There’s a remedy
Deuteronomy 4: If you seek God…you’ll be able to find him if you’re serious, looking for him with your whole heart and soul.
Again, Moses is no stranger to spiritual failure. As the leader of this people he’s seen repeated failure. Even as he warns them against trifling with God, even as he cautions them about having wandering hearts — even then, he knows that they’ll mess up again. The thing is, not only is Moses familiar with spiritual failure, he’s also familiar with God’s grace. Time after time he’s seen God reach out to these people in mercy, love, and forgiveness. In this, Moses has learned some important things about the God who called to him from the burning bush decades earlier. He tells them, “Before anything else, God is a compassionate God.” Even if his warnings to these people go unheeded, God’s character will be unchanged. People, even people who have miserably failed, who seek God whole-heartedly, find God. There’s so much hope here that it takes our breath away. There’s a remedy for spiritual failure. There’s hope for the fallen. There’s a God of Second Chances and if we seek him with all our hearts we’ll find him…and in finding him we’ll find hope and restoration.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
2014 – Cape Disappointment
Don’t mess with God
Deuteronomy 4: God, your God, is not to be trifled with — he’s a consuming fire, a jealous God.
On one hand, I have the matchless grace of God: his patience, forgiveness, and good will toward me. On the other hand, there’s his justice: a hatred of sin and a love for righteousness. I’d better not ever forget God’s justice. Ultimately, God will have his way. To presume on God’s grace is to ignore his justice. Moses tells the people to be careful that they don’t mess with God. They have made certain commitments that include promising to keep the ground rules God has laid out. What’s true for them is true for me. It isn’t that God requires perfect behavior from me — that’s beyond my reach. However, he does require me to keep faith with him. He requires me to live my life as a man of God and to be open to his correction and leadership in my life. This relationship is not only my valued treasure, but is also my greatest responsibility. It must be held in utmost reverence in my life.
Take Away: Being a follower of God is a wonderful blessing – along with that blessing is an awesome responsibility.
2014 – Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Watch out for the little things
Deuteronomy 4: Don’t let your heart wander off.
Moses is familiar with failure. For 40 years he’s struggled to keep this nation on the track God laid out for them. They’ve had both successes and failures. Now, with the end of his life in sight this man of God urges them to stay alert. He wants them to be aware that spiritual disaster sometimes comes bit by bit rather than all at once. It’s possible to become dully satisfied, to fail to be alert to negative changes in our attitudes, and to begin to drift spiritually. The problem isn’t limited to individuals who temporarily lose sight of their goals. Instead, such gradual failure can be national in nature. It can also be generational when parents fail to pass their faith on to their children. Having a current, connected, committed relationship to God is worth any effort it might take. For those of us who are wonderfully blessed the danger isn’t that we’ll wake up tomorrow morning and declare that we aren’t interested in God anymore. Nor is it that we’ll decide we aren’t going to attempt to influence our children to be genuine Christians. The danger is that we will drift. Moses says, “Don’t let it happen — be aware of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.”
Take Away: While we can’t stay self-focused all the time, once in a while it’s a good idea to do a spiritual checkup.
2014 – Cape Disappointment, WA
Intimacy with God
Deuteronomy 4: What other great nation has gods that are intimate with them the way God, our God, is with us?
I’m tempted to focus on “national gods” here. In this distant day each nation has its own gods and it’s unthinkable for anyone to imagine a nation kicking out its gods to worship those of another nation. I’m pretty sure a case could be made that we still have “national gods.” In the instance of my country those gods are named “Materialism” and “Pleasure.” However, instead of pursuing that line of thought (come to think of it, I guess I already did!) I’ll focus on what it’s like to worship the true God. Humans don’t make this God out of some precious metal. Rather, this God makes human beings out of the dust of the ground. This God makes no demand of those who serve him that he doesn’t first make of himself. For instance, before he calls people to love him he first loves them. In fact, this God always acts first, moving in grace-full ways in the lives of people. And, as Moses says, this God seeks intimacy with his Creation. Moses wants his congregation to realize how blessed they are. Of all the nations of the earth, they have the God who willingly involves himself at every level of their lives. Today, this Almighty Being invites me to experience that same level of intimacy, that personal day-to-day relationship with him.
Take Away: What a privilege it is for the creature to have intimate fellowship with the Creator.
2014 – Mt St Helens, WA
When you’ve seen one giant you’ve seen them all
Deuteronomy 3: God is going to do the same thing to all the kingdoms over there across the river.
Moses reminds his people of the victories they’ve already experienced. By God’s help they defeated the army of Sihon. Then they took on Og of Bashan. Before we ever meet the giant Goliath we meet Og. He’s huge. In fact, after he’s defeated his bed is put on display. It’s over thirteen feet long! As they say, “the bigger they come the harder they fall.” The Lord supercharges the Israelites and down comes Og and his army. Before long it will be time for this current generation of Israelites to do what their parents refused to do. They’re to cross the Jordan and take the land of Canaan as their own. This time, rather than cower in fear they’re to think of Sihon and his army and how, by the strength of the Lord, that army was crushed. When they see the big guys of Canaan they’re to picture the fallen Og and his big, iron bed that is on display. The victories of the past are to give them courage and faith to move forward to even greater victories. That’s how it’s supposed to be for me too. God has been good to me. By his grace I’ve come a long way. I don’t know what the future holds, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the biggest challenges of life lie ahead. I’m to let the work of God in my life in days gone by be a source of strength in my life in the events yet to come.
Take Away: As we remember what the Lord has done for us in the past we’re encouraged to trust in in current and future situations.
2014 – Cape Disappointment, WA
The distant reach of failure
Deuteronomy 1: Don’t be terrified of them, God, your God, is leading the way; he’s fighting for you.
The “you” in this passage isn’t the members of the present congregation. It’s their parents. However, Moses is speaking to them as a nation of people, seen as one with the previous generation. This doesn’t sit well with my Western mindset. We Westerners are individualists who like to think we make our own decisions apart from others. In this case it was 40 years earlier that Moses had said these words and “they” refused to hear, refused to have faith, and refused to obey. The penalty was 40 years in the wilderness — an experience all those in the congregation hearing this sermon did share, at least to some extent. Soon it will be their turn to hear, believe, and obey. Moses is preparing them for it by reminding them of their already shared failure in their parents. Still, God is the God of Second Chances. Soon they will stand on the banks of the river. To a great extent they will have the opportunity to erase the failure of those who went before them. While I’m no expert on “generational curses” (or “generational blessings” for that matter) I’m reminded that my failure or faithfulness reaches far beyond my individual life.
Take Away: It’s unlikely anyone ever sees the full extent of their influence, be it for good or for evil.
2014 – Mt St Helens, WA
Call to remember
Deuteronomy 1: How can I carry, all by myself, your troubles and burdens and quarrels?
The book of Deuteronomy is made up of a sermon or series of sermons by Moses, the man of God. In fact, the name of the book can be understood to mean “talks” or “words.” The occasion is the conclusion of his leadership (and life) and the pending entrance of God’s people into the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness. Moses wants to remind them of their history so that they will take their story with them into the new land. He also wants them to remember the mistakes of the past so that they won’t repeat them. Most importantly, he wants them to remember the gracious faithfulness of God who has been with them and will continue to be their God. It shouldn’t surprise us that this book has a lot of repeat material in it. After all, Moses is preaching to remind them of these things. Still, I see a somewhat different emphasis in this sermon as old stories are retold. In the passage that draws my attention today Moses remembers how he organized the leadership. It was his father-in-law who first suggested a division of leadership. Then, later on, it appears the plan had not been carried through and God reminded Moses of this approach. Now Moses remembers how overwhelmed he was as a solo leader. Alone, he couldn’t carry their burdens. This makes perfect sense. A leader who tries to do it all will do a poor job of all of it. It may make that leader feel important, even indispensable, but in the long run, his or her leadership will be a failed effort. The solution is to select the right people to help, to empower them, to continue to enhance their abilities, to keep them connected to the primary leadership, and to always remember that the Lord is our ultimate Leader. At 120 years of age and after 40 years of leadership we can be pretty sure Moses knows what he’s talking about.
Take Away: Leadership doesn’t mean doing everything.
2014 – Mt St Helens, WA
“Come into my heart, Lord Jesus”
Numbers 35: Don’t desecrate the land in which you live. I live here too….
I’ve now worked my way through the “numbers” of the book of Numbers. Numbers of people and cattle and cities; who lives where and how many days between various worship events. It isn’t exactly riveting reading. In fact, it would have been easy to miss the pure gold at the end of chapter 35. The issue here is how the people are to deal with murder. Due to the fact that the laws God gives the Israelites are foundational to our own legal system it seems to be pretty common stuff. Actually though, it’s groundbreaking material, reshaping human society. God insists on justice, and adds that if society takes murder lightly the whole land will be polluted. Then he adds, “don’t desecrate the land where you live — after all, I live here too.” In spite of the dreary subject, this is a wonderful phrase of hope. Their Creator, the Sovereign of the Universe, God Almighty says his address is on their street. These days, because of the Gift of the Holy Spirit, things are even more personal. God lives, not just “in the land” but “in my heart.” If God’s presence in the land emphasized the importance of purity there, how much more does his presence in my life call for purity of heart?
Take Away: It’s a wonderful blessing to have the Lord call our lives “home” – at the same time it carries with it a real sense of responsibility.
2014 – Mt St Helens, WA
Purifying the land
Numbers 33: Everyone you let stay there will become a cinder in your eye and a splinter in your foot.
In preparation for entering the Promised Land the Lord gives Moses instructions on how to divide the land between the tribes. He also tells Moses that the current inhabitants are to be driven out. No one currently living there is to remain. One way or another, they have to go. If the people of Israel fail in this mission the Canaanites will become thorns in their sides; the source of downfall and destruction. I wonder if the spiritual failures I sometimes see in people’s lives parallel this. The Lord calls me to full surrender to himself. I’m to give him my past, present, and future placing it all in his hands. My habits and wants, my plans and dreams must be handed over to the Lord. As long as I hold things in reserve, I haven’t yet purified the “Canaan” of my heart. If I keep some things locked away in some dark corner of my life the day will come when they will become a “cinder” in my eye and a “splinter” in my foot. The old hymn of invitation that’s actually a prayer beautifully speaks to this: “All to Jesus I surrender, I surrender all.”
Take Away: I surrender my all and in return, the Lord fills me with himself – it’s a very good deal for me.
2014 – Mt St Helens, WA
Settling for God’s second best
Numbers 32: Don’t make us go across the Jordan
After the failure of the Israelites to cross into Canaan the Lord gives them temporary possession of the land to the east. They defeat the inhabitants and take over their territory. Now, it’s time for the next generation to make preparations for the campaign to take Canaan. Two of the tribes come to Moses requesting that they be allowed to forfeit their portion of the Promised Land and settle right where they are. Moses is livid. He sees this as the prelude of another failure on the part of the Israelites to obey the Lord and to move forward to the land they were promised long ago. The people of Ruben and Gad respond that they’ll join the fight and help their fellow Israelites take the land but that they’ll be happy with right where they are. Moses agrees but warns them that they’ll have to keep their part of the bargain. As good as that land east of Canaan might have been, I think Ruben and Gad made a huge error. They settled for “almost Canaan” instead of Canaan, itself. No matter how good that area was it wasn’t what the Lord had for them. It was good, but it wasn’t the best. This kind of compromise is always a temptation for us. We shouldn’t let so called human wisdom serve as a substitute to God’s call and promise on our lives.
Take Away: Don’t settle for merely good when the Lord offers us the very best.