Tag Archives: Jesus

How TO wait during hard times [First Sunday of Advent, part 5]

7 Dec

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

In this series of posts on the Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent 2019, we’ve been learning how to wait during hard times.  In the previous post about the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36, we heard from Jesus how NOT to wait.  Now we continue in that passage, and Jesus teaches the proper way to wait.

We can summarize Jesus’ teaching as: watch out in prayer.  When we are struggling with pain, anxiety, and God seems far away, and our world seems to be crumbling around us, Jesus says our response should be watchful prayer.  Jesus mentions two requests we should pray for: escape and stand.  The word “escape” is not to be understood as fleeing or running away, but as avoidance.  It is okay to pray, “God please don’t let me go through this.”  Jesus himself prayed that very thing before he went to the cross! God might say, “Ok…I will take that away.”  But God might not.  He didn’t take the cross away from Jesus.  This is when the second prayer request is so important. Stand.  And in particular Jesus says, “stand before the Son of Man,” which is him.  What he is referring to is that we are praying for strength to stand in the midst of trial and pain, to stand in such a way that we remain faithful to Jesus. 

When we are going through hard times, our response should be pray.  Pray for the difficulty to be taken away, but if it is not taken away, pray that God will strengthen us to remain faithful.

Here we can look to Jesus as our model.  Constantly we see him, especially in the Gospel of Luke, getting away for prayer. In Matthew 6 he tells us to go into our closet and pray.  That’s what Jesus did.  It might not have been a literal closet for Jesus, but it had the same effect when he went all by himself on a mountain to be alone with God. I don’t have a prayer closet, but I do like to find a quiet room in the church.  Often I walk into the dark sanctuary, sit in the front and pray.  Sometimes like Brother Lawrence, I pray while washing dishes, seeking to have a conversation with God all day like Lawrence did.

We need to learn to get away from our phones, from TV, from the internet, from people, and spend time sitting in God’s presence. 

I know waiting can be so hard.  But the one place we will find the strength to watch for Jesus and be faithful for his return is the place of sitting in his presence.  It might be while you are driving, and you turn off the radio or the podcast, and you just talk with God and listen for him.  It might be while you are exercising, and you remove the headphones from your ears, turn off the music and listen.  Or maybe you keep the headphones in and listen to music that helps you pray!   Or maybe an app that guides you into listening to God.  It might be in the quietness of the morning before people awake, or after they have gone to bed.  It might be on lunch break in the park, in your car, in the bathroom.  As we saw in Deuteronomy 18, God says that we need to learn to listen to Jesus. 

When we listen, when we bask in his presence, we find strength to remain faithful, even in the dark times, even in the waiting.

Watch, and pray, the days are coming.  Maybe for some of you, the days are here.  You are living through pain right now.  Maybe for some of you those days are coming.  What is your practice of prayer?  Do you need to increase the time you spend in prayer?  Do you need to spend time working on the quality of your prayer? 

Anthony Bloom, in his book Beginning to Pray, gave an illustration that really hit home with me.  He said, consider your relationship with your spouse or significant other or maybe even a close friend.  What would that relationship be like if the sum total of your communication with that person was you going up to them for five minutes each day, pulling out a list of stuff you want them to do, running down the list, and saying, “Great talk.  Please do all that for me.  Talk with you tomorrow.”  The next day, you do the same talk again.  Sometimes you skip days, thinking very little of it, but when you resume talking to that person, it is more of the same, your five minute wish list.  And that’s it.  How would that relationship go?  It would fail very fast. 

When I was on sabbatical, and I was learning about listening to God, that story really convicted me.  I started practicing listening prayer.  But I will tell you that since I have been back from sabbatical, with the busyness of life, it is so easy to think, I don’t have time for listening to God.  Jesus reminds us in Luke 21 that nothing is more important.  Right before he was about to encounter the most momentous event of his life, which was his crucifixion, you’d think he would be taking every last second to teach his disciples, to help prepare them for what was coming, give them tools to succeed. But he doesn’t.  Instead he prays.  At the moment of crisis Jesus is praying.

How can we be a people of prayer?  Are you in a moment of crisis?  Are you praying, listening for the voice of God, basking in his presence?  If this resonates with you, but you are not sure where to begin, I recommend that you read Bloom’s book, and another one called Into The Silent Land: The Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird.  Study those books.  Then find your closet, watch and pray.

Being faithful in the waiting [First Sunday of Advent, part 3]

5 Dec
Photo by Jonsung Lee on Unsplash

Thus far the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have begun with a prophecy from 600 BC that God would send a new king to Israel, and that the people needed to get ready for that king by practicing repentance.  We looked at Luke 1, which describes Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy.  As we move from the Old Testament readings to the two New Testament readings, we’re going to encounter more prophecy, once again looking to the future.  The next reading is Thessalonians 3:9-13.

From the time of David who wrote Psalm 25, which we studied in part 2, we’re moving forward in history 1000 years to 50 AD.  One of the earliest followers of Jesus is a guy named Paul, and he is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was the largest city in what was then called Macedonia.  It is still today a bustling town, a favorite of tourists, and in the middle of the city is an archaeological site with ancient ruins. Today it is called Thessaloniki, Greece. If you want, you can read about Paul’s first visit there in Acts 17.

At the time Paul visited, scholars estimate 200,000 people lived there, because Thessalonica was located in a favorable position on one of the main highways in the Empire, the Egnatian Way, and it was a port on the Aegean Sea.  Because of its large population and prime location, of course Paul would want to share the good news of Jesus there.  As was his practice, he went to a Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica and preached about Jesus. Many people started believing in Jesus. That made the staunch Jews mad, and Paul and Silas had to flee, but a church was started.  Though Paul moved on, his thoughts and prayers were still with the church in Thessalonica, and in the following weeks and months, he wonders how they are getting along. 

We read in 1 Thessalonians 3:6 that his assistant, Timothy, visited Paul, reporting good news about the Thessalonian Christians’ steadfast faith and love, that they longed to see Paul again.  Paul knows he won’t be headed back to Thessalonica anytime soon, so instead of a visit, he writes them a letter, hoping to keep investing in their lives. 

In this section of that letter, Paul says he was encouraged by their faith, since they are standing firm in the Lord.  Paul is overflowing with thanks for them.  And in verse 12 he prays to God that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.  He prays that they will be blameless and holy in the presence of God.  That’s a very similar prayer to what David prayed in Psalm 25!  Hmmm…maybe there is a reason these passages were selected to be read on the same day?

Then in verse 13, Paul mentions the return of Jesus.  Actually in this letter of 1st Thessalonians, you can scan through the end of each of the five chapters and you will notice that the return of Jesus is mentioned each time.  When Paul wrote, he didn’t include chapters and verses.  They were added       much later.  But by seeing this repeated mention of Jesus’ return, of Jesus’ coming again, we can see that it was a major theme for Paul.  Paul is asking the Christians in Thessalonica, and by extension he is asking us, “Will we be blameless when Jesus returns?”  Unlike the Davidic kings who turned away from the Lord, Paul calls Christians to remain faithful and blameless before the Lord while we are waiting for his return.  And when will Jesus return? 

That brings us to the fourth reading, Luke 21:25-36.

Advent is a season when we remember Jesus’ first coming, his birth, so that we might prepare ourselves for his second coming.  But when will that happen?  Jesus talks about this in Luke 21:25. 

In this passage, Jesus is in his final days.  He has arrived in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover to great fanfare.  On what we call Palm Sunday, the crowds wanted to make him king. Many Israelites saw Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophecy in Jeremiah. But they were mistaken about Jesus’ Kingdom.  They wanted a ruler like David who would wage war against the enemy and give Israel independence.  But Jesus was not that kind of King.  His Kingdom, Jesus said, was not of this world, though it would make a great impact on the world! 

And so here in Luke 21 Jesus and his disciples are at the temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples are commenting about the beauty of the temple.  Their beloved church building.  The temple was the center of Jewish life and faith.  And Jesus says in verse 6, “you know, this temple is going to be destroyed.” 

The disciples are aghast.  What is he talking about?  When would this happen?  They want to know details!  How will they be able to tell?  Jesus goes on in verse 8-24, giving them two levels of prophetic teaching. 

First the near level.  In verses 12-19 he talks about the persecution the disciples will go through, and that actually took place only a few short months after Jesus said it.  You can read about it in Acts 3-4.

Then the medium range level.  I verses 8-10, and 20-24, he talks about a time when Jerusalem would once again be attacked, just as it was in Jeremiah’s day.  This time, not the Babylonians, but it was the Romans in 70AD who destroyed the city. Before we move too quickly past this, I think we need to just pause and think about how astounding this is. Jesus in 33 AD prophesies that the temple would be destroyed.  And it happened!  Let’s just pause and think about how amazing that is.  Jesus says that a major catastrophic event will happen, and he gives some fairly specific detail about how this event will occur, and 40 years later it happens?  That is Jesus.  He can tell the future like that. That means we can trust in him when he gives the next level of prophecy too.

Next Jesus says there will be third, future, level of prophecy.  That is what we are focusing on today.  Look at verses 25-36.

There will be various signs for sure, and then he will come again!  As he said many other times, we don’t know the day, time or hour.  His coming will be like a thief in the night, like a lightning strike, surprising.  So we should practice humility about signs.  We should be very guarded about our confidence in our ability to interpret signs of the times. What does it mean, then, to be ready for his return?  Jesus will teach us in the next post in the series, as we continue study Luke 21:25-36.

There is hope in dark times! [First Sunday of Advent, part 1]

3 Dec

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

For Advent 2019, Faith Church will be following the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.  Each Sunday we’ll look at how the four readings tie together thematically, all supporting the goals of the season of Advent.  Thus we are pausing our series on Deuteronomy.  We’ll return to that after the New Year 2019.  Why does Faith Church observe Advent?  This post explains our thought. And this post from the Deuteronomy series refers to it as well.

In this series of posts we start by meeting a guy who was living in a very dark time.  It was one of those difficult phases of life that most of us know by personal experience, times when you can look all around you and seriously question whether God is real, or if he is able to keep his promises.  You look around you and you wonder, “Why? Lord,Why?” 

I was talking to someone this week who was going through a difficult and painful time in their career, and they said that very thing, “Why is this happening to me?” At times like this, it can seems like there is no hope.

Maybe you’ve been there.  The worst is when the difficulty and the pain carry on and seem like they are not going away anytime soon.  As Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part.”  And in the waiting game,you can be very tempted to have dark thoughts.  

So let’s meet Jeremiah.  He was in one of those dark times. Turn with me to Jeremiah 33:14-16.

To get a sense of the backstory of this passage, look back at Jeremiah 32 where we learn that Jeremiah is prophesying at the very end of the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (which was the southern kingdom of Israel).  The scene takes place in the capital of Judah, the famous city of Jerusalem.  A powerful enemy force of the superpower nation of Babylon has built siege works around the city walls, and they are starving the people.  It’s only a matter of time until the city gives up, and all is lost. 

So Jeremiah, directed by the Lord, buys his cousin’s field, as a prophetic sign. Kinda weird, right? At that moment when Babylon’s armies are surrounding the city, God wants Jeremiah to buy a field? The people inside the city walls, Jeremiah’s friends and family would have been thinking, “Jeremiah, what in the world are you doing?  This is a ridiculous time to buy anything.  We’re all going to die!” But God had a reason for Jeremiah to buy the field, and he sure got their attention.

God’s message was that, though things look dire now, one day people will buy and sell property in the land again.  Through Jeremiah, God says that Israel has turned its back on him, and so he is allowing Babylon to wipe Jerusalem from the face of the earth as punishment for Israel’s sins.  But one day in the future, there will be restoration.  And that promise of restoration is what we read about in Jeremiah chapter 33. 

Specifically looking at 33:14-16, we see the words, “The days are coming!” What days?  The days when God will fulfill the gracious promise he made to his people.  Look at verses 15 and 16.  There we read of the promise of a new king.  He uses the image of a branch sprouting from David’s line.  The famous second king of Israel, David was known as a “man after God’s own heart.”  Long before Jeremiah’s time, 400 or so years earlier, David ruled the land, and God promised David that, if his descendants followed the way of the Lord, David would always have someone from his royal line on the throne of Israel.  Well, as Jeremiah looked around the city, he knew the 400 year streak of having a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem was nearly over.  The kings had turned away from God, and thus God allowed Babylon to capture them.  And that is what eventually happened soon after this passage.  Jerusalem was destroyed, and never again was a Davidic king on the throne. 

But here in Jeremiah 33 we have a new hope, a prophecy of a new Davidic king who will come, who will do what is right and just in the land.  A new day is coming, declares the Lord, a new David! And who might that be?

We find out about 600 years later,when God sends an angel to a humble unknown peasant girl.  In Luke 1:26, the angel Gabriel appears suddenly to a young lady named Mary in the Northern Israelite town of Nazareth,and the angel says Mary is highly favored, that the Lord is with her.  Mary’s life is about to change forever.  The angel tells her in Luke 1:31 that she is going to bear a child, and that child will be great, the Son of the Most High, and get this, God will give Mary’s son the throne of his father David,and her son will rule over the house of Jacob forever, his kingdom will never end.  Imagine Mary hearing that! 

Mary knew that she was of the line of David, but 600 years had gone by.  That would be like a descendant of George Washington in our day saying, “George Washington is my great, great, great,great, great, grandfather.”  The lineage is interesting, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore.  So there’s Mary, knowing that David is her great, great, great, great, great, grandfather. But what is God talking about?  She’s going to have a son who will be on the throne of David?  And he will have a kingdom that will never end?  What does it mean? To get some perspective, we’ll need to turn to the second reading of the day, and we do that in the next post.

Jesus wants to destroy your echo chamber [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 5]

30 Nov
Image result for jesus cleansing the temple

In this series of posts on Deuteronomy 18, we’ve been talking about how we need to get out of the echo chambers of life and find the truth in Jesus.

There is an interesting story in John18:33 and following.  Jesus has been arrested, and he was taken to the Roman governor Pilate.  The Jewish leaders accused Jesus of treason against the Roman Empire, saying Jesus called himself a king and thus a challenger to the throne. That would definitely pique Pilate’s interest, and he questions Jesus.  Read John 18:33-38 to see how their discussion goes.

I want to focus on the line where Jesus’ said that he came to testify to the truth, and everyone on the side of truth listens to him. Pilate responds with the question that so many of us are asking: “What is truth?”  It is a question philosophers through the ages have asked, and the answer is not always easy to come by, especially in a world of so much false news. 

But Jesus said that everyone on the side of truth listens to him.  Are you listening to Jesus?  That reminds me of another event in Jesus’ life.

Do you remember the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration?  Jesus took his closest disciples, Peter, James and John, up to a mountain to pray.  There Jesus’ was miraculously changed in appearance, shining bright white.  And guess who shows up?  Elijah and Moses, perhaps the two greatest prophets of Israel. Peter is blown away, of course, and he does what he so often does. He lets his emotion carry him, and he tells Jesus, “Let’s build shelters for you all…” and just then, we read that God the Father, interrupts Peter and says, “This is my beloved son, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

In other words, God is saying, “Peter, be quiet.  Though you have before you Moses and Elijah, listen to Jesus.” We must listen to Jesus. 

We find truth in Jesus.  Christians must make a practice of seeking truth in Jesus.  So let us not engage in detestable practices, trying to gain knowledge and power from them.  Steer clear of them. Instead, listen to Jesus. 

To listen to him we need to spend time with him! Read the four stories of Jesus’ life, The Gospels. Learn from people who are experts on Jesus.

Read books like Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew. Jesus is surprising.  Yancey, in that book, talks about how when he started a careful, close study of Jesus, he was shocked at what he learned.  He thought he knew Jesus.  Of course, he knew a lot, but through his study, he learned so much more. He found out that he had viewpoints on Jesus that needed correction. 

Sometimes we need to be put in our place, like God did with Peter, and not assume that we have listened to Jesus.  I can almost guarantee that when you listen to Jesus he will destroy your echo chamber.  Jesus is not conservative, or progressive or liberal.  Jesus, as he said, has a kingdom is not of this world. 

When I was in the Clergy Leadership Program a few years ago, my cohort had pastors from a variety of Christian perspectives.  Lutherans, Catholic,Orthodox, and many others.  We’d get into theological or biblical discussions regularly, and when some of them started talking, I sometimes didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.  I realized that I could live in my own echo chamber.  They knew Jesus in ways I had never heard about, and I was tempted to think that they were wrong!  It was kinda scary.  Being in an echo chamber is so comfortable because you are affirmed all the time, and you don’t have to learn or grow or hear that you might be wrong.  Those other pastors showed me a Jesus I never knew. 

The same thing happens in our local Conestoga Valley Ministerium, when we have Bible study, and I hear what Mennonite or Pentecostal or Brethren pastors have to say.  What I have come to find is that those other perspectives are so good for me.  I don’t always agree, but many times I do, and in fact have learned that my view of Jesus and his Kingdom was shallow, an echo chamber view, and my view needed to be expanded. 

So get out of your echo chamber.  Seek to learn new and different views.  Especially about Jesus.  And find the truth in him alone.  Jesus isn’t going to tell you which political party to follow.  But you can learn about his Kingdom, and you can learn to apply his kingdom principles to all of life. 

Who is THE prophet? [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 4]

29 Nov
Image result for john the baptist pointing to jesus

In part 3 of this series, we met a prophet named John the Baptist in the book of the Bible titled John (though the “John” in that title was a different John!)  In John 1:25, the people question John the Baptist about his ministry.  They wanted to out him as the Messiah (the savior king that God promised to send to Israel), or the reincarnation of one of Israel’s most famous prophets, Elijah, or the fulfillment of the promise in Deuteronomy 18, THE prophet who was to come.  John responds with a resounding “No!” to all these questions.  The people are mystified.  If he is not any of those, why is John the Baptist having a ministry of calling people to repentance through baptism?  His ministry model seems like something that one of those promised leaders would do!  John tells the people that he has a specific role, that he is preparing the way for THE prophet.

As the passage continues, we read that John saw Jesus the next day and proclaimed that Jesus was the one he was preparing the nation for.  Some of John’s disciples, then, start following Jesus. Soon more disciples start following Jesus, and one of them, Philip, says in verse 45, to another guy, Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law.”  By saying this, Philip is making a reference to the Prophet Moses referred to in Deuteronomy 18. 

But the references don’t stop there.  In John 5:46 we read Jesus saying the same thing, that the person Moses wrote about in the law was Jesus himself!

In John 6:14, after Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5000 people with only five small barley loaves and two small fish, the people say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

In John 7:40 after a powerful teaching by Jesus, some people in the crowd said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”  Others said “he is the Christ.”

A few years later, after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back to his father, after the church had first started, we read in Acts 3 that Peter and John healed a man, and Peter started preaching to the crowd.  In verses 22-26 he quotes Deuteronomy 18, where Moses talks about the prophet to come, and Peter says that Jesus was that prophet!

A few more years went by, and the church had grown like crazy in Jerusalem, and the Jewish religious leaders were not happy, feeling threatened by popularity of the Christians.  So they started persecuting the church, and one of the first men they attacked was a guy named Stephen.  In Acts 7, Stephen is standing trial before the high priest, and Stephen tells the story of the nation of Israel, eventually concluding that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one.  In verse 37 he refers the Old Testament teaching of that promised one, and guess who he quotes?  Moses, in Deuteronomy 18, where Moses says,“God will send you a prophet like me.”

What all this means is that the earliest Christians, and Jesus himself, said that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18, the promise of a prophet who would come. 

So if Jesus was THE Prophet, what does that matter to us?  As Moses said in Deuteronomy 18, we need to listen to the prophet. Check back in to part 5 of this series, as we will specifically apply this teaching to our lives!

Should Christians have rules for holy living? (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 5)

2 Nov
Image result for rules?

What are the rules for holy living?  If you had to list some rules you have heard, what would you write?  Holiness refers to purity, so maybe you would include rules about avoiding putting anything unclean into your body.  Maybe you would include rules about washing, sanitizing, and purifying the water and air.  Toxicity is a popular concept in society, relating not just to the physical elements, but also to relationships.  Holy living might mean we exclude certain toxic people or media. There is much we could potentially include in a list of rules for holy living.  But should we?  As I am writing to Christians, I am especially wondering if God has rules for Christian holy living. 

This post is number 5 of 5 is a series studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, and we have seen that God the father desired the people of Israel to live a holy life, because he treasures them and has their best interest in mind.  If they followed his way of living, they would look very different from people in neighboring nations.  Deuteronomy 14 was all about how different Israel would look in regard to the food they ate.  But does this matter to Christians?  In part 4, we studied the New Testament passages in which God overturned Israel’s food laws for Christians.  For Christians, all food is clean.  Does that mean Christians no longer need to practice holy living? 

To answer that, let’s take a look at what the New Testament writers tell us.  In Matthew 5:48 Jesus teaches, “Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.” Here Jesus is quoting the Old Testament passages on which Deuteronomy 14 is based, but he is not saying that holiness in God’s Kingdom must look identical to what holy living looked like for Israel.  We know this from Mark 7, which we reviewed in part 4 of this series, when Jesus himself declares a new way of looking at holy living.  What does this new Christian way of holy living look like?  Thankfully, Jesus’ first followers explain it for us.

The Apostle Paul, for example, applies Jesus’ teaching for us when he writes in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  

Paul, additionally, in Philippians 2:14-15 takes the concept of holiness and combines with our identification as children of God, which we referred to in part 2 of this series:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

What this means is that the principle of holy living does apply to Christians.  Because of who God is, a holy loving father, and because of what he has done, saved us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are to live the way he wants us to live.

Loved children of God, we are to be holy like our heavenly father is holy so that many others can become children of God.

So what do Christian holy lives look like?  If it is not about eating certain foods, what do we actually do?  I am not going to try to come up with “Joel’s rules for holiness”.  Instead I encourage you to read what Jesus himself taught, and as you do, you’ll see that Christian holy living is based in love for God and love for one another.

Love is the basis of holiness.  Children of God, you are loved so deeply by your father, that you are free to live the holy life he wants you to live.  Follow him.  Follow his ways.

I would encourage you to discover that holy life on your own.  First, read the teaching of Jesus in the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and as you read, even if it takes you months, prayerfully ask God, “Lord, show me how to live a holy life.”  Then keep a notebook along with you, or maybe a note-taking app on your phone, and record every place where Jesus teaches about what a holy life looks like.  Prayerfully ask him to empower you to live that life.  Then think about the followers of Jesus that you know.  Which ones would you say are attempting to live out the way of Jesus and actually doing well at it.  Ask them to help you live that way.  Get their feedback and advice.

Finally if you know now or discover anew that there is something unclean in your life, and God is speaking to you today to change that, surrender it to him, ask him to take it from you, and see what he will do.  He has the power to transform your life.  But perhaps it has been a struggle for you, for months or years, and you need help.  One amazing thing that God does for his children whom he loves is that he places them in church families to help them.  Don’t keep silent about your struggle.  Talk with someone who can help you. And for freedom from some unclean habits, seek out professional help.  Making progress in holy living is possible!

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!