Tag Archives: israel

The danger of echo-chambers [God’s heart for people to find the truth, part 1]

26 Nov

Photo by Joe Taylor on Unsplash

Have you heard of “echo chambers”? I was listening to a podcast this week where a guy said that in our day and age, especially because of the many, many choices we have for news, and because of social media, that Christians too often live in an echo chamber. 

 Echo chambers are rooms where you can talk and hear the sound waves of your voice bounce off the walls and repeat over and over so you hear an echo, echo, echo, echo.  We do this in life too, especially with the news, when we listen to one viewpoint over and over.  For example, if you believe that one particular news outlet is biased, you might decide to never listen to or read any report from that news outlet.  What happens is that we tend to load our social media feeds with news outlets that tend to agree with us.  Or we watch TV news that affirms our beliefs. Usually this falls along political lines.  It doesn’t matter if you are conservative, progressive, or liberal, it is human nature to want to be affirmed. But that can create an echo chamber in our lives, where we almost always, or maybe only, listen to what we already believe.  We don’t listen to other points of view.  We become insulated from hearing other points of view. 

Here’s the thing: Christians should not be in an echo chamber.  Instead Christians should be people who are able to evaluate multiple points of view with a Kingdom perspective!  The question, then, for Christians is, where do we find this truth? 

As we will see in Deuteronomy 18, God was also very concerned that Israel would be able to find the truth too. 

In the last few months studying Deuteronomy, we’ve seen laws about worship, about food, about holidays, about governance, about generosity, and time and time again, God tells Israel that they are not to be like the nations around them.  Israel is to be different because they follow God.  God wants Israel to be different, because he loves them and has a heart for justice, for human flourishing. In the nations surrounding Israel, there is much injustice.  So Israel must look different.

Once again in Deuteronomy 18, we see God warning Israel about the temptation to be like the selfish, destructive nations around them, because those nations had many detestable practices. 

Look at what he says in Deuteronomy 18:9-14.  Verse 9 tells us that in the Promised Land of Canaan, the land Israel was about to enter and take over, there were nations who did all kinds of detestable practices. 

I tried to imagine what that would be like for the people of Israel to enter into this foreign land and see all these different kinds of practices. 

Have you ever been to a foreign country where Christianity is not the dominant religion?  It is an eye-opening experience.  When I was in Guyana, India, Nepal, Cambodia and Malaysia, I experienced a bit of this. All over the place were temples and flags and statues devoted to the gods of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.  I didn’t feel tempted to give my life to those religions.  It was certainly very interesting, for example, visiting a Buddhist temple in Cambodia, talking to a Muslim Imam in Guyana, watching Hindus enter their temples in India.  I felt uncomfortable, and yet curious.  My first visit to a Catholic cathedral in Vienna, Austria, felt similarly uncomfortable, and that nation is historically Christian! 

So from my vantage point, it seems like Israel would not be tempted to get into all those detestable practices,especially because they have God on their side. Why would they ever think of anything else?  Well, God knows his people.  I think again that the slave mentality is a factor here. I’ve mentioned it in the past, and I think it pertains here.  They were slaves 400+ years in Egypt, and it is very hard to remove that mentality from their way of thinking.  Slaves did as their rulers told them.  God knows his people could be tempted by the powerful nations around them to fall back into that slave mentality. 

Tomorrow we’ll look at the detestable practices people in other nations used to gain knowledge and power, practices that God wants Israel to have nothing to do with.

So once again he strongly tells them to be different, to not practice the detestable religious practices of the nations in the Promised Land of Canaan.  And so he lists a bunch of these practices, to make it abundantly clear what he is talking about. 

Supreme Courts and Presidents [God’s heart for good government, part 3]

14 Nov
Photo by Claire Anderson on Unsplash

God wants there to be supreme courts and presidents.  Really?  Well, kind of.  In this series, we are studying Deuteronomy 17, seeking God’s heart for good government, and we move from what God instructed Israel to do with local governance to what he wanted for their national governance: supreme courts and presidents!

In Deut. 17:8-20, he describes a unique system in which priests and a judge form a national-level law court with the responsibility of providing rulings on the most difficult cases (bloodshed, law suits, and assaults are the three examples given), cases that the lower courts were unable to decide.  It seems this high court, located in the city of God’s choosing, was to be like our supreme court.

What do you think of the fact that this high court was to be comprised mostly of priests?  In verse 12 we read about “the priest there ministering to the Lord,” which might be a reference to the high priest of the land. So this high court had heavy hitters. The judge of the land, and maybe the high priest, and then perhaps also an unnamed number of other judges. What that means is that Israel’s high court includes both the civil and religious leaders.

To our American ears, it might sound odd when we read that Israel was to have priests on its high court.  Can you imagine if our Supreme Court included religious leaders?  But for Israel it makes sense, because the priests were the ones who knew the Law the best.  We see this in verse 10 where God says they were to decide these hard cases, and in verse 11, as they were to teach people the law.

Then the people were to absolutely follow the decision of the court. No wavering. Look at the penalty for those who disobeyed! Verses 12-13 say it is the death penalty.  In our view this might seem insane.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts in our study of Deuteronomy, I’m glad we Christians are under a new covenant.  We also need to remember that it wasn’t some random law that Israel was following.  Whose law governed their land?  God’s law.  The priests and judges were not making up new laws and asking the people to follow them. They were simply deciding cases, based on God’s law.  Their government was a theocracy, meaning God was at the top, God was ruler.  When people disobeyed what this high court decided, they were disobeying God.  That’s bold disobedience, and it was to be taken seriously.  Again, I am so glad the church is not under this covenant. 

So far in this series we have seen God’s desire for Israel to have local courts, and a high court, and now we have one higher level to go: the King, which is described in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

This section envisions a time in the future when Israel is settled in the land and wants a king, “like all the nations around” them.  Warning. Warning! Warning.  We should be seeing warning signs in this verse.  What warning sign?  That phrase “like all the nations around us.”  What is wrong with that?  Israel was NOT to be like the nations around them.  We have seen that in previous posts.  They were not to worship in the detestable ways of the nations around them. 

And here is the kicker.  They shouldn’t be asking for a king because they already had a king!  Who was their king?  YHWH, God was their king.  This section is just a few verses long, but it points to something that is going to have significant consequences for the nation.  God knows this.  Let’s just jump ahead into the future and see what happens.

We’re traveling to a time about a couple hundred years after Deuteronomy 16. The book of Joshua comes right after Deuteronomy and tells the story of the conquest of the Promised Land, led by Joshua who took over for Moses.  The people settle down, and after Joshua dies, we read in next book, the book of Judges, that there are a series of judges who become the top leader of the nation.  One of those judges was a guy named Gideon who won an amazing battle, and the people wanted to make him king. In Judges 8:23 we read that Gideon was not a fan of that idea and instead responded, “the Lord will rule over you.”  That’s right, Gideon!  The people had a strong desire to have a king like the nations around them. Gideon might have tamped down that desire for the time being, but it would return.

Then maybe another hundred years or so after Gideon, in the days of the very last judge who would rule over Israel, a guy named Samuel, the people were again asking for a king.  I encourage you to read 1 Sam. 8:4-9.  Did you hear how God felt about this idea?  He felt rejected! Israel doesn’t need a king because they have God, the one true king.  The same goes for us, as we Christians worship God alone, and and we do not worship human leaders.

In the next post, we’ll turn back to Deuteronomy 17, and what we’ll see is that God knows the people will ask for a king, so perhaps he can set some laws in place to help this king idea turnout different from the nations around them. What God will say about the king is shocking.

Giving our firsts to God [God’s heart for the holidays, part 1]

5 Nov
Photo by Ferenc Horvath on Unsplash

In your mind, can you recite the cycle of national holidays that tell the story of America. Get out a piece of paper, or start typing in a document.  See if you can list out our holidays.  Here’s a hint: where do you think we should start?  July 4th, of course!  There would be no America without it.  Independence Day!  Now see if you can work your way around the calendar.  What comes after July 4th? Don’t peek below!  List your guesses, then come back here and see how you did.

Ready to check your work?  After July 4th, the next American holiday is Labor Day and then we have Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving.  A couple months later we observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, then Presidents Day, and finally, Memorial Day.

How did you do?  Get them all?  Include some that I didn’t?  We’ll get to that just below.  For now, look at the holidays I listed.  Think about how these holidays describe the major events in the history of our nation. Every year, then, we have regular markers to help us remember our American story. Of course we could throw a few more in there such as Flag Day and Emancipation Day, which are not considered official federal holidays, but definitely point to important elements of our national story.  In more recent decades, we could point to D-Day and 9/11, which continue to tell that story.

But as I said above, there are a bunch of holidays I skipped!  I didn’t include them because those holidays have nothing to do with America. Instead they are holidays that could be celebrated around the world.  New Year’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s & Father’s Day, and the biggest holiday of them all, Christmas.  Even these non-American holidays are important to us because of their meaning.

So let’s step back a bit, and think: What do all these holidays tell us?  Humans are a people who love to remember and celebrate. We love to mark birthdays and anniversaries.  My congregation, Faith Church, for example, just had a wonderful celebration of our 50th anniversary.

As we continue our study through Deuteronomy, we are going to see that God also loves to celebrate special days, embedding special days into the covenant law that he had with Israel.  I encourage to open a Bible as you keep reading this post.  Turn to Deuteronomy 15:19.  In this series of posts, we’re going to study Deuteronomy 15:19 through 16:17, and it is all about holidays. Just as our American holidays tell the story of America, so Israel’s holidays tell the story of their nation.

In Deut. 15:19, notice that God doesn’t start with holidays.  Instead he starts with some instructions that will apply to the celebratory ritual included in many of Israel’s holidays and feasts, the ritual of sacrificing to God. Go ahead and read 15:19-23. Did you notice that this section is basically saying that firstborn animals are to be set aside for sacrifice.

If you have children, think about the birth of your first.  How did it feel?  My guess is that it was a day of extreme emotion.  There is a major excitement about the first of anything.  Not just the birth of children, but also your first day on the job, your first time playing on a sports team, or your first time volunteering at school or at church. You’re more nervous, more emotional, and more intense about it, because is new, just like a firstborn.

Let’s be clear, firstborns are not more special than other kids.  They are just new, they’re first, and we parents of firstborns have no idea what we’re doing, so we feel more emotional about them.  Every single step along the way is a first for the firstborn, and it is a first for their parents.  We’ve walked through the emotional firsts of the first day of kindergarten, then middle school, dances, sports, high school, driving, dating, college…and a couple months ago my wife and I experienced another first with when our firstborn got engaged! What a joyful, exciting first that has been!

But travel back with me to the moment of the birth of the firstborn.  When a first child is born, in the midst of that intense emotion, the temptation is to think, “I did that, I own that, I created that, and it is mine.” 

But what does God say to Israel?  “Dedicate the firstborn to me.” 

He isn’t talking about children, by the way.  He is talking about animals.  “Set the firstborn animals apart,” he says, “and don’t work them in the fields, but reserve them for sacrifices to the Lord during the holiday, at which time you will eat them in the presence of the Lord.”  This means Israel was to have an attitude of giving back to the Lord first.  They were not to see themselves as the creator or owner of their firstborn animals.  They were to see God as the provider, God as the one who was responsible for the blessing of a firstborn. Thus they release that firstborn to God.

We can carry this principle over to the church.  We Christians are people who give God our firsts, and not just in finances, but also in our time, in our gifts and abilities.  We see his Kingdom as the priority, because he is the foundation and the cause of all the blessings we have.  We are simply stewards, or managers, or what God owns.

Paul talked about this in 1 Cor. 10:31,when he said, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for the glory of God.”  How are you doing with living to the glory of God?  How are you doing seeing yourself as a steward?  Or do you have a too-tight hold on your life, on your children, on your possessions, on your time, on your talents? 

Check back in tomorrow as we begin to look at the special holidays God proclaimed for Israel, how sacrificing the firstborn occurred on a holiday, and how Christians can learn some important principles from Deuteronomy 15 and 16. 

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? 

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!