Archive for the ‘05-Deuteronomy’ Category

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The Death of Moses

Here we are at the end of Deuteronomy. We started this journey back in the last week of November, some 5 ½ months ago. This is also the end of the first five books of the Bible, all of them attributed to Moses. This is also the end of Moses. He dies here at the end of Deuteronomy. Someone else will write the history of Israel and provide it leadership now. It is time to reflect.

 

Moses was OK with being a son-in-law of a sheep herder. When he fled Egypt for Midian, he spent 40 years there, gained a bride and a father-in-law. He was content to live his existence out there. He was a man who did not want to go to Egypt. In Exodus 4:10, he tells God that he was “not very good with words” but yet here in the book of Deuteronomy, he delivered three very lengthy addresses to the entire nation of Israel. These three (3) speeches make up the book of Deuteronomy. What a change God had wrought in this man, Moses.

 

It reminds of what God can do in you and me. It reminds me of what He has done in me. He brings intersections and people into our lives that are instrumental in making us who we are in service to Him. My story is no different. When I reflect back on the years since I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord in December 2001, he has brought me so far and has matured me in ways that I could have never done on my own.

 

It all started when I was in my second marriage. It was a marriage in which I had made my second wife my god. She was my idol that I worshipped, not too unlike my first marriage. It was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to begin going to church again. In my first marriage, church was a small community/family farm community church that I attended from 1976 when my dad became pastor there until 1993 when my first wife and I broke up for good. It was more a weekly three extended families social gathering than it was a church. So, when my first wife and I broke up, it was not hard for me to leave the church totally. From the summer of 1993 to the fall of 2001, my second wife and I hardly ever darkened the doors of a church. She was my idol that had saved me from the insanity and violence that was the final 5 years of my first marriage. She was everything to me. I had to completely break off all that I had known for 17 years that was my life with my first wife (through dating and marriage). It was a complete break. All new friends and new family. Because of that my second wife was my lifeline. She was the source of everything. She was my god and she knew it. And anything to do with my past was taboo. Anything to do with my past was a burden she did not want to bear, including my children. Ultimately, it was the care of my children beyond the child support order that made our marriage come undone. But it was during this marriage that I found Jesus Christ as my Savior. It was Jesus that gave me the courage to stand up for my kids and do what was right by them and let the chips fall where they may. I know that God detests divorce and I am not claiming that my newfound relationship with Christ ended that marriage. But since God was never at the core of either of the first two marriages, neither marriage was founded on God. Both marriages were idol worship for me. Both marriages were about what we could get out of the relationship. God was nowhere to be found.

 

At the end of the second marriage, I went through a really rough period of life at first where I was going through withdrawal from idol worship. In those days, I was at my lowest. I could barely get out of bed each day. And, weekends, when I did not have my job to occupy my days, were excruciating and lonely. God wanted me to put Him at the center of my life instead of women and that was a long hard road to learn. It started there at the break up of my second marriage in the summer of 2004. This was the one thing that God had to work long and hard to rid me of and it was until some three years later that he changed all that. So, if you think accepted Christ as your Savior is like the skies part and everything changes suddenly for the better, you are wrong. Often, our lives get worse, before they get better. When I look back at the man I was before Christ, the man I was immediately after Christ and all the work that Christ had to do in me, I am ashamed of who I was. I also amazed at how He uses time and people to grow us into maturing Christ followers. Moses had his intersections with places and people. He had Midian and Jethro. He had Aaron. He had Joshua. He had the past life in Egypt. He had his intersections in life that made him into the man God wanted him to be – the leader of the baby nation Israel. He was the right man for the right job that God had for Him. If it weren’t for these people and events that happened in his life, Moses would not have been ready for his moment as leader of the people Israel and would not have been ready for the intimacy that He had with God.

 

There are intersections for me that changed my life. There are people that changed the course of my life once the Holy Spirit led me to the cross. There was Virgil & Debbie Whitted who were so instrumental in demonstrating the life of a couple passionately in love with the Lord. They were real people who showed me that being a Christ follower was not the end of who I was but the beginning. There was the woman who became my third and final wife, Elena. She taught me that love is about being friends first and foremost. She taught me about unconditional love. She is Monica to my Chandler. Once when Monica and Chandler got in a fight right after they had started going together, Chandler thought they were going to break up because of it. Monica told him, “People don’t break up just because they have one fight. You figure it out and you move on.” And then she said the classic line, “Welcome to a grown-up relationship!” Elena was my first grown-up relationship. She showed me that love was unconditional and was more than just about loving sex and then putting up with everything else just to get back to the sex. She never demanded that I act a certain way to gain her approval. She just loved me.

 

The other people of impact since I became a Christ follower have been preachers. The first was Luke Brower. Luke Brower taught me to be more than an armchair Christian. He challenged my faith. He taught me that being a Christ follower was more than Sunday morning. It was an everyday thing. He challenged me to grow up as a Christian. He challenged me to live out the life of a Christian and he pointed out the contradictions in my life compared to Scripture. He taught me that you can’t pick and choose what you want to believe. Man, Elena and I were both challenged by this pastoral couple of Luke and Felisha. It was an intense year that they were in our lives every day. They taught us so much about being Christ followers. When I look back at the Christ follower I was before I met Luke and the year later, the difference was amazing to see. Without the intersection of Livermore, CA and Luke and Felisha and all the people that were at Livermore Alive Community Church that year, wow, where would I be? Where would Elena and I be?

 

Next up came my current senior pastor, Jeff Hickman. What an impact he has had on my life! When it was time, God moved us from the nurturing, babe in arms relationship we had with Luke and Felisha to the time to grow up and serve relationship we have with Jeff. Prior to coming to LifeSong, when we moved back to South Carolina in 2010, I measured the depth of my spirituality by how close I was with the pastor. In Livermore, CA, the pastor and his wife, Luke and Felisha, were our best friends. We did so much together and we ate right out of their hands as they began the baby to toddler Christ follower process with us. They were exactly what we needed at the time. We found traction to our faith there. But we were young in our faith and felt like that the preacher had to shoulder tap you to do things for it to be real Christian stuff. Along comes Jeff Hickman. He teaches us that being a Christ follower is about being led by Christ not being led by a preacher. A preacher is there to point things out to you but He is not the reason for your faith. He challenged us to be Christ each and every day and that we are responsible for deepening our relationship with Christ. He also taught us that if God calls you to do something, do it. It should not matter whether the pastor pats you on the back for it. You are not here to win favor with Jeff but rather to please God by following His call on our lives. Without Jeff’s pushing us to grow up and be Christ followers in our own right and not be dependent on him for the validity of our faith, we would never have become leaders in the church and I would never have gone to seminary and would have never considered pursuing my doctorate. I have done these things in faith in Christ not knowing what God will do with it. I have done these things not because I expect Jeff to pat me on the back for it. I do these things because I am seeking after the Lord. Without Jeff’s pushing us to take responsibility for our own faith, where would I be, where would Elena and I be?

 

I stand amazed where Elena and I are today compared to where we were a decade ago. It is amazing the difference. We are light years deeper in love with Christ than we were years ago. God orchestrated it. He did it all. We were just along for the ride. We are by no means fully grown. We are and will always be in a process of maturation with the Lord. We will look back a decade from now and go wow, we were such babies back in 2017. But wow how far he has delivered us from where we were. Amazing. Amazing love. Amazing grace. Chiseling and channeling. Growing us. It has been painful at times. Growing. Learning things that needed to be learned at the hands of people that intersected our lives that were necessary intersections to make us into who we are today. There will be more intersections to come to take us to the next phase of our deepening relationship with Christ.

 

That was the thing that I see in Moses here at the end. What a life. What God did through him! What important intersections Moses had to make him in the amazing man of God that He was. Normally, I will close out with some final thoughts after each passage in each blog, but today, since it is the end of Moses and the end of Deuteronomy, I have said all I need to say before I present the passage. Let’s end today simply with the Word of God:

 

34 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

 

5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him[a] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

 

9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit[b] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

 

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

Deuteronomy 33:26-29

Strength to Believers

Have you ever seen football players who just throw their whole body into the game? They play with reckless abandon and are so emotional about the game. One of the guys that were on Clemson’s football team the past four years is a guy by the name of Ben Boulware. He is an undersized linebacker from nearby Anderson, SC, but he is a guy that played beyond his size and stature. He was the heart and soul of the Clemson defense the past four years and he will be sorely missed by the Tigers this coming season. His love of the game is unmatched. His love of the university for which he played and from which he got his college degree is unmatched. His enthusiasm and his inner drive was contagious. He played the game with reckless abandon. One play that I remember in particular that defines the career that Ben had at Clemson. I remember two years ago in what is always the biggest game of the year in the ACC (Clemson vs. Florida State) when, on a fourth down and one play that would determine the outcome of the game, Florida State had the ball like at the Clemson 25 yard line or something. Clemson had stopped them on 2nd and 3rd down and 1. However, Florida State being a proud team and only one yard to go on what was looking like the game winning drive very late in the game. On that fourth and one play, Florida State called another running play to their workhorse running back Dalvin Cook, a big back with strong legs and a lot of speed if you gave him room to get going. Dalvin took the handoff and was hit almost immediately in the backfield by one of the Clemson defensive lineman but Dalvin bumped off him and went airborne for what was going to be a sure first down. However, Ben Bouleware being the gutsy guy he is went airborne too. They both were horizontal when they met in the air and it was a major collision and both fell to the ground immediately like rocks dropped to the ground. Cook came up inches short of the first down and Clemson took over. The Tigers then possessed the ball the remainder of the game and won.

 

That was Ben Boulware at Clemson. He loved the game with a passion. He gave his all on every play. He played injured much of his freshman year. He didn’t care about his body. Stopping the other team’s offense was what, and all, that mattered to him. He was one of those guys that if you were in the army and you were in a real life or death battle that you would want in your unit, a guy who would give his life to make your unit successful in its missions. To a man on Clemson’s defense, everyone of them acknowledged this undersized guy for his position was the acknowledged leader of the defense. He’s the guy who succeeded on sheer will and an unending well of passion for the game. The coaches didn’t have to jump on the other guys when they did not give their absolute best at practice or in a game, Ben would do that. He would give it all every game and would come off the field totally spent after each ball game no matter the opponent.

 

That was what I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 33:26-29. I thought of Ben Bouleware and how it was his passion for the game, the love of the game, that drove him to do more that he probably should have been capable of at the highest level of college football at his small size. It was his passion that made him a bigger man than he was. It was his passion that made him one of the hardest hitting linebackers that Clemson has ever had. His passion and zeal would allow him to take on players 20-30 pounds heavier and 5 or 6 inches taller and take ‘em to the great with his ferocious hits. Why did I think of this undersized ball of football zeal when I read this passage? Let’s read through the passage and then I will explain. Here’s the passage now:

 

26 “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,

    who rides across the heavens to help you

    and on the clouds in his majesty.

 

27 The eternal God is your refuge,

    and underneath are the everlasting arms.

He will drive out your enemies before you,

    saying, ‘Destroy them!’

 

28 So Israel will live in safety;

    Jacob will dwell[a] secure

in a land of grain and new wine,

    where the heavens drop dew.

 

29 Blessed are you, Israel!

    Who is like you,

    a people saved by the Lord?

He is your shield and helper

    and your glorious sword.

Your enemies will cower before you,

    and you will tread on their heights.”

 

What does this passage say to us? This final stanza has blessed the hearts of God’s people through the ages. He is the majestic God (v. 26), the eternal God (v. 27), the protecting and providing God (v. 28). The great blessing of Israel was that He was their God. This final summary blessing for all the tribes that make up the nation of Israel declares that God is our refuge, our only true security. How often do we entrust our lives to other things – money, our career’s work, a noble cause, a lifelong dream, or spouse or some other person. Our only true refuge, though, is the Eternal One, God, who always holds out His arms to catch us when the shaky supports that we trust collapse and we fall. No storm can destroy us when we take refuge in Him. Those without God, however, must forever be cautious. One mistake may wipe them out. Living for God in this world may look like risky business, but it is the godless who are on shaky ground. Because God is our refuge, we can dare to be bold.

 

So, how does this relate to the passion for football that Ben Bouleware displayed for four years as a Clemson football player, a career that ended with a national championship his senior year? That thing is that Ben loved the game and he gave it his all. He really did not care what toll it took on his body. He just had this inner drive that came from his love of the game and his love for his teammates. Being a local boy from a town near Clemson, he was passionate about Clemson in ways that were just infectious to his teammates. He loved Clemson and would give it his all with reckless abandon in an effort to bring weekly victories to Clemson. He played games as if every game were the championship. He played games with reckless abandon and as if there was no tomorrow. He would have given his life for his team.

 

How does that tie into our Scripture for today? What if we lived our lives for Christ like Ben Boulware played football for the Clemson Tigers? What if we were so in love with God that we did not play it safe? What if we through our heart and soul into loving God and loving others in that same passionate way? What if we lived our lives willing to do anything to give God glory? What if we lived our lives as if there was no tomorrow? What if we lived our lives like the end of days was coming tomorrow? What if we lived our lives with that same level of championship drive? What if we had the guts to go airborne to meet a challenge that was headed straight for you? What if we did not care that we weren’t supposed to have the talents to do what we do for Christ but because we had such passion for God that we depended on Him to empower us to do far beyond what we should be capable of?

 

That’s what this final blessing says to me. Israel, if they just maintained their love and their passion for God, would be blessed. There would be no one that could stop them for they had the God of the universe on their side. God is majestic, powerful, sovereign, great, and powerful. That we have Him on our side should embolden us to live our lives with reckless abandon, to give it our all on every play of every day.

 

What can the world do to us when we are saved by grace? They can only kill us. Then we will get our reward – spending eternity in heaven with the one who saved us, Jesus Christ. Whether we live or die should not matter? We have heaven coming to us!

 

But most of us live lives of quiet desperation and lives of playing it safe? What is we lived our lives for Christ? What can come against us? We should be out there sharing the gospel as if this day was the championship game and there is no tomorrow? Why do we worry more about are homes, cars, and things that are temporary and play it safe trying to protect those things? Why do we not live lives of passionate love of Jesus Christ and follow His call on our lives now! Not later when the bills are all paid. Not later after the kids are grown. Not later after I get my 401k built up. Not later because right now would be too hard. Let’s have the passion and love for God to know that He will have our back when we choose to live lives of reckless abandon for Him. He is the God of the Universe. He is the Creator. He is the one on whom we can depend.

 

If we have God on our side, we have the maker of all things, the giver of life, our maker, the ruler of all things on our side! Live life like He really does mean something to you. Live life as if you really believe that He will take care of you if you follow His call on your life. Live life with passionate love and passionate dependence. Throw your body into the game and play the game with your best on every play. Come away from this game of life spent and tired and your jersey dirty instead of standing on the sideline with a clean jersey and all your energy intact. Let us be Christians who don’t play it safe.

 

We serve a mighty God. He is on our side. Let us have that passion that leads to action that demonstrates that we actually believe that. What can come against us? Let us be bold and passionate and depend on our love of God to embolden us to do far beyond what we could imagine that we could do on our own.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 33:6-25

The Blessings for Each Tribe

Sibling rivalries. Unless you are an only child, you know about this topic. My brother and I were no different than any other set of siblings when it comes to this subject. We fought over everything. My brother is two weeks shy of being one and a half years older than me. My mother was only unpregnant for about nine months between the birth of my brother and when she got pregnant with me. Because of the way our birthdays fell, my brother and I were one grade apart in school. Competition between us was fierce, academic, athletic, you name it.

 

There are memories of our sibling rivalry that stick in your mind, random pictures of the subject that stick in your memory banks. One that sticks in my mind was like when I was 6 years old. My brother was in the second grade and I was in the first. It was the morning of his 8th birthday. Mom was making over him because it was his birthday and he was soaking it in. It was early in the morning on a school day. I remember (and honestly I don’t why I remember this) asking mom what time of day 8 years earlier that my brother was born. She said like it was like in the afternoon or something. I blurted it out that it wasn’t his birthday yet because that was like 6 or so hours away til the time he was born. I didn’t want him to have his birthday glory before it was time, ya know. I was jealous. Sibling rivalry. You don’t want any positive spotlights on your sibling that you can’t have yourself. A birthday was one of those exclusive things that is unique to each child. One of those days where the positive spotlight is squarely on them and not you and there is nothing you can do to change it.

 

Other sibling rivalries were our backyard basketball games at whatever parsonage we were living at over the years. Our basketball games grew less and less as we grew up. But there were years though where basketball games were a daily thing and particularly once we got done with our weekend chores on Saturday morning. Yes, we had chores, weekday ones and weekend ones. Weekend ones involved vacuuming, dusting, among other things. All those things that seemingly to us that your parents dreamed up to keep you from going to play on Saturday mornings. But once we got to play, our basketball games were quit fierce. My brother was always taller than me (and still is, by about 4 or 5 inches), so I developed and outside shot over the years so I would not have to go inside on him. However, sometimes, you just have to go inside (if your outside shot is not going well). I learned over the years to bump and bang with my brother on the inside game so I could create space for a shot with him rejecting it. Same thing on defense. I would bump him hard so that he couldn’t easily get his inside shots off. After a while, all the bumping and banging would get the better of us and we would degenerate into arguments. Sometimes the arguments would degenerate into football on the basketball court – tackling and fighting. Ah sibling rivalries!

 

It continued as teenagers when I started going steady with the girl who became my first wife. On weekends we would date and back in those days you would go find a secluded place in the late evening to go “park”. “Parking” would involve getting in the back seat of the car with your girlfriend and doing what teenage girls and boys do when alone. You would have music playing on the radio low. My brother was socially awkward at the time and rarely if ever had a date. So, on Fridays and Saturdays, he would hang out with one of his equally socially awkward friends. One of the games they would play was to find our where my girlfriend and I were “parking”. One place that we would park was in any of the cul-de-sacs of an, as yet, unfinished subdivision called Hampshire Hills. In Phase 2 of this subdivision, they had built the roads for it long before they started building the first house so it was a great place for TR kids to park. My brother one time with his friend found us and started throwing tennis balls at my car. Another time, he and friend pulled a log into the middle of the entrance to the cul-de-sec. Sibling rivalry was full on during our teenage years. And we won’t even talk about all the snide remarks, the arguments. As the years went by, I just didn’t like my brother very much at all. It took him leaving home to go off to college before our relationship started getting better. But oh back when we were at home, it was on!

 

My sibling rivalry with my brother was the first thing that popped into my mind this morning when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 33:6-23. Let’s find out why after we read through this passage together now:

 

6 “Let Reuben live and not die,

    nor[a] his people be few.”

 

7 And this he said about Judah:

 

“Hear, Lord, the cry of Judah;

    bring him to his people.

With his own hands he defends his cause.

    Oh, be his help against his foes!”

 

8 About Levi he said:

 

“Your Thummim and Urim belong

    to your faithful servant.

You tested him at Massah;

    you contended with him at the waters of Meribah.

9

He said of his father and mother,

    ‘I have no regard for them.’

He did not recognize his brothers

    or acknowledge his own children,

but he watched over your word

    and guarded your covenant.

10

He teaches your precepts to Jacob

    and your law to Israel.

He offers incense before you

    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.

11

Bless all his skills, Lord,

    and be pleased with the work of his hands.

Strike down those who rise against him,

    his foes till they rise no more.”

 

12 About Benjamin he said:

 

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,

    for he shields him all day long,

    and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”

 

13 About Joseph he said:

 

“May the Lord bless his land

    with the precious dew from heaven above

    and with the deep waters that lie below;

14

with the best the sun brings forth

    and the finest the moon can yield;

15

with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains

    and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills;

16

with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness

    and the favor of him who dwelt in the burning bush.

Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,

    on the brow of the prince among[b] his brothers.

17

In majesty he is like a firstborn bull;

    his horns are the horns of a wild ox.

With them he will gore the nations,

    even those at the ends of the earth.

Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim;

    such are the thousands of Manasseh.”

 

18 About Zebulun he said:

 

“Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out,

    and you, Issachar, in your tents.

19

They will summon peoples to the mountain

    and there offer the sacrifices of the righteous;

they will feast on the abundance of the seas,

    on the treasures hidden in the sand.”

 

20 About Gad he said:

 

“Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain!

    Gad lives there like a lion,

    tearing at arm or head.

21

He chose the best land for himself;

    the leader’s portion was kept for him.

When the heads of the people assembled,

    he carried out the Lord’s righteous will,

    and his judgments concerning Israel.”

 

22 About Dan he said:

 

“Dan is a lion’s cub,

    springing out of Bashan.”

 

23 About Naphtali he said:

 

“Naphtali is abounding with the favor of the Lord

    and is full of his blessing;

    he will inherit southward to the lake.”

24“Most blessed of sons is Asher;
    let him be favored by his brothers,
    and let him bathe his feet in oil.
25 The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze,
    and your strength will equal your days.

 

As a person who grew up with a heated sibling rivalry always operating in the background of my family’s life, the thing that I noticed here was the different blessing given to each of the tribes of Israel. They were all different and not the same. Man, at my house when I was growing up, my brother and I would pick up on anything that was not equal between us. If my brother got X, if I got something that was perceived less than X was cause for family discontent. My parents had to tread softly when it came to gift giving, compliments, things that they would let us do and not do. But were times they had to fjord that river without caring what the results would be. Because my brother and I were totally different people with totally different issues growing up, they had to parent us differently. It caused jealousies, arguments, seething anger in us back then. But it was not until I became a parent myself that I understood how different your kids can be and how each requires a different approach, and sometimes a completely different parenting style.

 

That’s what you notice here is the different blessings. To one, God gave the best land. To another, strength. To another, safety. Too often in the church, like with our sibling rivalries growing up, we see someone with a particular blessing and think that God must love that person more than us. However, we should be looking at this thing from the perspective that God makes each one of us unique and that He has to “parent” each of us in the way that is right for us based on the talents that He gave us, the strengths that He has given us and the weaknesses He has given us. All of our combined gifts, strengths and weaknesses are all a necessary part of the body of Christ completing the commission it was given long ago by Jesus.

 

Let us not be envious of the blessings that God has given others. Instead, let us celebrate the diversity of gifts among His people and celebrate how God has brought all these different talents together at this one place at this one time in history to accomplish what God has for this particular body to accomplish in this place in this time. Let us resolve to quit looking horizontally and developing jealousies of what God is doing for this person over here and that person over there. Let us look vertically to the Lord and thank Him for the gifts that He has given us personally and resolve to serve Him in the ways that He has uniquely ordained us to serve Him. Let us not have rivalries with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us celebrate rather what God is doing through us collectively and be amazed him, the Mighty Conductor who orchestrates the symphony of the body of Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 33:1-5

Prologue to the Blessing of the Tribes

 

Have you ever really thought about what God has done for you in your life? Not that He owes us anything but think about how He has delivered you and then think about who God is vs. who we are!

 

When I think about the fact that God is the Creator of the universe, it blows me away. He spoke the universe into being. He was the big bang that started the universe. All the scientists in the world right now in ignorance cannot admit that a universe built on cause and effect had an original external cause. It was God. He spoke it into being. He was the cause to which the whole universe has been reacting (effecting) ever since. God exists outside the temporal place of time and space that we understand. We only understand the physics of time, space, and matter because we are the created. We have no knowledge of anything greater than the plane of existence on which we exist. Whoa, that’s so deep! To accept that there was an external force that started the big bang into motion is to accept that there is a God. Everything that flows from that moment is then of God, created by God. That’s the God I worship. The God who started this whole thing. The God who is so the ultimate of knowledge, power and love and perfection that He can just will a universe into being. That’s my God.

 

Then, you think on the one hand that there is this all powerful God and there is no one, no thing, nothing that is greater than He is, the mighty centrality to all existence, knows who I am and that He also loves me in ways that I cannot comprehend. That love for me (and all of the rest of mankind for that matter) drove Him to do something radical. He solved the sin issue. God is perfection and perfection is sinlessness and purity. We are sinners from Day 1 because of the fallen nature that we have inherited from our ancestors dating all the way to the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. I was born with a sin nature. I most likely committed my first sin before I was 2 years old. Add to that, I went on to live a life of sin. I thought I was a generally good person, even a martyr at times for dealing with some of the sins of others in my life. But I was no more than a sinner than who had not really hurt anybody yet. But as life progressed and anger and my sin nature collided, my sin life exploded into seeking what made me feel good because I deserved it and could justify it in the court of public opinion. All of these things, I did not recognize as sins until the Holy Spirit showed me who I really was one night in December 2001. I was sinner who by the weighty evidence against me should be condemned to hell. I had no defense. I was what the Holy Spirit said I was – a sinner condemned to hell.

 

But God, the magnificent God that He is, knows me and all other sinners and loves us. He solved the problem of His sinlessness and our inability to be in His presence before of our sin. He solved through His Son. He sent His Son to live the perfect, sinless life among us and to show us how to seek the kingdom of God. He also sent His Son to be the final sacrifice for sin, once and for all. He poured out all His wrath for all sins of all mankind for all time, past, present and future, out on His Son (who was a willing participant in this process) so that you or I do not have to suffer the penalty for our sins. We may have to suffer the consequences of our sins but through Jesus we do not have to pay the penalty for our crimes. All I have to do is believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, part of the Holy Trinity of God, and that He died on the cross for my sin and that He proved who He was by arising from the dead so that I would have victory over my sin and my own death.

 

That a mighty God who created the universe, all the stars in it, all the planets in it, and all the people on earth (and maybe elsewhere in the universe) cares enough about me to send His Son for me, blows my mind. That He knows every hair on my head is awe-inspiring. To know that He cares that much for gives me great love, affection and respect and honor. To know that He sent His Son for me fills me with thanksgiving. It also fills me with a sense of responsibility. Since I am saved by His grace, I have a responsibility to be a beacon unto the world so that others come to know this mighty God who did this mighty thing that loves them personally.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read Deuteronomy 33:1-5. I thought about how Israel by all rights should not be receiving blessings from God. They were a rebellious people, but God made them His people – not because of what they had done but because of His Sovereign choice. That’s what this passage is about:

 

33 This is the blessing that Moses the man of God pronounced on the Israelites before his death. 2 He said:

 

“The Lord came from Sinai

    and dawned over them from Seir;

    he shone forth from Mount Paran.

He came with myriads of holy ones

    from the south, from his mountain slopes.

3

Surely it is you who love the people;

    all the holy ones are in your hand.

At your feet they all bow down,

    and from you receive instruction,

4

the law that Moses gave us,

    the possession of the assembly of Jacob.

5

He was king over Jeshurun

    when the leaders of the people assembled,

    along with the tribes of Israel.

 

Israel is serving and is subservient to a mighty God. He is a mighty God that chose them to be His special people. They did not deserve this unmerited pleasure of being God’s chosen people. He is mighty. They are weak. He is pure and sinless. They have a sin nature that turns them away from God. To exist in His presence, one must be perfect and sinless. They were imperfect and sin-filled. Why did God chose them to be His people? They did not deserve. We will never know but it was His Sovereign Choice to make them His people.

 

Because of the things that they had seen Him do over the years, all the mighty acts and miracles of God, they were to be His representatives to the rest of the world. They did not deserve to be redeemed as His people and neither do we. But we have the grace. We have been saved by the grace. And we too are to be His representatives to the world. We are to be so different from the world that we draw people unto Him so that He can do His work, that only He can do – the all powerful, mighty God of the universe.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 31:30-32:47

The Song of Moses

Today is a time for songs. The first one that I think of is “I Ran” by the 80’s British techno group, Flock of Seagulls. The chorus of the song goes like this:

 

And I ran, I ran so far away.

I just ran, I ran all night and day.

I couldn’t get away.

 

Sorry…I know that this song is now going to be playing in your head for the next half hour over and over again. It was catchy tune to say the least. And if you remember the early days of MTV when they actually played music videos 99% of time with little interruption from commercials or anything non-music, the video that went with this song was so cool! That hairdo of the lead singer, Mike Score, is memorable to this day for those of us who remember the song. His hairdo outlives the band’s popularity as was even a reference in the hilariously dark comedy, Pulp Fiction, years later. But I digress…

 

Whatever the real meaning of the song may have been for this one-hit wonder band, I am going to usurp the song this morning and give it my meaning for a day. This chorus is the story of Israel. It is the story of me. The Song of Moses here in this passage predicts the fact that the people of Israel will turn from God and He will allow things to happen to them because they have turned from. It is the same for me. I grew up knowing about God’s redemptive story. I was a preacher’s kid. I was at church every Sunday. I had the same preacher from birth until the end of my freshman year in college. He was, of course, my dad. We were there at the church all the time. The church was the family business. My mom worked outside of the home in various secretarial jobs over the years but I think she knew that her main job was to be a preacher’s wife. It was, indeed, the family business.

 

I am much like Israel in the Old Testament. They knew who God was. They had seen and experienced His mighty power. They had seen His miracles. They knew more than any other people about the one true God. Yet, they were seduced by the world around them with their fertility gods, their sexual perversions in honor of contrived gods of their own making. They knew the real God but they ran away from Him because sin seemed so much easier than obeying God. I was the same way. I ran. I ran so far away. I just ran. I ran all night and day. From childhood, I was a fitter-inner. I would rather fit in that do what was right. I would rather be like the kids in the neighborhood than stand up for my brother who was the king of the brainiacs, and all that such meant socially. I was a chameleon. I would rather be a part of the crowd than obey God’s commands. I would obey God and do what was right as long as it did not cost me anything socially. That continued into adulthood. I would have moments of closeness with the God that I had known since I could form cogent thoughts. However, if it required any kind of loss, any kind of social pain, any kind of standing out from the crowd, I would bail. I would run. I would run so far away. I would just run. I would run all night and day.

 

I was Israel. I worshipped other gods. I worshipped good times. I worshipped women and the amazing things their bodies offer. I would do anything for the approval of the woman in my life. I made the women in my life my gods. I made good times my god. I lived for wine, women and song. Was I Israel or what? When I hear people talk about how they avoid reading the Old Testament, I stand amazed. I stand amazed because it is my life story. I knew God from the inside. I was a preacher’s kid. I was part of the family of God without accepting Him as my God. Just like Israel. If you don’t read the Old Testament, you will never see yourself as plain as day as an example of the people of Israel. The people of Israel knew God inside and out. They knew Him. It was taught to them from birth. But they wanted the easy way out. They wanted to follow their lusts and desires. They wanted to just run. Run so far away. Just run all night and day.

 

The chorus from the Flock of Seagulls song was what came to mind this morning when I read the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 31:30-32:47. Let’s read it together now:

 

31:30 And Moses recited the words of this song from beginning to end in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:

 

32 Listen, you heavens, and I will speak;

    hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.

2

Let my teaching fall like rain

    and my words descend like dew,

like showers on new grass,

    like abundant rain on tender plants.

 

3

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.

    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!

4

He is the Rock, his works are perfect,

    and all his ways are just.

A faithful God who does no wrong,

    upright and just is he.

 

5

They are corrupt and not his children;

    to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation.

6

Is this the way you repay the Lord,

    you foolish and unwise people?

Is he not your Father, your Creator,[a]

    who made you and formed you?

 

7

Remember the days of old;

    consider the generations long past.

Ask your father and he will tell you,

    your elders, and they will explain to you.

8

When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,

    when he divided all mankind,

he set up boundaries for the peoples

    according to the number of the sons of Israel.[b]

9

For the Lord’s portion is his people,

    Jacob his allotted inheritance.

 

10

In a desert land he found him,

    in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

    he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

11

like an eagle that stirs up its nest

    and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

    and carries them aloft.

12

The Lord alone led him;

    no foreign god was with him.

 

13

He made him ride on the heights of the land

    and fed him with the fruit of the fields.

He nourished him with honey from the rock,

    and with oil from the flinty crag,

14

with curds and milk from herd and flock

    and with fattened lambs and goats,

with choice rams of Bashan

    and the finest kernels of wheat.

You drank the foaming blood of the grape.

 

15

Jeshurun[c] grew fat and kicked;

    filled with food, they became heavy and sleek.

They abandoned the God who made them

    and rejected the Rock their Savior.

16

They made him jealous with their foreign gods

    and angered him with their detestable idols.

17

They sacrificed to false gods, which are not God—

    gods they had not known,

    gods that recently appeared,

    gods your ancestors did not fear.

18

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;

    you forgot the God who gave you birth.

 

19

The Lord saw this and rejected them

    because he was angered by his sons and daughters.

20

“I will hide my face from them,” he said,

    “and see what their end will be;

for they are a perverse generation,

    children who are unfaithful.

21

They made me jealous by what is no god

    and angered me with their worthless idols.

I will make them envious by those who are not a people;

    I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.

22

For a fire will be kindled by my wrath,

    one that burns down to the realm of the dead below.

It will devour the earth and its harvests

    and set afire the foundations of the mountains.

 

23

“I will heap calamities on them

    and spend my arrows against them.

24

I will send wasting famine against them,

    consuming pestilence and deadly plague;

I will send against them the fangs of wild beasts,

    the venom of vipers that glide in the dust.

25

In the street the sword will make them childless;

    in their homes terror will reign.

The young men and young women will perish,

    the infants and those with gray hair.

26

I said I would scatter them

    and erase their name from human memory,

27

but I dreaded the taunt of the enemy,

    lest the adversary misunderstand

and say, ‘Our hand has triumphed;

    the Lord has not done all this.’”

 

28

They are a nation without sense,

    there is no discernment in them.

29

If only they were wise and would understand this

    and discern what their end will be!

30

How could one man chase a thousand,

    or two put ten thousand to flight,

unless their Rock had sold them,

    unless the Lord had given them up?

31

For their rock is not like our Rock,

    as even our enemies concede.

32

Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom

    and from the fields of Gomorrah.

Their grapes are filled with poison,

    and their clusters with bitterness.

33

Their wine is the venom of serpents,

    the deadly poison of cobras.

 

34

“Have I not kept this in reserve

    and sealed it in my vaults?

35

It is mine to avenge; I will repay.

    In due time their foot will slip;

their day of disaster is near

    and their doom rushes upon them.”

 

36

The Lord will vindicate his people

    and relent concerning his servants

when he sees their strength is gone

    and no one is left, slave or free.[d]

37

He will say: “Now where are their gods,

    the rock they took refuge in,

38

the gods who ate the fat of their sacrifices

    and drank the wine of their drink offerings?

Let them rise up to help you!

    Let them give you shelter!

 

39

“See now that I myself am he!

    There is no god besides me.

I put to death and I bring to life,

    I have wounded and I will heal,

    and no one can deliver out of my hand.

40

I lift my hand to heaven and solemnly swear:

    As surely as I live forever,

41

when I sharpen my flashing sword

    and my hand grasps it in judgment,

I will take vengeance on my adversaries

    and repay those who hate me.

42

I will make my arrows drunk with blood,

    while my sword devours flesh:

the blood of the slain and the captives,

    the heads of the enemy leaders.”

 

43

Rejoice, you nations, with his people,[e][f]

    for he will avenge the blood of his servants;

he will take vengeance on his enemies

    and make atonement for his land and people.

 

44 Moses came with Joshua[g] son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people. 45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. 47 They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

 

The song that Moses recited to the people takes up the better part of chapter 32. Deuteronomy 32:44 says that Joshua aided Moses in the recitation of this inspired song. The same day that Israel learned the Song of Moses, God directed Moses to climb Mt. Nebo, where Moses would be laid to rest (verses 48–50).

 

The song begins with a universal call to listen, followed by praise of the just, faithful, and upright God (Deuteronomy 32:1–4). In contrast to God’s faithfulness is Israel’s unfaithfulness (verses 5–6). The song proceeds to recite the history of Israel from their time of bondage in Egypt, through their wilderness wanderings, to their established place in the Promised Land (verses 7–14). The Song of Moses then becomes prophetic: Israel’s future ingratitude and idolatry are predicted, as are the judgments of God for their sin (verses 15–31). Then God promises to avenge Israel against their (and His) enemies, showing compassion on His people (verses 32–42). The song ends on a joyful note, as God’s punishment is past, righteousness is restored, and the land of Israel cleansed (verse 43).

 

A major theme of the Song of Moses is God’s faithfulness. He is called “the Rock” four times in the song (Deuteronomy 32:15, 18, 30–31). Even as God’s people are chasing whims and trusting feeble gods, God remains their steadfast, unchanging Source of Salvation.

 

The last words of the Song of Moses are a promise that God will “make atonement for his land and people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). This is a significant promise, because the atonement for God’s people is none other than the sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20).

 

Getting back to my song lyrics that I began with, I Ran, by the Flock of Seagulls. The final line of the chorus is the one line that I have not yet repeated but was saving for now – “couldn’t get away”. I ran so far away. Couldn’t get away. Even though I ran away from God, much like Israel, Israel and I could not get away from Him. He will allow circumstances of our runaway path lead us to the point that we have ourselves painted into a corner. Our life becomes a shambles. We have nowhere to turn but to return home to the God who created us. For me, it was not until I was 39 years old that came to know the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. I knew God but never really KNEW God until that moment that I accepted His love for me through what Jesus had done on the cross. I knew the redemption story but had never accepted it. I ran. I ran so far away. Just ran. I ran all night and day. But…couldn’t get away. I heard a saying from a friend the other day (and I am sure he read it somewhere), “God takes our mess and turns it into a message!” It was not until I had made a complete mess of my life. I rebelled. I ran. I blended into the culture and argued against the existence of God. I picked and choosed what parts of Scripture I liked. I changed interpretations of Bible passages to suit my needs. I made Jesus into a rebellious prophet who got Himself killed. I made him into a political rebel that I really liked. I made Jesus into a great philosopher. But I ran away from the Jesus as Son of God thing and that He was God in the flesh. That was too hard. To have faith was too hard. It was easier to be like the crowd. It was easier to fit in and worship things, people, gods of my own making. The gods of my own making allowed me to make the rules, not the Creator who created me.

 

To end up today’s blog about the Song of Moses, we will use another song. This one is by a Christian contemporary group called Vertical Church Band. The song is called “The Rock Won’t Move”. The chorus of that song goes like this:

 

The Rock won’t move and His word is strong

The Rock won’t move and His love can’t be undone

The Rock won’t move and His word is strong

The Rock won’t move and His love can’t be undone

The Rock of our Salvation

 

This rock imagery is so true of God. He never moves. He is like a solid rock that is immovable. God does not leave. We move. We move away from Him. We try to run after other gods but He is still there. He is immovable. His truth and His justice and His mercy are forever the same. Ignoring or running from God does not make Him go away. He is truth and His truth remains consistent and eternal no matter how we try to change it or cover it up or say that we know better than He. The Rock doesn’t move. We do.

 

Return oh ye sinners unto the Lord and beg His forgiveness for our wanderings and our running, our running so far away, our running all night and day. Because as the “Rock Won’t Move” goes onto say:

 

My hope is in the promise of Your blood

My support within the raging flood

Even in the tempest, I can sing

I’m hidden safe in the God who never moves

Holding fast to the promise of Your truth

That You are holding tighter still to me

 

Woah, woah

Woah, the Rock of our salvation

 

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand

All other ground is sinking sand

The Rock won’t move, the Rock won’t move

When darkness seems to hide His face

I rest in His unchanging grace

The Rock won’t move, the Rock won’t move

Come back home. Quit running. You’ve been running all night and day. It’s time to come home to the Rock that never moved.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 31:14-29

Israel’s Disobedience Predicted

You often see it among families that have wealth and privilege. The father or grandfather has worked very hard to be successful and to amass the family fortune. They have busted their tail through hard work, business smarts, and good moral choices. They have paid their dues. They did whatever it took to take care of their families. Through hard work and dedication and a little luck, they struck on an idea whose time had come and amassed a family fortune.

 

Take Do Wan Chang for example. Do Won Chang and his wife, Jin Sook, moved to America from Korea in 1981. When they first arrived, Do Won was forced to work three jobs at the same time to support them, as a janitor, a gas station attendant, and in a coffee shop. Eventually, they were able to open their first clothing store in 1984. That one store grew into Forever 21, which pioneered fast fashion and is now a multi-national, 480 store empire that generates around $3 billion in sales a year. It’s a family business, with the couple’s daughters Linda and Esther helping to run the company. According to Business Insider magazine, Chang said, “Forever 21 gives hope to people who come here with almost nothing and that is a reward that humbles me: The fact that immigrants coming to America, much like I did, can come into a Forever 21 and know that all of this was started by a simple Korean immigrant with a dream.”

 

Another example of hard work paying off is Sam Walton. Walton’s family lived on a farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. In order to make ends meet, he helped his family out by milking the cow and driving the milk out to customers. He also delivered newspapers and sold magazine subscriptions. By 26, he was managing a variety store after graduating from the University of Missouri with a B.A. in economics. He used $5,000 from the army and a $20,000 loan from his father-in-law to buy a Ben Franklin variety store in Arkansas. He expanded the chain, and then went on to found Walmart and Sam’s Club. He died in 1992, leaving the company to his wife and children. Wal-Mart is now the largest corporation in the world with revenues greater than the gross national product of some small, underdeveloped countries.

 

These are great success stories that result from the hard work of the founders of these companies. Their children are usually driven to succeed just like their parents. They often build on the work of their founding parent. However, it always seems that after that second generation, the following generations fail to grasp the concept of the hard work of their forefathers. They grow up with privilege. They grow up with everything they could want or need. They never have had to struggle. And, because of that, they typically stay right on the edge of trouble with the law, if not outright in trouble. They live the party lifestyle. You’ve seen it. Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, and children of others who have generational wealth. They have no clue of what it takes to make it in the world. They do not know the meaning of hard work. They are victims, if you will, of the success of the generations of their family before them. They worship the party lifestyle. They worship money. They worship spending it. They are vapid, empty people who have no drive and no understanding of the world and certainly no understanding of who God is.

 

Just look at our nation in general compared to the generations before us. Our grandparents or great grandparents were born into the Depression era and lived through World War II. They knew what it was to do without. They knew how to save for the future. They certainly knew how to sacrifice. Just look at the massive power of manufacturing that produced the war machines that changed the fate of Europe and Asia. They had to sacrifice to make that happen and were willing to do that without a thought because they wanted to free the world from tyranny once and for all. Their generation was called the “greatest generation.” They created a nation that emerged from World War II as a superpower both economically and militarily. Now, we are nation of self-centered generations who have never known national sacrifice. We have never known where there was not new and improved. We have never known what it is truly do without. We are absorbed with ourselves. We are a nation of do whatever makes you feel good. We are Rome right before the fall. Every society that has unprecedented success and wealth always implodes upon itself because generations grow up thinking that they have a right to their privilege without the hard work of the generations past. We are growing progressively lax morally and ethically because we do not know what is like to really have to work hard and sacrifice. Does America still have a “greatest generation” left in it?

 

These are things that I thought of this morning when I read through Deuteronomy 31:14-29. Let’s read it together now:

 

14 The Lord said to Moses, “Now the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, where I will commission him.” So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at the tent of meeting.

 

15 Then the Lord appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the tent. 16 And the Lord said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?’ 18 And I will certainly hide my face in that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.

 

19 “Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. 20 When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. 21 And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.” 22 So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites.

 

23 The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.”

 

24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: 26 “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! 28 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to testify against them. 29 For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and arouse his anger by what your hands have made.”

 

Moses knew that the Israelites, in spite of all they had seen of God’s work, were rebellious at heart. They deserved God’s punishment, and would receive it from time to time. We, too, are a stubborn and rebellious people by nature. Throughout our lives we struggle with sin. Throughout our lives, we turn away from God even though we know of His great power. We must constantly be vigilant to not listen to the lies that we deserve to do this or do that because it feels good. We must constantly be aware of sin’s siren call on our lives. We must constantly be aware that sin has its consequences. We must learn that God’s desires for us is to keep us from harm. He does not lay down His commands to be controlling of us. He simply knows that straying from Him will lead us to destruction. It is a fact that proves itself out every day and in every generation. He simply loves us and wants us to turn away from that which is opposite of His desires for us.

 

However, He is a just God. He allows us to reap the results of our sins. God hates sin and we revel in thumbing our nose at Him. At some point, we must account for our sins. The wages of sin is death and we will be judged for how we have lived this life. We are sinners who will receive our judgment. We have committed so many sin crimes against God, we do not deserve His mercy. Just as Israel did not deserve the continuing mercies of God, neither do we. Just as spoiled rich kids that thumb their noses at their wealthy parents do not deserve the wealth they were born into, neither do we deserve the mercies of God. It is found only in turning away from sin and begging mercy of God through Jesus Christ that we have hope and a future. It is true for nations collectively and it is true for us individually.

 

May we be persons individually who understand that sin has its consequences, that sin is sin no matter how we lawyer it up and explain it away, that we do not deserve anything and owe everything to God through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. May we realize that we are sinners to the day we die and that we do not deserve the cross but it is only through the mercies of God that we survive. May we realize the desperate need we have for the mercy of God and live lives that are to please Him rather than our own egos.

 

May we be a nation that realizes exactly how blessed we are and that we do not deserve the wealth and privilege that we are born into. We do not deserve to be born here. It is simply a privilege. Help us to be a nation that, as a result of the unmerited gifts that we have been given, the privileges that we know, and be a nation that is thankful and obedient to God. May we be a nation that understands our privilege and obeys God as a result rather than thinking that we have this natural right to the trappings of our life. May we be a beacon to the rest of the world of a thankful and blessed people rather than a beacon of greed, self-centeredness, and unchecked desires.

 

May we always remember God and how it all comes from Him and obey His commands out of love and honor for Him rather than rebelling against Him.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 31:9-13

Public Reading of the Book of Instruction

The youngest child of a couple that are dear friends of ours is graduating here within the next two weeks. She is an intelligent, thoughtful young lady and it shows in how she talks to adults. She seems like a really smart girl. Her dad would agree with you but he would say that she works really hard at it and puts in the work. She is right at the edge of being one of those brainy types where it all comes so easy, but he says she has made great grades all through school not because it is super easy for her but because she busts her butt academically. I know that she will be a success in her career ahead, because she already knows how to work hard.

 

That reminds me of myself. My brother was the one with the eidetic memory. My brother can remember volumes of things as a natural gift. School for the most part was easy for him. Me, on the other hand, I was smart and had a ravenous desire for learning, but I had to work hard at it. Sunday-Thursday nights during the school year growing up, I was hard at work on my school assignments. I worked hard and it showed in my grades. I was a good student and I made really good grades but I had to put in the hard work. When I went to Furman after graduation from high school, I found out that I was not as smart as I thought I was. I was among intellectual giants there. All of those kids had grown up privileged and rich They went to the best private schools and had the best teachers and tutors. They were like two blocks up the street ahead of me. I could see them ahead of me and I was running to catch up with them. Man, for me, college was hard, especially at Furman University, “the Yale of the South”. I really did have to work hard there. Carrying a full load each semester, working full-time, and being married (for the last three years of college), man did I have to work hard to just keep up. I finished with a 2.7 GPA and it could have been better were it not for a horrid spring semester my sophomore year. I worked my butt off to almost pulling off a cumulative 3.0 GPA at a prestigious school like Furman. But there were friends I had there that had 3.9’s and 4.0 GPA. They were brilliant people that are doctors, lawyers, preachers now and are the best in their fields. Me, I have done Ok. I managed to garner a 3.8 GPA in my business master’s degree. I am good at what I do because of Furman, Southern Wesleyan (for my masters degree) and because of a lot of hard work, attention to detail, and that burning desire to be excellent at whatever I do, both academically and professionally.

 

Then there was my ministerial master’s degree and now my pursuit of my doctorate in ministerial studies. In both these situations, I am going to school with people who have been in ministry for years and seem to have their Christian walk and biblical understanding that is so far beyond my base level knowledge of Scripture, I feel like I am back at Furman again. Living among intellectual superiors who have forgotten more than I know. I feel like they know a language and a set of buzz words that I don’t even know. I feel like I came to the party late (and I have). I feel like that I don’t have the innate spiritual knowledge that they have. I feel two steps behind and walking a peg leg with a bad back compared to these guys, particularly in the doctoral program that I am participating in now. It’s kind of that feeling that you get when you have a dream that you walk into class in nothing but your underwear and everybody knows it but you until you realize it and it’s too late. I am working hard at my doctorate right now but it is because of working hard at it that I have had success so far.

 

It is the same with my relationship with the Lord. Some people seem to come natural to it. I have to work hard at it. That’s the reason for this daily blog. I am trying to connect the dots of my life experiences to Scripture. I am trying to show myself how Scripture applies to my life as I move forward through it. Some people can remember Bible verses and passages like they remember to brush their teeth in the morning. For me, I must read a passage, think on it, and write about it before it becomes part of my background operating system of my brain. I will never know Scripture front ways and backwards like some. But I am working hard at it. I love doing this blog as much for myself as for my readers. I need this. It is how I process and learn. Working hard at it. Living the Christian life requires me to study at it as it is not something that is naturally there. I am passionate about my faith. I am passionate to learn more and more and more about Scripture. I love those light bulb moments when Scripture comes alive in my brain and I get it! I love helping others to do the same. I have to study and study and study God’s Word. I bust my butt spiritually just to be a good student of the Master.

 

Thinking of how I have to work harder and study constantly in my academic pursuits and in my relationship with the Lord is what I thought about when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 31:9-13 and how there was a plan to keep God’s Word before His people:

 

9 So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 Then Moses commanded them: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns—so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. 13 Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

 

As we see in this passage, the laws were to be read to the whole assembly so that everyone, including children, could hear them. Every seven years, the entire nation would gather together and listen as a priest read the law to them. There were for the most part no books, Bibles, or websites to spread the Word of God, so the people had to rely on word of mouth as an accurate memory. Memorization was an important part of worship because, if everyone knew the law, ignorance would be no excuse for breaking it. To fulfill God’s purpose and will in our lives, we need the content and substance of His Word in our hearts and minds. For the Israelites, this process began in childhood. Teaching our children and any new believers should be one of our top priorities. Our finest teachers, best resources, and most careful thought should be directed toward showing young believers how to follow God in all life’s situations.

 

The same is true for us as believers who have been at this Christian thing for a while. We must keep God’s Word ever before us. We must never think that we have arrived. We must never get to a place where we think we have arrived and thus are not in need of God’s Word. Even as mature Christians, we must have dog-eared Bibles. We must have Bibles where the binding is beginning to fall apart from daily use. We are never too old to learn something new through biblical instruction. We may think we are above basics for believers classes because we have been Christians for a decade, two decades, or three. We may think we are above needing to read the Bible every morning or every night. We know this stuff, we say. I think we need to get back to the basics and relearn our beliefs because we are still finite humans. We should never be so arrogant that the basics of God’s Word and the basics of the Christian faith that have sprung from it that we cannot ever be in a state of learning. I went back and took our basics for believers class at church along with the new believers. It was an uplifting experience. It’s like reading a passage over and over through the years and then there’s that one day that you read for the 999th time that it just blows you away.

 

We never should get spiritually complacent and arrogant such that we are above the need for hard work and study. We are trying to keep up with an infinite and all-knowing God who reveals rich treasures to us in His Word that are not always evident to our finite minds. We must always be in a state of learning from our Master. We will never “arrive”. We will never be accomplished. We will never be on the mountaintop. We must work hard at this Christ following thing. We must work harder and harder and constantly be learning about our wonderful God and why we believe what we believe about Him. We must stay immersed in His Word so that we will know Him and so that He will reveal new things that we never knew before. He is infinite and we are finite. We must work hard always and for a lifetime learning what we can learn about a God who is mighty and so far beyond what our feeble minds can comprehend. He will reveal to us what He wants us to know when He want us to know it. But we have to work hard at it and have a ravenous desire to learn and a ravenous desire to know more and more and more about God.

 

Amen and Amen.

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

Joshua Becomes Israel’s Leader

You see it a lot in professional sports. A guy who has stayed one year too long in the league. No longer are they able to perform at the high level they once did, but too proud to say that it’s time to hang it up. One of the famous examples of this phenomenon was Joe Namath. Back in the days before the merger of the American Football League and the National Football League, Joe was one of the first high profile college quarterbacks to accept a contract from the younger, upstart league (the AFL was formed in 1960 while the NFL dates back to the early 1920s). The NFL always got the best the college prospects but this time the New York Jets of the AFL offered Joe Namath a contract that the NFL owners would not be willing to match and Joe became a Jet. He was young, brash, and loud, but he could always back up his mouth with his play on the field. His leading of his New York Jets to victory over the vaunted Baltimore Colts in the 2nd Super Bowl (after the 1969 season) was a landmark moment in the rivalry between the two leagues that ultimately led to the merger of the two. In the years after that Super Bowl, Joe continued to have a couple of really good seasons after that but knee injury after knee injury began to slow him down.

 

He became at the end a shell of the great quarterback that he once was. Yet, he would not retire. He was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams and ended his career quietly and with little fanfare at the end of the 1977 season. There are many such examples in pro sports of hanging on too long and not leaving with dignity. Joe Montana was another great quarterback that spent all but one year of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers but because of pride refused to retire as a 49er when management thought it was time to hand the reins off to the younger (and equally talented) Steve Young. Montana robbed his fans in San Francisco and the NFL in general of that farewell tour for the man who was the face of the franchise for more than a decade. Instead, he still wanted the glory. Although he performed well in KC, he was injured for about half the time he was there. He finally retired after the 1994 season, but what a spectacle it would have been if he had retired as a 49er, going out at the height of his career three years earlier.

 

These are celebrity superstar football players that are in the news, but sometimes we see it right around us. In old traditional Baptist churches, you will see pastors who had been at a church for 30 or 40 years and it is obvious that they have outlived their prime and their greatest effectiveness as pastors. They are a shell of the pastor that they once were, but because of the honor of the powers-that-be at the church, they want to the let the pastor retire on his own terms rather than being forced out. In the Methodist Church where, because of the system that they use, pastors at best will stay at a church for a decade at the most, you will see pastors who refuse to retire and end up being transferred to backwater circuits where they are serving small little country churches when they once pastor large metropolitan churches. Knowing when to quit is important. Knowing when it is time to move on is important.

 

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 how Moses felt at this moment. Let’s read the passage together, Deuteronomy 31:1-8.

 

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 Moses’ position. He was the grand poobah of the people of Israel and had been for about 42-43 years. He had be the guy in charge that led his people out of Egypt through mighty confrontations with the Pharoah. He had managed the people as they became the people of God at Mt. Sinai. He had an intimate relationship with God himself. He had been in the presence of God more times than you could count. He had developed the system of government and dispute resolution of the Hebrew people. He had ran the nation of people and had put up with a lot of bellyaching and complaining over the years. But God tells him that He will not get to the Promised Land. God tells him that he will die before he gets there. He had done a lot of hard work, thankless work over the years. But he would not get the credit of being the guy who led them to that final destination. You would think He would be bitter, but he was able to address the nation and reaffirm the covenant that the people had with the Lord and to pass on the mantle of leadership to Joshua.

 

What struck me this morning is how we finish is as important as how we start and how we are at the height of our skill. As leaders, we must know when to say when. We must be willing to accept that we are no longer performing at our top level. Also, we must know when it’s time to move on even if we are doing great right where we are. For example, with Moses, he was just what the people of Israel needed when they were a nomadic people who had only periodic skirmishes or battles with other people groups. However, what was called for when entering into the Promised Land was going to be a leader that was a great military leader for one thing and a great leader of a settled nation with boundaries and cities and towns, a standing army, actual buildings of the seat of government and so on. Knowing when its time to turn over the reins of leadership to someone who is better equipped for the new phase of your organization is the toughest thing to do especially when you are still in your prime. Sometimes, it is as important as knowing when to retire.

 

If you are a pastor who can handle the management of a smaller church of 200 or less but you are not equipped to handle a church’s growth past that barrier (where the pastor personally knows and interacts with each member of his flock), it may be best for you to move on to allow someone who is more gifted and talented at managing other pastors and more gifted at administration to take over. That type of pastor is more equipped to take the church to 500 and maybe to a 1000 or more.

 

For us personally, do you know when it’s time to move on? Do you know when it’s time to retire? Are you serving in a capacity at church but refuse to give up your position because of pride? Are you willing to say, this is what is best for the church – to allow someone to take my place who has the ability to move the ministry to the next phase of its life cycle. That is not to say that they are better at leading than you. It is simply recognizing that you may have been the groundbreaker and the builder but the next person is the one who builds on what you have done. This leader may have not been the one who could have founded the ministry. They did not have those talents to create something out of nothing like you, but they do have the skills for the next phase of ministry for your ministry.

 

It is important for us as leaders of the church to do what is best for the church and not necessarily what we want. Sometimes, we get God’s church and Our church confused. I once heard my senior pastor say that the church is the bride of Christ, not my bride. He said we as leaders of the church cannot forget that. We are simply hear to prepare the bride to meet Christ when He returns. We must know when to say when. We must know when it is time for us to allow others to lead and so that God can show us what is next for us in ministry. What if Moses had refused to leave Midian? He would have never experienced the greatest part of His ministry and His greatest moments of closeness to God. Here, though, at the precipice of the Promised Land, Moses was man enough to accept God’s will and pass on the leadership of the people to Joshua.

 

Finishing well is important, whether its retirement or moving on to the next thing that God has for us. Finishing well requires prayer. We must have an intimate prayer life so that pride does not get in the way of letting go to another leader. We must through the counsel of the Holy Spirit through prayer and through God’s Word to be able to hear that it is time to close out this chapter of our lives and move on. Knowing God’s will requires intimacy with him and the humility to understand when it’s time to say when! We need to prepare the way for the next leader. We must also be aware and open to what God has in store for us. What if Peter had refused to leave the fishing boats? What if he had not been open to the Holy Spirit’s influence on his life? Man, what he would have missed? What if Paul had refused to listen to what Jesus had to say in his vision on the Damascus Road? Where would the church be now? Where would the New Testament be (about one half its final canon)? What if we were so prideful in trying to hold on to what we have right now that we refuse to see the opportunity that God has for us next? What if it involves not moving from the church you are at now but changing roles at the church you are at now? We must listen for the Lord to tell us when to stay and when to go. We must do that through being obedient to His counsel through prayer and through God’s Word.

 

Let us learn to finish well. Let us learn to know when its time to stay and when its time to move on. Let us be open to what God has next for us. Let us be willing to hand the reins to another for the good of the bride of Christ. Let us be willing and open to do that so that God can show us what comes after Midian, what comes after the Damascus Road, what comes after the fishing boats, what comes next! Finish well!

 

Amen and Amen.

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.