Archive for January, 2017

Deuteronomy 13:1-16 (Part 1 of 3)

A Warning Against Idolatry

It all sounds good. Unity of religions. Not offending anyone’s belief system. All roads lead to heaven. I like to buy the world a Coke and live in perfect harmony. It’s my body and you should not tell me what I can do with it. If it works for me then it is OK for me. It might not be OK for you but as long as I do not harm you with what I believe then you should not judge me for what I believe. If we all just get along and to no harm then we are OK. If we do more good than bad then we will go to heaven. Your status in life is in direct proportion with your relationship with the Higher Power of the universe. All the wars and hatred that have been brought about because of religion. All the persecution for what you believe that is different from the mainstream of your society. No wonder that our hyper-sensitive Western culture is trending toward complete tolerance and toward all religions being melted together into one world religion. Whatever you believe it is OK.

 

As well, even within our faith of Christianity, there are those believe in the self-centered brand of faith. if you invest in God, He will bring you prosperity and wealth. If He is not bringing you prosperity, there must be some unrepented sin in your life. There are also so-called evangelists who think they must live an opulent lifestyle including private jets because they are God’s spokesperson. God wants them to have this private jet costing $50 Million so that they can spread the gospel. They need this $50 million church and prayer center/retreat for their ministry because that’s what God wants them to have so as to enhance the message of the gospel and its reach into the community and world. There are even churches out there that spread hate more than love and protest anything and everything and even threaten violence to those who don’t accept their brand of the gospel. There are false beliefs and false prophets abounding everywhere. It is hard to accept all this at times. The truth of God seems to be lost in false doctrine all around us.

 

My dad had sayings for everything and I have used them here many times. One of them that he used on my brother and me (especially me) about following the crowd was “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” He was getting across the point that sometimes our friends may be doing something that is right and just because the crowd is doing it, that does not make it right. Just because all your friends try to influence you to do the wrong thing and the pressure is immense to do so, it does not make it OK for you do that wrong thing. It is kind of the same thing today, how do we know that all of this one world religion is not the way to go. How do we know that God is not withholding prosperity from us because there is some hidden sin in our lives? How do we know that some megachurch movement is gone off the rails in showering its leader in opulent living?

 

That idea that the true gospel has gotten lost in the myriad of false voices out there is what I thought of this morning when I read Deuteronomy 13. Let us read it together this morning:

 

13 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.

 

6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.

 

12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely,[b] both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt, 17 and none of the condemned things[c] are to be found in your hands. Then the Lord will turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you. He will increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your ancestors— 18 because you obey the Lord your God by keeping all his commands that I am giving you today and doing what is right in his eyes.

 

How are we to know what to do? What is right? How do we know that the things that we are hearing are false doctrines or not? It all seems so confusing and it all sounds so good in one way or another. Why would there be these large religions with worldwide reach if there was not something good about each one of them? Why can’t Jesus and Mohammed be equal to one another? Why can’t we believe what we want to believe? It sounds like such an easy solution to an age-old problem. People have fought wars over religions and over religious misunderstandings. Why can’t we just co-exist? Similarly, why can’t I as a Christian believe that God wants to bless me with prosperity as long as I behave just right and do more good than bad. Why can’t we all just go to heaven after doing more good than bad. After all, we want a God that is totaling non-judgmental and all loving and let’s us all go to heaven in the end unless we are just completely evil. Makes it all pretty sanitary and wrapped up in nice package with a bow on top. How do we know if these are ideas are true or not?

 

Attractive doctrines from attractive leaders are not always from God. Moses warned the Israelites against false prophets who would encourage them to worship the wrong things. New ideas from inspiring people may sound good, but we must judge them and their message by whether or not it is consistent with God’s Word. When people claim to speak for God today, check them against Scripture. Are they telling you the truth compared to the message of God’s Word? Are the words you are hearing seem self-centered toward ourselves or who is spouting the new way of thinking rather than toward God. It is possible that they are twisting God’s Word to advance their own cause or to advance a movement among people. When we hear a new attractive idea (such as the one-world religion, anything you believe is OK movement), compare it to what God says in Scripture. The message of God is consistent throughout – from Genesis to Revelation. God certainly is not against new ideas and new thinking but for it to be of God, it must be consistent with the ageless, timeless, eternal principles of God as expressed in His Word.

 

That is part of the reason as leader of my life group when I was considering what for us to study this semester, the Holy Spirit led me toward what to study – a book of the Bible. A lot of times in the new wave church movement of the past two decades, we often get caught up in who the next greatest author in Christian writing is. Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesomely inspired writers out there like Mark Batterson, Francis Chan, and David Platt just to name a few. These guys are awesome. They really get what the gospel is all about. But yet they cannot replace the Word of God itself. We must study Scripture itself. We must know Scripture itself. We must meditate on Scripture itself. Sure we can read the latest Chan or Platt book to help us understand and apply Scripture to our daily lives but they are not intended to replace our study of the Word itself.

 

Martin Luther when he started the revolution against the excesses of the Catholic church, his basic theme was “solo scriptura” – only Scripture. We must make Scripture the only thing that really matters. It is nice to have traditions and even books about the book but The Book is the only thing that matters in the end. It is God’s Word. It is ordained by God. It is inspired by God. What’s included in it is directed by God through the Holy Spirit. We cannot and should not add to it or take away from it. It is that by which we must measure everything.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 12:1-32 (Part 4 of 4)
The Lord’s Chosen Place of Worship

As you guys know, I am a Southern boy and I celebrate all things Southern. Everything except grits that is. Grits are a truly Southern food. Grits are eaten elsewhere in the country but it is not a staple of the breakfast foods elsewhere as it is in the South. Grits are like a given for breakfast in the South. You normally have to specifically request that it be replaced in your meal for breakfast. Mom’s like it because it’s simple and it’s easy to prepare. It’s nutritious. As my dad, with his ever-present sayings, would say, “Grits stick to your ribs!” That means they will fill you up and you will feel full until your next meal. It’s not like Mexican food where you fill bloated for about an hour but then you are hungry again in less than 3 hours. Grits are thus a hearty food. Grits even spent time atop the chic food world when New Yorkers learned that shrimp and grits was something to be savored.

However, for me, even though I am a true Southern boy, I hate grits. I loathe them. I can’t get ‘em down. I think that part of the problem with grits for me was that my dad had to have grits with his breakfast every day. Every day without fail. I didn’t like grits for personal reasons but I also did not like them because of the whole familiarity breeds contempt thing. My dad loved his grits. He was about grits like I am about eggs. To me, a breakfast without scrambled eggs is not a breakfast. You can temporarily divert me with a plate of fluffy pancakes and syrup every now and then, but, eggs are the required part of a daily breakfast. I love eggs because they have flavor by themselves. I love eggs because they go well with ketchup on them or salsa or hot sauce. Eggs I love. Grits I hate. I even hate the texture of grits. Those fine little grits. Even if your brush your teeth vigorously there’s a possibility that you will spit a grit out about an hour after a meal. That mealy taste of grits! Ugggh! And then there’s the fact that when you leave grits sitting on a plate for an extended period of time, you can actually lift up the serving of grits as this congealed mass that sticks together. That is just so weird and disconcerting. It’s almost like cement. It hardens and congeals and sticks together over time. You are eating cement!

Besides the fact that my dad wanted grits all the time for breakfast, they have this mealy texture, and the fact that they harden like cement when left unattended for a period of time, I do not like grits because they have no flavor in and of themselves. Grits are something that you have to doctor up to make them taste good. You add stuff into grits as you sit at the table to make them more palatable. The most popular addition of course is lots of butter. Other things that you can add include ham gravy, shrimp, and a myriad of other add-ons. But for the basic home and the basic breakfast, it is always at least a lot of butter. A big ol’ chunk of butter lopped off the bar of butter and dropped right in the middle of the grits. As the butter melts into the warm grits, you then kind of stir the grits up so that the butter will be intertwined with the grits. But that’s the point to me. Why is that people love grits but you have to doctor it up to make it palatable. To me, a food should be basically good in and of itself. You should not have to doctor it up to make it taste good. Food should be good by itself. Although I love steak sauce on my steak, I could eat steak with no flavor additives. I love ketchup on my French fries but I could eat them straight with no ketchup if requested. Grits. No way. No way can you eat them straight up with spitting them out of your mouth as being completely tasteless and bland.

The other day, though, a friend of mine, Freddy Coan, explained it to me. When I went on my diatribe about how you have “doctor up” grits to make them taste worthy of your palate, he told me that I had it all wrong. He said you cannot think of grits as a food by themselves. You cannot measure grits in this way. He said grits were simply “flavor carriers!” The point of grits, he said, is to be the base, the background flavor of what you add to the grits. He said if you are thinking grits as a food by itself, then, you really don’t appreciate grits. You have to look at grits as flavor carriers.

When I read in chapter 12 of Deuteronomy, where God again prohibits the eating of animal meat when there is blood still in the meat, I begin to flash back to what Freddy said about grits as to why possibly that God had prohibited the Israelites from eating meat without first having drained the blood of the animal out of the body. Let’s focus on those verses this morning as we re-read chapter 12 for the final time before we move on to the next passage:

12 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.

4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

8 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, 9 since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. 11 Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.

15 Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. 16 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 17 You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. 18 Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to. 19 Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.

20 When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. 21 If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. 22 Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. 23 But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. 24 You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 25 Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

26 But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the Lord will choose. 27 Present your burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord your God, both the meat and the blood. The blood of your sacrifices must be poured beside the altar of the Lord your God, but you may eat the meat. 28 Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.

29 The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

32 See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.[a]

Here, we see God preventing the consumption of the blood of animals. Why was that? In Genesis 9 Noah receives a covenant from the Lord. Part of the covenant removed the prior restrictions against eating meat, allowing Noah and his family to kill animals for food. However, the allowance came with this proviso: “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it” (verse 4).

One reason God prohibited the consumption of animal blood in the Old Testament was to teach respect for the sacredness of life. Blood is viewed as a symbol of life throughout the Bible. It may have been for health reasons as back in these days the world was a much filthier place than it is now and disease was everywhere. Animals often carried diseases in their blood. Another reason too could be that God wanted his people to be different from the nations around them who had pagan sacrifices of animals, drinking their blood, and sometimes even doing the same with human sacrifices. Warriors of pagan nations would often drink the blood of their conquered foes as a symbol of victory and virility. I think God, too, wanted the Israelites to learn to treat animals in a humane way and this may have been another reason why God told Noah not to eat meat with the blood still in it. God did not want mankind to act like the carnivorous animals, who caught their prey and began eating it immediately. Instead, they were to drain the blood from the carcass and thus ensure the animal was dead before it was consumed.

Another reason and the biggest one I think though is the fact that God wanted them to understand and respect the live giving nature of blood. It is the life giver. It is the life force. It carries oxygen and other necessary nutrients to all the organs of the body. It takes away waste particles used up by the organs. It is the necessary force of life. Without it our bodies poison and suffocates itself. Without the life giving, life carrying nature of blood, we die. Blood is like grits in that way. Blood is the life carrier just as grits are the flavor carrier. Because of this life giving nature of blood it has always been part of the symbolism of God’s sacrificial system. Blood was the only atonement for sin (2 Chronicles 29:24; Hebrews 9:22); therefore, blood was seen as a sacred thing. Without the spilling of blood, there was not forgiveness of sin. God wanted to ensure that the blood of the sacrifices was always considered precious. To preserve the people’s appreciation of the sacrifices, God could not allow blood to become a common food.

The sacrificial system came to an end with the spilling of Jesus’ blood on the cross. He was the once and final, permanent sacrifice for sin. It was through the shedding of his blood that we are saved. God says that Jesus’ death on the cross was the final sacrifice for your and my sin nature and the sins that we have committed. On the cross, God tells us, Jesus suffered the wrath of God against sin (as He hates sin and the imperfections that it brings) on the cross. He took the punishment for our sin that we deserved. His blood was spilled. It was His spilled blood that gives us new life. We were dead in our sins condemned to a hell that you would not wish on your worst enemy in the absence of His spilled blood on the cross and our belief that He died there for us. In this way, Jesus’ blood is life giving. Without His sacrifice, we are dead and we are condemned. His blood gives us life anew. He restores us to good health spiritually through His blood. It is the life carrier; Jesus’ blood is.

Grits are flavor carriers. Blood is a life carrier in a very practical sense. The blood of Jesus is a life carrier, a life restorer, a new life giver. We are reborn in Jesus blood. We die to our old life and find new life in the transfusion of Jesus’ blood for ours. Blood is the life carrier. Jesus’ blood is the life restorer to a body that is dying and suffocating itself because of sin. Jesus’ blood saves us from eternal death. Jesus is our life carrier.
Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 12:1-32 (Part 3 of 4)
The Lord’s Chosen Place of Worship

Before I came to the cross, I was like most people. I thought of Jesus as this cool, hip, anti-establishment hero. Others see him as one of many in the long line of prophets that the Divine Power of the universe has sent to earth to carry the message of peace and equality and love are part of the fabric of the universe and that we upset it when we hate. All roads lead to heaven, right? Prosperity gospel is out there too – your economic well-being is a reflection of the depth of your spiritual walk with the Lord. You can believe a lot of different things if you let the world around influence you. There are false religions and there is even false doctrine espoused by those within Jesus’ church. It is easy in this world to mix religions and distill out a pattern of belief that works for you. You can delude yourself into believing that you have found the “secret sauce” of the universe that leads to becoming one with that which good and right in the universe. You become OK with taking the best of this religion and that religion because believing in one religion full-on is too hard and too restrictive.

For me, I grew up as a preacher’s kid as you guys already know. However, if I fault my dad for anything, it was that after we became about 10 years old, he no longer really pushed the Bible and devotions and study of God’s Word like he did when we were younger. In fact, our house was very secular in those years. Maybe, my dad was just tired from all day long at the church dealing with churchy stuff with churchy people. Maybe, he did not want us growing up as one of those programmed preacher’s kids that were not in any way, shape, or form, normal. Maybe, he just dropped the ball on nurturing our faith. Maybe, I just didn’t listen. Therefore, when I went off to college at the very liberal, liberal arts college known as Furman University, the challenges to my faith abounded – even in my general education requirements-required course, Old Testament. In this course, the professor and the study Bible that we used all of it was to deconstruct the miracles and explain them away as natural phenomenon or get us to see that the Judaism had added the miracles. My psychology class and its denegration of all religions as the opiate of the mind. Virtually every class challenged and weakened my faith and there was nothing I was getting elsewhere that would help me save what little faith that I had.

Thus, to amalgamate my childhood (I did not want to just throw away all that my dad stood for as a preacher) and accept these new views of religion as being some relic of the past and an easy way to explain away the truly tough questions about the universe and man, I created my own view about Jesus Christ and who He was.

I saw Jesus as this revolutionary guy. He was this guy who called a spade a spade and it got Him killed. He saw the oppression of the Roman occupying forces and spoke out against it. It got Him killed. He spoke out against the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious establishment for being puppets of the Romans and for enforcing the status quo and for marginalizing the poor, the middle class and the handicapped. He blasted them for turning religion into their own personal power play. It was his revolutionary thought on class struggle and hypocrisy of wealth mixed into religion that got him killed. To me, it was his radical political thoughts that got him killed not that He was the Son of God.

I saw Jesus as this radical rabbi who was trying to get Judaism back on track. I saw him as that voice crying in the wilderness. He was this ultimate prophet of the long line of Jewish prophets. He was the best of them all. It was his harsh rhetoric against the religious elite that got him killed. I saw Jesus as this political revolutionary that threatened the very détente between the religious elite and the Romans. His truth was a threat to what everyone wanted to ignore – how the religious elite was trying to placate the Romans and keep their hold on the day-to-day power in Israel. Jesus was upsetting the apple cart with his truth and it got him killed. People will do crazy stuff to keep their hold on what power they have. Jesus threatened all that and it got him killed. I did not buy into this hell thing and wasn’t real sure about the whole heaven thing either. I acted as if this was all there was because I just couldn’t wrap my head around the cosmic battle between good and evil and eternity hanging in the balance.

This made Jesus cool to me. For Him to die on the cross as a martyr and not as some sacrifice for my sin made a lot more sense to me. I needed to keep Jesus as something to believe in (because of my past and because I still went to church even with all these challenges to my faith) so I molded Him into what I wanted Him to be – a nice guy with radical thoughts on how to live your life that got him killed. I loved that he martyred himself for what He believed in. That was the Jesus I made up for myself. A political revolutionary, a radical rabbi, a philosopher, a social commentator. That was my Jesus. I couldn’t buy into the whole Jesus as the Son of God performing miracles thing.

It is only through the Holy Spirit that we learn the true identity of Jesus as the coexistent part of the trinity that existed before time began. Jesus did not just come along. He was with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as the perfectly complete trinity. The Holy Spirit reveals to us that we are sinful creatures and have been almost since the moment of the creation of man and woman. It was this sin-nature that has been passed down from generation to generation. However, we also know through the Holy Spirit’s action in our hearts and souls that God is perfect and holy. There is no imperfection in him. And in order to be in His presence we must be perfect and holy to be in His presence. Not just more good than bad. We must be perfect. We must be completely holy. The problem though is that sin, just one sin, makes us imperfect and unholy. So, with our sin nature passed down to us from Adam and Eve and the fact that we commit our first cognitive sins very early in life not to mention that we commit sins by the truckload in our lifetime, we are basically screwed. For those that are unholy and sinful, we are cast out of God’s sight because we must be perfect and holy to be there. We deserve the sentence that is out there for those that are imperfect, sinful beings. We deserve to be away from God’s present permanently in a place called hell where there is gnashing of teeth and burning of flesh eternally. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the reality of existence beyond this plane. We realize that we are in need of an intervention if we are going to exist with God in eternity in heaven. We must have Jesus. He is the perfect sacrifice for our sins through His action on the cross and through His resurrection we have new life. We must believe that He is the Son of God. We must believe that He is part of the Trinity. We must believe that He came to the earth because God so loved us and wanted there to be a way to reconcile us to Him. That reconciliation is Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are made holy and perfect before God. We are now the best part of Revelation – chapters 21 and 22. All things are made through Jesus Christ for those who love Him and believe Him to be the only way to the Father.

It was my own bastardization of my belief system to allow for Christianity and agnosticism, science, and cultural currents to co-exist in my belief system. That’s what I thought of when I read through Deuteronomy 12 this morning and how God seemed pretty darn adamant about the Israelites completely eradicated the symbols of the belief systems of the Canaanites. Let’s focus on those verses this morning as we re-read chapter 12:

12 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.

4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

8 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, 9 since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. 11 Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.

15 Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. 16 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 17 You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. 18 Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to. 19 Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.

20 When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. 21 If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. 22 Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. 23 But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. 24 You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 25 Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

26 But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the Lord will choose. 27 Present your burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord your God, both the meat and the blood. The blood of your sacrifices must be poured beside the altar of the Lord your God, but you may eat the meat. 28 Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.

29 The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

32 See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.[a]

Here, we see God giving some pretty severe instructions on getting rid of the vestiges of idol worship and false gods of the lands they were going to conquer. He did not want His people getting mixed up in these false religions. He knew how we as humans are. If there is something false that looks pretty, smells pretty, and acts pretty we are going to fall for it even if it is a siren’s song that brings our own destruction. He wanted the Israelites to cleanse the land of any evidence of false worship so that it would not cry out from the shores for the hearts of the Israelites.

The takeaway for me this morning is that it is so easy to make our faith bastardized into something that is easy and palatable and works within the society in which we live. Our society wants easy. So, we mix and match tenets of the various religions out there to create a concoction of beliefs that work for us but are contradictory by nature. All religions cannot be right all at once. Each one contradicts one another with their basic beliefs. Only one can be right. Think logically about that. Only one religion can have gotten it right from beginning to end. Everything else that does not get it right from beginning to end is false. Thus, only one can be right – the one that is right from beginning to end. That is through Jesus Christ. Nothing else is right. Jesus claims to be the Son of God. As C.S. Lewis stated, Jesus “is either a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord.” We can’t mix and match this thing. Either Jesus is completely right or He is completely wrong. You can’t pick a little Islam, a little Judaism, a little Hinduism, a little New Age, a little Christianity, and make into the home-made mashed potatoes of your own religion. These religions are fundamentally different and inconsistent with one another. If you mash it all together. You are actually believing in nothing but yourself.

Even non-believers pray. They pray to something. So, pray that the truth about Jesus Christ be revealed to you. Just pray for that and pray for that earnestly. When you let the white noise of the world and your own misgivings about religion drop away, listen and pray for Jesus to be made clear to you.

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 12:1-32 (Part 2 of 4)

The Lord’s Chosen Place of Worship

You are sitting in church minding your own business just trying to soak in the worship of the Lord. Then, there is a family behind you where they brought every crinkly package of food possible into the worship service. To keep their kid quiet, they have brought cookies, potato chips, you name it. The crinkling of the package as they open it shoots into your ears and that’s all you can hear. It’s like when you are trying to go to sleep and your spouse seems to be breathing more heavily than usual. You here each and every inhale and exhale. That’s what this seems like. The crinkling of the aluminum foil packaging is resounding and pounding in your ears. Then, little junior gets the package from his mom and you begin to hearing crunch, crunch, crunch. Every bite seems amplified. You can hear the incisors break each cookie or chip and then you can hear the mastication of the other teeth as the food is molded into a swallowable ball. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Every chew can be heard because, of course, sweet little junior has not been taught to chew with his mouth closed. Chomp, chomp, chomp. Then, there is the sippy cup that is pulled out because little junior is about to choke on his chips or cookies. Mommy can I have something to drink. I’m thirsty. I’m thirsty! I’m thiiiiiirsty! Of course, little junior is going to drop the sippy cup in the floor and it rolls toward your foot and comes to rest there, dripping little drops of juice on the floor as it rolls and it emits the aroma of the juice contained within. After it hits your foot, you bend down to see what disturbed the peaceful time that your foot was having below and you  find the cup dripping juice near your shoe. You reach down and pick it up and then turn to the row behind you and you make eye contact with an embarrassed mom who says she is sorry. You say it’s no big deal and you hand her the sippy cup. Repeat this process at least two more times during the service.

 

During the sermon, it is inevitable that little junior is going to begin misbehaving. Whining that he’s hungry. He’s thirsty. He wants to go home. His mom begins a negotiation process with the little man. You are trying to hear the sermon but you are inevitably drawn the words being spoken in the drama that is unfolding in the row behind you. The mom is quietly trying to get her son to quiet down. He will have none of it. He wants the world to know that he is unhappy. He begins crying because he is not getting his way. Mom tries to get him to quiet down but that just seems to make the brewing scene to become worse. Dad is trying to be purposefully oblivious to the situation unfolding between his wife and his child. He is waiting for his number to be called. You know the call. (Insert your name here), will you do something with YOUR son! This is the exasperated cry of a mom having to deal with this international crisis of the country of mom and the country of child. Finally, the deeper toned voice of the father speaks to the child. However, the child’s nuclear core is already in meltdown mode and the atomic blast is soon to follow. You know the one. Where the child cries, takes a deep, momentary breath, and here it comes. The split second of peace that you know is followed by the highest pitched, ear-piercing cry that a kid can muster. Finally, with that spine-tingling cry that makes every cell in your body jiggle a little as if the balance of the universe had been altered, the mother gathers up the crying child’s toys, potato chip bags, sippy cups and leaves the auditorium. Oh, sweet Jesus! Peace at last. What is this that you hear, the pastor is doing his closing prayer. What? I missed the whole sermon.

 

Have you ever experienced that? Neither have I. LOL! NOT! Yes, this has happened to me before and I am sure that it has happened to you. Children who have never been taught to sit still and be quiet under the watchful eye of their parents are annoying. Parents that are too scared to stifle little johnny’s creativity and development with, what, discipline? That’s annoying. They always seem to find their way to the row behind me.

 

That’s a far cry from the worship experiences that I had as a child. I was the son of a preacher man in the United Methodist Church in South Carolina. Growing up, my dad served mainly rural churches and he often had multiple churches. But, it was not until that he got an “city church” appointment in Anderson, SC as the associate pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church there that my illustration finds its home. When we moved to Trinity, I was just beginning the middle school years. That meant I was beginning a life of my own. School dances. Doing things with friends away from the watchful eye of my parents. Middle school football. Church league basketball. I had a social life of my own. Even church was different at that age. No longer did I sit with my mom during church service nor did I want to. I was a grown up now in my own mind. Sitting with your parent at church, how humiliating!

 

This one particular Sunday, me and my crew (Donnie, Ritter, Parker, Rodney, and several others), the Trinity 12-Under Basketball Team gang. We sat in the balcony on this day, this Sunday. At Trinity, Bill McNeil was the senior pastor and my dad was filling the newly created associated pastor’s position. The church was a growing one and the committees that be at Trinity decided it was time to increase the staff and my dad was the first to fill the associate’s position. My dad got to preach occasionally but not every Sunday like he was used to in all of his previous appointments. So, this was an unusual appointment for him because my dad loved to preach and he was good at it. But back to the story here, knowing that Bill was doing the preaching on this day and my dad was handling all the liturgy of the service (that goes along with traditional church – responsive readings, intercessory prayers, etc.). Me and my boys, my posse, my gang, we were sitting in the very back row of the balcony. Up there during the lead up activities to the sermon, our goofy banter was muffled by music, singing, responsive readings, and we would cool it and quiet down for prayers. But during Rev. McNeil’s sermon, we couldn’t stand it of course and began passing notes and talking and laughing (as quietly as we could or so we thought). So, Rev. McNeil is preaching. My dad is seated to his left, the audience’s right. And then it happened.

 

Right smack dab in the middle of Rev. McNeil’s sermon, my dad (known to others as Rev. Bowling), interrupts Rev. McNeil and in front of the whole church (and Trinity was big church, maybe 600 or so in attendance on a Sunday morning) and calls me out! Mark Bowling, come down from the balcony right this minute and come sit on the front row where I can keep an eye on you. I was mortified. After my dad returns to his seat, Bill McNeil goes back to preaching. If this was a movie, there would be a dirge playing in the background as I made my way down the stairs from the balcony into the lobby of the church, through the double doors and into the main seating area of the church, down the middle aisle. Though Pastor McNeil was continuing to preach, all eyes seemed to begin to be fixated on me as I passed by each pew row. Finally, to the front row and I skulk into my seat. My dad’s bright baby blue eyes staring at me the whole time. Uggh. What a day I was having! Being a preacher’s kid can be a liability at times! LOL! Never ever forget that day. It is seared. That’s a family worship memory right there! Even if my dad mentioned it today (and it has been mentioned frequently over the years), some forty-two years later, I will still remember the embarrassment of what had become known among my dad, my mom, my brother and me as “the Walk of Shame”. In the general public, that may been the morning after a one-night stand, but in our family unit, it was that fateful day in Anderson in the spring of 1975 –  the Walk of Shame.

 

What is your worship horror story? Those things that happen when you were worshiping as a family at church. In most churches today, the children do not worship with their parents just because of scenarios such as the two that I have offered up this morning. Kids go to kids church until they are in high school and can handle themselves in the grown-up church service. Occasionally, though, parents, for whatever reason, will take their small kids into grown-up worship even today. Maybe, too, you go to a church that is not big enough where it can have a separate worship service for children and pre-teens so you have the experiences of having children in the main worship service. It seems to me when we don’t have kids in our Sunday morning main worship services, we are missing an opportunity for discipline. Although I had my moments like the one mentioned earlier, generally, I knew that I had better behave in church or that I would get “my back porch painted red” (that’s “spanked” for you non-Southerners) when I got home. That’s not to say that kids’ church is not a great thing. When you have the opportunity to have kids church, you can create an environment where the kids can actually understand biblical concepts on their level of understanding and experience. Regardless, we are commanded by God to worship as families and not just on Sundays.

 

Those worship horror stories of worshiping with kids is what leapt into my mind this morning along with my own personal, being a preacher’s kid, walk of shame. This morning, I really picked up on vv. 12 and 19 when reading this passage, Deuteronomy 12. Let’s focus on those verses this morning as we re-read chapter 12:

 

12 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.

 

4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

 

8 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, 9 since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. 11 Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.

 

15 Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. 16 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 17 You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. 18 Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to. 19 Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.

 

20 When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. 21 If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. 22 Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. 23 But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. 24 You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 25 Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

 

26 But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the Lord will choose. 27 Present your burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord your God, both the meat and the blood. The blood of your sacrifices must be poured beside the altar of the Lord your God, but you may eat the meat. 28 Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.

 

29 The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

 

32 See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.[a]

 

The Israelites placed great emphasis on family worship. Whether it was a ritual sacrifice or a great festival, worship was a family event. This gave the children a healthy respect for worship of the Lord and it gave parents a great responsibility to make God a part of daily life and so that worship of God in formal ways was just a part of the fabric of the family. Raise them up in the ways of the Lord and they will never depart from it, the Bible tells us. God wants us as parents to worship Him together. God wants to be part of our family life. God wants to be front and center of the child-rearing process. God wants to be at the core of who we are as families. Worship is not something that just the parents do.

 

Sure, it’s tough to get your kids up and get them to church and, sure, sometimes they act up and you wonder why you even came to church on this Sunday. Let us begin now to make worship a part of our lives, our family lives. Let us read Bible stories to our kids and explain Bible stories to our kids in ways that they will relate to their own lives. Let us jam at the house to worship bands like Jesus Culture as a regular part of our routine with our kids. Let them see us having fun when our favorite Jesus Culture song is played. Let us dance, dance, dance when it comes on. Let us see Sunday morning as something that we want to do and not as a have-to. Our kids feed off us. If you don’t worship with all abandon, they won’t either. If you don’t study the Bible, they want either. If God is not central to your life, it won’t be in theirs either. Let’s learn to let loose and worship the Lord as a family. Let’s not make it about do’s and don’t’s! Let’s make it about being joyous in the Lord every day and on Sunday!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 12:1-32 (Part 1 of 4)

The Lord’s Chosen Place of Worship

One of the indications of how seriously we take our college football in this state that is my birth home and where I have lived all but three years of my life are two old sayings. One is that “at birth, the doctor will make you choose between the Clemson Tigers and the South Carolina Gamecocks.” The other is that if you were born elsewhere, “they stop you at the border and force you to make a choice between the Tigers and the Gamecocks.” It is part of the fabric of life here in the Palmetto State. To be a small state by land mass and population (only 40th in land mass [30,109 square miles] and 4.625 million people at the latest estimates by the census bureau), we have two Division I football programs. Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia and Memorial Stadium in Clemson are both large football stadiums holding anywhere from 86,000 to 88,000 seats. The Tigers and the Gamecocks are big business in this state. The rivalry is heated and like none other. In other parts of the country, you live in bigger states with more population and the teams’ following are more regionalized through the states. For example, in Georgia, Georgia Tech fans are generally concentrated in the larger cities of Georgia and mainly Atlanta. Georgia fans are all in the rest of the state. Alabama is similar when it comes to Bama and Auburn. North Carolina doesn’t even count cause they are all about basketball. Tennessee doesn’t matter because the Tennessee’s in-state rival is a private school, Vanderbilt. Michigan-Ohio State doesn’t have the same passion since they live state’s away. Southern Cal-UCLA is passionate but outside of Los Angeles nobody gets bunged up about it. Penn State and Pitt don’t even play each other every year.

 

Here, in South Carolina, it’s the law. South Carolina and Clemson must play each other every year. There’s an actual law. Here, the rivalry is enmeshed in the culture. It is part of who we are as Sandlappers. Since we are a small state, Clemson-Carolina is proximity. It’s neighbor against neighbor. It’s co-worker against co-worker. It’s family against family. The rivalry can even be within families. For example, my family unit (me, Elena, my daughters [Meghan & Taylor], and Elena’s daughter [Michelle]) is a family divided. My family and my daughter’s birth mom’s family are all Clemson fans. Elena and her family, though 2nd generation Cuban/Venezuelan descent, are Gamecock fans. In fact, within our blended family unit, Meghan is a Clemson graduate and Michelle is a University of South Carolina graduate. Michelle, bless her heart, is passionate about her Gamecocks. My girls and I are passionate about the Tigers. Our moods for at least the weekend are determined by whether the Tigers win or not. For the past six seasons of 10 plus wins every season, I have been a happy man on weekends most of the time. However, living in the same household with my wife being a Gamecock fan, it has tempered the intensity with which I allow the rivalry and football in general affect my being.

 

There are some Tiger and Gamecock fans that take this rivalry and their respective teams too seriously. You see friendships ended and families split apart by flippant or down right disrespectful things being said about the others’ team of preference. It is as if we are personally Clemson and they are personally South Carolina. You are the Gamecocks. I am the Tigers. You can say anything you want to about my wife and kids but you dare not speak ill of Clemson or you dare not speak ill of the Gamecocks. Some people even get into fist fights over the Tigers and Gamecocks. People have been hurt over these arguments and allegiances. It is about class divisions that run deep and into history. Clemson was the common man’s school that the upper crust Carolina grads in the statehouse tried to prevent from even opening for about 50 years until Ben Tillman rammed it through the statehouse and it finally opened in 1889. It was class warfare for many years. The common man vs. the elitists. It was rural farmers against city types. Now, it’s just good ol’ fashioned hate. Hate that sometimes goes too far when people make each university’s football team their god. There are those on both sides that make their football program their reason for being. They live and die by the successes and failures of their football team. You may have heard that college football is a religion in the South. It can be. It can become idol worship. It can be something that gets in the way of our relationship with God.

 

That’s why I am in part thankful that God brought Elena to me – one of the many reasons. The fact that she and Michelle are Gamecock fans and the fact that I love them has given me new perspective on the rivalry. Over the last three consecutive years, Clemson has gotten the better of Carolina (with two of those victories being pretty good spankings of the Gamecocks) but I must live with a Gamecock and talk regularly with her daughter who is also a Gamecock. It tempers the need to rub it in. Knowing that they have to deal with a loss to the Tigers for another year and loving them makes me roll back the rhetoric a bit. We resolve not to bring up the Tigers or the Gamecocks other than a one-liner when we are together. No extensive diatribes about either school. That’s the way it should be. But, man, there are those out there that will literally spew venom toward one another over this rivalry. The schools have become their gods. It literally CAN get in the way of our relationship with God.

 

It was the Clemson-Carolina rivalry, the very base-level thing that is part of who we are as South Carolinians, and sometimes how these football programs can reach idol status for us is what I thought about when reading this passage, Deuteronomy 12, this morning. The Tiger-Gamecock thing is an illustration about what God warns Israel about. Let’s see how the Tigers, Gamecocks, and the Israelites have something in common here:

 

12 These are the decrees and laws you must be careful to follow in the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you to possess—as long as you live in the land. 2 Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains, on the hills and under every spreading tree, where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. 3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.

 

4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; 6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

 

8 You are not to do as we do here today, everyone doing as they see fit, 9 since you have not yet reached the resting place and the inheritance the Lord your God is giving you. 10 But you will cross the Jordan and settle in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and he will give you rest from all your enemies around you so that you will live in safety. 11 Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 13 Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. 14 Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you.

 

15 Nevertheless, you may slaughter your animals in any of your towns and eat as much of the meat as you want, as if it were gazelle or deer, according to the blessing the Lord your God gives you. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat it. 16 But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 17 You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. 18 Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to. 19 Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.

 

20 When the Lord your God has enlarged your territory as he promised you, and you crave meat and say, “I would like some meat,” then you may eat as much of it as you want. 21 If the place where the Lord your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the Lord has given you, as I have commanded you, and in your own towns you may eat as much of them as you want. 22 Eat them as you would gazelle or deer. Both the ceremonially unclean and the clean may eat. 23 But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat. 24 You must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water. 25 Do not eat it, so that it may go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

 

26 But take your consecrated things and whatever you have vowed to give, and go to the place the Lord will choose. 27 Present your burnt offerings on the altar of the Lord your God, both the meat and the blood. The blood of your sacrifices must be poured beside the altar of the Lord your God, but you may eat the meat. 28 Be careful to obey all these regulations I am giving you, so that it may always go well with you and your children after you, because you will be doing what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.

 

29 The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

 

32 See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.[a]

 

In this passage, we see God’s warning among other things. Today, we will focus on that warning. When taking over the land previously occupied by other nations, the Israelites were supposed to destroy every pagan altar and idol in the land. God knew it would be easy for them to change their beliefs if they started using those altars. Therefore, God required that nothing remain that might tempt them to worship idols. We, too, should ruthlessly find and remove the false worship in our lives. These may be activities, attitudes, possessions, relationships, places, addictions, habits, and even sports teams – anything that tempts us to turn our hearts from God and give our full allegiance to it.

 

What is your idol? Is it your wife or your husband? Is it your car or your truck? Is it pornography? Is it drugs? Is it your job? Is it your career? Is it the Gamecocks or Tigers? Is it your hobbies or toys? Is it sex? Is it seeking approval of others? What is your idol?

 

Smash it to pieces. Bust it up! Smash it against a tree! Tear it up, shred by shred! Repent and turn back to God.

 

What is your idol?

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 11:8-32

The Blessings of Obedience

 

Seems pretty simple – obey God’s commands and thrive, disobey God’s commands and fail to thrive. Blessings and curse. The curse is the lack of blessing, the removal of blessing. How we wonder why Israel would blatantly turn away from its protector, and benefactor in the Lord God Almighty. But they did, repeatedly over the centuries. We can’t comprehend why. We know the story from God’s perspective through Moses and the subsequent Old Testament writers that Israel failed to keep its part of the covenant relationship with God. Just doesn’t make sense, does it?

 

However, some view the United States of America as the new Israel, a nation blessed by God in so many ways over the past several centuries. It is a nation that was started under the pretense of religious freedom. Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It is the land that people have clamored to be a part of since its inception as a free nation ruled by laws and not kings. It was a nation founded on the fact that God created man to be free and to live lives free of the whims of the tyranny of despotic kings and free from the rule of the mob. The principles of our government were founded upon that we are all created equal in God’s sight. Our nation was built by people who feared the Lord. Our nation made the Bible a part of daily life. Generally, our nation has been mightily blessed as a result. Some, as I have said, have called the United States the new Israel. We have been a blessed nation. We received the blessings of God for a nation that has stood for freedom, hard work, belief in Jesus Christ, and a nation that was unafraid to tell the world of its basic Christian values.

 

However, we have become drunk with our success. We have become a nation preoccupied with ourselves. This is a nation that once made great sacrifices. Turning our factories from peace time pursuits to one where every man, woman, and child contributed to the effort to end tyranny around the world in World War II. However, now, we are a nation that feels as though we are entitled to all our excesses. We no longer are a nation willing to sacrifice for the common good. We riot in the streets when we don’t get our way. We say that though a leader was elected lawfully as per the process that has worked for almost two and half centuries that he is not our leader. We are a nation that has become spoiled by our success. We have removed God from the equation. The very thing that fueled the sacrifices that made our country great, a basic belief in God and his commandments, is being removed from society.

 

No longer are we a nation but rather we are 300 Million nations. Individual rights are paramount. The common good is no longer the consideration. We are a selfish nation full of selfish people. We pursue whatever is best for us and we call that evolution of man. We see individual rights to pursue whatever we believe is right for us as paramount in our society. We no longer see subsuming ourselves to the greater good of the nation as the prime directive. We have become a nation of self-seekers. We have become a nation that if my rights that are unique to only me then the whole world must adjust its belief system to accommodate my needs. We are all about us individually. We are independent of the nation in which we live. The nation is here to serve us and not the other way around. We are now a maddening cacophony of individual gods seeking our own pleasure. We feel that we are entitled to the blessings that we have been given by God, but since we do not allow God into the stream of American thought anymore, our blessings come from ourselves. We are the reason we have the opulence we have. It has nothing to do with God, right? Do you not see the similarities of the new Israel, the United States, and the old Israel.

 

Israel had it made. It was the envy of the Middle East when David and Solomon were kings. God granted great blessing upon the nation when it was focused on giving glory to God. Under David and Solomon, Israel was a great power and was secure as a nation. Nobody messed with Israel when it was experiencing the blessings of God when the nation was obedient to God, when it was led by leaders who were obedient to God. Then, the nation became self-involved and self-seeking and self-pleasuring and turned away from God. Within 500 years after Solomon, the nation of Israel was ripped into two nations from within and then was ripped apart by the empires that developed around it. Then it was subject to the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans to the point that Israel no longer existed. This all happened between the zenith of Israel’s power at the transition of power from David to Solomon in 971 BC to the final destruction of the Temple and dispersion of the Jews in 70 AD. Within 1040 years of the zenith of Israel’s power, it no longer existed and it was a slow painful dissent into disintegration.

 

We may have pushed God out of our lives in the United States and think we have evolved into a higher plane but saying He does not exist does not make Him not exist. Saying the elephant in the room is not there does not make the reality of the elephant being in the room any less valid. We think that we have evolved beyond the need for God. Israel did too. We are repeating the history of Israel right here, right now. We were once a nation after God’s own heart. Sure, we weren’t perfect then. No nation ever is. But in general we were a nation that chased after God and we allowed His principles to permeate our society. We experienced blessing. Blessings like a nation has never seen before. But, we like Israel, have become cocky at our own success and have begun to believe that we are our own gods. We seek self-fulfillment rather than God’s will. We have made ourselves our own idols. We are doing exactly what Israel did. We will experience the removal of blessing and the slow painful dissent into disintegration will follow.

 

Obey my commands and experience blessing. Disobey my commands and experience curses, the lack of blessing. Pretty simple. Pretty obvious. But how can two blessed nations, biblical Israel and modern day United States, not see the correlation.

 

The inevitable internal decay of our nation and its eventual subjugation to other nations as a curse for us straying from God is what I thought of when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 11:8-32, today. Let’s read it together:

 

8 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 9 and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. 11 But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. 12 It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

 

13 So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul— 14 then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. 15 I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.

 

16 Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. 17 Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you. 18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

 

22 If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow—to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him and to hold fast to him— 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. 24 Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the Mediterranean Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go.

 

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse— 27 the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; 28 the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known. 29 When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses. 30 As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan, westward, toward the setting sun, near the great trees of Moreh, in the territory of those Canaanites living in the Arabah in the vicinity of Gilgal. 31 You are about to cross the Jordan to enter and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you. When you have taken it over and are living there, 32 be sure that you obey all the decrees and laws I am setting before you today.

 

What is God’s curse? It is not some magician’s spell. To understand it, we must remember the conditions of the covenant between the superior party, God, and the inferior party, his chosen people, Israel. Both parties had agreed to the terms of the covenant. Blessings from the superior party would flow to Israel if they kept up the terms of the agreement through their actions. They would receive land, live there in peace forever, have fruitful crops, and expel their enemies and as a result be able to flourish as a secure nation. The would fall on Israel only if the broke the terms of the covenant by their actions. They would forfeit the grace and peace of the superior party, God, that the superior party was allowing them to have. Everything would be off the table then. Crop failures, susceptibility to invasion, and ultimately expulsion from their land would result. The protection of God would be removed. The blessings of peace and prosperity and the flourishing as a nation would all come under siege without the blessings of God. The removal of God’s protective hand, that’s the curse.

 

We have the same fundamental choice today as a nation and as individuals. We can live for ourselves or live in reverent awe and respect for our Creator. To choose our own way is to travel on a dead-end road without realizing that it will dead-end but to choose God’s way is to receive eternal life, to receive blessing, to receive his protection, to live in peace, on a road that has no end.

 

What’s it going to be? The nation reflects its individuals. So, it is up to us Americans to decide if we are going to do things God’s way or our own way. It is up to us as those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ to become actively involved in turning our nation back to God. It’s only going to happen we care as individuals. We can no longer have the luxury of waiting for someone else to do it. We must as individuals do our part to turn our nation back to God. The choice seems so clear – blessing or the lack of blessing, flourishing nation when obedient to the Lord or a nation that will be conquered many times over when disobedient to the Lord.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 (Part 7 of 7)

A Call to Love and Obedience

 

Little Miss Ralyn Greer. She will be six months old tomorrow. We call her “Lil Nugget”! My granddaughter is the cutest little girl that you would ever want to see and it’s not that I am prejudiced or predisposed to thinking that she is a beautiful little girl. There are complete strangers who tell us how beautiful she is and how she should be a baby model. Her eyes are captivating. Her facial expressions are just hilarious at times. Her smile is infectious. She is, also, just a really good-natured baby. She is not one of those babies who just cries all the time at the least little thing. Ralyn does cry like any baby does but it is usually when something’s wrong – she’s hungry, she’s got a present for her mom or dad in her diaper that’s no longer working for her, she’s fighting sleep, or she wants to be held. Other than that, she will let pretty much anyone hold her. She loves to play with her activities center toys. She squeals in amazement the ball spins after she hits it on her activity center. She likes to make noises just to hear herself make them. She is a joy to be around. She’s beautiful. She’s going to be a smart one. She has a good disposition. She doesn’t mind being in big crowds. I just think she’s awesome. She’s my granddaughter.

 

Sometimes, though, I sit and wonder if she will know her family history and how she is part of it. Since my dad’s line of the Bowling family tree ends, there will be no more Bowlings coming from my dad’s line of the family – my brother had a girl and a boy and then I had two girls. Given the fact that my brother’s son has chosen an alternative lifestyle and the rest are girls, there will be no more blood Bowlings that will trace their roots back to my dad. My nephew, because of the lifestyle path he has chosen, will only be able to possibly adopt a child if he so choses and it may be a boy but the child will not be a blood Bowling. My grandfather’s line of the Bowlings is in danger as well. He had five boys and you would think that this would have ensured the survival of the Bowling line. However, one of my uncles, Doug, adopted two daughters. One of my uncles, Oscar, had three daughters. One of my uncles, Ben, had one daughter. One of my uncles, Edward, had a daughter and a son. And, of course, my dad had two boys (me and my older brother). I had two girls. My brother had a boy and a girl. Edward’s son and my brother’s son are the only ways that my grandfather’s branch of the Bowling name survives. So for the possibility for my Pop’s line of the Bowling name to survive through producing a child who is Pop’s progeny by blood, all of our family hopes rely on Ben Bowling, the son of my Uncle Edward. Young Ben, as we call him since carries the same name as our Uncle Ben, is a quirky young man and possibly may not ever marry and have children. So, there is a likelihood that my grandfather’s bloodline and name end with this generation.

 

Therefore, the family history becomes ever so important to preserve. The stories of my grandpa and his connections and how he was always able to get things done. Questions you didn’t want to know the answers to when it came to my grandpa’s ability always having a wad of cash in his wallet that did not include small bills. Stories of my grandmother Bowling growing up in an orphanage. Stories of my uncle Ben in the service in the cold war years. Stories of my uncle Ed being part of the protests in the early 70’s that shut down the campus at University of South Carolina for one or two days. Stories of him, ironically, going into the service in the Air Force being part of the hippy generation of the 60s-early 70s that was going to change the world but found out that ya had to feed your family. Great stories though from his 20 years of service in the Air Force. Stories of my Uncle Doug and how he left our family for the last forty years of life and why it all happened over some ill-timed, ill-chosen, flippant comments of my grandfather (who always spoke his mind – he had no filter). Stories of my Uncle Ben, who seemed to have a knack for knowing when and what to invest in and how he began making more money from his side jobs and investments than his long career at Southern Bell. Stories of my Uncle Oscar and how he was the one that carried on that tradition from Pop as the guy you went to, to get stuff done, to find out information, he and his “connections” were always about to find out what you needed to find out about people, places, and things. Stories of Uncle Oscar, the first in our family to lose a child to a car accident and how that changed his family unit of the Bowling family forever. How he moved to Florida to get away the memories. Then, there are the stories of my dad and his support for the civil rights movement in the South in the early sixties as a Methodist preacher preaching messages that did not want to be heard. Stories of my dad working two jobs when bi-vocational pastors were frowned upon in the Methodist Church. Stories of my dad’s youth and the speed demon that he was. Stories of my dad being the suave ladies man who was knocked off his feet by Carolyn Burke Davis. Stories of their long marriage and many pastoral miles traveled. Stories of my life and all its ups and downs, twists and turns. Stories of her Papa (me) and her great uncle and how we had our adventures as preacher’s kids. Stories of being Star Trek nuts who used to use our dad’s churches as our Starship Enterprise. Stories of our battles of two rivalrous brothers. Stories. Stories. Stories. Stories of the tumultuous youth of her mom and her sister. Stories of how her mom is a steady rock in the storms of life. Stories of her aunt and the daredevil she was as a kid and how she still is in some ways. All these quirks and glories of our flawed but wonderful Bowling family. These things must be preserved and reveled in.

 

In Southern society, it is by nature, patriarchal and if you are a girl, you trace your family’s history through that of your husband. It is primary. However, girls don’t forget their own family trees but they do tend to put more emphasis on the family line they became part of through marriage. So, with the proponderence of girls that came forth from five boys of Ralph T. Bowling, Sr., the line comes to a close with this generation. So, it is even more important to me that Ralyn knows her Bowling side. She is a Greer by name but she has Bowling blood in her through her mom. We must preserve the stories. We must preserve the 50 years of pictures that are still in storage that my mom kept. We must preserve the hard copy pictures of that era and all the digital pictures that have come into our family over the last fifteen years. Ralyn needs to know our family history. She needs to know the story of us. She needs to know the history of the Bowling family. Without it, lessons will not be learned. Joys of the family will not be passed down from generation to generation. The sorrows of the previous generations will not be shared. The highs and the lows will not be known.

 

As we finish our review of this weighty passage today, it was this idea of knowing and remembering stuff that is important and passing it down from generation to generation that came to mind. With that idea in mind, let’s read Deuteronomy 10:12-11:7 together:

 

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 

14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. 16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

 

11 Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the Lord your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea[a] as they were pursuing you, and how the Lord brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the wilderness until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the Lord has done

 

In this series of blogs, we are talking about how we should relate to God. Today, we are talking about how do we know God and how do we preserve that knowledge. Israel had strong reasons to believe in God and obey His commands. They had witnessed a parade of mighty miracles that demonstrated God’s love and care for them. Incredibly, they still had trouble being faithful. Because few of us have seen miracles on the scale of what the Israelites saw, it may seem even harder for us to obey God and be continually faithful to His commands. But, we have the Bible. It is the written record of God’s throughout history. Reading God’s Word gives a panoramic view of both the miracles that Israel saw and also others that they did not see. The lessons from the past, the instructions from the present, and glimpses into the future give us many opportunities to strengthen our faith in God. The Bible is our evidence of God’s personal nature and how He cares for His people. It is our guidebook for living. God tells us how to live. It is also the story of how He redeems even the worst of His people. It is the story of His redemptive plan for mankind. It is the story of His love for us and His pursuit of us.

 

Just as my daughter, Meghan, and I must take care to preserve the history of the Bowling family of my grandfather whose line will vanish within this generation so that Ralyn will know her roots in the Bowling family, the Bible is our family story for those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Savior. Just as we can use our family history to teach life lessons to Ralyn – the joys, the sorrows, the mistakes, the blunders, the consequences, the highs and the lows of very real people with the last name, Bowling, we can learn the same things in the Bible.

 

We are grafted into the family of God through Jesus Christ. The Bible is our family history. We learn how alike we are with the completely, flawed great men and women of the Bible. In the Bible, we see ourselves. In the Bible, we see the mistakes that we make. In the Bible, we learn from the mistakes of our spiritual ancestors. We learn the reasons for why we believe what we believe. We have our family history right there in the Bible. We have the stories of how God has pursued us through the centuries. We have the story of Jesus, its central character. We have the stories of God’s redemptive plan that began in Genesis and comes to completion in Revelation. Let us remember the stories and preserve them in our hearts. Let us read the Bible constantly as if it were our family history and that it all leads down to our little branch of God’s family. That’s the point of the Bible. It is all about you and me becoming part of the family tree of the family of God. This is your family history. This is my family history. Become part of the story … through Jesus Christ. Welcome home!

 

Amen and Amen.