Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Secret is Revealed

Read Deuteronomy 29-30:10.

Twice Moses referred to this section as a "sworn covenant" (29:14, 19).  Theologians have labeled it the Palestinian Covenant.  The LORD gave this land to Abraham and his descendants unconditionally.  The enjoyment of the land by those descendants depended upon their right behavior toward God.  Yet, even with their anticipated disobedience and God's punishment of them, the land will remain theirs and this covenant includes complete restoration. 

The problem, Moses said in 29:4, was "to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear."  The solution for their future disobedience is found in chapter 30.
"...return to the LORD your God...then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again...and the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (30:2a-3,6)

The key to living for God and enjoying all that He has planned for them was stated in 29:29-"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."  In other words, God has revealed to us all we need for life and godliness.  There is no substitute for knowing God's word and putting it into practice.

New Testament believers not only have the scriptures but we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us.  In discussing spiritual maturity and understanding the things of God, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:
"But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory."  Then he quoted, "'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him'-these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.  For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God."

Often that quote is used to talk with great inspiration about heaven.  But when one reads the entire sentence, it is clear that Paul is encouraging believers that we can know God, His word, and how to mature in our faith.  These things are not understood by natural senses and means.  We depend upon the Holy Spirit.

Our prayer today should be that we would have a heart to understand, eyes to see, and ears to hear what God is saying to us.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Word of God in Surround Sound

Read Deuteronomy 27-28.

Though there are other detailed ways in which to outline Deuteronomy's content, this entire book may be divided into three major parts or sermons by Moses.
Chapters 1-4 is a focus on the nation's past.
Chapters 5-26 instructs the nation in the present.
Chapters 27-34 speaks clearly regarding the nation's future.

Geographically, Israel was positioned on the east side of the Jordan River, not too far north of the Dead Sea.  The very first items on the to-do list in the new land was to write out the commandments and build an altar.  This underscores the absolute primacy of the word of God and the worship of God.

Next, Moses set up a dramatic way for the nation to renew their understanding and commitment to the promise God made to Abraham.  In Genesis 12, the LORD unconditionally promised this land to Abraham and his descendants, that Abraham though childless would have innumerable descendants, and that the LORD would bless and protect his descendants.  When they entered the land Israel was to divide into two groups.  Half the of the people would station themselves on Mount Gerizim and together in a loud voice recite the blessings God had promised them in the new land.  The other half would stand on Mount Ebal and together is a loud voice recite the curses that God promised if they did not obey Him. 

These two mountains are located some 35 miles north of Jerusalem in the valley of Shechem.  Millions of people reciting God's word together must have been a beautiful sound to the LORD.

Two key verses:
Blessing: "And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity...The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands." (28:11-12)
Reason for Curse: "Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things." (28:47)

Dr. J. Vernon McGee summed it up by stating that "God is the land owner, and that rent is obedience to God."  In other words, the LORD is not going to change His promise to Abraham, but  for them to enjoy what has given to them they must do what God has said.  It is the same for us today.  God is the Owner of all things and in His grace wants to bless us.  Our stewardship mandate is to be faithful and thankful for all the LORD has done for us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

10 Indicators of Biblical Giving

Read Deuteronomy 26

In the wrap up of this discourse in giving the second generation a review of the law, Moses became very definitive about giving to God.  Receiving God's blessing meant that they were to honor Him in response. 

1. It was the first of their increase. (v.2)
They were not allowed to give from the left-overs, after everything else had been taken care of. 

2. It was a tithe. (v.12)
The word tithe means ten percent.  There is no such thing as a 3 percent tithe.  Either it is a tithe or it is not.  Percentage giving meant that everyone gave equally in proportion to their increase, not in amount.

3. It was called the sacred portion. (v.13)
Sacred means that it was set apart for a specific purpose, in this case for the LORD.  It was not theirs to decide because it did not belong to them.  The decision was made in advance.  It was God's even before they saw the increase.

4. It was a testimony. (vv.5-10a)
The offering was presented with a back story of how God had brought them through generations to this point.  They were to come with full acknowledgment of how the LORD had blessed them and provided for them to be able to give.

5. It was an act of worship. (v.10b)
Giving was not to be done frivolously or mechanically.  Giving was a time to bow before the LORD in recognition that He owns it all, that He is the source of every blessing, that He alone is worthy of my offerings.  We would not be able to give at all were it not for His supply of strength, skill, opportunity, and favor on our labor.

6. It was in recognition of the direct impact on others. (v.12b)
Their giving supported those who served God and them.  Also, it made care available for the poor and those in need.

7. It was an act of obedience. (vv.13b-14)
Though giving was an outward act of obedience, it was to be a reflection of inward obedience.  Their hearts were to be pure, their conscience clean, and their behavior right before the LORD.

8. It was given with a prayer for future blessing (v.15)
Giving the first meant they were trusting God for His blessing on the rest.  They could rightfully pray for such a blessing because God had promised and they were obedient.

9. It was done wholeheartedly (v.16)
Half-hearted obedience is distasteful to all parties involved.  Giving begrudgingly is not acceptable as worship.  Our giving is to be done with great thanksgiving to God for His immeasurable giving to us.

10. It was one of the indicators of people who belong to God (16-19)
Israel was to behave differently than the nations around them.  As a people who are God's "treasured possession", His goal is to "set you up in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that he has made."

As New Testament believers we should learn from this.    Certainly no follower of Jesus Christ would want to do less under grace.

Monday, May 28, 2012

All in the Family

Read Deuteronomy 25.

One of the more interesting laws given to Israel is often referred to as the "husband's brother" or the "kinsman-redeemer" law.  God was very concerned that each of the 12 tribal families were maintained and that each family would have descendants to carry on that individual's name.

Regardless of age or other circumstance, it was the "duty" (v.7) of a man to take and care for his brother's widow, especially for the purpose of having children in his brother's name.  The qualifications included that the brothers lived together.  The assumption is that they shared their father's inheritance.  Second, the brother who died had no sons to carry on his name.  The regulations for refusal because of dislike or due to protecting one's own share of the inheritance were clear.  Public humiliation would be the result of unwillingness to do so.

Why the sandal?  It was symbolic of removing the right to walk on that brother's land.  It was a legal forfeiture.

In the book of Ruth, we get to see this law put into practice.  Both Ruth's husband and brother-in-law died.  When Boaz, a kinsman to Ruth's late husband, fell in love with her there was one problem.  There was a kinsman closer to Ruth's husband than Boaz.  So, in chapter 4 we learn the the closer kinsman did not wish to exercise his duty toward Ruth.  He refused, wanting to protect his own inheritance.  They performed the legal exercise of removing the man's sandal and, thus, Boaz was free to marry Ruth.

In order for the LORD to redeem us and make us part of His family, He first had to become a near kinsman.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."  "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."  (John 1:14,12)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Law and the Cross

Read Deuteronomy 21-24.

These details concerning Israel's laws are often skim read or not read at all.  As believers in Jesus, we do not live under the laws of regarding the priesthood and sacrifices for sin to have and maintain a relationship with God.  Yet, these laws contain wisdom and direction for this nation on how to make judgments, who should make them, and what to do about wrongs done against each other.

People who want to live by doing what is right in their own eyes, who believe in victimless crimes, and want to behave without anyone telling them what to do are truly law-less.  This is nothing new.  The Bible teaches that an individual's behavior can have influence on the entire nation, the land, and how God responds to that nation of people.

One such law had to do with capital punishment.  As any student of the Bible knows, Israel's method of execution was stoning.  So it does seem strange to have a law regarding hanging the criminal on a tree.  Evidently, this was for the most heinous of crimes.  It appears that the person was probably stoned to death and then hung on display as a severe public warning.  But they were not allow to leave the body hanging; it was to to be buried the same day.  Why?  "You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance." (21:23) 

Notice how the Apostle Paul wrote about this very verse:
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'." (Galatians 3:13)

Jesus hung on a Roman cross and this verse makes it clear as to who is to blame.  It was for us He died.  He took our "curse", the eternal punishment for our sin.  "So that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:14).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Distractions vs. Discipleship

Deuteronomy 19-20.

Moses repeated laws concerning the cities of refuge, property boundaries, witnesses in court cases, and warfare.

The war situation described here is one where the army sees they are out numbered.  What should they do?  The first item on the check list was the spiritual assessment.  This does not make any sense to the godless.  The unspoken question underlying this assessment is, "Is this what God wants us to be doing?"  If the answer is yes, then the people of God are not alone.  It is God's fight and He will use His people in the process of accomplishing His will.  Therefore, it was the priest, not the general, who was to say "Do not fear or panic or dread them, for the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you the victory." (20:3-4)

Next the officers of the army were to speak up with qualifications of service.  Fighting men must be free from distractions.  There were four exemptions issued to men in the following circumstances:
1. They had just built a new house and had not moved in yet.  His family would need him to settle into their new home.
2. They had just planted a vineyard and had not enjoyed a harvest.  The plants would need tending if the family would eat and have future crops.
3. They had just become engaged and had not married.  The man's heart would constantly be thinking of her and establishing a family.
4. They had such fear that there was no ability to fight.  Such a person would only prove to be a danger to themselves in battle and they would put those around them in peril.
In each case it was better that those men just go home.

Not so for those who are followers of Jesus.  A soldier of the Cross is in a constant spiritual battle.  There are no deferments, no exemptions.  In one of the passages often referred to as "the hard sayings of Jesus", Luke 9:57-62 provides specific examples:
1. "Someone said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.'"
Jesus' answer: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
Being willing to go without what others deem as essential challenges the earthly mindset of self-preservation.  The songwriter was correct: This world is not my home.  I'm just passing through.
Question: Are my attachments to the things of this world distracting me from following Jesus wholeheartedly?

2. Another said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."
Jesus' answer: "Leave the dead to to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
This hard response is indicative of the radical commitment of a follower of Jesus and the urgency of message to be delivered.  If need be, the spiritually dead could bury the physically dead.  Though others may not have understood, though it could possibly have cost this man his inheritance, eternity was/is at stake for those who have not heard the good news.
Question: How urgent is it for me to tell others about the wonderful relationship they can have with Jesus?

3. "Yet another said, 'I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.'"
Jesus' answer: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem.  There was no time for waiting.  This decision was more important than even the man's own family.
Question: Is following Jesus my most important priority today?

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Preacher's Test

Read Deuteronomy 18.

Here again the people of God were clearly told not to turn to any other source of guidance and help in their lives but the LORD alone.  All forms of man-made worship, sorcery, omens, witchcraft, astrology, fortunetelling, and the like were condemned as false and satanic in origin.  Jesus said of Satan, "...he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

Instead, the people were to listen and heed the words of the LORD's prophet.  Moses had served as such during this entire Exodus, bringing the nation right up to entering the new land.  Now, he reassured the nation that God will not leave them without spiritual leadership.  The LORD will raise up His spokesperson after Moses. 

But how could the people be sure that this person was truly the LORD's prophet?
1. He would be from among God's people. (v.15)
In other words, he would not come from another people group who follow a false religion to deliver God's message to them.
2.  He would speak God's word. (v.18)
His message will line up with what God has said.  And, because it is God's word, the people were not only to listen but obey.

Without a copy of the written word of God, how were the people to know if the message was truly from the LORD?  The test was simple.  If a prophet made a declaration regarding something that was to take place and it did not, then the people would know not to put their trust in this person.  They need not fear his predictions.  He, in fact, would prove to be a false prophet.

At the end of this book, it is written: "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." (34:10)  Though God always had his spokespersons in every generation, 18:1 was viewed as referring to some unique prophet that would be sent to them (Messiah).  In John 1:21, the priests and Levites quizzed John, the Baptist, "Are you the Prophet?  And he answered, 'No.'"  At the Transfiguration of Jesus, the Father spoke from heaven, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." (Mark 9:7)

Then, the Apostle Peter, preaching in Acts 3:17-26 interprets Deuteronomy 18:1 for us by applying it directly to Jesus. 

Every generation has had its false teachers and false prophets who proclaimed some new teaching or prediction.  Each one has has fallen into disgrace.  Meanwhile, our eternal trust in the Lord Jesus and the word of God remains "a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul." (Hebrews 6:19)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Man who would be King

Read Deuteronomy 17.

In this second giving of the law, practically any situation of national and personal life is covered.  Many how to's and what to do's are specifically listed.  Among them were sstatutes concerning the possibility that one day the nation might want a king. 

This does take place a few hundred years later in 1 Samuel 8.  The LORD was their king.  But human nature is prone to want what others have and so here in chapter 17 God gives His permission.  The allowance for a future king comes with some very specific qualifications:

1. "whom the LORD your God will choose."
The number one concern in selecting their national leader would be the person God wants.  This would require the nation to go to prayer and do their diligence to be confident that this is the person of God's will for them.  Having such assurance would result in a national trust of the person's leadership.  Decisions and directions then could be viewed through a God-directed leader.

You can read the selection process of Israel's first king in 1 Samuel 9.

2. "one among your brothers." 
A foreigner could not be a candidate for king.  The person would need to be born into one of the twelve tribal families.

Saul was chosen from the tribe of Benjamin.  But after some time God rejected him because of his repeated disobedience.  God chose David as the second king from the tribe of Judah.  Then the LORD made a covenant with David and his descendants forever.  This is one of the important features of the family lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1.  Jesus' human birth was in the tribe of Judah and He has the birthright to the throne as King.

3. "Only he must not acquire many horses."
David's son, Solomon, became the third king of Israel.  He did exactly what this verse warns against.
1 Kings 4:26 tells us that he had 40,000 stalls of horses.

4. "And he shall not acquire many wives for himself."
Marriage among royals has long been used to seal alliances.  These were often political pacts between nations.  Here the warning was spelled out clearly: "lest his heart turn away."  With the marriage of foreign women would come their false gods and belief systems.

Solomon had a thousand wives and concubines.  He built places of worship for false gods for some of these wives and they indeed, at times, turned his heart away from the LORD.

5. "nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold."
Solomon became the wealthiest man in the world.  This was achieved, not only through God's promised blessing upon him (1 Kings 3:11), but as he made alliances with surrounding nations they paid tribute (taxes) to him.

6. "he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law."
This meant the king would take the time to not just read the word of God but produce a handwritten copy for himself.

7. "And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law."
It was not a one and done.  He was to have his copy handy so he could review it and know how to lead and govern the people.  It was a lifelong commitment to God and His word.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Taking Time to Celebrate

Read Deuteronomy 16.

Three times every year the nation was to stop and celebrate together.
1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread (The Passover).  This week long celebration was to remind them of where they came from and how they got to where they are.  When the nation was enslaved in Egypt, the final plague that resulted in their freedom was the death of all the firstborn.  God told Israel to apply blood on the doorposts of their homes so death would passover them and go the next house (Exodus 12).  At the same time they were to be packed, dressed, even eating the meal standing up, and ready to leave Egypt.  This was done in faith of God's deliverance.  They were not to take time for the yeast to rise in the dough.  So they ate unleavened bread.  They were never to forget what God did for them and the price of their freedom.

2. The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost).  This was a time of rejoicing at the seventh week when the harvest began.  The word pentecost means fifty.  Seven weeks would be forty-nine days, and the next day would be the Sabbath, the fifth day.  It is also known as the Feast of Harvest or the Day of First-Fruits.  The first fruits of the harvest were dedicated to the LORD.  They were to bring an offering of thanks to God for His blessing of soil, seed, and rain for the produce.   By faith, they looked to God for the rest of the harvest.  Never were they to forget that God was in control of the very elements of their livelihood.

3. The Feast of Booths (Tabernacles).  Also known as the Feast of Ingathering, at the end of the harvest, they were to rejoice together again for an entire week.  The feast was to remind them that all their gain came from the hand of God in order to bless them.  The LORD wanted them to take time to rest from their hard work and enjoy what they had been given.   

For believers today, it is good for us to stop, remember and celebrate what God has done for us.
Jesus' death on the cross was at the Feast of the Passover.
"For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)

In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit came to fill and indwell believers on the exact day of the Pentecost feast. 
"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

About 700 B.C., the prophet Isaiah said that a virgin would conceive and bear a child.  "They shall call his name Immanuel", or God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).  But we long for the day that Revelation 21 describes: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from  God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place (tabernacle) of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Give?

Read Deuteronomy 14-15.

The dietary laws were for the physical protection of God's people.  Without modern understanding of germs, disease, hygiene, and medicines this was one way to avoid sickness and plagues.

Why tithe?  Why should a person give the first ten percent of all their earnings to the LORD?  So "that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always." (v.23b)  It was a way God established for them to acknowledge outwardly that the LORD created and gave them what they had, including the strength and opportunity to earn.  By honoring God with the first, the LORD would bless the remaining 90% even more.

Note also that they were not allowed to give their tithe to anyone anywhere they chose.  It was not their tithe, but the LORD's.  "And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there..." (v.23a).  The tithe supported the Levites in their work on behalf of the nation.  Clear instructions were given to bring the tithe to the them, whether the Tabernacle, or later the Temple in Jerusalem.  Over a thousand years later, Malachi referred to it as the "storehouse" and "my house"

God always has had a concern and instructions for the care of the poor.  In addition to caring for the Levites, every third year there was to be an extra tithe to take care of the orphans and widows.  There was to be no long term debt, financially enslaving people to creditors.  All debt was to be forgiven at the end of seven years.

God's people were to be blessed in order to be a blessing.  Doing well financially was not for selfish gain.  Generosity to those who serve and to those in need is a hallmark of those who know and follow the LORD.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How to Respond to False Teachers

Read Deuteronomy 13.

Just how serious was the LORD about this nation obeying Him and following Him alone?  Just how committed was this nation to the Living God?  Moses cited three case studies, tests from God, in advance, so they would know exactly what to do.

Test #1.
A so-called prophet makes a prediction and it comes true.  Then, they coax you to follow other gods.  What should you do?
Answer: Do not listen to them. (v.5)

Test #2.
A family member or someone close to you invites you to serve other gods.  What should you do?
Answer: You are not to listen to them. (v.8)

Test #3.
An entire city has been duped by false teachers who led the population into worshipping other gods.  What should you do?
Answer: Total riddance.

God called these false tempters "evil", "wickedness", and worthy of death.  The reason was two-fold:
a. That "all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you." (v.11)
b. "That the LORD may turn from the fierceness of his anger and show you mercy and have compassion on you and multiply you..." (v.17)

It is impossible to translate this into our current national thinking.  Indeed, this type of intolerance today is characteristic of political madmen, the leading false religion in the world, and other violators of human rights.  While believers in Jesus would certainly not be supportive of slaughtering those who follow other religions, there are some reminders here for us.
1. God  is deadly serious about people uniquely worshipping Him.
2. There are eternal consequences at stake for those who are not followers of Jesus Christ.
3. Our tolerance of false gods must not be misinterpreted as acceptance.
4. Our very entre into the hearts and lives of those who do not believe is a loving relationship with them.

It is how the LORD treated us when we were disobedient and not following Him.  "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

3 Personal Questions for Worship

Read Deuteronomy 12.

One of the most important instructions of all for Israel as they enter the new land was to establish their worship.  Six times Moses stated that it was to be a place the LORD would choose.  There would a single  geographical spot where they were to bring their sacrifices and offerings for worship. 

The Hebrew word translated worship means to humbly bow in reverence.  The journey to the place and the presentation of their tithes, offerings and sacrifices were to be representative of a heart that acknowledged God's ownership of all and submission to Him.  In Isaiah chapter one, God chastised Judah for bringing what He called "vain offerings".  They were disobedient and unjust in their behaviors yet continued to go through the motions of ceremonial worship.

The Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting, moved with them on their wilderness wanderings and was eventually set up in the new land.  About 500 years later, Jerusalem became the place of God's choosing for the permanent Temple.  Today, believers are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  While it is true that we can now worship in any place, and since the sacrifice of  Jesus on the cross there are no more blood sacrifices, there are some questions for us today.

1. Do I have a public place of God's choosing for worship?
"Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)

2. Do I prepare and bring with me what I have set aside for worship?
Moses referred to this as "the holy things that are due from you" (12:26).
"Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.  On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper..." (1Corinthians 16:1-2)

3. Do I live a life of worship?
"Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." (Hebrews 13:15-16)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

How to enjoy God's Blessings

Read Deuteronomy 11.

In verse 26, Moses briefly mentioned the themes of a blessing and a curse.  He will come back to that in great detail beginning in chapter 27 from Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.  For now, he simply laid the foundation for the later message.

Moses casted vision to the nation of what living in the new land would be like.  It could not be compared to Egypt with the valley of the Nile River supplying water for their crops and live stock.  This new land depended upon rain for its produce.  And, because God ultimately controls the weather, Moses directly tied their spiritual lives to their future well-being.

The blessing: "And if you will indeed obey my commandments...he will give the rain for your land in its shall eat and be full." (vv.13-15) 

But, the curse: "Take care lest your heart be deceived, an you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain..." (vv.16-17)

Those are great promises to Israel of God's watch care over them.  In the Psalms, we read that it often bothered David when the wicked prospered and the righteous did not do as well.  He would always conclude with two points:
1. Material prosperity is temporal at best and is not necessarily an indication of spiritual health.  Judgment Day is coming when the LORD will bring justice and right all wrongs.

2. In the meantime, God is committed to taking care of His own.
"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!  Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!  The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing." (Psalm 34:8-10)

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Great Prerequisite

Deuteronomy 10.

Moses continued his history lesson for the nation.  He has tried to point out the mistakes and sins of the previous generation.  Life proved futile and disastrous when they thought they could live on their own terms or by placing their trust in made-up gods.  In a shift from the past, he asked, "And now, Israel, what does the LORD require of you?"
1. Fear Him.  Have regard, respect and appropriate response to His constant presence.
2. Walk in all His ways.  Put into practice what He expects of you.
3. Love Him.  More than emotion, this is a commitment of devotion to the One who loves us and gave Himself for us.
4. Serve Him.  "Not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man." (Ephesians 6:6-7)
5. Keep His word.  This means we must know what God has said and understand that it is for our good.

When I was in college, there would often be a prerequisite that I had to be passed before I could move on with other courses in my major.  That is true with God, as well.  All the outward appearances mean nothing to Him and will not prove life-changing to us without meeting the pre-requisite first.

Verse 16 presents it as a "therefore".  Based upon all Moses had said, "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart and be no longer stubborn."  The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

5 Key Elements of Intercessory Prayer

Read Deuteronomy 9.

The new land was inhabited.  Some people groups had lived there for hundreds of years.  They would not be easily overtaken just because millions of Israelites moved in.  No.  The inhabitants were strong and able to defend themselves.

Moses reminded the nation of Israel that their victory was assured because of "the LORD your God", not because of them.  Here in advance, he even warned them about taking credit for their success.  Twice, he told them that God was using Israel to destroy the other nations because of the "wickedness of these nations."   Therefore, God alone would get the credit for the timing of this judgment, for the empowerment of Israel, and for keeping His promise to Abraham.

In his continuing history lesson to this second generation, Moses told the story of the rebellion that took place with the golden calf.  "So I lay prostrate before the LORD for these forty days and forty nights, because the LORD had said he would destroy you." (9:25)  God listened to Moses and spared the nation of Israel.

Key elements of intercessory prayer (9:25-29):
1. Time.
Moses was leading a nation of millions of people, but he took nearly six weeks out of his schedule to spend time alone with God.  One of the biggest hindrances to prayer is that we are too busy with our stuff instead of spending time with the Lord.  Question: Am I willing to set aside time for needed intercession?

2. Urgency.
Moses had a discipline of worship with God (Exodus 33:7) but this was different.  This was not his routine.  God was ready to destroy the nation.  Lives and the future were at stake.  Question: Exactly what is the urgency?

3. Specific request.
He asked God not to destroy His people whom He had redeemed.  So many prayers are so general we would not be able to identify the answer when it arrived.  Question: What is it that I want God to do?

4. Based upon God's word.
Moses prayer was not founded upon emotions of potential loss, nor upon his own selfish desires.  In his prayer he asked God to remember His promises and to be merciful to those who had sinned against Him.  The Lord did not need reminding, but Moses needed to say it and have that perspective in his thinking.  It is very difficult in times of urgency to look beyond our feelings and pray specifically according to God has promised.  Question: What has God already said about this?

5. How God would receive glory.
God will receive glory to Himself either way.  Having the Lord's perspective on urgent matters requires that we understand how He works in the lives of people.  His goal is always that individuals come to acknowledge, love and worship Him.  Moses envisions aloud what the pagan nations would say if God destroyed Israel.  Further, Moses expressed how God's fame and power would be seen by sparing Israel instead.  Question: How will God be exalted among the people involved by answering my prayer?

Monday, May 14, 2012

What will your grade be on today's test?

Read Deuteronomy 8.

Why did God have the nation of Israel wander around in the wilderness for forty years?  Immediately, one could answer that God was punishing an entire generation for their unbelief and preparing the next generation to possess the land.  That would be correct as far as results are concerned.  But notice what Moses' said was the LORD's purpose.

"...that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." (vv.2a-4)

And then, Moses reminded the nation how God had taken care of them all these years, right down to their shoe size.  Next, the warning:
"Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.'  You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth..." (v.17-18a)

It is our pride that bolsters self-importance and self-sufficiency.  The ego tells us we do not need God.  After all, what has He ever done for us?  People have hurt us and therefore no one is trust worthy.  "If is to be, it is up to me."  "I am the captain of my soul.  I am the master of my fate."

The very essence of a relationship with God is a complete dependence upon Him and what He has to say our living our lives.  It is the path to receiving His care and blessings.

"The fear of the LORD is to hate evil.  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate." (Proverbs 8:13)

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom." (Proverbs 11:2)

"'God opposes the proud but give grace to the humble.'  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:5b-7)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Do you realize how special you are?

Read Deuteronomy 7.

Do you realize how special you are?

This was a reminder from Moses as he continued to prepare the nation to enter the new land.  They were to take full possession of what God was giving them.  They were to maintain spiritual purity by refusing to partner with unbelievers and worshipping their false gods.

These people were God's people.  They were declared to be holy, chosen, "a people for his treasured possession."

Now, this begs the question: Why?  Why did the LORD choose to love them out of all the nations of the earth?
-They may have been declared holy, but they were not always obedient.
-They may have numbered in the millions but they were not the largest of nations.
Truly, there was nothing about them to warrant such response from God.
The answer is in verse 8.  "But it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery."

And, the more personal question is why did God choose to love you and me?
-We may have made a mess of our lives.
-We may not feel holy or special.
-We may still struggle with disobeying the LORD.
-We may not be the strongest.
-We may not be the best in our field.
-We may not be the best looking.
-We may not have much to offer at all.

1. God sovereignly chose us for Himself.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless." (Ephesians 1:4)
2. God loved us when we were unlovely and forgave us.
"But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4-5)
3. God wants us to keep growing in our holiness.
"In (Christ Jesus) the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord."
Note: This was written to the local church.  We do not grow by ourselves.  We need other believers.

We are not what we want to be, but, praise God, we are not what we were!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Putting the Great Commandment into Practice

Read Deuteronomy 6.

The strong purpose behind Moses' teaching the nation at this point is in verse 12.  The concern was that once they settled into the new land they would forget.  They would become so busy working and living that the miracles God had done for them, the instructions God had given to them, and the reliance they had upon God would be lost.  They would simply blend in with the cultures around them.  The generations after them would not know, nor believe, nor obey the LORD.

Keep in mind that God wanted things to go well with them in their new home (v.3).  So, He provided easy to follow instructions how to pass on their faith to their children (vv.7-9).

1. Teach.  This is to be done intentionally with diligence.
2. Talk.  This is to be done informally as life happens.
3. Bind.  This is to be done personally as a reminder for thinking and doing.
4. Write.  This is to be done publicly so everyone knows you belong to God.

Three personal prerequisites (vv.4-6): 
1. Who is God? 
One cannot teach about God unless they understand who He is.
"The LORD our God, the LORD is one."  The Hebrew is Jehovah our Elohim.  This is the Shema, the most important part of the twice-daily Jewish prayer.  Elohim is a plural word and may properly be understood to say, "Jehovah our Trinity, Jehovah is one."  We do not believe in multiple gods, but the God of the Bible expresses Himself in three persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2. Whom do you love?
  This is not an emotional or romantic response, but total personal commitment.
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."  True faith in God is a heart and life response.

3. What you know?
You cannot teach what you do not know. 
"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart."
This requires daily discipline of time and effort to read, study, memorize and meditate on the Word of God.  Allow it to permeate your thinking, your emotions and your faith.  So that you may be ready when you are asked the reason for the hope that is within you (v.20).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What God wants FOR us

Read Deuteronomy 5.

As Moses continued his second giving of the law, he repeated the ten commandments from Exodus 20.  He retold how fearful the people were of what they saw and heard as they stood at Mt. Sinai.  The people feared for their lives at the visible and audible presence of God.  So, they asked Moses to meet with God and then speak to them what he heard God say.

"Speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it." (v.27) 

Of course, the LORD heard these words from the people and acknowledged that they were correct in what they said.  But then we get to hear what God said in response.  All of these commandments and laws were not to merely to restrict nor extract from the people.  No.  God was giving them clarity on how to relate to Him and how to live with each other.

"Oh that they had such a mind as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and their descendants forever!" (v.29)

Notice the desire of God for His people.
1. That our minds, our thinking, would always be in tune with His.

2. That our hearts would always maintain a holy regard for His constant presence with us and our accountability to Him.

3. That our behaviors would be obedient to what He wants us to be doing.

And, why would God say this?

So, that our lives and our families might receive full benefit of the LORD's blessings.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

4 Priceless Treasures given to Us

Read Deuteronomy 4.

God's people are belong to Him by His creation, by His choice, by His redemption.  He has full claim.
" be a people of his own inheritance." (v.20)

Four priceless treasures that separate faith in the true and living God from all man-made religions:
1. The Uniqueness of God.
"To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD is God; there is no other besides him." (v.35)
"know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other." (v.39)

2. The Word of God.
"And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?" (v. 8)

3. Prayer to God. 
"For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?" (v.7)

4. The Mercy of God.
" will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.  When you are in tribulation and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice.  For the LORD your God is a merciful God.  He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them." (vv.27-31)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Reminder for Today

Read Deuteronomy 1-3.

The name of the book means "second law".  It is the second giving, or explanation, of the law by Moses to this second generation (1:5).

Here Moses takes time to recount what happened forty years before that prompted their wilderness wandering to bring them to this place.  He reminded them of the events found in Numbers 13.  The command was to "go up and take possession" of the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants.  But the people asked for some men to go and spy out the land first.  When the report came back from the spies, the nation refused to go in.  Joshua and Caleb stood against their entire nation and declared that there was no reason for fear.  The LORD would fight for them. 

But the nation did not believe God would take care of them.  They believed an evil report against God and therefore became an "evil generation" (v.35).  So, they wandered around until that entire adult population died.  Even then, the LORD did not forsake them.  He watched over them, protected them, and cared for their needs.  He fought for them as they faced opposition and war from the nations around them.  "For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands.  He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God had been with you.  You have lacked nothing" (2:7)

That previous generation did not enter and enjoy the full blessings of God due to unbelief.  Moses failed as well to trust God at a crucial time.  In an angry moment he, too, lost the privilege of entering the land.

Now, a new generation was poised to cross the Jordan River and do what their fathers would not dare.  They needed to hear the stories again.  They needed to be reminded of the mistakes of the past.  They needed to be taught again the basic expectations that God had for them as a people.

The writer of Hebrews comments on what happened to the first generation out of Egypt.  "So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19).  The urging to all of us when facing difficulties and hard roads ahead is not to question God, but in faith believing obey Him. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day..." (Hebrews 3:12-13a).

Sunday, May 6, 2012

We all need a Safe Place

Read Numbers 34-36.

Before the nation entered the land of promise, Moses gave some broad instructions on dividing up the land among the 9 1/2 tribes.  Then, he turned his attention to the tribe of Levi.  As a chosen tribe of priests, who served the other tribes, the Levites were not granted a single large portion of real estate.  Instead, they were given six strategically located cities with their surrounding pastureland; north, central and south on both sides of the Jordan River.

These were called Cities of Refuge.  Not only did the Levites live in them but the cities provided a safe haven for a person who accidentally killed another.  Protection was provided from unjust avengers.  It was not a safe place for criminals. 

We all need a place of refuge, a safe place when things go wrong.  Sometimes it is accidental and without intent on our part.  Often it is our own fault as a result of a foolish decision.  But trouble, guilt, and oppression sooner or later finds everyone.  Here is our Hope-

Psalm 9:9-"The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.  And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you."

Psalm 59:16-"But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.  For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress."

Psalm 62:5-8-"For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Four Demonstrations of Worship

Read Numbers 33.

Google Maps never did a better job than this.  Forty years of travel stops in 49 verses.

When God decimated the Egyptians in Exodus and in 33:51-53 He gave the command to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, the underlying motive must be remembered.  God was executing judgment on the sin of His enemies.  It was not Israel against them, but them against God.  This was spiritual warfare.

33:4b-"On their gods also the LORD executed judgments."
33:52b-"destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places."

The spiritual purification of the land was crucial to their future as a nation.  God warned them about this at the end of the chapter.  As Creator and Owner of all things, He will not allow the people He created to ignore Him, to be lured by the unbelieving world around them, nor to devote their lives to man-made things.

Exodus 20:3-"You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God..."

Again, in Exodus 34:12-14-"Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.  You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name in Jealous, is a jealous God)".

The LORD has given each of us four ways to demonstrate our acknowledgement of His ownership and our worship of Him.
1. Temple-The human body is a stewardship from God.  The way we treat the one He gave us is a demonstration, in part, of our response to Him.
"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him.  For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple." (1Corinthians 3:16-17)

2. Time-Each minute, each hour, each day, each year, and each life is a gift from God to us.  We are steward's and accountable for how we use that gift.
"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)

3. Talent-The Holy Spirit has given to everyone of us the ability to serve the LORD for the good of others.  Different from natural skill, this ability is called a spiritual gift.
"Now there are a varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

4. Treasure-By far, the Bible has more to say about this one than all the others combined.
"You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth..." (Deuteronomy 8:18)
"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce." (Proverbs 3:9)
"Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.  I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts."  Malachi 3:10-11) 

Don't miss God's intention of us honoring Him in this way.  This, in part, becomes the basis of our witness to the unbelieving world around us.  "Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight says the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:12)  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Leading when someone has a different idea

Read Numbers 32.

Israel was encamped on the east side of the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea.  It was here that the LORD prepared them for entering the land of promise.  This was what they had all been waiting for.  But two and a half of the twelve tribal families wanted to remain on the east side.  With their great flocks and herds, the land along the river seemed ideal for them.

As a reminder, the nation of Israel carefully maintained their tribal identities.  Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, had twelve sons.  Though centuries have passed, everyone in the nation knew and jealously held on to their family heritage.

So, the tribal families of Reuben and Gad made a proposal to Moses to settle there.  One half tribe of Manasseh joined the proposal.  The descendants of Joseph were divided according to his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis 48).  Manasseh was so large that they divided in two.  Each were referred to as the "half tribe".    As a side note, the tribe of Levi did not receive a grant of land but served all the other tribes.

Moses' first reaction to these two and half tribes wanting to stay on the east side of Jordan was anger.  He read this as a divisive threat to national unity and as turning back on God's plan for Israel.  The basis for his quick reaction was due to their father's failure to go forward into the land after the report of the spies in Numbers 13-14.  That sin resulted in the nation wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and the loss of an entire generation of people.

Moses' concerns were all legitimate.  As the leader, he felt the weight of responsibility to keep the nation together and moving forward.  As a man of God, he carried a passionate desire to do what God wanted to get done.

To their credit, the tribes involved carefully explained their reasoning for the proposal.  Further they committed themselves to national unity and the conquest of the land on the west side of the Jordan.  Then, Moses made the agreement with them in the hearing of Joshua, Moses' successor, and Eleazar, the High Priest.  With the change in leadership this was crucial.  Later in the book of Joshua this agreement was forgotten and misunderstood almost to the point of civil war.

Lessons for leaders:
1. Listen to your people.  Know what they are thinking.  Know their dreams, ideas, and aspirations.
2. Ask good questions.  Show respect for others by endeavoring to understand their views and why they would say those things.  It is hard for leaders not to be defensive of their own ideas and ways of doing things. 
3. Learn from the past, but try not to react to changes based upon previous bad experiences.
4. Give people freedom to be themselves, to think and act.  Someone else may have a good idea that fits them better and serves the customer better than your expectation.
5. Set the guidelines or warnings by anticipating the "what ifs".
6. Be sure others are aware of the agreement.  This safe guards the organization in case the leadership changes.
7. When the answer needs to be "no" be sure that everyone understands that you are really saying "yes" to something better.

Lessons for those within the organization:
1. Don't stop thinking of better ideas or ways of doing things.  Customers may need something that is not by the book.  Good leaders are looking for better solutions in order to better serve their customers.
2. Be respectful of your leaders.  They carry the weight of the responsibility and accountability for all corporate decisions.
3. Be prepared for questions.  Asking for an explanation may feel like a challenge or even rejection.  But a good idea must have validity.
4. Anticipate misunderstanding or lack of acceptance.
5. Trust your leaders, even if things do not go your way.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Dealing with some Unfinished Business

Numbers 28-31.

In preparing this second generation for entering the land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants, the LORD repeated a few important lessons here and in the book of Deuteronomy.  He had them take a second census, then reminded them of the offerings, feasts, and vows.  Next, the nation needed to deal with some unfinished business.

The basis for the war in chapter 31 is found in chapters 22-25.  The Midianites allied with the Moabites to fight Israel.  They tried to hire Balaam, a pagan prophet, to curse Israel and shore up their own confidence.  When that did not work, Satan used another tactic against God's people.  The Moabites and Midianites lured many into sexual immorality and false worship.  The LORD at that time meted out some strong and swift judgment against His own people.  But nothing further is said about the enemy involved until chapter 31.

God told Moses to prepare for war "to execute the LORD's vengeance on Midian."  This was God's judgment and He used Israel to perform it.  Do not miss 31:8b-"And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword."  Note when the soldiers returned, Moses became angry as he discovered that not only had the young males been allowed to live, but the sexually active Midianite women had not been killed.  Then, at his command the annihilation of the Midianites was complete.

The Midianites may have felt for a long time that they got away with their sin.  They knew of the true and living God and His great power.  But instead of yielding to Him they chose to rebel against Him and His people.  They chose to go their own way.  The truth in this story is that no one gets away with it. 

Even today there "are scoffers, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming?'".....  "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that done on it will be exposed."  (2 Peter 3:4-10)

Then, Peter wrote this question: "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness...?" (2 Peter 3:11)