Tag Archives: moses

Of Prophets [God’s heart for people to find truth, part 3]

28 Nov
Image result for john the baptist

When you think of prophets, what comes to mind?  A scraggly guy like the one in the picture above?  Or maybe a preacher in a church?  Someone who has a vision of the future?  The Bible is loaded with prophets, and they come in many shapes and sizes.  One thing is similar about them all, and that is what this post is about.  In this series, we’ve been looking at Deuteronomy 18:9-22, seeking God’s heart for how to discover the truth. As we saw in part 2, Israel should not listen to the sorcerer or diviner.  Now in Deuteronomy 18:15-22 we read that they should listen to God’s prophet. 

In verse 16 Moses reminds them of the time 40 years earlier when they were at the mountain and God made his covenant with the people.  See Deuteronomy 5:23-27.  There we read that God’s voice was so powerful, the people wanted God to stop talking because they feared for their lives!  We so often wish God would speak to us.  Maybe if we actually heard God’s voice, we might feel differently.  I know we like to joke about loud mouths, but imagine a voice that could get you killed!  So God said that he would raise up a prophet from among them, and God would speak through the prophet, whose voice wouldn’t kill them, and they were to listen to the prophet.  Moses was that prophet. 

Turn back to Deuteronomy 18, and Moses is prepping the people for the time when he would die and there would be a new leader.  Moses spoke God’s truth to the people, and eventually there would be a new prophet to lead them.

The big question was how were they to know if the prophet was speaking for God or just for himself or for other gods?  That prophet would have been in a prime position, right?  He could really manipulate the people for personal gain. He was the one who was supposed to be speaking the words of God, and if he wanted, he could make the words of God say a lot of stuff that would benefit him, keep him in power, enrich him. 

Like the tele-evangelists who say, “God wants me to have this multi-million dollar Lear Jet.”  Or maybe for 2019 when we start up our capital campaign again, I should say, like some preachers, that God wants me to lock myself in the church steeple until we raise all the money.   

How do we know what to believe?  With so many people saying “God told them this or that,” how are we to evaluate it? 

Well, God gives them a test.  In verse 22, he says that if the prophet speaks things that don’t take place or come true, then they can disregard that guy.

This is similar to New Testament teaching about false prophets. 

1 John 4 says that there are two tests we can use to determine if a teacher is true: must agree that Jesus has come in the flesh and is from God, and second, that teacher must listen to the apostles.  In other words, teachers must follow New Testament teaching. If they don’t they are false.

So just as Moses in Deuteronomy 18 says that there will be more prophets after him, the people of Israel began keeping an eye out for these prophets. There were many.  Through the Old Testament, there is a lineage of prophets, and they were both men and women.  Some of the most famous, you may have heard of.  Deborah in Judges 4-5.  Samuel, Nathan, Elijah & Elisha, and of course the many prophets who have biblical books to their names: Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all those short books at the end of the Old Testament, the Minor Prophets.  Even in the New Testament we read about prophets.  At Jesus’ birth there is a lady named Anna, and a man named Simeon, who functioned in a prophetic role.  Jesus called his cousin John the Baptist, the greatest prophet, but was John THE prophet that Moses refers to Deuteronomy 18?

What I mean is that as the centuries went by, the situation of the Jews changed. After the Israelite period of Kings, the people turned their backs on God and he allowed them to be defeated by the many world powers fighting for control of the region.  The Babylonians gave way to the Persians who were conquered by the Greeks and eventually the Romans took control.  So by the time we get to the New Testament, the Jews longed for another kind of Moses, a leader who would once again lead them to freedom.  And they looked to Deuteronomy 18, the Prophet who was to come. Was John the Baptist that new prophet?

In the New Testament, in John 1:21, we read that John the Baptist was gaining popularity in the nation of Israel.  This was a thousand years after the time of Deuteronomy.  John the Baptist was in ministry right around the year 30 AD in Palestine.  The Roman Empire had military control of the land, and the people of Israel were hoping and praying for change.  Maybe John was the guy they were hoping for!  So the people ask John a very unique question: “Are you the Prophet?”  They were referring to Deut. 18, and the prophet mentioned there. But John says, No.  So the people ask him, “Are you the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior?”  Again he says, No. In verse 25, they question John further.  If he is not the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior, and if he is not the Prophet, or the reincarnation of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of Israel, then why was John baptizing people?  They were really curious about John.  But clearly John was not the Prophet, though he said he did have a unique role, in that he was preparing the way for someone, someone who was far more important.

Tomorrow we meet THE Prophet!

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.

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

25 Oct
Image result for destroy a tv

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media? Sports? Addictions?

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

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

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

What can satisfy the soul? part 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 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!