Tag Archives: deuteronomy

Avoid the occult [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 2]

27 Nov

Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash

As we saw in part 1 of this series on Deuteronomy 18:9-22, God instructs Israel to not dabble in the detestable religious practices of the nations they will encounter when they enter the Promised Land of Canaan.  He lists a bunch of these practices, making it abundantly clear what he is talking about. 

The most obvious one is child sacrifice in verse 10, a grave injustice he has warned them against previously in Deuteronomy.  That one seems obviously wrong.  It is hard to imagine how any people group could ever practice ritual child sacrifice. 

The others on the list, though, are not as obviously destructive, but they are just as detestable in the eyes of God.  They all relate to the occult, and are almost all in the realm of gaining special knowledge or power through occult practices.  Witchcraft, sorcery, divination, trying to consult with dead people. You see these activities pop up in many Bible stories.  The magicians of Pharaoh in Egypt, the wise men of Babylon, and the prophets of Ba’al, to name just a few.  God comes against these practices totally and completely.

In our society there are many movies and TV shows that have similar practices,so that we might be confused about what God is talking about here.  This is not the Jedi of Star Wars or the wizards of Harry Potter. This is not Disney.  God is referring to real dark, evil power.  And it exists today.  It is rooted in the power of Satan and his demons.  So of course God doesn’t want his people to getting mixed up in that.  It might look impressive, and enticing, because Satan is powerful.  But God is more powerful yet, by an infinite magnitude.

When Israel follows God who is truly powerful, there is no need to get mixed up in the lesser powers of the occult.  But the occult is tempting.  Especially when we want to know the truth about life, and especially when we feel like God is being silent.  That happens, right? We can feel God is silent, and we get desperate, and we can be tempted to get knowledge in dark places.

A couple years ago my Amish neighbors wanted to dig a new well, because they needed extra water for the animals and gardens. So beforehand they hired a local water “guy.”  He walked around their property with metal pipe wrench that supposedly started vibrating when he got over a place that was good to drill for water.  I did not see this man, but when they dug the well, I saw the drilling rig.  A few days later, I stopped by their house to buy eggs from them, and I asked about the well.  The wife explained that they were seeking more water, and then she told me about the “water guy.”  She asked me what I thought of him.  She had heard that it was just science, the vibration in the pipe wrench.  In my mind, I thought, “diviner,” and I said to her that I wouldn’t have hired him. 

Every now and then I hear about groups, usually at teenage birthday parties or sleepovers, where people get an Ouija board and ask it answers.  Sometimes people hold séances to contact the dead.  There used to be a  palm reader and tarot card reader that had a storefront not too far from us.  None of this is rooted in God and his ways, and Christians reading this, I would strongly encourage you to stay away.  Like Israel, we have knowledge and power from God, and we just don’t need to seek it anywhere else.

Growing up my wife wasn’t allowed to watch certain movies and TV shows or read certain books because of this same concern about dabbling in the occult, when we Christians are to find the truth in God.  I’m not trying to tell your family what to do, but I do think we need to be cautious.  Don’t underestimate the power of evil.  Take it seriously.  So often we live our lives seeing how close we can get to line of what is evil, without crossing over it.  Instead, I would like suggest what Moses says in verse 13, “You must be blameless before the Lord your God.”

That word “blameless” is the Hebrew word for “complete” or “perfect”, and that is a high bar, right?  One scholar I read said that here in Deuteronomy 18, it refers to the integrity of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, the Lord, meaning that they must give their devotion to God and God alone, and they must not have allegiance to any other god or detestable worship practice of the nations in the land of Canaan.  Same goes for us!  See what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.  “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?  Are we stronger than he?”  The answers Paul is obviously looking for, in response to both of these questions, is “No!” 

And that is where Moses goes next.  If they are not to rely on knowledge and power from the occult, where should Israel go to get that knowledge and remain blameless?  We’ll find out in part 3.

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 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 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?