Tag Archives: moses

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.

Why we need a wilderness mindset, even when we live in the promised land

30 Nov

Image result for have a wilderness mindset even while in the promised landHow can we remain faithful to God when life is good?  How do we remain faithful in the Promised Land?  When we are in the wilderness, we feel like we are going to die, and we need God to rescue us, we know that there is nothing we can do, and God has to intervene.  At those moments we are desperate and we know that we cannot save ourselves.  And when we make it through the wilderness with God’s help, we are quick to give God the credit, and we thank and praise him because he stepped in and provided.

But in the Promised Land, we are working, and we see the fruits of our labor.  It really seems like it was we ourselves who produced our success.  As a result we can have a hard time seeing how we need God.

In Deuteronomy 8:18, Moses reminds the people that it is God who gives us the ability to produce wealth.  So how can we let that truth sink in to our lives deeply?  God is the source of our wealth.  How can we keep that in the forefront of our minds no matter if we are in the wilderness or if we are in the Promised Land?

I believe at least part of the answer to that question is found in a thread that Moses sews through his teaching in this chapter.  Go back and read Deuteronomy 8, and see if you can notice the thread. After I name the thread, I think you’ll see it over and over in this chapter. Here it is: God wants to show his father heart for his people.

Let’s scan through Deuteronomy 8, and see if we can see the father heart of God.

  • Verse 1 – he wants them to live and increase, he keeps his promise.
  • Verse 2 – he led them, he wants to know their hearts, to have a close relationship.
  • Verse 3 – he fed them, taught them.
  • Verse 4 – he provided for their physical well-being.
  • Verse 5 – he disciplines them (and the intent of this word is loving discipline).
  • Verses 7-10 – he is bringing them to a bountiful land.
  • Verse 14 – he brought them out of slavery.
  • Verse 15-16 – he led them through the dangerous wilderness.
  • Verse 18 – he gives them the ability to produce wealth.

Look at all those ways God is a loving Father to them!

I know that not everyone had a good example of a loving father in your earthly father.  Because of that I believe those who say that it can be hard for them to view God as father.  That is legit.

I encourage you to take a look at a chapter like Deuteronomy 8, and soak up the picture of your heavenly father. It may be something you need to return to many times to learn the true heart of the father.

When we do that, what kind of father’s heart do we see in God in Deuteronomy 8?  We see a Father God who watches out for us, who sees the potential for trouble we can get into.  We do that as parents and grandparents!  We want to warn them, say “beware”, and sometimes our kids and grand-kids respond, “No way, that will never happen. You are wrong.”  And the kids don’t listen.  Sometimes they do get into trouble.  We can be like that with God, too.   Therefore, let us know the father’s heart of love for us, whether we are in the wilderness or in the promised land.

So you who are in the Wilderness:

  1. Look at it as a privilege.
  2. See the beauty of being in the wilderness.
  3. Be careful not to be addicted to the desire for the Promised Land.

So you who are in the Promised Land:

  1. Know that the Promised Land is not better than the wilderness.
  2. Know that God gives you the ability to produce wealth.
  3. Commit acts of sacrifice that show that you are not depending on our own wealth and abilities.
  4. Willingly re-enter the wilderness.

In other words, like I said yesterday, see the Promised Land through the lens of the wilderness.  Have a wilderness mindset, even when you are in the Promised Land.

We can become negative about the wilderness, so hateful of the pain and suffering that we get addicted to the Promised Land, fixated with ease and comfort of the Promised Land.  The Promised Land can become an idolatrous fixation.

The wilderness, Moses says, is God’s classroom. A time of teaching and training.  A time to learn and grow.  God intends, therefore, for us to see the wilderness as a positive thing.

Has God ever allowed a wilderness discipline in your life?  How did it change you?  What is your wilderness?  It seems we all go through a wilderness at some time, that God allows it.

But maybe you are not in the wilderness.  Maybe you are in the land of bounty.  How will you be faithful in the Promised Land?

The surprising danger of the promised land

29 Nov

Related image

The Promised Land is a dangerous place.  Dangerous? Really?

In yesterday’s post, I asked whether you are living in your own personal wilderness, or are you experiencing a promised land?  In Deuteronomy 8 Moses is talking to the people of Israel who have just journeyed for decades through the wilderness and are set to enter the Promised Land.  You’d think Moses would be celebrating, but instead he has a dire warning.

He sets before the people the images of wilderness and promised land.  Here is a quick walk through the chapter:

First, Moses reminds them of the Wilderness in verses 1-5. Moses encourages them to follow the commands of God, and remember how God provided manna in the desert to teach them some important lessons, lessons of humility, of depending on him.

Next, he turns their attention to the Promised Land in verses 6-14.  Again he encourages them to observe the commands of God. God is bringing them into a bountiful land.  Moses says that they should walk in God’s ways and fear him. Why? Because they can become satisfied with that bountiful promised land and forget the Lord and fail to do his commands.

So in verses 15-16 he returns to the Wilderness.  He once again wants the people to remember God’s provision (manna & water) in the desert.

Finally in 17-20 he brings them back to the Promised Land, warning them to not be fooled into thinking that they created their Promised Land wealth of their own ability.  It is God who gives the ability to produce wealth.

In other words, he is saying to Israel, “See the Promised Land through the lens of the Wilderness.”

Wilderness and Promised Land.  Both are very important.  Both are a part of our lives.  What does it mean, therefore, to see our own promised land through the lens of our wilderness?

To attempt to answer that question, let’s go back to how Moses warns Israel.  He is saying to them, “People, when you get settled in the Promised Land, you are going to eat your fill.  No more manna and quail every day.  It is going to be Shady Maple.  But watch out.  Because if you eat at Shady Maple every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you are in danger of forgetting the Lord.  And you will become proud, and you will be tempted to think you don’t need to obey the Lord, even though he brought you out of slavery and cared for you in the wilderness.  And what’s worse, you will start to deceive yourself, and you will think that you did this. You will think ‘Self, I have made it. I am so smart and capable and strong…and I know how to get wealthy’.”

That’s the danger of the Promised Land, isn’t it?  That life will be so good, so abundant, and we will feel so satisfied, that we will start to think that we did this.  And when we start to think that we did it, we have already gone down the road of forgetting that it was actually God who did it.

This is so applicable to us Americans.  We live in the Promised Land.  Literally.  I know it can be very hard for us to see it when the bill collectors are calling, when our credit card debt is rising fast, when our jobs are not paying enough.  This is why I highly, highly recommend that you go on trips outside your own culture.  When you travel to other cultures, it can help you open your eyes to who you really are.  When you are in inner city Philly, for example, you can see hopefully a bit more clearly how Lancaster is the Promised Land.

We Americans, and in particular we Lancastrians, are in danger of deceiving ourselves into becoming so satisfied with our comfortable lives that we can believe we did this.  Let me repeat, that is the danger of the Promised Land, forgetting God, forgetting how he got us through the wilderness, and how we need to depend on him, live for him, even in the Promised Land.

Do you feel like you’re walking through a wilderness? Or living it up in the Promised Land?

28 Nov

Recently our high school Booster club had the Harlem Wizards at the school for a fundraiser event.  A selection of teachers from the district played a game versus the Wizards.  It was a great mixture of comedy and trick shot basketball, including a bunch of amazing acrobatic slam dunks.  At the end of the game, they called all the kids out onto the floor, grade by grade starting with the youngest first and this happened:

It was so much fun.  As we drove home, my daughter Meagan said to me “I wish every day could be like that.”  It was two hours of life in the Promised Land, when everything was laughter and fun and games.

I know what Meagan means.  I remember thinking at my sister’s wedding day and reception, “I don’t want this to end.”  There have been many such experiences in my life.  Our close friend Becka lived with us for 6-7 months, and during that time she and Derek got engaged.  I’ll never forget when they arrived back our house to drop Becka off.  We knew that Derek was taking her to Philly to propose, but we didn’t know what time they would be back, so we went to bed.  We texted Derek saying “feel free to wake us”, and when we heard that knock on our bedroom door?  We were up in a flash, excited as could be.  Then soon after that we had an engagement party for them and then months later their wedding day…oh my…why can’t life be like that every day?  The unstoppable joy, and the dancing.

Promised Land.

The reality is that life also has wilderness.  The bleak times.  When our bodies break down and don’t work like they are supposed to.  When our cars and computers and cell phones break down and don’t work like they are supposed to.  First world problems?  Sure.  But there are also relationship breakdowns, job loss, financial crises.  You name it.  Sometimes the wilderness is inside our hearts and minds.  We feel dry, distant from God, depressed, anxious, stressed out.  Cold.

School can be like that.

Work can be like that.

Wilderness.

If we had to count them up and classify each day of our lives as Wilderness days or Promised Land days, I suspect many of us would be lopsided on the Wilderness category.  I told Meg, that’s what makes the great days, the special days, so good, because they are in contrast to the normal, right? You party every day and the partying loses its appeal.

You know that song “Working for the Weekend”?  It conveys the idea that we just need to get through the week so we can enjoy the weekend.  We just need to get through the wilderness so we can get to the Promised Land.  That seems pretty normal, right?  Deal with the junk of like so that one day you can enjoy life. But is that the way it is supposed to be?

As we continue into Deuteronomy chapter 8, Moses sets before the people of Israel these two visions.  Wilderness and Promised Land. They have just wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and now they are beginning to taste the Promised Land.  Finally!

Surprisingly, Moses is very, very concerned.

In our next post, we find out why.

What does idolatry look like in America? (or Why God is jealous and that is a good thing)

22 Sep

Here in America we have a popular television show called American Idol.  It went off the air, but it is coming back! Did you have any favorite American Idols?

Yesterday I mentioned that we don’t have idols in America like some other countries where Buddhism or Hinduism is prominent.  But do we have other kinds of American idols?  I’m not talking about the contestants on the singing competition.  Instead, I’m wondering if we American Christians have other kinds of idols that we worship?

Moses continues talking about idol worship in Deuteronomy 4, verse 20, but this time he argues from God’s perspective.  He reminds Israel that they have a special connection with God, because he rescued them and made them his people.  Therefore Israel should remember the covenant they have with God.  He is their God, and they are his people.  Therefore, one of the primary stipulations of that covenant is that they are only to worship Him.  God forbids them to worship idols, Moses says, because God is jealous, a consuming fire.

Woah.  That stops me short.  When is the last time you thought of God as jealous?  Or as a consuming fire?  Isn’t God supposed to be a God of love and mercy?  Jealousy is a bad thing, right?  Once again, Moses presents us with a picture of God that seems odd.

Let’s take a deeper look at this jealousy of God.  Maybe we should think of God that way.  I’ve been reading a lot in the Old Testament lately, and not just because I’ve been studying for sermons in Deuteronomy.  On Wednesday evenings in prayer meeting, we’ve read through Joshua, and now we’re in Judges.  My devotional accountability partner (a long-time friend who is also a pastor) and I months ago started in Genesis and are looking at every passage that relates to prayer.  My friend and I have made it to 1st Samuel.  What I have seen is a description of God that is so amazing.  He is relational and emotional.  For Moses to describe him here as jealous makes total sense.  I’m serious.  God’s jealousy is a good thing.  If you’re surprised to hear me say that, let me explain.

In Judges 10 there is a passage that describes Israel as totally rebellious against God for many years. They are worshiping idols and false gods from other nations.  We read that they are oppressed by an enemy nation and they cry out to God for help. You know what God says? “Go and cry out to the other gods you have chosen.  Let them save you when you are in trouble.”  Yikes.  He’s hurt.  Upset. Even sarcastic.  You ever felt like that when a loved one hurts you?

Then in 1 Samuel 8 when the people ask for a king, guess what God says this time?  “They have rejected me as king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt, forsaking me and serving other gods.”  He is emotional, and he is jealous, because he wants to be in relationship with us.  That’s a true lover.  He doesn’t want to share, and he shouldn’t have to, right?  But the people were often giving themselves to worship idols.  Their apostasy is astounding, and that much more hurtful to God, because those idols were dead, while God is alive.  Why would they worship such lesser, empty things?  You can see why Moses calls God a jealous God, and why is right for Moses to do so.  God offers so much more for his people, and yet his people turn away from him.

Moses continues talking about this in Deuteronomy 4, verses 25-28, and he basically says to the people, “You’re going to fail.”  Geez, Moses, why not encourage them?  But before we get too hard on Moses, we need to see this as Moses desiring the people to be faithful.  When you are leading people, they need to hear the honest truth.  I hate telling the brutal truth to people, because I’m afraid it will hurt their feelings, or that they will respond poorly back to me.  It is much easier to be a people-pleaser.  But if I have learned one thing about being a pastor, about being a father, about being a husband, about being a leader, about being a friend, it is that we disciples of Jesus need to be people who speak the truth in love to those God has placed in our lives.  It will hurt.  It is hard, but it is needed.  It is like the surgeon who wields his scalpel.  He cuts us, but to heal.  That is Moses, surgically telling the truth to the people.  Sadly, every single thing he says here happens in Israel’s future.  The idol worship, the corruption, the destruction, the eviction from the land.  It all happens.

Thankfully, that is not the end of the story.  Look at verses 29-31. What a wonderful section about how great our God is.  Moses says, “Seek him with all your heart and you will find him.”  This is a good word for those who would love to have an idol to latch on to.  You can find God, you can be close to him. You can return to the Lord, even if you think you are far from him.

God is merciful, he will not abandon you.  For all the violence we have seen from God in Deuteronomy, this statement is amazingly different and refreshing.  God is merciful!  His love for his people is unconditional.  As other authors have said, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you less!”

Now continue to verses 32-38. Moses is singing praise songs about God.  Songs should be written from these words!  Moses here draws out memories of how amazing God has been for the nation. And from that heart of praise for all God has done, Moses concludes in verses 39-40 by teaching the people the response God desires from his followers.  The response has three parts:

  1. Acknowledge the Lord and that he is God.
  2. Take this truth about God to heart. Don’t just acknowledge it. Don’t just assume you know what that phrase means.  Take it to heart. What does it mean to take something to heart?  The heart is the blood pumper, right?  But that isn’t what Moses means.  He is speaking symbolically here.  It is a figure of speech.  When we think of heart, we think of emotion.  The Hebrews thought of heart more like mind.  When you take something to heart, you believe it, you own it, you follow it through.  Therefore…
  3. Keep his decrees and commands. “If you love me,” Jesus once said, “do what I say.”  To love God is to follow his way.  If you say you believe in him, but you do not do what he says, your declaration of belief doesn’t matter.  Instead you show what you believe by doing what God says.

So how do we do this?  Remove anything in your life that could approximate idol worship. Contemporary idols are much more intangible.  In our country we are not enticed to go to a local temple to worship a statue.  Our American idols are different, harder to pin down.  They could be Peer group acceptance, Sports, Phones, Games, Clothes, Possessions, or the American way of life.

But how do you know when you have crossed the line into idolatry?  It is okay to like something. It is okay to be excited about a sports game or hobby.  Vacations can be so healthy.  But we can take any of those good pursuits too far.

I’ve been confronted in the past for pointing out hobbies or vacations as being potentially idolatrous.  I am not trying to accuse anyone.  I don’t know if your lifestyle choices are idolatrous.  But I do seriously encourage you to take them before the Lord and say, “Lord, I have this hobby, or vacation, or TV show,” or fill in the blank with anything in your life, and ask the Lord, “Is this an idol?  Are you giving too much of your heart and life and money and mind to it?  Ask someone else in your life to evaluate you.  Be willing to be seriously honest and humble and teachable about it. God knows if you are being idolatrous.  Ask him.  He might want you to give it up.  Or focus on it a lot less.  And if he did want you to give up your hobby, wouldn’t you want to know how God felt about it?  What if God is jealous of the time you spend on your hobby?

There is no doubt in my mind that we have American Idols.  Not just famous singers.  Are you willing to face a tough examination of yourself, that maybe you have allowed idolatry in your life?  Let’s talk about  that!  And let’s embrace our merciful, loving, forgiving God who wants us to experience life that is truly life!

Dealing with the harsh reality of God’s invisibility

21 Sep

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Do you ever wish God would show himself?  Ever feel jealous of the disciples who got to walk and talk with Jesus for three whole years?  I do.  I’m not always certain that God’s idea to be invisible was a good one.  Why not just manifest yourself and prove to everyone you’re alive and well?  It seems like that would help a lot.

As we continue in Deuteronomy 4, we come to verses 15-19.  Moses’ description of idols is very interesting.  Unlike our invisible God, the idols were physical objects that could be seen.  Statues of people or animals, and worship of the sun and moon.  The nations around Israel all had idol worship.

Most Americans, myself included, have rarely experienced what Israel dealt with every day, being influenced by idol worship.  Only a few times in my life, on mission trips, have I traveled through lands where there were idol statues.  Guyana, India, Nepal, and Cambodia.  In these countries there were Hindu and Buddhist statues all over the place.  Imagine what it would feel like trying to be a faithful Christian in Cambodia with Buddhist statues dominating the culture.  In Phnom Penh we walked to the famous Wat Phnom, an ancient Buddhist temple, and peered inside the sanctuary. It was a room crammed with idols big and small.  An eerie feeling came over me.  In fact, in all of those countries, I felt a spiritual pressure, a darkness, and I was only visiting for a few days or months.  That’s what Israel had to live with all the time.

You might think, “Statues are so basic.  What is the attraction?”  Because pervasive idol worship is not a part of our culture, it can be hard to fathom.  But in the Canaanite culture surrounding Israel, statues or the sun or moon were tangible things.  You could see them, touch them, feel them, and smell the smells around them.  It works that way still today in nations with religions that feature idol worship.  Adherents believe those idols are connected to a real being, a real god.  It might be hard for us to imagine, but for them it was and is real.  In some cases they are connected to a real being, a demonic power.

Now here’s the rub.  What did God say to Israel?  He said, “I don’t want you making any idols.”  So how is Israel supposed to compete religiously in a culture and society that was all about physical representation of gods, when Israel’s God was invisible?  Maybe that is why Israel was so enticed by other nation’s gods and their statues.

Before this sounds foreign and irrelevant to you, ask yourself if you might feel a tinge of this.  Let me explain.  How do you feel about worshiping an invisible God?  Do you ever think, “I wish you would just show yourself, God!”  When you never see God, do you ever doubt God’s existence?  I do.  Even if we have a strong faith, we still at times long for a physical manifestation of God.

Moses reminds us in verse 15 that Israel didn’t see their God, Yahweh.  He had no form. They knew he was real, though.  Why?  They heard him!  Yesterday, I mentioned the story of when he spoke to them. They had evidence that he was real.  Other idols they could see, but those idols could not talk because they were not alive.  Yahweh, though they couldn’t see him, was absolutely, clearly alive.

Even still, clearly for Israel and for us too, being in a relationship with an invisible God can be hard.  When you can’t see something, when you don’t have evidence, it is hard to stay faithful.  Imagine your spouse was invisible, and you only very rarely heard their voice.  They wrote a book long ago, however, and that is the primary way you continue to stay in relationship with them.  From time to time you see the evidence that they were around, but it is rare.  How do you think your marriage would be with that kind of invisible spouse? Most of us would say “Forget this.”

We long to people in relationship with real people.  We long to communicate, to look into each others’ eyes, to hear and to be heard, to touch one another.  I recently listened to an interview on NPR that featured a communication specialist.  She reported research into what happens in the human brain when we communicate with one another.  The electrical energy in our brains goes wild, reacting, anticipating.  We are built to communicate with one another, she said.  Remember Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Cast Away?  He survived an airplane crash that left him alone on a deserted island.  Among the wreckage, he found a Wilson volleyball.  As the days passed, feeling desperate, using his own blood, he painted a face on the ball, and started talking to it, as though it was a friend named Wilson.  Hanks’ masterful acting depicts his character in “conversation” with Wilson.  He was so alone, starved not only for food, but for communication, and he created a friend to connect with.

Therefore it is sometimes painfully hard to stay faithful to an invisible God.  You can see why people long for a god they can see, hear, and feel.  You can see why people worship idols.

We are people who love to hear about spiritual experiences breaking into in our everyday lives.  The dreams, the visions, the miracles, the answers to prayer.  Why?  Because those are evidences of God being alive.  If we are honest, many of us would admit that we question God’s existence or the truth of the Bible, and we feel guilty about it. So we long for God to show up.  We long for those experiences of God in our lives.

I have to ask you, though: can those experiences become idols?  Can we become too dependent on the physical manifestation of God?  I think we can.

One of my favorite CS Lewis quotes from The Screwtape Letters  is when Wormwood, the senior demon, remarks to Wormwood, the demon in training, that if a Christian sees no evidence of God in their lives, but still obeys, that Christian is not worth trying to tempt anymore.  They are a lost cause…to the demon.  Why?  Because that Christian has attained a high level of spiritual maturity.  They don’t need to see God to believe and follow him.  They don’t need physical manifestations of God at work to sustain their faith.  There is nothing wrong with God manifesting himself.  He can and does.  But maturity in Christ means that we do not allow ourselves to become addicted to spiritual manifestations; we do not allow ourselves to get to a place where our faith will crumble if those manifestations cease.

This is why we spent so much time this past summer learning about the spiritual disciplines.  Scroll back through the blog and you’ll see those posts.  Why are spiritual disciplines so important?  When we develop habitual patterns of following God, we can have strength to get through the dry times.  The regular practice of spiritual disciplines is vital.

I recently heard the story about one of our local cross country runners who was nervous to start practice.  Remember those weeks in mid-August?  It was hot!  And humid.  Can you imagine running in that?  This particular young lady had never been on the cross country team before, and she was nervous she would do poorly in the heat.  You know what happened that first day of practice?  She was fine.  But another boy, not so much.  He ended up almost passing out due to heat stroke.  You know the difference?  She trained over the summer, and the other boy did not.  She logged the personal miles, and so her body was ready for practice, even in the heat.

Likewise we practice a disciplined faith so that we can become mature followers of Jesus.  Not following idols.  But following the way of Jesus, even when we see little evidence of God around us.

Are you working on growing your faith?  Practicing spiritual disciplines?  We might not see God, Moses reminds us.  But we can know that he is alive and well.