Archive | October, 2018

Cutting, Shaving, and other detestable things (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 3)

31 Oct

In this series of posts we are studying what, at first glance, might be a strange chapter of the Bible, Deuteronomy 14.  While it starts out with a fairly familiar concept, that we are sons and daughters of God, the phrase that comes next in verse 1 is really bizarre and might be surprising: “do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead.”  What???

Here we need to dig a bit into Ancient Near Eastern culture.  I want to mention two names that you may or may not have heard before.  They are names of two gods that were worshiped by the nations in that area of the world.

Have you heard of Ba’al?  (I’ve heard it pronounced “bail” or “buh-all.”)  Then there is another god, El. (Pronounced like the letter L or “ail”.)  In the Old Testament, the name “El” is used in conjunction with other words, to describe the Lord God, such as the Hebrew name El Shaddai?  Sometimes El Shaddai is translated “God Almighty,” referring to Yahweh’s strength, power and sufficiency.  That word “El” is also the name of another Ancient Near Eastern god, like Ba’al.  Scholars tell us that in a story from ancient “Ugaritic literature, the god El gashes himself in mourning for the dead god Baal.” (McConville, Deuteronomy, 248)  Because of stories like this, some of the nations in that region incorporated self-cutting in their funeral rituals.  In 1 Kings 18, this practice shows up in the story of Elijah and prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel. 

Here’s the thing, though.  Israel was not to cut themselves or shave the front of their heads, because that was what pagans did.  In other words, Yahweh was saying to Israel, that was not clean living.  Cutting and other forms of self-mutilation are still practiced today, and in American culture they have rightly been given attention for how dangerous they can be.  If you or someone you know is cutting or harming themselves in some way, I urge you to lovingly reach out to them.  I am far from an expert in these matters, so I refer you to organizations like the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and their extensive work on cutting and self-harm.

If self harm is not acceptable in God’s eyes, what are his standards for clean living? Deuteronomy 14, verse 2 is key, as Yahweh, Israel’s father, calls his sons and daughters to live like him:

“You are a people holy to the Lord your God.  Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.” 

Clean living is a life of holiness.  Israel was to live a holy life because they were God’s children, and he treasured them.  As you read Deuteronomy 14:2, notice how intimately and how lovingly God felt about them.  Israel could look back over the last 40 years and see how God rescued them, provided for them, protected them, and so it was entirely reasonable for God to give them a new way to live, even if that way of life was totally different from the world around them.  Clean living was about living a holy life, which is another way of saying, living God’s way.

Later in part 5, we’re going to come back to this, as verse 2 is central to the passage.  For now, let’s move on, trying to observe the flow of thought into verse 3.  Here Moses introduces what the rest of this passage, verses 4-21, is about: “Do not eat any detestable thing.” 

We started the week in part 1, talking about our likes and dislikes when it comes to food.  In this chapter, Moses is not talking about gross food. Instead, that word “detestable” in verse 3 is about what is kosher or not kosher.  Kosher means “fit,” but not “fit” like a person who exercises and is in shape.  Kosher refers to what is “fitting” or “acceptable” to eat.  Another way of describing it is “clean” and “unclean”.

Still today in Judaism kosher law is a big deal.  On a package of food, you might find some symbols like the ones in the picture, indicating that food is kosher or clean.  If you’re interested in learning more about the process of how foods receive kosher approval in today’s Jewish communities, there are plenty of places online.  A few years ago I enjoyed reading AJ Jacobs’ book, The Year of Living Biblically, in which he humorously details his experiences with contemporary Judaism, as he attempted to very literally live out teachings such as Deuteronomy 14.  The heart behind kosher law is that Jews want to avoid anything that God has declared detestable.

We’ve seen the word “detestable”before in our study of Deuteronomy.  In fact,we saw it last week in chapter 12, verse 31, where God told Israel that they were not to worship like the pagans around them, because pagan worship included detestable things, especially human sacrifice.  The pagans practiced detestable religion, and Israel was to be different.

Here again, we that Israel is to be clean and holy, whereas the pagans were unclean and detestable.  Quite a stark difference! 

Verses 4-20, then, list all kinds of animals that are clean and unclean, very much related to the difference between holiness and that which is detestable.  To our modern ears, these chapters can sound bizarre.

For example, they could eat sheep and goats, but not pig or rabbits.  And they were not allowed eat insects, except for any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper, because they had jointed legs for hopping?  Huh?  In most Bibles, there is probably a text note saying that scholars don’t know the precise identification of all the animals in this list.  Some of them are educated guesses.

What gives with all these clean and unclean animals? Why does God choose some and not others?  Various Jewish and Christian commentators wonder if the unclean animals were banned by God because for hygienic reasons, because eating those animals would more likely negatively impact a person’s health.  Some wonder if the clean animals were chosen by God because they were more prevalent in the Promised Land, and thus easier for Israel to hunt.  Scholars have numerous opinions about these perspectives, but the one option they all agreed on is this:  some, if not most, of the unclean creatures were used in worship of other false gods, and of course Yahweh wants there to be no association between his people and false gods. 

McConville says that “The more important question is how this fits with the theology of Israel’s holiness.” (250)  And that theology of holiness was simple:  Israel was the loved children of God, and thus they were to live holy lives.  They were to be different from the detestable, unclean people around them.  Israel was to follow God’s way, a new clean way, called holiness.

That key word “detestable” in verse 3 is a major point God is trying to get across.  Connect it with the words “for you” in verse 7 and 10 and 19, where God says, “Israel, certain animals are unclean for you.”

When we read that, we have to remember that God had Israel’s best interest in mind.  As bizarre as this chapter looks to our modern eyes, we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God wanted Israel to thrive.  He wasn’t trying to make life difficult for them.  Instead he was trying to set them free to truly live.  That is very instructive for Christians who might find some of God’s teaching for us to also be difficult.  Even if we don’t understand how it might be in our best interest, we can trust that God wants us to flourish.

Also let us remember that these laws in Deuteronomy are part of God’s covenant with Israel.  They are not part of God’s covenant with the church.  In fact, this very concept of clean and unclean things is dramatically overturned in the New Testament.  Tomorrow we’ll look at a few places.

Live as adult children! (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 2)

30 Oct
Photo by Laura Marques on Unsplash

How do you feel about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?  At Faith Church when Mothers and Fathers Days roll around in May and June, we take a cautious approach because we’ve heard from a number of people that these holidays are complicated.  Maybe you know the feeling.  It could be that your earthly mother or father is or was a difficult or abusive person.  Perhaps they were distant.  Sure, we are taught to honor and respect our parents, and we should, but for many, those relationships are fraught with pain.  The result is that seeing God as parent is also difficult for some people. 

This week are studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, looking at how God’s list of clean and unclean foods matters to Christians.  (Please read part 1 in the series, where I introduce the chapter by talking about the time some friends offered me the chance to suck eyeballs out of a fish!)  Today, we get started looking at this passage, but before we get into God’s menu, we need to spend time in verse 1: “You are the children of the Lord your God.”  That is a significant statement describing Israel’s relationship to God.  He goes on to tell them that God chose them as his treasured possession.  For those of you who struggle with the concept of God as your heavenly father, I encourage you to allow these verses to settle in to your heart and mind.  Before God gets into his food menu, it is vital that Israel see themselves as loved, children of God.

But isn’t Deuteronomy a record of God’s covenant with Israel?  Yes, it is.  So, doesn’t that mean the concept of Israel as God’s beloved children is for them only?  While Deuteronomy 14 is for Israel, the phrase “children of God” is carried over to the church in the New Testament.  The Apostle John, in particular, enjoys the phrase, using it more than any of the other NT writers. A couple instances are quite famous:

John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

1 John 3:1: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

I take it quite seriously if you have a hard time conceiving of God as father, and seeing yourself as son or daughter of God.  If that is painful for you because you have had a difficult relationship with your parents, I don’t belittle that at all.  But given what we have read in Deuteronomy 14 and from the Apostle John, I invite you to read on, as perhaps God wants you to revisit your identification as children of God.

As teenagers and adults, it can be hard for us to see ourselves as children.  For many of us, it has been a long time since we were children.  We forget.  When we were children, many of us longed not to be children.  We wanted to be adults.  Perhaps you’ve long held the perspective that adulthood is superior to childhood, probably based in the truth that most cases maturity is better than immaturity.

A surprising change happens in many adults, though, when they discover within a longing for childhood.  We use the description “adulting” whenever we are acting like adults, often begrudgingly, because life has forced adult-like behavior upon us such as paying bills and getting our car inspected; in short, “adulting” is being responsible.  In the middle of “adulting,” how many of us long for childhood?  But what are we longing for in those moments?  I suspect we miss the effortless days of childhood, when we had freedom from responsibility, leaving many of us adults feeling trapped.

I’d like to propose that the concept of being loved children of God should free us, but not from responsibility.  Instead, when we embrace our identity as the children who God loves, we are free to play.  Writer Marilyn McEntyre taught me this concept in her powerful book, Caring For Words In A Culture of Lies:

“To play is to claim our freedom as beloved children of God and to perform our most sacred tasks—what we feel we are called to do in the world—with abandon and delight, free to experiment and fail, free to find out and reconsider, free to say something we might need to take back, free to look stupid in the interests of honesty because there are no grades…there is no competition in the Kingdom of Heaven…Children who feel completely safe and loved are playful.  To play is to live in grace.  And to live in grace is not to ignore the law…but to embrace it as an aid to abundant life.  So in the interests of abundant life, good stewards play.” (196-7)  And “reclaiming an appropriate practice of play is one of the challenges of adulthood.” (202)

Because you are loved children of God, you are free to play.  As McEntyre says, this adult play is not childish or immaturity.  Instead, seeing ourselves as loved children of God is a recapturing of the healthy freedom of children at play.  Because we are so loved by God we can experiment and wonder and also take risks, just like the person who said, “if you’re hanging on for dear life, beloved child of God, let go.”  In other words, trust him, he loves you.  You are free, child of God, so live life to the fullest.  What will that freedom to play look like for you?

Eating fish heads (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 1)

29 Oct

What do you consider disgusting food?  Brussels sprouts?  Tomatoes?  Hot dogs?  Fast food?  Fish?  We all have our likes and our dislikes.

For me, some of the most disgusting food I’ve had was on mission trips.  In India it was some kind cow intestine or worse.  In Malaysia I had Tom Yum soup which is actually from Thailand.

I spent the whole summer between my junior and senior year of college on a missionary internship in Guyana South America.  Much of my summer I worked alongside a Guyanese pastor, helping to start a new church in a neighboring town.  Toward the end of the summer, he and his wife had me over for dinner, and they served fish.  Their menu choice was no surprise, as they lived on Guyana’s coast where fish are abundant.  Mostly the Guyanese men fished with nets, but also, amazingly, with their hands!  Nearby sugar cane plantations built canals throughout their fields, and they used the canals to float harvested cane to the processing plant.  The canals were a great habitat for many species of fish, including some that would find safety in the muddy walls of the canals.  My Guyanese friends would hop in the canal, get down on their hunches, and start rummaging through the mud.  I was blown away the first time I watched this, as they pulled fish after fish out of the water, seemingly by magic.

As you can imagine, I ate fish often that summer, including the meal at my pastor friend’s house.  For dinner, the family prepared one whole fish for us to share: my friend, his wife, their young son, and me.  I was the guest, and they treated me with honor.  In Guyanese culture it is customary to offer your guest the head of the fish because they considered it a delicacy to suck the eyes out.  I had so many cross-cultural experiences that summer.  I had foregone deodorant because many Guyanese did.  I tried learning their dialect and changing my accent to match theirs.  I had many new foods, fruits and vegetables.  But when it came to fish head, and especially the eyeballs, I just couldn’t do it.

Food is amazing, isn’t it?  It can be so good, and so bad.  I was amazed in Guyana, which was exceedingly poor, how they enjoyed rice and hot spices with every meal.  I grew to love their rice, curry and daal.  But I also missed my American favorites.  One time we traveled to the capital city for some meetings, and we visited a KFC, and I was so ready for fried chicken!  My Guyanese friends considered it a treat too, but afterwards some of them were ho-hum about it, and they said they missed their rice! Another time the missionary I stayed with made a delicious mac & cheese, and my Guyanese friends said it didn’t have any taste.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  You know what they were referring to?  Spice.  It had no hot spices in it.  To them, that mac & cheese was bland.

They had their idea about what food was good and what food was bad.  We all have our ideas of good and bad food, right? Did you know that God also has some ideas about good food and bad food?

As we continue studying Deuteronomy, we come to chapter 14, verses 1-21.  Go ahead and open your Bible to that passage. As you’ll see, this very unique chapter focuses on food.  For the people of Israel, God said food is either clean or unclean.  In other words, some food is good, and some food is bad.  But God’s menu had nothing to do with taste or preference.  Have you heard of the word “kosher”?  What is kosher?  Deuteronomy 14 is basically God’s menu of kosher food for Israel.  For the rest of the week, we’re going to see how God’s menu for Israel matters to us!

As we’ll see tomorrow, when God wants to talk about clean and unclean food with Israel, he starts in a curious place: their identity as his children.

What can satisfy the soul? part 4 (the drastic action needed)

25 Oct
Image result for destroy a tv

We started this series of posts looking at satisfying videos, thankful for them, but noting that they cannot satisfy the soul.  We talk about our phones yesterday and how they promise so much, but they, too, don’t satisfy the deepest longings of our souls.  What can satisfy the soul?  We found one answer: only God can satisfy.  We found that Moses tells the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 12 to take dramatic action to make sure they find their satisfaction in God alone. That dramatic action carries on into chapter 13.  We’re not going to read chapter 13, but instead we’re going to look at its structure.

In chapter 13, Moses talks about three groups of people.

  1. Prophets who teach false gods in verses 1-5.
  2. Family members who teach false gods in verses 6-11.
  3. Wicked towns who teach worship of false gods in verse 12-18.

And what does God say the people should do to each of these three groups? Eliminate them.

In chapters 16:21-17:7 this theme continues. “Purge the evil from among you.” These are brutal passages, I know.  God is talking about stoning people, totally destroying them, even people from within one’s own family.  It raises up inside some of us those difficult questions about violence in the Old Testament and why God would ever command that kind of purge.

I listened to an Old Testament scholar recently remark that when he hears concerns about the violence in the Old Testament, it is often from people who have ingested probably hundreds of hours watching violent movies and television shows, and they seem not to have a problem with that media.  The scholar makes a good point about the irony or possibly hypocrisy of people who would be disgusted with violence in Deuteronomy 13 on Sunday morning, only to go and choose to spend money watching a violent film that same afternoon. 

But one might respond, “Wait a minute, in those violent films, it is not God doing the violence, but in Deuteronomy 13 it is.”  Is it, though?  Or is God responding with loving protection for his people?

We can hardly imagine what it was like in ancient pagan cultures, and for those with a slave mentality. We simply have to go back to the fact that a nation of slaves needs to have a dramatic and decisive kind of protection, and that could require total elimination of all evil influences, even from within the nation and from within one’s own family.  Can’t stomach it?  Me neither. I don’t like Deuteronomy 13 at all.  I’m glad we live in a different time and under a different covenant.

We need to remind ourselves that what we are reading is God’s covenant treaty with Israel, and it is not for us.  We are under the New Covenant, and we are not bound to follow the rules of the Old Covenant. We need to hear that clearly. These rules are not for us. 

So is there any principle from Deuteronomy 13, 16 and 17, that can carry over to those of us under the New Covenant?  I think there is!

Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5?  “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your eye causes you to lust, gouge it out.”  Now was Jesus speaking literally?  When I mentioned this live in my sermon, I asked everyone to hold up their hands.  I didn’t see any chopped off hands or gouged out eyes.  If we were taking Jesus literally, there should have been  some evidence of chopping and gouging!  We are right not to take Jesus literally, as he was using figurative language to make a point. Jesus was saying “Take drastic action.”

We simply must be lovingly, graciously, restoratively concerned for purity and holiness in our own lives and in a church family.  And we must take dramatic action to get there. Ask yourselves the question: what dramatic action in your life in order to pursue God’s ways? What are strongholds that you need to destroy?  What are your high places? 

Media? Sports? Addictions?

Are you trying to find satisfaction in your life from sources that cannot satisfy? Much of media and sports are neutral.  I’m thankful the Redskins have what looks to be a somewhat competitive team this year. I also enjoy a number of television shows. But those things cannot provide satisfaction, except temporarily.  Our inner selves are longing for something more, and God knows this.  He instructs the Israelites to worship him only, and not other false gods, because those false gods cannot satisfy.

He instructs Israel to worship him in his ways.  Not in their ways.  God has their best interest in mind.  He wants to preserve their newfound freedom.  He wants them to enjoy the abundance of the Promised Land.  God also is a God of justice, as we saw a few weeks ago, and he wants to eradicate the unjust and detestable practices found in foreign lands, and to do all that, Israel must stay true to him.  They must find their satisfaction in him, and not be lured into the false religion of the powerful, unjust nations around them. 

I encourage you examine your own life.  What will it look like for you to pursue finding satisfaction of your deepest desires in God alone?  What do you need to stop?  And what do you need to start? Do you spend time with God?  Do you need to open up space in your life to drink deeply from the well of his Word, of listening for his voice in prayer?

What can satisfy the soul? part 3 (can your phone?)

24 Oct
Photo by Stephen Petrey on Unsplash

Our smartphones promise so much.  Can they satisfy the soul?  Take note today how often you use yours, and lift up your eyes and observe how often other people are on their phones.  The first iPhone came out in June 2007, and in 12 years smartphones have swept the globe, with about one-third of every human using one.  In the USA, research finds that 95% of all Americans have a cell phone, and 77% have a smartphone!  Get this: in the 18-29 demographic, 94% use smartphones, and 100% have a cellphone.  100%!  Even if the actual percentage is 99.5% and they just rounded up, these stats paint an astounding picture of phone adoption rates.  And it happened fast!  From 2011 to 2018, smartphone use by Americans increased from 35% to 77%.  Is there any question that we love our smartphones?  What does this say about us and our inner longings?  What does this say about what we worship?  All week long we have been looking at Deuteronomy 12, seeking to answer the question: what can satisfy the soul?  Can our phones?  Let’s continue into Deuteronomy 12 to find out.

We saw yesterday in part 2 that God must be the focus of our worship. Moses goes on in Deuteronomy 12, describing to Israel how this worship of Yahweh is to occur in verses 15-28.  There are lots of sacrifices and blood and I encourage you to read that at some point.  In this post, however, we are going to jump to verses 29-32 where Moses summarizes his theme again. Take a moment and read that.

He says, “Do not worship like the people around you worship, as it is detestable.”  Look at verse 31: “They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”  Human sacrifice, God says, is totally detestable.  This is a major way that Yahweh was different from other gods of the nations around Israel.  There are actually many ways that Yahweh and his expectation for the people of Israel was different, and we’ve seen some of those ways already in our study through Deuteronomy.  Here are some examples: He chose Israel, a weak, slave nation, rather than picking one of the powerful nations.  He wanted to be a loving close relationship with them, rather than to be distant from them.  He was deeply concerned that they, a nation of slaves, be protected and provided for, so they could be transformed into a life of freedom and flourishing.  When they messed up, and they disobeyed him, he was gracious and forgiving.  All of these characteristics of Yahweh are strikingly different from the other Ancient Near Eastern gods.  Now here we see another distinction, as Yahweh is concerned about human life, in particular wanting to eradicate the horrible practice of human sacrifice.  In the Ancient Near East, ritual human sacrifice was all too common, and Yahweh wanted it abolished.

Do you think there might be worship practices in our culture that God would find detestable?  We’ve already talked about the possibility that Israel had a deep-seated slave mentality that could lead to them to be tempted to worship the gods of the powerful nations around them.  It is hard for us to imagine Israel seriously considering false worship to the point of engaging in human ritual sacrifice.  But God is right to be concerned about this, knowing that his people are so easily lured away.  There was a deep dissatisfaction in their souls, and God knew that it would be attractive to Israel to attempt to fill that longing by worshiping like the nations around them.  Could the same be said of us? Let’s be humble and teachable as well, considering the possibility that we, too, might engage in false worship, trying to satisfy our souls.  No, Christians are not sacrificing infants, but we would do well to ask if there are any practices of false worship that might be tempting us?

It begs the question: What is true worship? What worship does God desire of us?  To show up at church worship services, sing songs, pray, and listen to a sermon?  Does God want us to perform religious rituals like communion?  Before we identify false worship, let’s first make sure we clearly define the worship God desires.  Worship that God desires is celebrating, rejoicing and honoring him, and not just in a ceremony for one hour, but through a life of following him and obeying his ways.  Worship that God desires is a life of making things right in the world.  Worship includes battling injustice in society, healing brokenness in relationships, serving God, and pursuing the mission of his Kingdom.  And you know where that starts?  Giving our hearts to him. Finding our satisfaction in him.  There are plenty of times where God would say that Israel was doing all kinds of sacrifices, fasting, and rituals, but he said it was worthless to him because their hearts were far from him.  In those moments, they showed they were not satisfied in God alone.

And so where are our hearts?  The shocking message of false worship, God says, is that any worship can become false worship if our hearts are not satisfied in God.  The music and the sermon might be wonderfully faithful to God and his Word, but if we are not satisfied in God alone, we can be tempted to desire those worship elements to satisfy us.  One way to discover if our hearts are not satisfied in God alone is to evaluate our reaction to worship services.  If the are “not up to par” or “boring” or if we have a critical spirit about them, or if we think or say, “I didn’t get fed” about a sermon, then it could be our hearts are far from God. 

I will admit that sometimes, my heart is all about is sitting on our sofa, phone in hand, scrolling through the app store trying to find a new cool app that will make my life better.  I think I want to get the most out of this phone that I am paying for every month. Like going to the buffet.  I want to go there and eat all day long to get the biggest bang for my buck. 

And yet what is really going on beneath the surface?  I think a new phone app, or lots of great food, will satisfy me or fulfill me, and make my life better.

But that is a lie!  When I went on sabbatical, I got rid of Facebook and games on my phone, and it literally felt like an emotional ripping away, but you know what? It made my life better!  Instead of escaping to social media land or a phone game, which I did way too much, I tried to read a book or focus on my family, or pray.  And that prayer was the major change.  I tried to learn to sit in God’s presence and hear his voice.  I tried to learn to be satisfied in him.

What I found is that it wasn’t my smartphone that was the problem.  In fact, while I removed a bunch of distracting apps, I went on the install a handful of prayer apps that have been incredibly helpful in pointing my heart to God. 

We simply cannot find our satisfaction in anything but God.  And that is what God is saying to Israel, “you will not find your satisfaction in worshiping those other gods, or like they worship.”  True satisfaction can be found only in God.

So follow the teaching of Yahweh, in Deut. 12:2 – take dramatic action, break down the altars to the things in your life through which you are seeking to satisfy your soul.  Delete the apps, cancel the subscription.  Is there music, movies, books, or something else holding you back?  An addictive habit?  Let it burn.  Tear down those strongholds.  Take dramatic action.  Find your satisfaction in God alone, because only he can satisfy the longings of our souls.

What can satisfy the soul? part 2

23 Oct
Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

You are what you worship.  Agree?  Disagree?  If I had said, “You are what you eat,” that would be a bit easier to agree with.  Food goes in, metabolizes, fuels and shapes the body.  You actually are what you eat.  But what about worship?  Does worship have the same affect on us as food? 

All week long we are seeking to answer the question, “What can satisfy the soul?”  Clearly, food satisfies a hungry belly.  Food is also a delight to the tongue, and for many food is emotionally satisfying.  Have you ever heard of the phrase, “stress eating”?  But no matter how much food we eat, there is no perfectly satisfying meal, as within hours we’re hungry again. 

But what about worship?  Does worship shape us?  Does it satisfy?  Is it true that “you are what you worship?”  It’s an intriguing question, and the answer to that question is at the heart of what God is saying to the people of Israel as we continue studying Deuteronomy 12. 

As we saw yesterday in our first post on Deuteronomy 12 & 13, God has to be strict about requiring Israel to worship him and him only. This is why the very first thing he says, in chapter 12 verses 2-3, is that Israel is to destroy any and all pagan centers of worship and idols in the Promised Land.

That might sound harsh.  But again, remember the slave mentality? If you don’t know what I mean by “slave mentality,” please pause this post and read What can satisfy the soul? part 1 as there I explain what I think was going on in the hearts and minds of the nation of Israel.

It seems to me that what God is saying to Israel here is that sometimes it is best to take drastic action in your life.  I once encountered a situation like this in my own life. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, and I was going through what I call my adult conversion, where for the first time, I was totally surrendering my life to God, to follow his ways.  I looked at the many verses in the New Testament like Philippians 4:8 where one of the earliest followers of Jesus, a guy named Paul, says, “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” and I wanted to follow that.

One area where I was allowing impurity into my life, and my thoughts, on a regular basis, was the music I listened to.  So some church friends and I got together, and a bunch of us agreed that this was a concern.  We went through our music collections, grabbed anything that we felt we needed to get rid of, and we threw it into a 50 gallon drum, poured gas on it, and lit it on fire.

I will tell you that Michelle and I have, in the years since, bought some of that music back, thinking, “Why did I get rid of that one, there was nothing wrong with that????”  So maybe I was overzealous.  I will admit it.

But at the time it was absolutely the right thing to do.  I would do it again, and I would recommend others of you to do the same.  Who wants to have a bonfire?  Get rid of the porn, get rid of stuff that tempts you, get rid of stuff that is holding you back.  Sometimes you need to take drastic action to break the power of the stuff that has a hold of you.

Also what we see in Deuteronomy 12 is the concept of being set apart.  God wanted Israel to live a different way, which was a far better way, than the way of the pagan nations around them.  If the people of Israel, who had a slave mentality, were to be set apart to follow this new way of God, the major first step was that they needed to remove the pagan false gods.  Look at verse 3, at how specific God is, when he says that he wants the names of those other false gods to be wiped out. That’s not just removing an idol, that is removing the memory of that false god.  Verses 1-3, therefore, show us clearly that Israel was to be set apart, different, following Yahweh, the one true God.

He adds to this in verses 4-6 saying that they must not worship in their way, they must worship in God’s way, and they must worship in God’s place.

Notice that he never names the place.  That should jump at out you, because there was a place. The tabernacle. They had been using it for a long time by this point.  Because he doesn’t mention the tabernacle, because he uses the generic word “place,” that means he wants them to have a different focus.  The tabernacle, or the temple that would follow, or the city of Jerusalem where it would be located, those are place names.  God, because he doesn’t use a place name, intends the focus not to be on the place, but for the focus of their worship to be where?

On him!  God wants their focus to be where it should be, on him.  He knows how easily people become enthralled with buildings and cities and places, and how our hearts and minds can get caught up in the wrong things. He knows how especially starry-eyed we become with the work of our own hands.  You know the emotional boost you get when you make, create or fix something?  It is a human tendency, and the feeling would only be more intense for Israel, considering their journey from slavery to independence.  God is quite aware that Israel, when entering the Promised Land, will be very tempted by their victory, their success, and be lured away from him.

Because of that temptation, he wants them to be very aware that the place of worship is not so important, as is the fact that he will be there.  His name will be there.  This is why he tells them to wipe out the places of worship and even the names of the false gods, and focus solely on God and his name.

God continues in this vein in verse 7. Worship in the presence of the Lord.  Be there, eat there, rejoice there.  Why? Because God has blessed them.  Which is a tie-in back to chapter 11 which we studied last week. Remember that? Obedience brings blessing.

Verses 8-14 describe that the people of God are not to do as they see fit, they are not to worship how they want.  Instead they must worship God’s way.  Again, God must be the focus of their worship.

We can learn from this too.  We need to focus on worshiping God, and in his way.  The conclusion is that worship does shape us.  In a very real, physical and emotional way, we are what we worship. God is saying to Israel, if you do you take drastic action to clear away false worship from your land, you could easily be tempted to indulge in what is false, and that will destroy you.  Place your focus, therefore, on God.  Worship him.  God isn’t saying that we will become gods.  But the more we focus our lives on him, the more we worship him, the more like he we are inclined to be.  He does want to shape us to be conformed to the image of Jesus.  So I urge you to consider what it might look like for you worship Jesus more? 

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?