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It’s a big deal
Deuteronomy 32: This is no small matter; it’s your life.
After the sermon comes a special in song. No, really. Moses finishes preaching and then teaches them a song that sums up all he’s said. It’s a song of God’s grace and faithfulness to them even in the face of disastrous failure on their part. After the song Moses tells them to take the words of both his preaching and the song he has taught them to heart. These aren’t the ramblings of a very old man. Rather, these concepts are life and death for them. I’m reminded today that most things in life are just “small matters.” In spite of the fact that I try to make them into big deals the fact is that they don’t amount to a hill of beans in the long run. However, there are big deals in life; things that last forever. Such things matter even across the scope of history. I must identify both the small and the big matters and deal with them accordingly.
Take Away: Treat big deals as big deals and little deals as little deals and don’t mix up the two.
Let’s make a deal
Deuteronomy 25: Don’t carry around with you two weights.
This portion of Deuteronomy is a grab bag of varied topics. Some of them are pretty hard to read as they deal with stuff like fluid emissions, forced marriage, and rape. Others strike me as mostly curious. The prohibition against plowing with an ox and a donkey yoked together and the one against wearing clothes of mixed fabrics comes to mind. Then there are the practical ones like what to do if a farmer finds his neighbor’s ox loose and wandering around, rules for charging interest on loans, and the prohibition on carrying differing weights. This is a simple call to honesty. An individual doing business isn’t to have two weights that he claims are the same but are actually different. A dishonest person might reach into bag and grab the heavier weight when purchasing, say, some silver. Then, when selling it, he might use an identical, lighter weight to measure the weight of the silver. That way he gets more silver than he paid for, and then cheats the buyer by selling less than what is shown on the scales. The Lord says, “don’t do that – instead, be honest in your dealings with everyone.” Some of the stuff in these chapters feels dated and even a bit weird. However, a call to honesty in business speaks to every person who’s ever filled out a tax return or sold a used car. In all of business God’s people are free to make the best deal they can; that is, so long as it’s an honest deal.
Take Away: Honesty is the best (and blessed) policy.
Deuteronomy 13: You are to follow only God…hold on to him for dear life!
Moses says that sometimes other gods look attractive and actually seem to deliver the goods. When that happens we’re tempted to abandon the Lord God and follow the latest trend of society. In fact, Moses says, God allows that to happen to test our love for him. If I’d rather have the latest fad I can have it — but it will be my loss. As a sports fan, I’ve learned that, even though the names of the players change, the game remains the same. With this passage in mind, I’m reminded that, while the latest gods are not the deities of Egypt or Canaan, the game is the same. My loyalty to the Lord God is tested by the lure of the gods of my culture. They seem to deliver the goods, and millions follow these gods named “Pleasure,” “Affluence,” “Success,” “Power,” and “Entertainment,” telling me how wonderful it is. As one of God’s people I must remain ever alert to the subtle influence of that which erodes my loyalty to the one true God. I must “hold on to him for dear life!”
Take Away: Only as we keep our focus on the Lord are we absolutely safe from being swayed by the false gods of our society.
The path to the good life
Deuteronomy 10: …live a good life.
These days, “health and wealth” preaching is pretty popular. “Have enough faith, pray hard enough,” even, “Give me some money” and as a result you’ll drive a nice car, live in a big house, and never be sick. Moses, though, has his own take on “health and wealth.” In this passage he carefully lists the route to the “good life.” It’s all centered on doing what God expects. What does he expect?
1. “Live in his presence in holy reverence”
2. “Follow the road he sets out for you”
3. “Love…and serve” him “with everything you have in you”
4. “Obey the commandments and regulations of God”
It’s not about me taking advantage of some spiritual principle for my benefit or my tapping into some hidden potential within myself. It has nothing to do with driving off the spirit of poverty or illness. It sure isn’t about me manipulating God to get him to do nice things for me. When I align myself with God’s expectations my life is a good life. That goodness, by the way, may not be seen in temporary things like health or wealth but, instead, in my living a truly blessed life, pleasing to God. The path to the good life is summed up in four words: live, follow, love, and obey.
Take Away: Many spiritual “secrets” are hidden in plain sight.
Deliverance, protection, provision
Deuteronomy 8: If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. All by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!” — well, think again.
The topic is God’s past blessings and his promise of future faithfulness. Their history is memorable: deliverance, protection, provisions. God has been good and that should be clear to them. After all, bread literally fell from heaven every day. But that may be the problem. Many of his listeners had not even been born when the bread started falling. A person in his audience can be 40 years old and every day (except on Saturdays) of his or her life they have gone out to collect manna to eat. These blessed people have never seen it any other way. Had you met one and asked them about their clothing: “Say, how long does a shirt last before it has to be replaced?” The response would have been one of confusion: “What do you mean, ‘last’ — I don’t understand the question.” Why? Because their clothing never needed to be replaced — ever! Is it possible that God can be so good to me that I forget that he’s the Source of the blessing in the first place? Once I forget the Source, the next step is for me to start thinking that I somehow deserve credit for it. Moses says that if I start thinking like that — well, I’d better think again.
Take Away: It’s okay to enjoy the blessing as long as I remember the Source of the blessing.
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.
They did it all
Numbers 1: The People of Israel did everything that God commanded Moses. They did it all.
The story of the Israelites seems to be either “hot” or “cold.” They either march forward in victorious obedience or shrink back in the sin of unbelief. I think that’s rather unfair. For one thing, by its very nature the Bible is a book of spectacular success or spectacular failure. At times decades of ordinary events are skipped to jump to the next big event. The first chapter of Numbers sets up the census and the coming description of other everyday duties of various servants. The mountain top of the Ten Commands is history and the failure to enter Canaan lies ahead. For now, they are learning the ropes of living day by day as God’s people. As we read the Bible it appears that the day to day part is minor, just a way to mark time between the big stuff. In reality it’s the opposite. Most sentences used to describe life end with periods. Only a few earn exclamation marks. At this point, Moses’ congregation earns high marks. “They did it all.”
Take Away: The real measure of our Christianity is how we handle the day-to-day, ordinary part of our lives.
Please, no more money
Exodus 36: The people were ordered to stop bringing offerings!
The Tent of Meeting is being constructed and it’s no simple circus big top! The best of everything is going into the mobile worship center and the people are bringing items needed for its construction. In their excitement they bring gold, silver, bronze, and fine fabrics. And they just keep on bringing these items. Finally, the craftsmen go to Moses with a problem. They have too much stuff! Moses’ solution is to tell them to stop. I can’t help but smile as I read this story because such an order is rare or maybe even non-existent in the Church today. However, there are a couple of things to consider. First, the goal of the Church is not to rake in all that it can. Bigger, more expensive, more impressive isn’t necessarily a worthy goal. Second, God’s people are wonderfully generous when they know God is behind something. In my years of ministry I have seen this many times. God is good – and so are his people.
Take Away: God’s people are generous people.
Sons and daughters of Bezael and Oholiab
Exodus 31: I’ve personally chosen Bezael son of Uri…I’ve filled him with the Spirit of God.
Here we are at the familiar commissioning of Bezael and his assistant Oholiab. We know all about them, right? I’m kidding, these two men are lost deep in the pages of our Old Testaments and only the finest of Sunday School scholars knows who they are. Really, that’s too bad because today pastors of small and medium sized churches owe a lot to modern day Bazael’s and Oholiab’s. You see, Moses is receiving lots of complicated construction projects from the Lord, but, as far as I can tell, there’s not a blueprint in sight. The Lord tells Moses to just take note of what he’s being told but not to worry about the actual construction because there are two men down at the foot of the mountain that have been filled with the Spirit. The result of that filling is not that they’ll be preachers or prophets or singers. They are Spirit-filled craftsmen. All Moses has to do is give them the instructions he’s receiving from the Lord and they’ll take it from there. I firmly believe that the Spirit still empowers craftsmen (and women) for the hands-on needs of the church. For instance, when we have a church dinner, I’ve learned to stay out of the way as several women in the congregation are gifted at planning and executing church dinners. A while back someone came up with the idea of removing all the concrete sidewalks of our church building and replacing them with beautiful paving bricks. You can take all I know about stuff like that and put it in a thimble but they took that project on. I helped where I could, mainly as a “brick carrier.” Both men and women went to work on that big project and it came as no surprise to me that some of those folks knew how to do it. They handled everything from preparing the ground to knowing how to create a pleasing pattern in the bricks. In the church we tend to lift great speakers and singers but, I fear, fail to recognize the Spirit powered hands-on people. Thank God for sons and daughters of Bezael and Oholiab.
Take Away: There are many gifts for service, all of value to God and his people.
God will go before you
Exodus 23: I won’t get rid of them all at once lest the land grow up in weeds and the wild animals take over.
The Lord promises his people that he’ll not only be with them but will also go before them. Before they ever arrive in Canaan the Lord will already be at work there, preparing the way for them. The inhabitants of that land will be visited by “Terror” and “Despair.” Just the thought of the coming Israelites will cause them to withdraw, yielding the land to them without a fight. However, the Lord also tells them that the withdrawal of these heathen people won’t happen all at once. If all human beings desert the land then the weeds and wild animals will take over and Canaan land won’t be as wonderful as the Lord wants it to be for his people. While I know it didn’t work out, I can’t help but imagine a very different picture from both the books of Joshua and Judges. As I consider this passage I find myself thinking of God’s work in my life. As one of God’s people I have some precious promises. He’s with me and he’ll make a way even when there is no way. However, that doesn’t mean all the battles are already won. Like the people of Israel, I’m to trust in the Lord and to move forward, believing that, by his grace, I can face whatever obstacles might arise. It would be nice if all the signal lights in my life were permanently on green even as I sit in the driveway, but it doesn’t work that way. I have to move out in trust and allow the Lord to help me through the rough areas one step at a time.
Take Away: God’s work in my life is that of unfolding grace, him making the way for me, one day at a time.