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Taking care of business
Deuteronomy 29: God will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business.
Moses has been outlining the terms of the “blessing and the curse” for his congregation. He warns them that what happens along that line is up to them. God has already laid out his intentions for them, and it’s perfectly possible for them, by God’s grace, to live up to them all. Still, there’s much they don’t know. Once they cross the Jordan River they’ll encounter new obstacles and challenges. It’s here that we find this shining gem of both a promise and a charge. If they do their part, God can be counted on to do his. Without doing too much damage to this statement, I can pull it out of context and be warmed by its promise. If I’m not careful, I’ll spend way too much energy worrying about the “hidden things.” God says, “You pay attention to the things you know are your responsibility and I’ll take care of the rest.” That, my friend, is a very good deal!
Take Away: My accountability ends with the extent of my knowledge, but I’d better remember that that accountability is real and I am responsible before God.
Deuteronomy 17: Make sure you get yourself a king whom God, your God, chooses.
I’ve read the Bible through several times in my life so I know I’ve read this passage, but it never occurred to me that when the people of Israel demand a king during Samuel’s life that provision was made for it in the giving of the Law. Apparently, wanting a human leader rather than living in a theocracy under the rule of God alone is just human nature. Here, we have the aged Moses going through the worship ground rules with his people and the topic of kings comes up. Moses doesn’t tell them they shouldn’t have a king but he does frame the issue. He says such as desire is the result of their wanting to be like the heathen nations around them. Then he sets up some ground rules for that eventuality. The king must be a part of Israel and he isn’t to spend the resources of Israel in building up a war machine. Nor is he to amass a large harem. He’s to have his own personal copy of the Books of Law that he keeps by his side all the time. The number one requirement is that God, himself, is to pick their king for them. Obviously, hundreds of years later when the people of Israel demand a king these guidelines are only loosely followed. Solomon, in particular, leads the way in building a large army and a large harem. I find it interesting that long before Saul becomes the first king of Israel the Lord, through Moses, gives directions that should have been followed. Had they been followed Israel would have been protected from a lot of the bad stuff we find in the books of the Kings and Chronicles of our Old Testaments. This passage reminds me that God knows what he’s doing and that his ways are best in every eventuality.
Take Away: We always pay a price when we neglect the Lord’s instructions for our lives.
Deuteronomy 13: Do the right thing in the eyes of God, your God.
“Situational ethics: wrong is not always wrong and right is not always right.” “There are no absolutes.” “What’s wrong for you may not be wrong for me.” These are the creeds of our day. Sin is out and self-realization is in. Excuse the poor English, but it ain’t so. We have a Creator who is an ethical Being. He says that no matter who you are, or where (or when) you live, that there are universal standards of right and wrong. These aren’t arbitrary rules made up by some kill joy preacher and they aren’t the result of mere superstition. That isn’t to say that every rule and regulation of the Church is pure and above question. In fact, in this passage I note that Moses doesn’t say, “There are community standards of decency that must be observed.” Rather, he says, “Do the right thing in the eyes of God.” First, that means there are some actions that are always right and some that are always wrong; no matter who, when, or where. Second, it means that God is the Judge of whether or not those standards have been met in our lives. Now, some might take comfort in reminding me that I’m not their judge. That’s fine with me. I have plenty of my own concerns to address. However, it needs to be clearly stated that there is a Judge and each of us is accountable to him.
Take Away: I can’t please everybody, but, for the sake of my own soul, I must please God.
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.
He never has failed me yet
Deuteronomy 8: So it’s paramount that you keep the commandments of God…walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him.
The road God has led them down has not always been easy. At times, they’ve been pushed to the limit. Still, in all of it God proved faithful. There has been manna from heaven, perpetual clothes and shoes, and many other direct evidences of God’s steady faithfulness. The fact of the matter is that while their wilderness journey is about to end, there are more times of testing to come. Those same giants that scared their parents off 40 years earlier still live down the road a few miles ahead. The cities are still fortified and the armies there are still superior. Moses says they need to learn from the past as they move to the future. I’m reminded today that sometimes God leads me down roads that scare me to death! Still, as the old song says, “He never has failed me yet.” With that in mind, I walk down the roads he shows me. If he says, “go” that means he’ll go with me and make a way even when I can’t imagine how it can all work out.
Take Away: The Lord never leads us where he doesn’t go with us.
Deuteronomy 6: Attention, Israel! GOD, our God! GOD the one and only! Love GOD, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!
Even elaborate systems of thought can be distilled down to basic concepts. The Shema of Deuteronomy 6 is not all there is to God’s intentions for us, but it’s the center point for all else, the foundation upon which all else is laid. God is one. He exists. All that we can hope for and all that we can ever expect to know starts here: God is God. And, God desires our love. He wants us to love him without reservation; with absolute abandon. This isn’t all that we should know about God’s desire for us, but it starts here. Everything else: the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the Beatitudes of the New Testament, the story of Creation of Genesis to the promise of restoration of John’s Revelation…all of it starts here. God is and our relationship with this “I Am” is founded on love.
Take Away: The route to building something that lasts is to start with a solid foundation.
Step into the fire
Deuteronomy 5: You were afraid, remember, of the fire and wouldn’t climb the mountain.
It was over 40 years earlier but Moses remembers it like it was yesterday. God called him up to the mountain and in that place he had a powerful encounter with the Almighty. The people of Israel, however, didn’t want that experience. They saw the billowing smoke and the fire of God and were afraid. Because of that, they preferred that Moses be their representative while they stayed safely in the valley. I wonder how many blessings I miss because it is easier to stay where I am than it is to have a raw, fire-filled encounter with the Lord. To be fair, there’s more going on in my heart that just my wanting to stay comfortably unchanged. After all, it’s frightening to come face to face with God. To get that close to God is to step into the fire. Intellectually I know it’s a good thing to meet God at that level. In fact, I hunger for him in my spirit. Still, I find myself hesitating to abandon myself to the fire of the Almighty. But I must. Otherwise, I condemn myself to a life that’s a shadow of what it could be.
Take Away: When the Lord invites you to step into the fire accept that invitation.
Live long and prosper
Deuteronomy 4: Obediently live by his rules and commands which I’m giving you today so that you’ll live well and your children after you.
So how does it work? Is it that God has given me these rules and regulations and will pay me back with blessings if I keep them? I don’t think so. God doesn’t lay down arbitrary rules just for the purpose of keeping me in line and he doesn’t treat me like a little child who’s rewarded with a stick of candy if I’m good. His purposes for me are filled with grace and mercy. If God says, “Don’t” I can be sure that it’s for my benefit and not his. My Creator, who knows me better than I know myself says, “When I created you I hardwired some very specific things about you. If you want your life to function at its best, here’s how you’re to live.” Following these guidelines doesn’t mean life will be trouble free (after all, there’s that ugly business of the fall in the opening pages of my Bible) but it does mean that I’ll live the best, most satisfying and fulfilled life possible. Not only that, but by living according to God’s plan, I’ll be teaching my children the best way to live. The result will be that my kids will be more likely to adopt my approach to living in a relationship with God and their lives will also be better lived.
Take Away: When I live God’s way, not only is my life better, but I also influence my children to live for God, resulting in their lives also being better.
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.
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.