videos and photos are especially heartwarming for perfectionists.  They capture moments in time that are precise.  But here’s thing.  These videos and photos satisfy for a moment.  Then they are done.  Sure, we can watch more videos and view more photos.  But if we are longing for deeper, sustained satisfaction, it becomes clear real quick that these videos don’t go that deep.  Not to mention the fact that we can’t sit on our phones or TVs and watch videos all the time.

Furthermore, while satisfying videos are humorous and kinda cool, the problem of dissatisfaction is not funny. We can feel dissatisfied in so many areas. Relationships, finances, health, stress. Many of us are aware of deep inner longing, of a dissatisfied life.  It’s why we sit on our phones so much, binge-watch so much TV, and try to ease the pain of life with addictions and escapes of many kinds.  So is there anything that can satisfy the soul? 

As we continue our series in Deuteronomy, we have arrived at chapters 12 and 13, and we’re also going to jump briefly into a few verses at the end of 16 and beginning of 17.  What can satisfy the soul? Let’s see if Moses can help us answer the cry of our inner longings. 

First of all let’s look at the intro to chapter 12, verses 1-3.

Here Moses is introducing the next and longest section of the book of Deuteronomy, and what the book of Deuteronomy is named for, the Second Law, or the second telling of the Law.  Chapters 1-11 have been part historical account, and partly a re-establishment of the Ten Commandments and how they are summed up in the idea of Loving God. This is the foundation of the covenant. Now in chapters 12-26, Moses gets into the specific laws. 

Before we get into the laws and commands of God in chapters 12 and 13, I think it will be helpful to briefly talk about why God has these commands in the first place.  It could seem like he is micro-managing the people.  Scan through Deuteronomy 12-26, and you will see there are a lot of laws.  Why does he have to be so specific and detailed?  Isn’t it a bit controlling, all these commands?  Is God a dictator?

It reminded me of when our son Tyler came home from Army basic training and AIT.  He had been gone for about 5 months, living a totally regimented life.  There was almost no freedom.  Especially at Basic Training, just about every moment of every day is spelled out for you by your drill sergeants.  But then it was all over, and he returned home.  On one of those first days back, Michelle found Tyler in his room sitting on his bed, just staring.  She said, “What’s wrong?”  And he replied, “I’ve been sitting here for 20 minutes, and I don’t know what to do.”

You see what happened?  In just under 5 months, his life had been transformed to the point where he lost his sense of personal freedom, and was used to having someone tell him what to do.

Now imagine if it wasn’t 5 months.  Imagine if it was over 400 years, and your entire culture and nation was raised up under that kind of control?  Where you and your parents and your grandparents, and many generations before them, were always slaves, and nearly everything in your lives was dictated by the ruling powers!  For those of us not from an ethnicity that ever experienced that, it is very hard for us to put ourselves into that mentality.  But that slave mentality is exactly what was deeply entrenched in the people of Israel.  They had been brainwashed for centuries, and that mentality doesn’t just leave them the moment they cross the Red Sea.  In fact, if you read the books before Deuteronomy, the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, you will see the people of Israel reverting to their slave mentality often. God knows this.  And he desperately wants them to be free of that slave mentality.  He knows that mentality goes down deep in their lives, and thus they could easily be lured into worshiping the gods of the nations around them, nations that were far more powerful than Israel.  And you know what more powerful nations do to weaker nations?  The more powerful nations enslave the weaker nations.  God knows that unless Israel takes drastic action, following his ways for them, they will almost certainly be defeated by those other nations and enslaved all over again.

With that, we set the stage for the recounting of God’s laws to Israel in Deuteronomy 12 and 13.  What will he say first?  And how will he address the longing of their hearts?  And if we are struggling with dissatisfaction, what might we be able to learn from ancient laws to help us?  Check back in tomorrow, as all week long we’ll be seeking to answer that very question: what can satisfy the soul?

How to grow your love for God, part 5 (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree)

19 Oct
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

It is apple season, and my family actually has an apple tree in our yard.  The few apples that grew on the tree this year just fell down a few days ago.  They didn’t fall far from the tree.  Is that just an old adage?  What do apple trees matter to loving God? 

Yesterday, in my fourth post in this series, How to grow your love for God, I said that the primary principle Christians can learn from Deuteronomy 11 is that we grow our love for God by obeying his commands. The next principle is that of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  OK, so Moses doesn’t say that exactly, but the principle he shares is very similar.  In verses 18-21, Moses asks the people to convey the terms and actions of the covenant to the next generation.  This is akin to Jesus’ idea of making disciples.  We Christians are called to convey the wonders of the God to the next generation, and to those who are not yet a part of God’s family.

Look at Moses’ description in these verses.  He uses figurative language.  “Fix these words in your hearts and minds, tie them onto your body.”  In other words, be a walking billboard.

Again, that is some figurative language through which God is teaching a deeper principle. What is the principle, and how do we apply it?  The principle is that we are to be passionate about raising up the next generation to love Jesus.  A majority of it needs to be done by parents in the home.  Teach the way of Jesus to your children, no matter if you are at home, driving on the road, or working in the yard. Teach your children to follow Jesus, to know that God is near, that he loves them, and that the best possible way to live is to follow his commands and ways.

One literalistic way to apply this is to actually post messages on the walls of you home.  My wife is so good at this.  She posts Bible verses and principles literally on the walls of our house.  Here are some examples.

I’m not saying you all need to do this.  Clearly God is not saying that he is requiring us to post his laws on the walls of our homes.  While it is totally fine to do that, what does he want? He wants our hearts to beat with love for him.

And that means more personal, relational interaction, conversation, and discussion between adults in the family and the younger people in the family.  Parents and Grandparents, be intentional about investing spiritually in the lives of your kids and grandkids.   One of the things my parents started doing when my older boys were in elementary school was they stopped giving my kids toys for birthdays and Christmas.  Instead they started giving them adventures.  They took them to Washington DC, or Niagara Falls.  It was a gift of their time.  So much of our spending on gifts and holidays and vacations is self-indulgent.  Parents and grandparents, how can you use gifts and vacations to focus on serving, or on spiritual growth rather than self-indulgence?

Evaluate how are you using time at home. I admit that I have not been consistent with this.  We’ll go through phases where we have regular devotions around the dinner table.  But I also know that we can have tons of time watching TV, playing games on devices, and little spiritual conversation.  It is much easier to talk about video games, sports, school, etc. Almost any conversation with kids is good, but we need to be proactive about communicating God’s ways to them. 

But maybe you’re like me, and you sometimes find spiritual conversation difficult.  It begs the question, am I so loving toward Jesus that I can’t help but talk about him?  I have to ask myself, how much does Jesus occupy my thoughts and my conversations?

This takes us back to the axiom of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.  If I want my kids and grandkids to know God and follow his ways, than I should be a person who more and more loves Jesus.  The greatest thing you can do to invest in your kids’ spiritual growth is for you yourself to grow spiritually first.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  If you love Jesus and follow him, then your kids and grandkids will be much more likely to as well.  But if your time with and love for Jesus is weak, it will be super rare for your kids to have a stronger relationship with Jesus than you do.

So invest time in your relationship with Jesus.  What I’m talking about is a vibrant relationship with Jesus, such that you and I are excited about talking about him with other people, especially our families.  That means cultivating a relationship with Jesus.  And cultivating a relationship with Jesus involves time, an investment of time.

Lately, if you were around me much, you would almost certainly know what I have been spending time doing.  Why? Because I talk about it and am excited about it.  That’s why I spend time doing it.  What have I been spending a lot of time on?  Running a marathon, starting doctoral courses, and other activities my family is involved in.  As a result, I talk about it all them time. It is all very important to me.

Our small group studied the book Freedom from the Tyranny of the Urgent this past year or so, and it does an excellent job helping you think through how you spend your time.  You might consider picking up a copy of that book, learning about how to use your time more wisely, and then making some changes to your schedule so you can have more time to grow your heart for the Lord. So let’s invest in our relationship with Christ, that we might grow our excitement about him and thus be better equipped and more likely to pass him on to the next generation.  That’s called discipleship.  It is when we ourselves grow in our knowledge of, trust in, and obedience to the way of Christ, and then help others do the same.

How to grow your love for God, part 4 (why following his commands is not burdensome)

18 Oct
Photo by Austin Scmid on Unsplash

Does following God sometimes feel burdensome to you?  Can it seem like there are so many rules, and your heart and mind are not inclined to follow those rules?  If you’ve ever thought or felt something close to that, you’re not alone.  Many people have wondered why following God’s ways can be so difficult.  Most of know, however, that just because something is hard, it doesn’t mean it is impossible.  Rather it means you might have to invest some energy and sweat into it.  It might be costly.  But will it be worth it?  Following God’s ways raises all these questions.  Keep reading as we conclude our study of Deuteronomy 11 today and tomorrow, examining the ramifications of Moses’ teaching for our lives.  In the previous three posts, we’ve looked at sections 1 through 6 of Deuteronomy 11, seeking a pattern Moses seemed to have utilized each time.

How will Moses wrap this seventh and final section?  Look at verses 26-32. In section 7 the order is reversed from all the previous sections, as the rationale comes first, and the action follows.

So first, why does he want them to do this?  In verses 26-28, he wants them to understand God’s covenant treaty of blessings and curses resulting from their obedience or disobedience of God’s commands.

What is the thing he wants them to do? In verses 29-30, he says they need to proclaim this treaty in a ceremony when they enter the land.  They were to go up to two mountains that faced each other and proclaim the blessings and curses of the treaty, thus reenacting and renewing the treaty, this covenant between the nation and God.  If you read ahead in the book of Joshua, chapter 8, you see they actually perform the ceremony.

Finally, then, we come to verses 31-32 which are a summary of the whole passage: “You are about to enter the land, I am giving you.  Obey my commands.”

Let’s take a step back and look at the whole chapter.  Have you seen the pattern?  Moses tells the people of Israel the same thing seven times in a row: Show that you love God by observing his commands, and he will bless you.  But disobey, and you will be cursed.

Clearly Moses wants the people to pursue the blessings!  He wants them to thoroughly love Yahweh, which they will demonstrate by obeying his commands. He also wants them to make it such a priority, that they teach the next generation to do the same.  It should be an ever-present discussion in their lives, in their homes, in their travels.

We Christians are in a different covenant with God.  Israel had a unique treaty covenant with God that we don’t have.  We have new covenant, written for us in the New Testament.  But there are clearly principles that carry over.

What principles about God’s heart do we see in Deuteronomy 11?  Today we look at the principle that flows from all the sections, and tomorrow we’ll return to that axiom we started the series with: “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

So today we see that God loves his people, provides for his people, and wants to be in relationship with his people.  God makes his commands known, and he asks his people to follow his commands, because he has their best interest in mind.

When we hear the label “commands”, that loving relationship and God’s desire for our best interest can get lost in the supposed negativity of command language.  We can think that his commands are burdensome, and oftentimes make no sense, or seem outdated.  We can lose any semblance of seeing how his commands are in our best interest.

But Deuteronomy 11 reminds us that God’s heart for his commands is not that he would be some kind of dictator with ridiculous or oppressive rules, but God’s heart for his commands is human flourishing.  I encourage you to skim through this chapter again.  What do we see over and over and over?  God wants his people to be cared for, provided for, to have food and land and protection.  And he himself wants to be intimately involved in providing that.  God wants them to flourish.  That kind of abundance is at the heart of his reason for giving his commands.

Jesus reflects on this in John 15:15-21.  You might pause and read that.

The context is a close, loving relationship between God and his people.  He is not some distant ruler who makes proclamations from on high, and then never visits you to learn how you are actually doing.  How many of you work for companies whose decisions from corporate affect you every day, but they are distant, maybe even headquartered in another country?  In politics we say, “Harrisburg did this or that.  Washington is doing this or that.”  Those seats of power seem distant, disconnected, and it makes us grumpy when the decisions that happen there affect us negatively.

God is different.  God is close. He is right there in the land, in their midst, affecting things. He has always been right there. We Christians know this as well, as our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6, “Honor God with your body.”  We see, therefore, the same kind of principle in the New Testament.  God has our best interest in mind.  When we obey his commands, we show we love him, and we find that his commands are not burdensome! 

How to grow your love for God, part 3 (dealing with our fears)

17 Oct
Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

What do you fear?  Even if you are the kind of person who is not afraid of hardly anything, do you have concerns?  What bothers you?  Maybe your personality really struggles with fears.  I’ve talked in a previous post about my own struggles with anxiety. I’ve come to realize I have triggers: health and financial concerns, home repairs, and difficult relational situations can all intensify my struggle with fear and anxiety.  I’ve learned that it can be hard to love God in the midst of fear.  As we continue this series studying Deuteronomy 11, we’ve seen in the previous two posts that Moses is encouraging the people to grow their love for God.  If you haven’t read them, you might consider doing so, as they set the context for what we are going to study in this post.  Moses addresses a significant concern about loving God in the midst of fear. 

It seems that Deuteronomy 11 has 7 sections, and in the first three, Moses has been very positive.  But that positive tone changes in Section 4.  Look at verses 16-17.

The thing he wants them to do? In verse 16, he says, “do not to turn away from God or worship other gods.”  Warning! Red flag.

And why does he not want them to turn away from God? Moses is pretty clear.  In verse 17, he warns them, “then God will be angry and will not send rain, and you will not have food, and worse, you will perish from the Land.”

Yikes. Things just got negative.  But notice that this is the shortest section.  Moses doesn’t dwell on it.  He emphasizes the blessings, the positives, as he was a good leader like that.  No scare tactics here.  No heaping guilt.  But he does have to make them aware of the truth.  They need to be informed of what will happen if they turn away.  If they turn away from God, it will be disastrous for them.  This is some needed accountability.

But Moses doesn’t hammer on this.  Instead, he wants them to love and obey God, so he fills their hearts and minds with the many good reasons for following God’s way.  Thus, quickly, he returns to another positive section.

The fifth section is found in verses 18-21.

What is the thing he wants them to do? In verse 18, he has some practical advice about the commands of God.  He says, “fix these words in your hearts and minds.”

Why does he want them to do this?  He explains his reasoning in verses 19-21, “Teach them to your children…so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land.”

While this is the only section in which he doesn’t mention the word “commands”, that is what he wants them to fix to their hearts and minds.  When he uses the word “fix”, he is not referring to fixing something that is broken.  He is using “fix” in the sense of affixing something, putting something securely in place.  Those commands of God, and the ideas of loving God, serving him with all your heart and soul, those things should be fixed securely in place in your lives.  When you do that, he says, as he has said numerous times, the people will be fixed securely in the land for a long, long time.  Remember the axiom we talked about at the beginning of this series?  “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  Do you see how what Moses is saying in this section might relate to that?  Before we go any further making that connection, we have a few more sections of Deuteronomy 11 to work through.  Keep following these posts, as we’ll discuss “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” soon!  For now, let’s take a look at Section 6.

If you’ve been tracking along with the previous 5 sections, there should be no surprise what we will find in Section 6, which is verses 22-25.

Guess the thing he wants them to do? Yeah, there it is again in verse 22: observe these commands, love the Lord, walk in his ways, hold fast to him. Sound familiar? 

And why does he want them to love God and observe his commands?  Think he can find any new reasons by now?  Well, he does.  In verse 23, he says God will drive out the nations before them.  In verse 24, God will enlarge their territory. And in verse 25, no one will be able to stand against them.  God is speaking to the fear in their hearts.  They had people in their camp who did not think it was a good idea to enter the Promised Land because the nations already there were so powerful.  There were some in Israel who were afraid, thinking this Promised Land idea was actually a suicide mission.  So here is God saying, “Yeah, there are nations larger and stronger than you. But they aren’t large enough or strong enough to deal with me.”  This directly relates to verses 8-9.  Remember that interesting “so that” phrase in verse 8?  There God says, “Observe my commands, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land.”  Here in verses 22-25 he is saying something very similar.  “Observe my commands, and I will give you victory.”  God will be their strength!

How do we grow our love for God in the midst of our fear?  We stay true to him, securely establishing his ways in our lives, and in the lives of the next generation. When we are faithful to him, when we follow his ways, he addresses our fear by saying that he will be with us and strengthen us.  God is not promising to make life perfect, but he is saying that in the middle of our fear and struggle, we can trust in him.  As we learned recently in the 1 Peter series, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.”   I’m not saying that casting our anxiety on God is easy.  I still struggle with it.  But what we clearly see in these teachings from both the Old and New Testament is that we can depend on him in the middle of our fear.  I suspect that it will take effort, including some failures, but as we keep striving to trust in him, we will grow in our ability to know what to do and how to do it.  Keep striving!

For me, one practice that has been so helpful in striving to cast my anxiety on God is the habit of contemplative prayer.  If you are not familiar with contemplative prayer, I would recommend a guide.  For me, that guide has been in the form of books and phone apps.  Here are some recommendations:

First of all two books I would recommend are:

  • Into The Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird
  • Be Silent. Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace With God Through Contemplative Prayer by Ed Czyewski

Also good are:

  • The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh
  • Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God by Dallas Willard
  • The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
  • Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom
  • Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggeman

As said above, I have noticed that I cannot just say internally, “I will practice contemplative prayer.”   I need a guide.  And for me, Czyewski’s suggestions of finding smartphone apps proved quite good. Here are the apps I use:

Calm.  A mentor recommended this. It attempts a non-sectarian approach to meditation, breathing, etc.  But you will hear from time to time, in the guided meditations, references to eastern religious thinkers.  I never found it to be anti-Christian, though.  I also found that I could adapt it to focus on Christ as needed.  The free version limits access.  One year I paid for a subscription and that was great.  If possible, I recommend that.  I think the recommendations about breathing are excellent, but rather than a Buddhist emptying of the mind approach to meditation, I simply replaced that a biblical filling of the mind kind of meditation on God’s word. See the Centering Prayer app below.  The 7 Days of Calm is a great place to start.

Sacred Space. This is a guided prayer app that combines meditation on Scripture and thoughtful questions about encountering the presence of God, based on the practice of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I’ve been impressed.  But I’ve also found it is easy to skim through it super-fast.

Reimagining the Examen. This is another guided prayer app, specifically based on Ignatius’ Prayer of Examen.  It is topical, so each day a bit different, and yet always focuses on accountability for our thoughts and our relationship with the Lord.  More in depth than Sacred Space, I’ve found.  Maybe a good way to end the day.

Prayer Mate. A supplication app.  Great for organizing prayer requests.

Centering Prayer. Very simple app for connecting with the presence of God and listening for him.  Based on Centering Prayer, which I know some Christians find controversial.  Tim Keller, for example, in his book, Prayer, is really hesitant.  But I think his concerns are out of line.  As I have learned about contemplative prayer, I have started using this app daily and Calm less and less.

 

How to grow your love for God, part 2

16 Oct
Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash

Yesterday I referred to the axiom, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” but I didn’t talk about how it matters.  This week we are looking at Deuteronomy 11, and how to grow love for God, and I promise that I’ll eventually explain how the axiom about the apple tree relates to this. But today, we look at more ways to grow our love for God.  If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, you can do so here.

Yesterday we looked at the first of seven sections in Deuteronomy 11, verses 1-7, where Moses tells the people of Israel that they can grow their love for God by remembering what he did in their lives.  That brings us to the next section, which covers verses 8-12.

In this second section, the thing he wants them to do is found in verse 8: observe all God’s commands.  Sounds similar to the first section, doesn’t it?

But this time, Moses’ rationale changes.  Why does he want them to observe all God’s commands?  Do you see he uses two “so that” statements?  Observe the commands…so that…what?  The first is in verse 8: “so that you may have strength to go in and take over the land.”  That is really interesting to me.  Observing God’s commands, Moses says, gives them strength. 

The second “so that” is in verse 9.  “Observe all the commands, so that you may live long in the land.”  Observing God’s commands, then, will give them strength and longevity in the Promised Land.  Then Moses reminds them that the Promised Land is amazing, so they will definitely want to be there.   In verse 10, he says the land is not like Egypt, which they had to work hard to irrigate.  In verses 11-12, he says the land across the Jordan will be irrigated from heaven by the Lord.  If they obey God’s commands, then, it will be like they get a bonus farmer with super farming powers that will be working along with them.

Once again, God is prominent in Moses’ rationale.  In the first section, God was their savior.  In this second section, he is their provider.  But they have to obey his commands to access his blessing.

That brings us to Section 3, which covers verses 13-15.  Go ahead and read those verses for yourself.  Are you starting to see the pattern?  Let’s take a closer look.

What is the thing he wants them to do? Yup, there it is again in verse 13: “faithfully obey the commands, love God, serve him with all your heart and soul.”  Seems familiar!

And what will the result be?  In verse 14, if they obey and love God, then God will send rain and they will have a wonderful harvest.  Likewise, in verse 15, God will provide grass for cattle.  The conclusion?  If they obey and love him, they will have food!  That’s pretty important in the days before supermarkets, especially considering the people he is talking to here.  What have they just been through…for 40 years…in the food department?  Nothing but manna and quail and a struggle to get clean water in the wilderness.  We can’t imagine what that must have been like.  It must have been glorious for these Israelites to have their minds filled with visions of a variety of tasty vegetables, fruits, grains, meats and drinks in the Promised Land.  God is saying, “people, if you obey my commands and love me and serve me with all your heart, it will be a buffet every day for you.”

What have we seen so far?  The people have loads of good reasons to love and obey God.  His work saving them in the past, and the dream of their own land, and a bountiful one at that, in their future.  Blessings abound for those who obey the Lord, Moses says.  How, then, can we grow our love for God?  By looking to him as our provider!  God will strengthen, sustain and supply.

How will you look to God as your provider?  One practical way is to obey his command to be generous.  When we practice generosity in our lives, we are saying, “God, I will gratefully, joyfully, give back to you from the blessing you have poured out on me.”  Some ways to practice generosity is through giving to your church family, or giving to local charitable organizations serving those in need in your community and around the world.  Giving generously might require you to live more simply, to spend less on your selfish, so that you have more disposable income to give away.  Will you take a step of faith and give generously, showing that you love God and depend on him as your provider?

Another way to depend on God as your provider is to follow him in ways that are difficult for you.  Maybe it is working with a person or group that irritate you or rub you the wrong way.  Maybe it is a ministry in your church that needs help, and you would much rather do something else, but you choose to lend your time and talent to that ministry anyway.  By the way, in almost any church family, children’s ministry needs people to serve.  Spend a Sunday per month in the nursery.  Teach in a children’s class.  You just might find that you learn more preparing to teach than realize!  Or maybe there is a family in your neighborhood that needs help with yard work or cleaning.  You have a lot of yard work and cleaning of your own to do, and you really don’t have time to help others, but you could choose to do so anyway.  Are there any people from different ethnicities or cultures, or those who speak a different language, and they seem disconnected from your community? How could you help them connect?

How will you show your dependence on God, who is your provider?

How to grow your love for God, part 1

15 Oct
Photo by Janos Patrik on Unsplash

Have you ever heard the phrase, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”?  What does it mean?

That children or young people tend to behave like their parents.  It happens all the time.  And it is not just that we look like our parents, or sound like them, but that we tend to have similar beliefs as our parents, and we have similar ways we act on those beliefs.  Of course, this is not always the case.  Most of us are at least somewhat different from our parents, and some of us are very different from our parents.

But how many of you adults have had that heart-shocking experience, after previously boldly proclaiming that you would never ever be like your parents, you then heard yourself say something that your parents said, or do something your parents did?  And it hits you like a thunderclap, “Oh my word…that’s what my mom would say!” Or “That’s what my dad would do.” It’s like this:

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  We become like our parents, and we can’t help it.  Why?  What is going on in this phenomenon?  It’s not complicated.  Kids spend a lot of time with their parents, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, the thoughts, actions, opinions, and behaviors of parents rub off on their kids.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even friends, you too can have a great influence.

That is a reality check.  It means that we simply will influence the next generation.  How we spend our time among our young people matters.  They will become like us.  And that is what Moses turns to in Deuteronomy 11.

Deuteronomy Chapter 11 is a transitional chapter in this book.  It serves as a clear reminder to the people of Israel that they have a covenant treaty with their God, Yahweh.

There are seven sections in this chapter, and this week we briefly survey each one.  In each section Moses wants the people of Israel to do something, and he always gives them a rationale for why he wants them to do that thing.  In each section, let’s look at the action he wants them to do, and see if we can discover his rationale.

The first section is verses 1-7.

What is the thing he wants them to do?  He tells them in verse 1: Love God by keeping his…commands always.

What is his rationale for wanting them to love God by keeping his commands? We find that in verses 2-7.  He starts with the word, “Remember”.  “Remember God’s majesty,” Moses says, “God’s mighty hand, his outstretched arm.”

Then he repeats a phrase.  Do you see it?  In verses 3-6, he says this phrase in each verse: “what he did”.  He is talking about God, what God did.  Put that word “Remember” from verse 2 together with the phrase “what he did” repeated in verses 3-6, and you get a clear message from Moses to the people: “Remember…what he did!”

  • Verse 3 – What he did…in Egypt
  • Verse 4 – What he did…through the Red Sea
  • Verse 5 – What he did…in the desert
  • Verse 6 – What he did…to the disobedient

Remember what he did!  And what did God do?  Moses is saying, “He saved you, Israel!  Over and over, he saved you.”

Then in verse 7, Moses sums up this concept by saying, “with your own eyes you saw the great things the Lord has done.”  In this section, then, Moses is saying, when you look back over your life, and you remember God’s faithfulness and provision in your life, you’ll be motivated to show your love for him by keeping his commands.

How about you? What has God done for you?  Take some time today to review your life.  Remember what he did.  Make a list, even if it is a Top 5, and write it out, just like Moses did for Israel.  And spend some time thanking God for what he did.  Allow that Top 5 to inflame your heart with love for God.

What does this have to do with the phrase, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”?  Stay tuned!

God’s surprising views on justice

12 Oct
Photo by Zalmaury Saaved on Unsplash

Last year we started studying the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.  Then I went on sabbatical. We had covered the first nine chapters of Deuteronomy.

Now we’re heading back in! 

For the most part, though, we’re going to study Deuteronomy differently than we did last year.  Last year we went chapter by chapter, verse by verse.  But beginning with Deuteronomy 10, the book changes.  It becomes quite topical, and some topics are repeated in numerous chapters.  So as  we restart this study, we’re not going verse by verse.  We’re going theme by theme.  Or topic by topic, as you will see in this post.

We left off last year having studied chapters 8 and 9, and if you glance at them, you can see what Moses is doing.  He strongly urges the people to love the Lord, to follow the Lord, and remember how awfully they sinned against the Lord.

The really bad sin was when they made a golden idol in the shape of a calf and began worshiping it, saying things like they wanted to go back to Egypt, where they had been slaves?!?!?  We don’t have time to get into all the details of that story, but God was so upset at this, that he said to Moses, the game was over.  He was going to destroy the entire nation and start over again with Moses.  But chapter 9 ends with Moses reminding the people that he interceded for them, begging God to give them another chance.

With that we come to chapter 10.  What did God think about Moses wheeling and dealing?

Read chapter 10, verses 1-11. God relents!  And there is a new beginning.  

With that Moses wraps up the story of Golden Calf.  But why would Moses retell this story?  Remember that here in Deuteronomy, the people are on the verge of entering the Promised Land.  That Golden Calf incident happened 40 years prior.  Many of the people hearing Moses tell that story were not even there when it first happened.  So Moses has a good reason to bring that up: he wants them to remember their past.  They are not getting into the Promised Land because they were so good and special and powerful.  Nope, they are getting into the Promised Land because God chose them, forgave them, and helped them.  Moses wants the people to have a proper dependence on God, and to obey God and not make the same kind of nearly disastrous mistake their parents made.

That is why in the next passage, 10:12-22, Moses has some really important instructions for this new generation.  Look at verse 12-13.  Moses asks the people, “What does the Lord ask of you?”  It’s a great question.  One that we often ask as well.  “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

He answers, “Fear the Lord, walk in his ways, love him, serve him with all your heart and soul, observe his commands and decrees.” 

This is so central.  God wanted a loving connection with his people.  You can really see God’s heart for his people in this passage.  He is saying to them, “I want to walk with you, and be with you, that there may be genuine affection between us.” 

He goes on in verses 14 and 15 reminding the people that while God owns all of creation, guess who he decided to make his special people?  Israel.  Moses reminds them that God is the initiating force behind this relationship.  He started this when he set his affection on their forefathers.  People like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Because of God’s choice, the people need to see how their relationship with God is unique.  Because God chose them, they have some choices of their own to make.   He says in verse 16 “Circumcise your hearts, therefore.”

Circumcision was a big part of Jewish culture.  When God chose their forefather Abraham, God said the mark, the physical mark of their relationship with God, was that all males would be physically circumcised on the 8th day of the tiny little baby lives.  You might think, Why in the world, of all the things that God could think of to mark his people, did he go with that one?  We’ll never answer that question.  But this passage in Deut. 10:16 reminds us of something so important.  God actually has a deeper mark in mind.  The circumcision of the heart.  There the word “heart” is not referring to a person’s “blood-pumper”.  It’s not like God is moving his focus from one physical part of the body to another.  He also is not talking about emotion.  Sometimes in our day we cover our heart when we get emotional and say, “Awww, that’s so precious.”  But that is not what Moses is talking about.   In the Hebrew conception, heart referred to your will.

I recently listened to a Bible teacher named John Ortberg talk about this.  He said this: the heart that God is talking about here is your will.  This is your ability to exercise dominion in the world. The ability to choose.

But, he said, while will is central to who we are, it is terribly weak.  He referred to a scientist Valmeister who studied this.  Valmeister did experiments on will, and he found that our will can get tired, like a muscle being used. Our will gets tired, when trying to deal with the stuff of life and especially when making hard choices. Valmeister found that while our will is good at making decisions, it is also terrible at overriding our habits.  If we like to snack on sugary treats, and we do it every day, especially when we are stressed, our will is not good at helping us overcome that habit.

One thing, though, is easy for the will. Surrender. We all think that death to self is terrible and hard. Remember that Jesus said, unless we take up our cross and die to ourselves, we cannot be his disciple?  We hear that and think how awful it sounds.  Author Dallas Willard said that death to one’s lesser self is so that a more noble and glorious self can be born.  Our will was made to surrender to God.

Circumcision of our hearts, then, is another way to say, “People, surrender yourselves to God.”

And there is good reason to give yourself so completely over to God.  Look at verse 17, we can surrender to God because there is no god like our God.  He is the great God, mighty and awesome.  Above all gods.  When we surrender our lives to him, it’s not so bad.  It would be a major sacrifice if Moses had said to the people, “circumcise your hearts for God,” and God turned out to be some second-rate middle-level deity.  In the same way, it would be pretty pathetic if Jesus said, “Die to yourselves and follow me” if he ended up dying on the cross and staying dead, and never rising from the dead.  But no, YHWH is the one true all-powerful God, and Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose again to victory over death, victory over sin, victory over the devil.  For us to surrender to him means we are giving our lives to the most powerful one who loves us.  That’s pretty awesome.  We can surrender to that!

As Moses continues through this passage, he describes God, and it becomes more and more clear how great it is to surrender ourselves to God.  Because there is none like him, God has some really interesting points of view about life.  Look at verse 18.  God has an eye out, a heart, for those in need.  He defends the fatherless and the widow, loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.  What an amazing God!

But it is not just God who cares for those in need.  Israel is to follow God’s heart, Moses says in verse 19, loving the alien, because they were once aliens. What a great God we have.  He cares for all people, and has a special heart for those in need.  When we give ourselves over to him, we will also care for those in need.

As we come to the end of this chapter, verses 20-22 give us a quick recap.  Fear God, serve him, hold fast to him.  He is your praise, he is your God, who performed mighty wonders.  Moses reminds Israel of the last 450-500 years of their nation’s existence.  When they first went to Egypt, they numbered 70 people.  Now they are in the millions, and God rescued them.  In other words, they have every reason to circumcise their hearts, to surrender to God, and to follow his heart, which is a passionate desire to help those, like they once were, people in serious need of help.

In the coming chapters, Moses wants the people to get this, so he brings it up again, and again. Turn to chapter 15.  I’m not going to read all of this.  Because we’re going to jump to chapter 19 as well.  In these chapters, I want us to see how Moses continues the theme of God’s heart for those in need.

Look at verse 1 of chapter 15, and the old NIV, says, “At the end of every seven years, you must cancel debts.”

Do you have debts? Doyou have debts that have been going on for at least seven years?  And did you just think, I’m going to head over to my bank tomorrow, and I’m going to plop my Bible down and have a little talk?  Please don’t do that.  They probably won’t be too thrilled with you trying to get out of a legally-binding document like a mortgage.

This verse is much better translated “Every seventh year you shall make a release.”  God instituted in the nation a regular pattern of release.  It did include debts, but also slavery, also land and more.  One scholar says, “The laws of release…provide a structure in Israel for maintaining a balance and equity in society, and especially for giving access to the wealth of the land to those who had not property rights of their own.” (McConville, 257)

Hear that?  You just heard God’s heart.  God’s heart is sometimes unexpected.  God’s heart sometimes doesn’t jive with the economic standards of the day.  In Israel, God wanted to make sure the people who owed money were not taken advantage of, or that paying back the loan didn’t destroy them.  And furthermore, look at verse 4.  “There shall be no poor among you.”

Look at verse 7.  “If there are poor among you, do not be tight-fisted or hardhearted.  Rather be openhanded.  Freely lend whatever they need!”  Verse 10, “give generously to him, without a grudging heart.” Verse 11, “I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”  Over and over God is showing his heart.  We can really learn about God in these chapters of Deuteronomy!  God has a heart for those in need. 

Remember this all goes back to the fact that Israel did not earn their wealth and prosperity on their own.  God chose them, God saved them, God protected them, he forgave them when they sinned, and he brought them to a land that was capable of making them rich.  God did it all for them.  They had been enslaved and poor and powerless.  Now God is saying, remember where you came from.  Remember how I saved you.  Remember my heart for justice for those who are now like you used to be.  And love them, and give to them, and reach out to them.

In 15:12-18 this theme continues.  Again, hear the word release.  This time, he says, release servants.  And don’t just let them go, saying, “Good riddance, hope you can fend for yourself.”  No.  Give them what they need to make a new start. Look at verses 13-15.  “Supply them liberally!  Give to them as the Lord has blessed you.”

Now jump to chapter 19, and we continue to see God’s heart for justice.  This time with a really interesting idea: cities of refuge. In chapter 4, we learned that Moses created the first cities of refuge.  What in the world were cities of refuge?

Basically, Moses tells us in chapter 19 that cities of refuge were places of refuge for people who caused the unintentional death of another.

You might think, isn’t that rare, though?  Why is God so concerned about accidental death, something that hardly happens?  This one is personal for me.  On this blog I previously told my story, as I accidentally caused the death of an Amish lady in a car accident that was my fault when I was 17. 

When you lose a loved one it is hard.  When the cause of death is irresponsibility, that is even harder.  God know this.  He knows how bad it hurts when you lose a loved one, even when they die of old age.  But when they die unexpectedly, younger, and because of people’s stupidity or irresponsibility, it hurts even more.  People who lose a loved one that way might take revenge.  God had Moses and the people of Israel create cities of refuge where people could flee to their safety.  Again, we see God’s heart for those in need.

In chapter 19:14, there is another illustration of God’s heart. Don’t move boundary stones.  Don’t try to cheat property lines.  Here in America, boundary lines are set by law, and they are highly mapped out.  But even then, have you ever had a neighbor try to snag a few extra feet?

Our property has a rental property on one side, and different people have come and gone.  Each time a new tenant arrives, I talk with them about our garden.  I call it our garden, but it is almost entirely on the rental property’s back lawn.  So I explain that we have an agreement with their landlord to use it, and of course they can too.  We planted berries back there, and they are welcome to them.  So far it has worked great.  But what would be wrong is if I tried to say, that is my property!  That would be cheating.

God’s heart is a heart of justice, no cheating.  Likewise, in verses 15-21, God says that people accused of a crime must have testimony established by two or three witnesses.   Again, we see God’s heart is for justice.  No lying.

Moses in chapters 10, 15, and 19 presents to us that God is a God of justice.  God cares about the poor and needy, the fatherless, the orphan, the widow and the alien.  He cares about fairness and equity.  And we should too.  We should circumcise our hearts, and surrender to him, which means will we learn his heart, think like he thinks, do what he does.  We build our lives on his ways.

What is amazing is how this passion for God’s heart worked its way into the early church.  Jesus regularly taught about helping the poor and needy, and he himself ministered to them frequently.  So when you go to the story of the beginning of the church in Acts 2, what do you find?  Turn to Acts 2:42-47.

In Acts 2:44-45, they were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Sounds just like God’s heart in Deuteronomy!

Turn over to Acts 4:32, and we see this again.  Such amazing generosity!  Those first Christians had circumcised their hearts, were surrendered to God, and were being so giving.

Turn to Acts 6:1, and see how they talk about a ministry of caring for widows?  They got it.  The church knew God’s heart for those in need, and they did what they could do reach out.

When our church did a mission trip to Chicago in 2010, to work with our sister church there, it opened my eyes to God’s heart for justice.  I had been through four years of Bible College, and then through a seminary master’s degree, and somehow I barely heard anything about this.  In Chicago, they walked us through their neighborhoods and opened our eyes to injustice, and they also walked us through the Bible and opened our eyes to God’s heart for justice.  We looked at passages like we are studying in this post, and so many more.  It was embarrassing to me to realize that as a student of the Bible for so many years, I had missed this.  And it wasn’t like it was some small emphasis in Scripture that is easy to miss.  It is all over Scripture.  I am so thankful for how my church family has sought to identify the injustice in our community and seek to address it.

This is why Faith Church is so supportive of Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, which operates a food and clothing bank.  This is why we have been a location for the summer lunch club.  This is why we support Homes of Hope.  This is why we give to the Conestoga Valley Ministerium Helping Hands fund, which provides support of those in need in our community.

This is why we support the idea of abolishing slavery around the world. This is why we support refugee resettlement.  Because that is God’s heart. 

What will it look like for you to so appreciate God’s heart for you, for rescuing you, for saving you, that you allow his heart to grow within you, so you that you reach out to those in need?  Do you need to be more giving, more generous, more involved in helping people?