Tag Archives: moses

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

19 Oct
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 Oct
Photo by Austin Scmid on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 Oct
Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fifth section is found in verses 18-21.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First of all two books I would recommend are:

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

Also good are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How to grow your love for God, part 2

16 Oct
Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to grow your love for God, part 1

15 Oct
Photo by Janos Patrik on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first section is verses 1-7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you really? (And how to find out)

4 Dec

In my last post, I mentioned that in Deuteronomy 9 Moses gives the people of Israel an exam, and he has shocking news for them.  Remember the principle?  They are not righteous in and of themselves.  They were in danger of thinking that God brought them to the Promised Land because they were so good.  So to help them see the truth about themselves, Moses reminds them of their nation’s major mess-up, that time they made an idol and worshiped it.  You can go back to Exodus 32 and read the original account.  Here in Deuteronomy 9 Moses just summarizes it.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell:

The people of Israel had just witnessed the amazing miracle of walking through the Red Sea, as the waters are parted.  That is one of the miracles most people would long to see.  Israel saw it.  If I saw that, I think I would be committed to Jesus for the rest of my life.  I would never doubt him.  My faith would never waver.

Guess what?  A month and a half later Israel is worshiping a golden calf, an idol they made.  How is that possible?  It is tempting to think that something is wrong with Israel. As if they are an especially disobedient and fickle people.  You’d think they’d make it longer than a month and a half trusting in God, after having seen him part the waters of the Red Sea.

But you have to remember that they are still getting to know this God.  And when Moses, their primary connection to this God, leaves them to go up the mountain to meet with God, which is exactly what happened right before they made the idol, what is Israel to think?  They have no word from Moses as to how long he will be gone.  How long do they wait for him to come back?  How long would you wait?  Think about how you would feel after a week?  And then two weeks go by?  Then another week!  I am totally thinking in terms of our impatient American culture where we want everything done fast.  But waiting even a couple weeks for Moses to return seems like an interminably long time.

It does not take long for any people in any era to get impatient.  And the people of Israel at this point are at an especially precarious spot in their walk with God.  They don’t have the benefit of centuries of watching God remain faithful.  They have one and a half months.  It is really hard for us to put ourselves in their shoes, how they must have felt.

And yet, Moses is hard on them here in Deuteronomy 9 isn’t he?  He totally faults them for what they did. As I thought about it, part of me wants Moses to tone it down, to give Israel some grace.  “Come on Moses, they didn’t have the vantage point that you had on the mountain.  They thought you had left them, or maybe that you had died up there.  It’s not like you took food and water enough for 40 days!  Geez.”

I think, though, it is possible that I want grace and mercy for Israel because I know I am like Israel.  I know I need mercy and grace too. We all do.

And yet, Israel did do something incredibly wrong.  They were impatient.  They demanded that Moses’ brother Aaron, who was the high priest, take their gold and make an idol for them to worship. And Aaron did just that.  He made an gold idol in the shape of calf.  The people were impatient, desperate for a god they could see and touch.  They weren’t so sure about this YHWH who was invisible, who had taken their leader Moses away.

So Israel made an idol and worshiped it.  That’s the story of the Golden Calf.

As Moses stands before them here in Deuteronomy 9, that golden calf episode was 40 years prior.  The generation that committed that act of idolatry has passed away.

That makes me question why Moses says to the new generation in verse 7: “Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert.”  Does that strike you as odd too?  He lumps that generation right in with their forefathers.  It could seem unfair.  If I was there listening to Moses, maybe I would be thinking, “Wait a minute, Moses, I didn’t do that. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t even born yet.”  And yet Moses goes into detail retelling the story as if they did it, as if they were there.  Why? Moses needs them to face the fact that the Golden Calf episode, though a part of their history that they themselves were not responsible for, still serves as a reminder of how weak their faith can be.

So let’s bring this all back around to what Moses is attempting to do in chapter 9. In Part 1, which is verses 1-6, Moses is teaching a principle which he clearly states in verses 4-6: Israel should not think they are righteous and that their righteousness is why God is giving them the Promised Land.

Then comes Part 2, verses 7-29, where Moses illustrates for them how unrighteous they have been.

What is Moses doing?  He is giving them the truth.  He knows they could easily have a false impression about themselves.  He knows they could become prideful and arrogant, and they have no business being prideful and arrogant considering how unrighteous they have been.  Moses is giving them a dose of reality.

Just as Moses is giving Israel a needed dose of reality, how can we have a healthy, appropriate honest self-assessment, without pridefully or arrogantly thinking that we don’t need it?

We need the correct view of ourselves.  We should not assume that we already have a healthy self-assessment.  We might have the correct view of ourselves, but we should always be cautious about that.

This can go both ways.  Some of us, like Israel, already have or are in danger of having a too-high view of ourselves.  Others among us have a too-low view of ourselves.  Neither are healthy.  We might think we’re righteous when we’re not.  And we might think we’re evil or worthless when we’re not.  I’ve heard a lot of both. People who think they are wonderful, and people who think they are failures.

Instead we need the truth.  We need to be people who actively seek God’s view of us.  What is God’s view of us?  We get a picture of God’s view of us when we look at how Moses finishes Deuteronomy 9.  Moses was so upset at the people during that golden calf incident. But he still prayed for them in verses 25-29. He intervened for Israel. God wanted to destroy Israel and start over with Moses. But Moses pleads with God to show mercy.  God listens to Moses!

What does that show us about how God views us?  God forgives and showers his mercy on us. That is the kind of loving God he is.  God hears and cares.  He listens.  He sees all the rebellion and disobedience we can do, yet he is so willing to forgive.

There is hope for us who have worshipped golden calves.  There is hope for us who have failed.  Because God is merciful and forgiving.  No matter if our opinion of ourselves is too high or too low, we have a God who loves us.

When you look intently into the mirror of God’s word, what will you learn about yourself?  What will you see in the mirror?  You will see a person who God created, a person who bears the divine image, a person who God loves.  That is you.

Therefore, knowing that we are loved more than we can imagine, let us fight hard to have a healthy self-perspective.  Do not trust yourself to give yourself a true perspective of who you are.

Invite others into the process of self-evaluation.

Spend time in the Bible.  The mirror of God’s word, as James calls it (see James 1:19-27). Ask God to speak to you through his word.

Think about how you have annual evaluations at work.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if we had annual evaluations as to how we are doing as disciples of Jesus?

Evals are intimidating and scary.  I feel that too. Every year our Faith Church Pastoral Relations Committee gives me my annual evaluation.  I’m always nervous going in to that meeting.  But every year it is so, so good to learn about myself.

I encourage you to ask for the eval, invite it, beg for it.  Fight for it.  Become desperate for the truth about yourself.  Strive hard to answer the questions, “How is my attitude?  How am I thinking about myself?  Am I believing any lies about myself?”

As you learn the truth about yourself, there might be things you don’t like.  Things that need to change.  Work on changing them.  Do not only receive the information about yourself, begin to make strides to change.  Remember that God loves you, and that he is a forgiving God.  And he wants to empower us to make those changes.

Why exams are so important for us – Introducing Moses’ exam of Israel in Deut. 9

1 Dec

Image result for eye dilationA few years ago I had one of those eye exams where they put the drops in your eyes to dilate them.  I wear contacts, so first my doctor (I go to the optometrist at Costco) had me remove my contacts. He put the drops in, and then my eyes slowly started dilating. If you’ve experienced this, you know how weird it is.  Light becomes so bright, as your eyes let more and more in.  My doctor said that I had to wait 10 minutes for the drops to take full effect, so I could just walk around the store.  You know what my thought was?  “Cool! Samples!”  Costco usually has a bunch of food sampling stations, so I thought I’d check them out, get a snack.

As I started across the store, I realized I hadn’t planned this out, meaning that I didn’t bring my glasses along.  There I am, stumbling around Costco, barely able to open my eyes because the light is so bright from the dilation, and then when I do try to squint my eyes open, because my contacts are out and I forgot my glasses, everything is blurry.  I would take a few steps, lean on a rack holding computer printers, and then stop.  There was no way I was making it to the samples.  I was thinking, “I hope no one I know is here,” first because I didn’t want to be mistaken for having some kind of problem, and second, because they would recognize me, but there was no way I could recognize them because I couldn’t see!  So I was concerned that would offend someone.  I was a mess.

You know what, though? That exam showed me something about myself.  It showed me how I think, how I feel, and especially how dependent I am on corrective lenses.

Then there was the time years ago, when I went to my family doctor for an annual physical.  After getting my height and weight checked, I was alone in an exam room waiting for the doctor to arrive.  I looked over to the counter and noticed a body-mass index card.  With my new height/weight data fresh on my mind, I thought I would check my BMI.  The results I found couldn’t be right!  I double-checked.  Sure enough, I was in the obese category.  I was shocked.  Like the eye exam, that physical taught me something about myself I needed to know.  I would have told you before looking at the BMI chart that I needed to lose a few pounds, eat less, exercise.  But I never would have said I was obese.  I was obese though.  And I needed to be confronted about that.

How about you?  How have tests told you the truth about yourself?

It might be a test a school.  It might be a driver’s test. Maybe an annual job performance evaluation.  These things all tell us the truth about ourselves.  That truth might hurt, and that truth could be wonderful.

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses is examiner and he is about to give Israel an exam.  The truth Israel will learn in that exam is not pretty.  

Looking at this chapter structurally, there are two parts.

Part 1 – 9:1-6 – The Principle.

Part 2 – 9:7-29 – The Illustration.

Today we’ll focus on verses 1-6, looking for the principle that Moses wants to share.

To find that principle, it will be helpful to remember what we studied in chapter 8, especially because it has some similarities to chapter 9.

In chapter 8 Moses warned Israel to beware of the possibility that they would start believing that their own strength and ability are the reasons they were able to enjoy the abundance of the Promised Land. (You can review the posts we discussed this here, here and here.)

Now in chapter 9 Moses is giving them the results of an exam.  He is warning them to beware of the possibility that they might believe their righteousness enabled them to eject the more powerful Canaanites out of the land.

And so the principle that Moses wants the people to learn is that they do not have righteousness in and of themselves.

Scholars tell us that the language of righteousness is actually legal terminology.  Who has a right to the land?  Moses says that Israel is in danger of believing that the land is rightfully theirs.  Why else would God fight for them?  They were the rightful owners.  They were righteous.

Moses cuts this thinking off at the pass saying “Do not think like that!”

In contrast to the Israel’s proposed righteousness, Moses says that God is giving them the land because of the Canaanites’ wickedness.  The Canaanites, therefore, do not have a right to the land either.  So God is giving the land to Israel, and Moses knows that it could be very tempting for Israel to think they are something special.

We know what this is like.  When we are blessed, it can be easy to think “I must be doing something right!”  What is the right perspective, though?  Think about it.  We can do things right.  And often, when we live simply, live righteously, and work hard, we will experience blessing.

There is a general proverb of life that if you work hard, live honestly, practice kindness, you will most likely see blessing in your relationships, financially.

Same goes for health.  If you exercise and eat right, generally-speaking, you will experience health.

I’m speaking proverbially here.  Proverbs are ideas that are generally true.

That means they are not always true.  God does not guarantee us a perfect, easy, comfortable stress-free life if we obey him.  Life is filled with the unexpected.

But when we live the way God wants us to live, generally we experience blessing.

So we can do things right.  It is important to affirm that.  We’re not total rejects.

But as we affirm that we can do things right, we also need to remember what Moses is warning the Israelites about. When we do things right and experience blessing, we can be tempted to think we deserve the blessing, or that we are entitled to the blessing, or that we are somehow better than other people.

Moses sees this kind of thinking in Israel’s future, and so he takes them to their annual physical exam.  He has some shocking news for them.  More on that tomorrow.