Archive for April, 2017

Deuteronomy 31:1-8 (Part 1 of 2)

Joshua Becomes Israel’s Leader

 

This past Thursday evening, Deshaun Watson, the all-everything quarterback for Clemson University’s football team for the past three years made the final step of being a professional football player. He was the 12th player chosen in the draft during the first round that night. He will now play football on Sundays for the Houston Texans instead of wowing us on Saturdays for the Clemson Tigers.

 

It was the end of a chapter for Clemson’s football program. Deshaun has been the face of the Clemson football program for three years. He may not own all of the Clemson quarterback records since he will not return for his fourth year of eligibility but what he did in three was nothing short of amazing. During his time as a Clemson starting quarterback, he amassed a 37-3 record, played in two national championship games, and walked away from his last game as a national champion. Not only was he a great college athlete, he was and is a great kid. He was shy but well-spoken. He was proud of what he and his teammates accomplished but was very humble about his role. I think the thing that was always a testament to the guy was how all of the players on the team looked up to him as the leader of the team.

 

His leadership of the team was never more evident than in the national championship game back in January of this year. Clemson had managed to take the lead from Alabama after having trailed the whole ball game until about 7 minutes remained in the game. However, Alabama, being Alabama, was not done. They immediately roared down the field in less than 5 minutes (after they had done nothing offensively in the second half) and scored a touchdown with under 3 minutes to go in the game. That’s when Deshaun’s leadership of his team shown through. They had struggled the whole ball to regain the lead ad they finally did, but Alabama just as quickly got it back. Some teams might have folded. Some quarterbacks may have not had the inner drive to rally the troops one more time. But Watson, being the unflappable kid that he is goes into the huddle on the first play of the drive and says to his teammates, “Lets go be legendary!” Clemson’s final drive took all but one second of the remaining time in the game and it was a thing of beauty under the artful direction of its all-everything quarterback. Clemson wins the national championship against the same team to whom it lost the same game last year. It was redemption for the team and it was Deshaun riding off into the sunset in his final college game. With a degree in hand (in only three years of actual college time) and a national championship to his credit, Deshaun rides off into the sunset as probably the greatest quarterback ever to wear a Clemson uniform. But, more than that, Tiger Nation is as much grateful to Deshaun because of the wonderful young man that developed right before our eyes. He was a great representative of the school and always will be. He loved the Clemson fans. He loved his coaches. He loves the university from which he graduated. What more could you ask for from a student athlete.

 

Now the question is, who will take his place. Although the Tigers are expected to be a really good team, a top 10 team, this coming season, they have a big ol’ fat question at quarterback. How would you like to be the guy that follows Deshaun. He is the standard now by which all future Clemson quarterbacks will be measured. How do you follow greatness? The heir apparent for the coming season is a local boy from Piedmont, SC (just an hour from the Clemson campus) is Kelly Bryant. It will be his position to lose as the rising redshirt sophomore knows the offense better than any of the highly recruited freshmen quarterbacks behind him. How do you follow a legend? Anything that he does that is less than national championship caliber will be scrutinized and criticized and examined. Even if he loses his starting position to one of the talented freshmen behind him, they too will be compared to the great one. But for now, it’s Kelly’s job. Kelly will be the Joshua to Deshaun’s Moses. The young dude taking over from the master.

 

That’s what I thought this morning as I read about the commissioning of Joshua as the new leader of Israel. Man, could you imagine the immense pressure on Joshua! Let’s read the passage together, Deuteronomy 31:1-8. Today, we will look at the situation from Joshua’s perspective and then next blog we will look at from Moses’ perspective.

 

31 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. 4 And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

 

Man, could you imagine being in Joshua’s position. We all know that he went on to be one the great men of the Bible. However, at this time, he’s the unproven new guy. He’s the new starting quarterback for the nation of Israel. He is following the guy is the greatest quarterback of the nation in Moses. Moses was the all-everything, speaks to God directly, has meetings with the presence of God, entrenched superstar! Moses if he were a football player would be the national championship quarterback who is graduating to move on to the pros and you are the unproven replacement. Everybody knows Joshua’s got potential but really has never had to lead the team for a whole season. He has never had to be the face of the franchise. He has never had to lead and inspire the whole team. He has never had to be lead the whole team when the chips were down and everything is on the line. He has never had to lead the entire team to victory when it seems like the whole nation is about to lose the game.

 

Have you ever been in a situation where you are about to embark on something that you have never done before? Have you ever been up against what seems like something that is way beyond your capabilities? Have you ever been in a moment that requires greatness and you are not sure that you have the right stuff? Have you ever been in a situation that requires calmness and fortitude to get through the storm? We have all had these moments or seasons of life in one way or another. Sometimes, there will be people too that will question whether we have what it takes to take on what we have to take on. Sometimes, we will be criticized for not doing it the way that our predecessors did it or not doing it the way people want us to do it?

 

What does God tell us in this situation? Be strong. Be courageous. I will never leave you. So, no matter how high the mountain is that you have to climb, God will be with you always. God was in a roundabout way too telling Joshua not to try to be Moses. God was basically saying that He wanted Joshua to be himself and to trust the Lord in that. God will be with you, Joshua, during all the inevitable comparisons to the previous guy. God will be with you when you don’t trust that you are doing the right thing because it is uncharted territory for you. God will be with you and will lead you. God says to lean not on our own understanding but to press into Him. That is what He is telling Joshua here. You don’t have to be Moses. You have to be the humbly, submitted servant of the Lord that you are, Joshua, and I will be care for and protect you and show you what you need to do as a leader. Joshua just needs to continue to trust the Lord and let the Lord guide His steps and trust the Lord with the outcome.

 

We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other great Christians that we know. We have to be our own followers of Christ. God has a plan for each of us. God has given us each talents that He has given us to make us special and unique. We do not have to copy what someone else has done. We do not need to be a copy of another Christian. God has them on their own journey and He has you on yours and yours is unique. We each have a specific unique contribution to make to God’s kingdom. The first thing we have to do is not compare ourselves to others but look upward to the Lord for guidance on what we should be doing as our own unique expression of God’s mission for our lives. He has a plan for us and we must trust Him in that. When we trust fully in the Lord to exercise His unique plan for our lives, we can become bold to follow God’s lead whatever that might be.

 

Kelly Bryant does not have to be Deshaun Watson. Sure, Deshaun Watson will be a tough act to follow at quarterback for Clemson, but Kelly has unique talents that may make him effective in ways that Deshaun was not. Kelly is lightening fast and could prove to be a much better run threat than Deshaun which may make it easier for him to develop his passing accuracy. Because of his greater run threat, defenses will have to play looser coverage on receivers. So we shall see what happens. Kelly may become the next great one but if he tries to be Deshaun Jr., he will fail. Kelly must be his own man and trust the skills that God has given him to lead Clemson in the Bryant way not the Watson way.

 

The same with Joshua as Moses’ successor. Wow, talk about your pressure to perform! But it was important for Joshua to be Joshua and not Moses. He was the man for this phase of Israel’s development. He was the next man up. He was up for a challenge that was as great or greater than the things that Moses faced. His challenges are going to be different. He must trust the Lord that God chose him to be the molder of a nation and not the leader of a nomadic people. He is the man for this hour. He is not Moses. He is Joshua. What Joshua did was to trust the Lord completely to use Joshua’s unique talents to do God’s will. He trusted the Lord to lead him through uncharted waters. He trusted the Lord to guide in what to do and not compare himself to others.

 

It is the same for you and I. We may be forced into situations where we think we are not up to the task. We may feel that we do not have what it takes to perform at a high level in a task or a role that has been placed upon us. That is when God has us where He wants us – when we must trust in Him to get us through, when we must trust Him to guide our steps, when we must trust Him to show us what to do, when we must trust Him to pull us through. He wants us to trust Him. He sometimes allows impossible situations to come to us so that we will learn to completely trust Him. We must trust Him and not compare ourselves to others. We must trust Him and not try to copy what someone else is doing. We must trust Him and find our own voice. We must trust Him that He has us here because He believes we can do what He has for us to do – even when we don’t think we can do it and even when others don’t think we can do it.

 

Just gotta gotta gotta gotta trust the Lord!

 

Amen and Amen..

Deuteronomy 30:11-20

The Choice of Life or Death

You have often heard that a child from a background where the parents are not up to the task of parenting, or from a fatherless or motherless home, doesn’t know any better when they misbehave or doing something that is socially unacceptable. “Poor child, he doesn’t know any better. Just look who his parents are!” On the opposite end of the scale, there is the “You should know better. I didn’t raise you like that!” or in my family which is very proud of the high levels of education that several generation living now have obtained and know of the educational history of our immediate ancestors. There is a pretty ingrained expectation within our family that you will pursue education of some sort after high school. So, there is a certain amount of family pride in how we act and how we carry ourselves. My dad would always chastise me when I was acting poorly or making a poor choice. He would say, “You’re a Bowling! Act like it!”

 

Add to that, I was raised a Methodist preacher’s kid and there were just certain standards of behavior that were expected of me. As a preacher’s kid growing up in small, rural South Carolina communities in the 60’s through 1980 when I left home and got married, everything the preacher’s kid did was watched and reported. We were expected, in my impression of things, to have learned the Bible frontwards and backwards and spout Bible verses on command. We were thought, in how I viewed things, to sit around in our acolyte robes during the week sitting around praising the Lord. There were high expectations of who we as the preacher’s kids should be. We were supposed to miniaturized versions of my dad, the preacher. However, the idea of what small town South Carolina in the 1960s and 1970s parishioners had of what we were supposed to be, supposed to act was different from the reality that we were just kids, normal red-blooded Southern male boys. We did not think of life any differently than other kids. As boys, we wanted to ride bikes all over town. We wanted to go exploring in the woods. We wanted to shoot bee-bee guns at bottles on the fence and watch them break and fall to pieces. We wanted act like we didn’t like the cute girl in elementary school but was secretly smitten with her in that weird dance that boys and girls do with each other in elementary school. We wanted to play football or basketball on Saturday morning. We would get in fights over perceived wrongs on the football field (whatever form that took) or on the basketball court. We would fight each other, my brother and I, over whatever silly thing there would be in establishing the hegemony of our relationship, that battle to be the victor or the best at whatever we did where the other was involved. Sometimes, we would have very public fights. With the church educational building and sanctuary as part of our playground, we would sometimes get into fights during the week in the church sanctuary like it was being on the playground. It was different growing up as preacher’s kids. As we grew up and were teenagers at home, my brother became more of the brainiac nerdy type.  Expectations of being a 24-7 choir boy contrasted by the desires, urges, and natures of two normal little Southern boys.

 

But you know, maybe, there was something to that expectation when it comes to knowing who God is, and what He has done for us through Jesus Christ and what being a Christ follower is all about. It is true that I grew up in the church and was there every time the door was open. It is true that I sat every Sunday of the very effective preaching of my dad – a great pulpit preacher with well crafted and well thought out sermons. It is true that I participated in more VBS’s and more youth fellowship meetings and more youth retreats than I care to count. It is true that I knew who God was. I knew the redemptive plan of God through Jesus Christ. I knew it. Yet, I rebelled against it all. Church became that background to a play to me. You know its there but it does not affect you. Church was the operating system to our lives. It was there always running in the background. Church was the family business. It was there always. Even after I married the first time as kid of 18 years of age, I attended the family church of my spouse regularly. But this church was no church. It was a family oriented social gathering place once a week and that was pretty much it. So, there was never a point in my life that I did not know about God, the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and all the basics of the Christian faith. I knew this stuff. I was not unaware of the existence of God, the need for salvation and all that stuff. Knowing God and experiencing God are two different things. I rebelled against the church even though I attended church. I acted like He did not exist even though I knew He did. I had no excuse. I knew.

 

However, it was not until I had been out of church for a while after my first marriage ended and I married my second wife that I yearned to be in church again. I was not until several months of going to church regularly again that I actually experienced God at the soul level where I recognized my desperate sin nature and begged Christ to come cover me in His righteousness so that I could make Him my Lord and my Savior. It was not until I was 39 years old that I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. It was a long time coming and it was not like I did not know how all this worked. I knew but rejected it! That seems to be the greatest travesty of all is that I knew who God was. I knew what it took for salvation. I just didn’t care for it. It was not like I was a second generation kid, like many today, whose parents nor they have ever darkened the doors of a church. I knew…

 

That was the thing I thought about this morning when I read about God’s admonition to the Israelites about their choice between obedience and disobedience in Deuteronomy 30:11-20:

 

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

 

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

 

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

 

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

 

In this passage, we see that God has called the Israelites to keep His commands, while reminding them that His laws have not been hidden from them or beyond our reach. God does not hide Himself from us either. He has made Himself known through nature (general revelation) and through His Word (specific revelation). But there is a special burden on those who know who Christ is and/or have accepted Christ as our Savior. When we know of who He is, and blatantly reject Him, there is a special sorrow for that. The Israelites knew God intimately. The ancient Israelites probably knew more about the literal existence of God than any people group of any time in history. They were given special revelation of who God is but yet they rebelled against the very God that they knew intimately. How sick is that? It reminds me of myself and reminds me of what Jesus us charged us to do.

First, I was a wandering Israelite. It was not like I did not know who God was. I grew up in it. There has only been short periods in my life where I have not been a part of the church. However, it’s not how much you know. It’s about knowing. It’s about knowing God intimately on your own. It’s about encountering God in your heart and soul. It’s about encountering God through His Word regularly. It’s about being in a fellowship of believers that challenge you to deepen your faith in the Lord. It’s about being a part of a fellowship that will encourage you to be accountable to God’s Word. It is about a relationship. It’s not how much you know about the Bible or about how to be churchy. It’s about a relationship with God through our Savior Jesus Christ. We can’t just know about Him. We have to know Him.

 

The second thing is that, even though there was no excuse for why I did not come to the Lord until age 39, there are those who are indeed second and third generations of people (even in the South) that have never darkened the door of a church. Although they may know of God through general revelations of the intricacies of the universe and specifically this planet, they do not even know who God really is. Never heard about Him. Never heard about Jesus in any real way. It is our responsibility as those who know the saving grace of Jesus Christ and those of us who know He is the only way to let people know who Jesus is. It is our responsibility and our charge. We must let them know. We must let them know so they can make a choice. God does not force Himself on us whether we have danced around faith like I did most of my life or we have never known who He is. We must tell them. With being God’s children with the cure the eternal condition, we have a great liability to get out in the world and share the gospel so that people will have been informed and know that they have a single eternal choice. Accept or reject.

 

It saddens me that it took me so long to come to Christ – especially knowing what I knew. It saddens me that there are so many who are like I was. Knowing but rejecting. It also saddens me that there are people who do not know Jesus at all. I feel angry at myself for knowing but rejecting for so long but I feel sadness that there are people who do know that they don’t know. Oblivious to the real truth of God. May the Lord spur me on to be better sharer of the gospel to those who don’t know that they don’t know!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 30:1-10

A Call to Return to the Lord

Have you been watching the liberal world’s reaction to the Trump presidency? No matter what Trump does, they are going to consider it a failure. There was a meme that was floating around on the internet and Facebook a few weeks ago that was hilariously funny. It showed on one side of the picture, a liberal railing at Trump about why he needed to do something for the poor, defenseless people of Syria. The next frame beside it is after Trump has bombed Syria and the liberal is railing at Trump for having done something. It seems no matter what Trump does, whether it is good or bad; the liberals just jump all over it even if their protests one day are contradictory to their protests the next day. They just don’t like Trump. They are not willing to give him a chance. They are not willing to let this non-politician evolve into his job. Sure, Trump never does himself any favors by his unpolished style and saying what is simply his opinion and not always what is wise to say on the world political stage that he now occupies. However, for all his faults, he is actually trying to do a good job and he is doing his best to surround himself with people who know what they are doing. The world has not ended because of the Trump presidency yet.

 

He was, from Day 1, not giving the honeymoon of 6 months to a year that most presidents get right after being inaugurated where they are not roundly criticized. They are usually given that time for us on both sides of the aisle, liberals and conservatives alike, to see what patterns of behavior a new president and his administration will display. People typically withhold judgment for a while. Trump has not been so lucky. Sure, I voted for him because he was the only Republican option. I did not hate Hillary but her political leanings were just amazingly too far to the left for me. So, the only electable option other than Hillary was Trump. I felt then and still do now that Marco Rubio would have made a far better President than Trump or Clinton. However, my party went nuts over the loudest voice. They fell in love with the celebrity and braggadocio of Trump and not his substance. Given that, I am not sitting here at my laptop writing this as some staunch Trump supporter. However, I think we should give the man some time to evolve into his job. We have elected outsiders before. Jimmy Carter was a Washington political outsider. We as a nation gave him a chance for about a year or year and a half before we realized that he was inept and unable to effectively run the presidency. He was given time to prove himself inept and a bumbling fool when it came to the presidency. Not so with Trump. He has been branded the devil by the liberals and no matter what he does; he is wrong. He is forever branded an enemy of the liberal cause and even if he created the free education, $20 minimum wage, government programs for everything, socialist state that the liberals want, they would not accept it because it would have been Trump who did it.

 

It is almost like the girl from the book, The Scarlet Letter, who was forever branded with a red “A” on her clothing for having committed adultery at one point in her life. She was forever branded by New England society. Never to be treated with dignity ever again. It is like the McCarthyism of the 1950s. Peoples lives were ruined by the Communist hysteria created by the McCarthy’s witch hunt. Many notable Americans at the time were branded as Communists by his US House of Representative subcommittee, the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and their lives were forever ruined by that committee. Once branded a communist, you could never find work or even a life of peace again. It trickled down to main street America and there was a nationwide paranoia about being communist. It was an ugly time for America. It was unfair. People were branded with Scarlet C’s and nothing would ever change them back into people of worth to the nation even if they were proven innocent. The accusation of being a communist was enough to end their lives as they knew before the accusation. They were branded as enemies of the nation and that never changed. Trump is being given the same treatment by liberals. They have decided from Day 1 that he is the devil himself and nothing that he will ever do in his presidency will be acceptable to him, even if He does good things for the nation.

It was that contrasting idea of how the liberals in America treat Trump that came to mind when I read this passage about God’s promise of redemption of Israel as long as they returned to God. My thought was what if God was not that way. What if we were permanently branded as an enemy by God? Let us read this passage together this morning:

 

30 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes[a] and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. 7 The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. 9 Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

 

Here, in this passage, Moses told the Hebrews that when they were ready to return to God, he would be ready to receive them. God’s mercy is unbelievable. It goes far beyond what we can imagine. Even if the Israelites deliberately walked away from God and suffered the consequences of their sin, God said He would still take them back. God would give them spiritual renewal. God wants to forgive us and bring us back to Himself too. Some of us will not learn of the love and mercy that God has for us until we have hit rock bottom and our world has crashed in around us. It is often the greatest testimony of the a forgiving and redeeming God is a person who had wrecked their life before coming the Christ. The sorrow and pain that they have gone through provides new insight into what God had been saying to them all along. No matter how far we have wandered, God promises a new beginning when we come to Him with a truly repentant heart and beg for His forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

When we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, our past is no longer held against us. Our scarlet letter is removed and we are restored to good standing in God’s society. When we accept Christ as our Savior we are no longer branded a friend of Satan. Our past becomes our testimony not our sentence to prison. Our past speaks of how a just but loving and merciful Father can redeem His children. By all rights, the accusations of sin against us are real and worthy of branding and worthy of punishment in hell. We deserve to be separated from God forever. We deserve to be the Trump to liberals – forever disdained, forever branded as an enemy, forever unforgiven. In the sight of God, we violate all that is pure and righteous and we deserve to be permanently separated from God. By His justice, we should be forever tainted and unworthy of forgiveness or mercy. However, we know that God is equally as merciful as He is a God of justice. He gave His Son for us so that He could redeem us. We had to have a substitute to take our place in the Hunger Games. Jesus Christ has taken our place in the reaping so that we could live. He took on the punishment for our sins that we rightfully deserved and He made us right again with God. No longer branded as deserving hell. No longer excluded from God’s family. We are made new. Our slate of sin is wiped clean. We are given new life and never condemned for who we were before Christ.

So, maybe, in this world today in which politics are polarized and people are forever branded one way or another. Maybe, in this world, where you won’t listen to someone because of what political label you have forever branded them with. Maybe, we should look at how God forgives us and rips the label of sinner off of us by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Maybe, we should be less stringent about our political beliefs and not see the label and see the person. Maybe, that would lead to working for what is best for the nation and not this you’re the devil and if I work with you on anything I will explode mentality that has seized our nation now.

 

Let us remember that God redeems us from our sins through Jesus Christ when He could by all rights and in His Sovereignty caste us to hell. Let us reflect His merciful nature in our dealings with others. Let us be willing to give others a chance to show us that they are not the devil incarnate. Let us not be a people who permanently brand others as enemies and never ever forgive them. Let us be merciful.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 29:1-29 (Part 4 of 4)

Moses Reviews the Covenant

There are mysteries that we do not understand and never will on this side of eternity. Death is one of them. Proverbs 27:1 tells us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” Death can come to us or those we know and love at any time. We may walk out of our house or apartment this morning and never return to it. Our next breath is never guaranteed. Death, to us, can seem random at times and uncontrollable.

 

Why is that my stepson when I was married to my second wife was taken from us at age 16 in a car accident while Billy Graham continues to live and is now the ripe old age of 98? Why is it the young man that would have been my brother-in-law was killed in a car accident at age 23, two weeks before I married his sister, my first wife?  Why is that my mother was taken from me when she died at age 70, some seven years ago now, but my wife’s mom is 85 and her dad is 92? Why is that my mom suffered some before she died but essentially she went downhill so fast that there was no lingering on. Yet, my wife’s dad is suffering in the throes of dementia and has been nursing home bound for three years or more. Why does he linger on but yet my mom went quickly? Why do some families have to deplete their life savings on end times medical care while others die within in 6 months of needing nursing home care? Why do some live to near 100 years old and others are taken in the prime of life? Why do some families endure multiple tragic deaths and other families are never touched by tragedy? These are all mysteries of God, our Sovereign God.

 

Other mysteries include how did the universe get started? Was there nothingness but God before created the universe? How big is the universe? Is there only life on this planet and if so, why only here? What was the purpose of creating a vast universe if there is only life here? If there is humanoid life elsewhere in the universe, did Jesus come to each planet that sustains life so that there is salvation for every humanoid life form that has a soul? When the Bible says that there will be an end to all things, is that only for Earth? Will he end the universe at the same time he ends everything here? Will there be only heaven after the end of the universe?

 

Another mystery to me is about heaven. How crowded is heaven since it now contains all the souls of persons who are God’s chosen through faith in God that have ever lived in all of human history up through this very moment that have died? That’s a whole lot of people. Mathematicians estimate that there have been at least 200 billion people born and that have lived any amount of existence since the beginning of man’s existence on this planet. Currently only 7 billion of those are currently living. That means that 193 billion have died. Let’s be optimistic and say half of those who have died ended up in heaven. That’s close to 100 billion souls that currently occupy heaven and the number is growing every day. Is there room for all those souls? Will we have our current bodies in heaven? Will we know our loved ones in heaven? Will we be aware of the reality of hell while we are in heaven? Will we be aware of the passage of time in heaven or since we no longer are bound by the decay of time of the temporal world, will we not know or even care about the passage of time? Do our loved ones in heaven have awareness of our continued existence on this side of eternity? Does my mom look down on me daily to see what I am doing? Do they not have time for that because they are praising God for all eternity? Is there more to do in heaven than doing the same thing, praising God on his throne daily?

 

Another mystery is why was I born in this era of temporal time? Why is that I am here right now? Why is that I am me and you are you? Why is that I was born in the United States in the 21st century to such excessive privilege never known by man in human history while other souls that are of equal value to God and not any different from me except for the unique personalities they have compared to me were born in desperate poverty in a third world country? Why do some teenage girls in India never have a chance other than to be captured and sold into sexual slavery while my young granddaughter will most likely have every opportunity to become the fullest extent of who she can be – maybe a doctor, a lawyer, a beautiful actress, or whatever!

 

Other mysteries are about life itself? What gives us life? Cells multiply and divide throughout the universe and they do not become thinking human beings. What is that spark that makes a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm become human life? We can explain all the physics of fertilization and how the cells multiply but what makes that little fertilized egg in a woman’s womb become a human being? What is it makes that egg divide and multiply? What is that makes those cells develop life? What is that intrinsic moment that life begins? Once the spark of life begins at conception, what is that force that makes it grow into a child with a brain who becomes a baby aware of his own existence and its separateness from those who gave it life and who grows and grows into a adult human being? What makes me, me and you, you? Why am I inside this body and this moment at this time with these 7 billion people? Why do I view the world as I know it from inside this body?

 

Another mystery is less dignified but not any less profound. What is the purpose of ticks? What is the purpose of fleas? What is the purpose of roaches? There are so many creatures on earth that seem to have no purpose at all in the keeping the planet functioning.

 

Other mysteries include like why in the world would someone choose to be a Gamecock fan! LOL! Just kidding with all my University of South Carolina friends out there!

 

Seriously though, If you sit down long enough and think about these things, even as Christ followers, it will blow your mind! As Christ followers, we know where we will spend eternity but these are mysteries that are mysteries than cannot be explained on this side of eternity and they can blow your mind!

 

That was the thing that came to mind today when I read Deuteronomy 29 for final time before moving on to the next passage, as we will tomorrow. Today my focus was on v. 29. So, let’s read the chapter again this morning with a focus on:

 

29 [a]These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb.

 

2 Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:

 

Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”

 

7 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

 

9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.

 

16 You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. 17 You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. 18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

 

19 When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; his wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. 21 The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.

 

22 Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it. 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

 

25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

 

29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

 

In this final verse of the chapter, we see that God has secrets that He has chosen not to reveal to us. There are many possible reasons for His withholding His full knowledge and His full qualities to us. First, our finite minds may not be able to fully fathom the infinite aspects of God’s nature and the universe (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Second, some things of His infinite nature and the infinite, eternal realm in which He operates are just not necessary for us to know on this side of eternity. Third, there are some things God is withholding from us to discover as we mature in knowledge as a human race collectively so that we would be able to handle the discovery. Fourth, God is simply so far superior to us in every way that it is impossible for us to know everything that He does – even when we are heaven, for we are created beings even in heaven and He is the Creator. The created will never know more than the creator.

 

This verse shows us that, although God has not revealed all knowledge of all time to us, and that He has not revealed everything that there is to know about obeying Him, He has told us enough to get us through the existence of our lives. He has told us enough that we can handle on this side of eternity. He has told us enough. Thus, our disobedience comes from an act of will, not a lack of knowledge. Through God’s Word, we know enough about Him to be saved by grace through faith and to serve Him. We must not use our limitations about knowing the fullness of the nature of God to reject His claim on our life.

 

As well, because we, as Christ followers, have the knowledge of our limited nature and limited range of understanding of things eternal on this side of eternity, there are just some things that we must accept that we will never know about God until we get to heaven. There, we will understand eternal things as we will no longer be bound by temporal limitations. But, for now, we must trust in God’s sovereignty even when the lack of understanding is so painful.

 

Like when a son or brother dies too young in a car accident. Like when one parent dies after a short illness while another parent lingers on for years and years before death. My dad would often have a saying that he would pull out when he could not explain something. He would simply say, “that’s life, Mark. That’s life!” There are just some things that God has ordained to happen that we cannot understand on this side of eternity and we must simply trust Him on those things, even if it is painful not to have the answers. His ways are higher than our ways, as Isaiah 55:9. It is just like sometimes we wonder why the cross is what gives us a chance at salvation. Why is that Jesus dying on the cross gives us a chance to be reconciled to Him. It is because God said so. It is because God said that He poured out His wrath toward you and me for all our sins on Jesus on the cross. He sacrificed His Son in this way because He said that was what He was doing. By pouring His wrath on Jesus, we are spared. We are made clean. Our penalty for sin has been paid. This was the whole point of the cross and it was because God said that was the purpose of it. There is a mystery about that event that we have to take on faith. Those are far from God will not understand the purpose of the cross of the cross until they are led there by the Holy Spirit.

 

God is so far above us that there are mysteries of Himself that He has not revealed to us and we must trust that He has revealed enough to us to get us to the cross and to eternity. We must trust Him with the rest.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 29:1-29 (Part 3 of 4)

Moses Reviews the Covenant

It is often said that the truth needs no alibi. The truth needs no defense. The truth stands on its own. Lies though create the need for other lies to justify themselves. The classic saying concerning lies is “oh, what a tangled web we weave when we first attempt to deceive.” Lies always lead to destruction. Lies begin in the mind. When we allow them to fester and grow in our mind, seeds of sin are planted and as sins grow in the mind, they eventually see the light of day in our actions. There is no sin that does not begin with a justification in the mind that plants a seed that the sin is OK, that just the thought of the sin is OK. Once we reach that point, we water the seed and the seed grows. When the seed becomes a plant it results in our acting out our sin. Sin results in a bitter plant taking root in the garden of our soul and it leads to lies and destruction.

 

In my life, sin has had its consequences in my life has to do with sex outside marriage. It was what ended my first marriage, created and ended my second marriage. Today, we will focus on the seeds of sin that ended my first marriage and began my second. Anyone who knows my story knows that my first marriage was rocky to say the least. Because of the way my first wife had to grow up (her father killed in a car accident and leaving her mom to raise her and her brother from a wheelchair), she grew up differently than most. So, when her brother was killed in a car accident years later (right before our wedding), she began a slow descent into drug abuse that led to many legal issues that I had to clean up over the years. She even had an affair, during her descent into drug abuse, that I had forgiven for the sake of the one child that we had at the time. After she sobered up, the addictive personality latched onto other things such as spending money we never had as if we did and the overuse of prescriptions would rear its ugly head on occasion. All the while, my anger toward my first wife grew and grew over the years. I was the good guy martyr in everyone’s eyes but inside I was a seething time bomb. The seed that I needed out of the marriage was planted. It was through those seeds that life led me to the woman that would become my second wife. It all started innocently enough. Talking to each other during training classes at our place of employment which led to discussions around office desks and break rooms which led to lunches and eventually a full blown affair. That affair, though it led to marriage, led to the destruction of my relationship with my children and led to the loss of my own sense of self as during the second marriage I made my second wife an idol that I worshipped. That affair led to my first wife on a trail of the rest of her life being vindictive toward me and hating my very existence. The first six years after my affair came to light, and during the separation and divorce, and subsequently until my first wife remarried were horrid, horrid years of dealing with her active hatred and vindictiveness. Even after she remarried, she was still bitter toward me for the rest of her life.

 

I can sit here and tell you that my affair was justified and I can give your multiple, multiple reasons that I had to get out of that marriage to my first wife. She had her affair that I “forgave” only to bury deep in my heart and grow angrier about day by day. There was drug addiction on her part that cost my mightily both in financial ruin and embarrassment. There was her addictions to spending money. There was her physically violent personality. There were a million justifications of why my affair was justified. She was a breath of fresh air from the madness that was my first marriage. I can still do that today even after that second marriage has come and gone. There were reasons for that first marriage to end and many people would say yeah, man, I see what you are seeing and I would have done the same thing, but probably way sooner than you did. However, the bottom line that I have come to deal and wrestle with is the fact that no matter how I justified my own affair that ended my first marriage and that resulted in my second marriage, it is still sin. It is still sin. And sin has its consequences. And sins start with seeds in the mind. Sin has far ranging effects. Sin has long arms. My affair affected the next 10-12 years of my life in negative ways and ways that I never even thought of. Sins that led to other sins. Consequences that led to other consequences. We do not think of these things when we decide to allow a seed of sin to germinate in our minds and when we water that seed and that seed becomes the act of sin. Certain aspects of that first divorce caused by my adultery (however justified it may have been in my mind) still affect me today as I seek to do the Lord’s work full-time. It that ugly deformity on me that I cannot wash off. It is that detractive thing in my record that cannot be expunged.

 

Sure, Jesus Christ redeems us and makes us clean from the penalty of our sins. We are made clean through confessing our sin-filled nature and no longer trying to justify our sins as OK and knowing full well that we deserve hell for our sins and laying before the cross and begging mercy through Jesus Christ to God to commute our hell sentence that we know we deserve. It is only through the grace of Jesus Christ that we are saved from our sins and then penalty. And thank God for that. God can redeem through Jesus Christ. He can use our past to show them that they too can be redeemed from a life of sin and made new again. God can use my history as part of my testimony at the reclaiming nature of God and what He can do.

 

God can and does reclaim us such that we will spend eternity with Him. We are set free from the penalty of sin and that is certain. However, God does not set us free from the consequences of our sins. We still have to walk through the consequences of our sins. Consequences of sin often follow us after our salvation. We are redeemed from the penalty of sin through salvation but not sin’s consequences. We have to live with those. The Christ follower realizes this fact and allows the consequences of sin to spur us on to take captive thoughts of sin in the future. Our consequences are warnings to us that we need not go down those roads again. It all starts in the mind. We must remember the consequences of our past sins and let those consequences remind us not to allow the seeds of sin to germinate.

 

That was the thing that came to mind today when read Deuteronomy 29 another time this morning. Today my focus was on vv. 16-28. So, let’s read the chapter again this morning with a focus on those verses and how sins, when allowed to germinate in our lives, lead to destruction:

 

29 [a]These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb.

 

2 Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:

 

Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”

 

7 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

 

9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.

 

16 You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. 17 You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. 18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

 

19 When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; his wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. 21 The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.

 

22 Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it. 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

 

25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

 

29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

 

In this part of the chapter, Moses cautions in very figurative language that the day the Israelites turn from God, a seed would be planted that would produce a bitter plant and poisonous fruit (see also Hebrews 12:15). When we decide to do what we know is wrong, we plant an evil seed that begins to grow out of control, eventually yielding a crop of sorrow and pain. If you are even thinking of committing a sin, confess it to God and a trusted fellow Christ follower immediately. If the seed never finds fertile soil, its bitter fruit will never ripen. We cannot change the fact that we are creatures with a nature that causes us to sin daily. However, the momentary thought of sin captured by the Christ-centered mind will not allow the seed to grow. However, it is when we allow a sin to be thought of over and over again that we start to lose the battle against sin. The longer we think on a sin the easier it is to justify that it is OK. Once we get there, actions are soon to follow. Even our thoughts about a sin as being OK, even if we never act on them, are wrong. When we think sin is OK, we create distance between us and God. Once we see one sin as OK, then we will begin to justify other sins as OK. Then, off on the slippery slope we go.

 

Paul tells us to take our thoughts captive and to do so, Peter tells us to think on honorable things of God. When we start justifying sin in our mind, we are on our way to sinning. When a sin becomes OK in our mind, we have already sinned, according to Our Savior. Sin sounds so pretty when we are trying to justify it. Satan makes it sound so good. But sin has its consequences. Just look at the nation of Israel. They had it made. They had the Promised Land. They had God’s blessings. But yet they were drawn by the siren’s song of sin and it led to the ultimate destruction of the nation of Israel. Sin has its consequences. Sin in its pretty packaging does not show you the fine print that it will have all these side effects. But guaranteed. Sin has it consequences always. No matter how pretty we try to package it.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 29:1-29 (Part 2 of 4)

Moses Reviews the Covenant

What is it that parents want for their children? It is not for them to grunt under the strain of their teaching and parenting. Parents want their children to grow up and be able to function and take care of themselves in society at large. Parents simply want to have the assurance that when they depart from this life that they are leaving behind children that will prosper and not fall part under the pressures of life. For a Christ follower, there is the additional desire that their child come to know the saving grace of salvation. Some may have a desire for their children to have riches beyond measure, but most parents just want their children to be able to take care of themselves. It’s like the title of that old Journey song, “I’ll Be Alright Without You!” Although Steve Perry sang that he was fooling himself in that effort in that song. That is what we want for our kids, that they will be alright without us.

 

I do not care if my girls are rich or not. I do care though if they are capable of making their own way in life. I do care if they are well-adjusted and happy with the lifestyle that they are living. My oldest daughter is a school teacher who is married to a cop. They are both public servants so they will likely never be rich. However, that is not a big deal to me. I do want my daughter and my son-in-law to be happy with the life path that they have taken. I do want them to realize that even though they may not have great earthly riches that they both are investing in the future of people’s lives. As a school teacher, you are investing in the future of children. I don’t know about you but there is always a teacher in our pasts that had a profound effect on the future of our lives. For me, it was Mrs. Wayner, my 11th grade English teacher. She taught me so much about writing and expressing myself well in words that I still use today. She taught me that life is full of challenges every week that we must be ready to withstand and to conquer, that it was up to us to accomplish our goals, that nobody was going to do it for us, that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Meghan may not even know for years what impact she is having on students. Curtis, as a cop, and enforcing the law may change the direction of people’s lives for the better by doing his job. It may be an encounter with the law that causes a person to take stock of where their life is headed. By enforcing the law, he may be preventing an evil person from hurting others in the future. He may never know what impact he is having.

 

My second oldest daughter, my stepdaughter, Michelle is the general manager of a beauty products store. You might say what difference can she possibly be making in people’s lives at a place devoted the vanity of women. However, the difference she can make in people’s lives have nothing to do with the products she sells and everything to do with them. First, her greatest impact that she can have is on the people she supervises. That has nothing to do with the product she sells and everything to do with developing people. Typically, girls come to work at her location of the beauty products chain store because they think it would be fun to sell the products and get discounts. They are usually young and inexperienced in the working world. Michelle’s greatest impact will be in how she develops their work habits and teaching them about life’s demands, about seeking excellence in everything you do no matter the job. Equally, her products make women feel pretty and self-confident. What she knows about these products and what will work best for each woman who enters her store can help a women feel her best and most confident in a world that rightly or wrongly judges women by their appearance. If that little boost of self-confidence helps a woman achieve her potential in life, then, her products are more than just vanity.

 

My youngest daughter, Taylor, is still struggling to find her way in life. She has had starts and stops and seems to struggle in identifying that “it” in her life that is her life’s work passion. Because of that, I worry about her the most of my three girls. Because of that, our relationship has been a tough one over the past couple of years. Taylor is probably the smartest of the three girls and me. She has great potential. I just want her to find her sweet spot in life. That thing that she loves doing as a career or a profession. I want her to be well-adjusted and not live a hand to mouth existence. I want to not worry about her making it on her own in life. I want not to worry about whether she has electrical power in her home or heat or air conditioning. I want not to worry whether she has a home or not. I want to leave this earth one day knowing that she can take care of herself – the basic desire of all parents for their children.

 

To know that you children can take care of themselves, that they are doing something they love for a career or profession, and that they will survive and carry on after we leave this earth is a fantastic blessing for parents. To know that they are going to be OK is the blessing, not whether we have left them wealthy or that they will make themselves wealthy. Just knowing that they will survive without you here is the blessing. Knowing that you raised them to be well-adjusted, income earning, law-abiding citizens will allow us to go to our graves satisfied.

 

The greatest blessing above that is to know that they know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. I got such a late start on that myself, I have worried about that issue for my children over the years. Then, even when I accepted Christ as my Savior, I was a spiritual baby for a long time. It has only been within the past six or seven years that I really began to grow in Christ and understand the faith and what Christ expects of us. Even with the late start of being a Christ follower and how that may have affected my children’s own walk to the cross is one of the greatest worries of my life. I have beliefs about the positions of each of my girls in their relationship with Jesus Christ and I pray for them to know Jesus Christ in a deeper and deeper way each day. I pray for them to know the fellowship of believers and how it helps us to grow in Christ. Ultimately, the greatest blessing in life is to know that they have a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. Knowing that means knowing that not only will they be able to handle the vagaries of this life in an eternally meaningful way but also that their eternity is assured. The greatest blessing will be reunited with them in heaven one day. What greater blessing could there be than that?

 

That was the thing that came to mind today. What constitutes a successful life as a parent of children! We want our children to be blessed. What is a blessed life? So, let’s read Deuteronomy 29 another time this morning. This time let’s focus on vv. 8-15 and what it has to say about a blessed life:

 

29 [a]These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb.

 

2 Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:

 

Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”

 

7 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

 

9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.

 

16 You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. 17 You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. 18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

 

19 When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; his wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. 21 The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.

 

22 Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it. 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

 

25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

 

29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

 

What is the best way to prosper in life? For the Israelites, their first step was to keep their part of the covenant. They were to love God with all their heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). We, too, are to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), then, true success in life will follow as a blessing from the hand of God.

 

So, many of think of blessings in life being monetary ones. God guarantees that we will be blessed by Him if we obey Him. Thus, a lot of us get confused that our obedience to God will bring prosperity and material blessings. However, the blessings of obedience to God come in the peace that comes to our souls. God’s desire for us is to be at peace with Him. Obedience brings that peace. When we do what God says in His Word, we are led to lie down by the still waters. Even if the world is raging around us, we still have the peace of God with us. As parents, we want our kids to be handle the world on their own after we are gone. We want them to not be raging against the machine and losing. We want them to be well-adjusted and at peace. Similarly, God knows that when we disobey Him we will find all kinds of destruction and self-loathing and unhappiness. God wants us to be at peace. When we learn to trust God with our very existence, we will find peace. When we accept Christ as our Savior and Lord, we know the peace of God. We know that no matter what the world throws at us, we have the peace of salvation. We have the peace of knowing that there is more to life than just this. We have the peace of knowing that we will spend eternity with Him. We have the peace of knowing that God’s ways are better than our ways. We have the peace of knowing that God’s Word is proven and true. We have the peace of knowing that obedience brings peace and that is the blessing.

 

That is what God, our Father, our Eternal Parent, wants for us. To submit to His loving leadership so that we will be blessed by knowing the peace of God and knowing that if we fully trust Him with our lives that we will spend eternity with Him through our faith in Jesus Christ. That’s a blessed life!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 29:1-29 (Part 1 of 4)

Moses Reviews the Covenant

When we are kids, we often do not see the sacrifices that our parents make for us. Parents generally sacrifice for their children not out of some obligation that will eventually get repaid but rather because they love their children with all their hearts, minds, and their souls. They keep no ledger of how much they spend on their children so that they can collect on it after their children reach adulthood. Often, parents continue to help their children even after they become adults albeit less frequently than when the kids were at home. It just goes with the territory of being a parent. It is a lifetime commitment not just 0-18 years.

 

However, as children, we just are blind to what our parents do for us. We think that clean clothes just magically appear in our closets. We think that our parents are our taxi cab service. We think that we have a right to the things that we want and that our parents are supposed to give these things to us. We don’t recognize that our parents are often hardworking people that give their all at work each day and then come home and give their all to us. Sure, when we are little, we think of our parents as invincible, but with each year we grow, our attitudes toward our parents change. They become less and less giants and more and more our prison guards. They go from being the smartest people in the world to the most incredibly clueless people in the world by the time we reach our teenage years. During our teenage years, we rebel against their authority but yet expect them to put food in our bellies, clothes on our backs, and cars to drive. We expect these things as if they are our servants and we have some inalienable right to the fruits of their labors but yet at the same time treat them like they are idiots. Often times, as teenagers, we treat our garbage man who stops by once a week to pick up our garbage better than we treat our parents. Yet, for all the abuse and ridicule that we load upon our parents, often as teenagers, they still love us though they are tough on us during this time. It is often a battle of wills and it is most often that parents win. However, the kids think of their parents as necessary evils as teenagers. We think we could do so much better if they would just let us do things our own way. When we leave home, we won’t have to put up with all their rules. Their rules are just arbitrary to us and we could do such a better job.

 

Then, we get out on our own (either after high school or after post-secondary education) and our parents become a little smarter again. We figure out that the dishes won’t get clean by themselves. We figure out that if we don’t clean up the living room it will stay nasty. We figure out if we don’t do the laundry, clean clothes will not magically appear in our closets. We figure out too that we must make money to pay the bills. Wow, mom and dad did do a lot for us, we think. We allow them some more honor as we begin to have our eyes opened to the realities of life in our culture. You work. You get paid. You paid for your housing, utilities, your transportation, your groceries, and then live off the rest of what you make til the next paycheck. That’s life and that’s responsibility. We begin to realize that our parents are little smarter than we gave them credit for when we were at home.

 

It is not, however, until we become parents ourselves that our parents return to their status as the giants of wisdom that we made them out to be when we were small children. We they leave you in the hospital room with your first child for the first time, we are afraid. There is this whole other life that is now dependent on you, and often you alone, for everything. Every time they cry, it’s you as parents. Every time, they need a clean diaper, it’s you as the parents. Every time, they need to eat, it’s you. Everything they need, it’s you. This little life is both frightening and awe-inspiring. They don’t come with instruction books on how to raise them. Each child is different too. It’s so scary being a parent. We realize then that we have no clue and that, as young parents, you have to go with your gut a lot when it comes to your kids. And you realize too that you have resources – your parents and your spouse’s parents. Your parents become smart again. They are a wealth of resources when it comes to parent. You realize that they raised you up to be a reasonably responsible adult who has committed no major crimes so they must have done something right! Our parents become smart again. That’s when our parents become more than parents to us. They actually transition into being our friends when we have our own kids. We learn about how much they loved us growing up even when we did not realize it ourselves. We realize that we have that same selfless love for our children as they had for us. We have a common bond and an amazing new respect for our parents.

 

It was this aspect of Israel not realizing the providential care that God had given them during their journey in the wilderness for 40 years. They just expected it. It was like teenagers and parents to me. That’s what I thought about this morning as I read through this chapter of Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy 29. We will spend about 4 blogs on this chapter. This morning, let us focus on vv. 1-7.

 

Let us read it together this morning:

 

29 [a]These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb.

 

2 Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:

 

Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”

 

7 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

 

9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. 10 All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, 11 together with your children and your wives, and the foreigners living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. 12 You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, 13 to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 14 I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you 15 who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God but also with those who are not here today.

 

16 You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. 17 You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. 18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.

 

19 When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; his wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven. 21 The Lord will single them out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.

 

22 Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it. 23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the Lord overthrew in fierce anger. 24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

 

25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

 

29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

 

Just as the people of Israel did not notice God’s care for them along their journey, we, too, do not notice all the ways that God takes of us. We do not notice that our daily needs have been supplied and we have been well-fed and well-clothed. Worse yet, we mistakenly take credit ourselves for being good providers instead of recognizing God’s hand in the process.

 

Like teenagers, the Israelites just came to expect the manna would be there. Our teenagers often think that the money to do what they want is just going to be provided to them and they do not appreciate it. Israel was the same way with God. We are the same way with God.

 

How often do we thank God for the abilities that He gives us that allows us to earn our livings? How often we thank God for guiding us to wise financial decisions? How often do we thank God for providing our homes and safety for our families? How often do we thank God for the fact that we can take care of our wives and children and provide for their every need? How often are we thankful that God provided us a wife that is not only a great support to us but also a wonderful mother to our children? How often do we take stock of how much God has blessed us?

 

Many of us are like teenagers when it comes to our spiritual journey with the Lord. We grow up loving Jesus as little children, but as we grow older and think we know it all, we rebel against him and stray far away from God. Like teenagers learning that the real world is tough when they get out their own, we too learn that we cannot manage our lives and we need Jesus. Jesus becomes pretty smart again. We have a newfound respect for Him and we submit ourselves to his authority willingly at this point. We realize that God is not something to rebel against but to embrace. We learn that there is actually great wisdom in His Word and we mature in its understanding and its application to our lives. God becomes smart again. Well, you know what I mean. God never went anywhere, we did. God was never without great wisdom and love for us. We rebelled. God was not without providential care for us. We simply decided not to notice.

 

Let us realize how much God loved us when we weren’t paying attention. Let us realize how much God loves us now even in the mundane details of life. Let us realize how much He has blessed us (even though those blessings may not be monetary). Let us realize how much He cares for our every breath. He loves us like a parent loves a child. As soon as our child comes out of his/her mother’s womb, we love them just because they breath. They need no other reason to have our love. They just have it. God loves us in that way even we rebel against Him, even when we don’t notice.

 

One of the beauties of growing up as a Christ follower is to realize how much God does care for us in each and every breath we take.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 28:15-68

Curses for Disobedience

Unmerited Grace. Obedience through our works. The great struggle of the Christian faith.

We are saved by grace. There is no doubt of that. Scripture is clear that one sin, just one sin, disqualifies us from existing in the presence of God in eternity in heaven. It’s a one and done deal. Commit just one sin on this side of eternity and we are condemned to an eternity in hell where there is gnashing of teeth and the burning of flesh for eternity. That is the whole purpose of Jesus Christ on the cross. There, He took on the wrath of God against sin for all mankind for all time. It is there that our slate is wiped clean through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. All we must do is to believe fully that He was the Son of God, that He died on the cross for our sins, and that He was resurrected from the dead to give us hope of a new life and a life in the presence of God with Him. Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins and the cleansing that comes to us when we believe in Him is the grace of salvation. We are given an unmerited gift. There is no need for God to give us that gift. By all rights, our first sin and all the sins that we commit after the first one show us to be habitual sin criminals that deserve the penalty that rightfully should be handed down to us. It’s not like we are some first time sin criminal. We are habitual sin criminals that deserve the fullest extent of punishment possible. However, through faith in Jesus Christ, true repentant faith, we are set free by Jesus and through what He did on the cross. In no way did we deserve it. In no way did we do something to earn it. One sin makes us imperfect so its not like we can fix it! Like pouring Kool-Aid granules into water, it forever changes the color of the water and nothing can change it back, so, too, are we forever tainted before God by our first sin. Nothing we can do to change us back.

 

Why is then that God expects us to obey His commands? If we are saved by grace through faith alone. Why does it matter? Why do so many of us ignore God’s commands and say we are New Testament Christians? Why do we act as if we can do whatever we want because we are covered in the grace of Jesus Christ? This is the fear of many throughout the ages that concept of grace allows us to commit sins with impunity. We can live the way we want to live because of the wonderful grace that God has given us through Jesus Christ. Some Christ followers won’t even crack open the Old Testament books, because they say it does not apply to them because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross. It’s not worth reading, they say. Grace trumps the commands of the Old Testament they say. Why should I obey commands when I am covered by grace?

 

It was this concept of grace vs. obedience that came to mind when I read this rather extensive passage this morning, Deuteronomy 28:15-68:

 

15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

 

16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.

 

17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.

 

18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

 

19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.

 

20 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.[a] 21 The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. 23 The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. 24 The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

 

25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 27 The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. 28 The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29 At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.

 

30 You will be pledged to be married to a woman, but another will take her and rape her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not even begin to enjoy its fruit. 31 Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them. 32 Your sons and daughters will be given to another nation, and you will wear out your eyes watching for them day after day, powerless to lift a hand. 33 A people that you do not know will eat what your land and labor produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days. 34 The sights you see will drive you mad. 35 The Lord will afflict your knees and legs with painful boils that cannot be cured, spreading from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.

 

36 The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. 37 You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.

 

38 You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. 39 You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. 40 You will have olive trees throughout your country but you will not use the oil, because the olives will drop off. 41 You will have sons and daughters but you will not keep them, because they will go into captivity. 42 Swarms of locusts will take over all your trees and the crops of your land.

 

43 The foreigners who reside among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. 44 They will lend to you, but you will not lend to them. They will be the head, but you will be the tail.

 

45 All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. 46 They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. 47 Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, 48 therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.

 

49 The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or olive oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you.

 

53 Because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege, you will eat the fruit of the womb, the flesh of the sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you. 54 Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will have no compassion on his own brother or the wife he loves or his surviving children, 55 and he will not give to one of them any of the flesh of his children that he is eating. It will be all he has left because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of all your cities. 56 The most gentle and sensitive woman among you—so sensitive and gentle that she would not venture to touch the ground with the sole of her foot—will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter 57 the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For in her dire need she intends to eat them secretly because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of your cities.

 

58 If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God— 59 the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. 60 He will bring on you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. 61 The Lord will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law, until you are destroyed. 62 You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God. 63 Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

 

64 Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. 65 Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. 66 You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. 67 In the morning you will say, “If only it were evening!” and in the evening, “If only it were morning!”—because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. 68 The Lord will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.

 

As you see here in this passage, disobedience leads to curses are just as negative as the blessing are positive. As the blessings represent the fullness of life, the curses represent the opposite – the deprivation of life, the presence of death, disease, defeat, and exile. But, you will note, that these curses are multiplied far more than the blessings so that they never seem to end. Israel would as we know lose their place as a blessed nation because of rampant disobedience to God.

 

There is a powerful parallelism between what happened to Israel and what can and frequently does happen to members in the body of Christ. Many have pointed out that Israel received the promised land as “an unmerited gift”; and indeed they did, in exactly the same way that the grace of God, through his unmerited favor, receives followers of Christ today into his kingdom. Furthermore, even if Israel had faithfully obeyed God’s commandments and kept his statutes, even the fullest possible measure of their obedience could never in a million years have altered the “unmerited” and “unearned” nature of blessings which they received. However, reckless disobedience and rebellion against God’s rules could, and in the case of Israel, did forfeit all of those unmerited favors.

 

Does this mean that I must obey the Lord to keep my salvation? Can I lose my salvation if I don’t do works of obedience? What does this all mean? Is it not also true in the kingdom of Christ? Saved by grace as we surely are, recipients of unmerited favor from God, rejoicing in a salvation we did not earn nor could we ever earn; but we may surely forfeit all such mercies and blessings through willful and continual disobedience and rebellion against the ordinances and statutes God has commanded. Why even bother keeping the Lord’s commands if (1) we are saved by grace through faith alone  and (2) never in a million years could we expect win favor from God by our obedience to His commands.

 

How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction in the basic theology of the Christian faith? I think we need something to bring the two concepts together. Just as a bridge connects land that cannot be traversed one to the other without the bridge. We need a bridge between the Land of Grace on one side and the Land of Obedience on the other. That bridge is called repentance.

 

We are saved by grace through faith alone. Without fully believing that we are natural born sinners that are destined for hell on our own, without full believing that we are in need of an intervention because we are hopelessly mired in sin that separates us from God, we cannot come to faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We first must believe that we are need of saving and that nothing else will do because we cannot win heaven on our own by our own behavior because of our hopeless sin nature. We must first believe that we are doomed to hell in the absence of an intervention. That intervention is in Jesus Christ alone. He is God in the flesh and He is perfect. He came to earth to dwell among us and to live the one and only ever perfect and sinless life. Since He was the only sacrifice ever to be completely perfect and completely sinless, He completed the Old Testament sacrificial system. His blood makes us clean. His death on the cross cancels out the cost of our sins because He bore the punishment for our sins by being that once and final sacrifice of the perfect sinless One.

 

Once we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and that He arose from the dead because He is God in the flesh, we are saved by grace. Once our sins are cleansed away by the grace of Jesus Christ, our souls are made holy. Only then can the Holy Spirit dwell in our souls. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to dwell in us so that we will have the glory of the Lord within us to guide and direct us.

 

The Holy Spirit is the difference. It is through the Holy Spirit’s action in our souls and through His guidance that we repent of our sins. It is through the Holy Spirit that we find disdain in continuing to live in ways that are dissatisfying to the Lord. Sure, there are some sins that we like to continue committing more than others and the Holy Spirit must often work an entire lifetime to rid of us our desire to continue committing certain of our pet sins. Accepting Christ as our Savior and Lord does not mean that we are automatically perfect. The Holy Spirit spends a lifetime teaching us about obedience to the Lord and pointing out to us where our lives are displeasing to the Lord. We cannot lose our salvation because true salvation leads us to WANT to please the Lord through obedience to His commands. True salvation allows us to see ourselves as sinners that are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit daily to cleanse us of our sinful ways. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the fact that without Jesus we are condemned. Through the Holy Spirit, we begin to be revolted by our sins and through the Holy Spirit we are gradually made more like Christ each day where we are turning away from sins we once enjoyed committed or weren’t even aware that were sins previously.

 

So if we cannot lose our salvation then what is the benefit of obeying the Lord’s commands? First, there’s the want-to that comes from the Holy Spirit. We WANT to please the Lord. We WANT the Holy Spirit to point our where we are unholy so that we can make it holy. We want to please the Lord so we are willing to obey His Word. Then, there’s the issue of the consequences of sin.

 

There are always consequences to our sins even after salvation. We may have our sentence to hell exonerated through grace but the consequences of our sins follow us even after salvation. Sins we commit after salvation have their consequences. Israel paid for its disobedience to the Lord over and over. So shall we. For every sin we commit even after salvation. There are consequences. Sin is against the nature of God and anything that is against His nature has negative consequences. So, as we grow and mature in Christ, we realize that there was, there is, and there will be consequences to our sins. Sin is against God’s nature and every sin has negative consequences on our lives. We know through the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to these facts. We already know through salvation that we deserve hell but that we have been given an eternal reprieve through Jesus Christ. We then spend the rest of our lives trying to openly and humbly please Him through the conduct of our lives. The Holy Spirit is there to keep us humble and to point out the ways in which our lives continue to be unholy and begins to create revulsion in us for those things that are not of God because first and foremost through salvation we are desirous now of pleasing God above all things. Repentance and the desire to please the Lord through our obedience to His Word is the essence of the Christian. Salvation. Repentance the bridge. Obedience to the Lord. Blessings for Obedience. Curses for Disobedience.

 

Obedience brings blessing and disobedience brings curses. True before and after salvation. Salvation brings the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit brings about the desire to obey. This is just the truth of God. Plain and simple. If you are having to throw away parts of the Bible to justify why your sin is no longer sin or was never sin in the first place…it is sin. Plain and simple. We must come to the Lord through the Holy Spirit and repent of our sins. May the Holy Spirit be a powerful force in our lives to show us our sins and influence us to repent from them and turn away from them and no longer justify our sins as OK. We WANT to please the Lord through our obedience to His Word. Holy Spirit point out to us where we need to repent because we have the DESIRE to be more like Jesus each day because we want to make Him smile and allow Him to bless us. Help us, Holy Spirit. Help us!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 28:1-14

Blessings for Obedience

How often do you sit back and think about how many blessings that God has given you? It is so easy to focus on the negative things that happen to us, and not be able to see the blessings that we have been given. We take our blessings for granted and focus on the things that we do not have or that God has not given us yet. It is kind of the opposite of a married man glorifying his single days and how much fun they were yet not remembering that there the good times of single-dom were the highlights, the peaks of that period of life surrounded by valleys of loneliness. So, sometimes we must take stock of the blessings that we have been given and give them some focus instead of the problems that we have.

 

When I think of how God has taken care of me over the years, it makes me stand in awe. There are so many times that He could have just washed His hands of me and tossed me away. However, He is a God who loves us. He is a God that will never abandon us nor forsake us. I just think of the times even when I was not a Christ follower that I can now see how He took care of me even then. I think of how He has sine then too. I don’t have to look very far. I just have to think of my career and how He has blessed. The blessings from my career have led to so many other blessings as well.

 

I remember right before I accepted Christ as my Savior, I lost my job due to some stupid mistakes. It was right during the middle of the recession back in 2000 when what they called “the internet bubble” in the stock market burst. Overnight, stock values dropped and the economy went in the tank for about year and a half. I was out of work for about two months but even then I was underemployed. I did not return to full professional employment until about six months after I had lost my job. However, in the intervening time, God provided me an opportunity to work for a private investigator service going undercover as a warehouse employee at the big Bi-Lo grocery store chain warehouse in Mauldin, SC (just outside of Greenville). The company, Bi-Lo Stores, Inc., was trying to figure out why they had such a high turnover rate among their warehouse workers in that warehouse. The PI service was hired to help figure it out. The PI service then ran ads to get people to work undercover for them posing as just a normal warehouse worker. We would work a daily shift at the warehouse and then file weekly reports about what we saw and observed there. Those few of us that took this job received not only a paycheck from Bi-Lo but we also got the same amount of pay from the private investigator agency. This was a blessing. It was the hardest physical labor I have done for pay in my life. It was “balls to wall” work everyday. I was 10 hours of work a day for 5 days. Overtime was good, but by the end of the week, man, I was wore completely out. But, regardless of the aches and pains and the abuse that you took at that warehouse from not only the supervisors but from the more tenured warehouse workers, it could have been seen as something dreadful (and at times when going through that stretch I did) but it kept food on the table for my family. It was not what I was making before, but it kept my family afloat until I could return to a job in my profession. That was a blessing.

 

One other time that I lost my job was in 2007. The company that I was working for in Charlotte was bought out by this British company. They did not need our corporate headquarters as they already had one in London. They shut down our corporate operations there in Charlotte and everyone of us 20 folks that worked at that office lost our jobs. I was out of work for about 4 weeks after that. However, as I was applying for jobs all over the place, I came across this consulting firm, Vaco Resources. They would send out professional accounting consultants to companies to help with special projects, to fill accounting positions on an interim basis, to bring in expertise for companies when they did not have the expertise on staff. So, right during the middle of the Great Recession (2007-2010), I was able to work as a consultant on a long-term project down in Duncan, SC for the company, AFL Telecommunications. The consulting job was a boon for me. Not only was I making an hourly consulting rate that was equivalent to what I was making at the company I had been working for in Charlotte, but I was getting per diem for my hotel and meals. It was a good gig. I ended up as part of this consulting gig having to go to California to help clean up the accounting function at the subsidiary, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI). It was while I was out there that I was at the right place at the right time to get the job as comptroller of FAI – the job I hold continue to hold now, some 9 years later. This job has been a real blessing to me and my wife. Over the past nine (9) years this job has blessed us in so many ways. We have met people in our personal lives that (1) led Elena to the Lord and (2) challenged me to grow up as a Christ follower. This job has allowed us to clean up my credit to the point that we have about as high of credit scores as you can have. This job has allowed us to be generous.

 

This job has led us back to South Carolina 7 years ago and to LifeSong Church where we have grown so much in Christ. As part of the maturation in Christ, we have learned to live more simply and not try to keep up with the Joneses. So, while this job has taken care of us so abundantly financially, we live simply and have been able to prepare for the future financially and, at the same time, be generous to our church, family, and friends. We have been blessed. It all comes from being obedient to the Lord. He blesses those who are obedient to Him. Sure, there have been struggles along the way. Everything has not been perfect. There are challenges in my secular job that on some days have made me want to cry and throw in the towel. Like even this week, it was brought to my attention that I have to really ramp up my management of one of my employees that will require me to more closely supervise this person so that they will become what the company wants them to become. It will require me to micro-manage a person. It is not my style as a leader and it will test me in what I consider distasteful ways. There are challenges in my calling to the ministry that are ongoing right now. I could get frustrated at God not opening doors for me to go into full-time ministry. Sometimes, I wonder why He is not opening these doors. Sometimes, I wonder why He even gave me the calling. I have done what He has led me to do but now we just wait and it gets frustrating sometimes to the point of wanting throw in the towel. There have been challenges in my personal life when it comes to my relationship with my youngest daughter. It is so frustrating sometimes with that situation that it just makes me want to cry and throw in the towel.

 

Life is never easy. There are always challenges. However, sometimes, we have to take a break from the challenges and look at how God has blessed us over the years. Just look at what He has done in our lives. For me, just looking back at the trail of my life after I lost my job in 2007 and how God took care of me will do that. Just looking at the things, events, and people that He has orchestrated into the lives of my wife and me during the past decade, it is simply amazing what God does with those who are faithful and obedient to Him. That’s what I thought about this morning when I read this passage, Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Let’s read it together now:

 

28 If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

 

3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.

 

4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.

 

5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.

 

6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

 

7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.

 

8 The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.

 

9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. 10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. 11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.

 

12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. 13 The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. 14 Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them.

 

Sometimes, we have to quit being like ants crawling on a basketball where we can only see what is in front of us. We need to step back and see the whole basketball. We need to really examine the totality of what God has done in our lives. He takes care of us, even sometimes, when we do not realize He is taking care of us. He will bless those even in the smallest things. He will bless our coming in and our going out. He is in the details of our lives. He does care about us. He does guide and direct our steps. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the details of life and the immediate things around us that we fail to see what God has done. We need to step back then and take a look at the whole picture of where we were when we met Christ as our Savior and where we are now. Think about the blessings that He has given us. Think about the good things and not just the bad. Even the bad things are used by Him to grow us into more mature Christians. Take stock of what God has done. That can bring a smile to your face and help you deal with the challenges that you are facing now and the ones that lie ahead. God is in it. Remember that! You will see that God has had His hand in your development thus far. He has blessed you in sometimes earthly ways but most definitely in eternal ways. Trust Him. Obey Him. Observe His blessings that come.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 27:11-26

Curses from Mount Ebal

 

There is a Subaru commercial that is circulating on the various TV networks and cable outlets now. In the commercial, children are about to take things that are dangerous for them like numbchucks, a chainsaw, homemade skis to ski down the stairs, a sledgehammer, a spear gun, a blow torch, etc. As every parent can tell you, kids never seem to stop finding new and imaginative ways to hurt themselves. In this charming commercial, we kid after kid preparing to engage in risky behavior – only to have their parents step in and put a stop to it before it starts. The end game of the commercial of course is to tout the safety of Subaru vehicles. When the final kid, a teenager, tells mom, “I’m taking the Subaru!” Mom replies, not with the theme of the commercial, You’re Not Taking That, but with “Don’t be late!”

 

How often are we like the kids in this commercial? Sometimes, we just seem to forget good reason. Sometimes, we take risks that we know are going to hurt us but we plow ahead with them anyway. When we make idols of things or people in our lives we know it is going to end badly but we plow ahead anyway. When we dishonor our parents with our actions, we know it is going to end badly but we plow ahead anyway. When we still from our neighbors or even strangers, we know we are going to get caught eventually but we plow ahead anyway. When we subvert justice to get our way, we know it will lead to hurt, heartache and pain, but we plow ahead anyway. We know that inappropriate sexual relationships will crash and burn our lives and the lives of others but we plow ahead anyway. When we participate in activities that could cause someone to die or be hurt in some way, we know that it will end badly but we plow ahead anyway. There is always that funny story you hear about rednecks in the emergency room that the inevitable arrival at the emergency room began with alcohol mixed with “watch this!” It seems that we live our lives this way, saying “watch this!” and then crashing and burning as a result of just downright dumb behavior.

 

How often do you hear of men who have it made. They have a beautiful wife. They have beautiful children. They live in the nice house. They have the fine cars. They just seem to have it all together. And then a few years later, they throw it all away on some young chick. Their lives and the lives of their family members are forever altered and change. Exodus 34:7 tells us that the sins of the father will be visited upon the family for generations, up to four generations. Today’s society where you have to have a scorecard to figure out what kids belong to which parents is evidence of rampant sexual sin in our society. Kids growing up without fathers in the homes and fathers living it up away from their families not taking responsibility have had a lowering effect on the morality of our nation as a whole. Having children out of wedlock is not considered abnormal by today’s youth. You can see young women flaunting their unwed pregnancies all over Facebook as if it is no big deal from a moral perspective. It all stems from the children of our society being raised in fragmented homes where fathers are not present and mothers are overwhelmed with their single parent responsibilities. The sins of the fathers and mothers that began in my generation where divorce was no longer considered taboo and sexual relationships outside of marriage began to be the norm in the culture are being visited upon the succeeding generations where morality is a dot in mirror to us as we have gone so far past the line of morality established in God’s plan for marriage and family.

 

We wonder why our society is falling apart and it is because we have thumbed our nose up to the parameters of moral behavior established by God in His Word. That was what I was thinking of this morning as I read through the passage, Deuteronomy 27:11-26, this morning:

 

11 On the same day Moses commanded the people:

 

12 When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. 13 And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.

 

14 The Levites shall recite to all the people of Israel in a loud voice:

 

15 “Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord, the work of skilled hands—and sets it up in secret.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

16 “Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

17 “Cursed is anyone who moves their neighbor’s boundary stone.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

18 “Cursed is anyone who leads the blind astray on the road.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

19 “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

20 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his father’s wife, for he dishonors his father’s bed.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

21 “Cursed is anyone who has sexual relations with any animal.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

22 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

23 “Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his mother-in-law.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

24 “Cursed is anyone who kills their neighbor secretly.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

25 “Cursed is anyone who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

26 “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.”

 

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

 

In this passage, we see that these curses were a series of oaths, spoken by the priest and affirmed by the people. In these affirmations, they were saying that they would stay away from wrong actions. By saying, “Amen”, the Hebrew word literally translates into English as “so be it!” By saying, “so be it!” they were affirming their own responsibility for their actions.

 

Sometimes looking at a list of curses like this one gives us the idea that God has a bad temper and is out to crush anyone who steps out of line. However, we need to take a different look at it! We need to see these restrictions not as threats but rather as loving warnings about the plain facts of life. Just as we warn kids to stay away from hot stoves and busy streets, God, too, warns us to stay away from actions that will ultimately destroy us, our families, or our nation as a whole. The natural law of His universe makes it clear that wrongdoing toward others or toward God always, always, has tragic consequences. God is merciful enough to warn us to stay away from these things. Here, we see the curses of bad behaviors. Obedience, however, brings God’s blessings as we will see in the next passage.

 

We must learn that like the parents in the Subaru commercial, God is not trying to keep us from doing certain behaviors because He is mean and capricious. He just knows, like the parents in the Subaru commercial, how things are going to turn out if we pursue certain courses of action. He is a loving Father. Let us learn to obey Him because of that. Let us trust that He has our best interest at heart because He knows how certain courses of action our going to end. Let us trust Him enough to obey Him.

 

Trust and obey. For there’s no other way….

 

 

Amen and Amen