Category: Deuteronomy (page 1 of 3)

Obey the Lord in Front of Your Community

“Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” ~Deuteronomy 6:8-9

Your commitment to God is a public matter. After all, what does it mean to write, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” on your front door? It’s a constant reminder that your first allegiance is to God. Every time you leave your house and every time you come home, it’s a reminder that your loyalty to the Lord controls all your activities both inside and outside your house. It declares to all your friends who visit you and to all strangers who drive by that the Lord is not just the unseen guest in your house, he is the supreme ruler.

And on the gates. The gates were the community gathering place, where things were bought and sold, where justice was administered, and where reputations were made. Dependence on the Lord was to be declared and practiced in the middle of all that, too.

Love the Lord with your whole person and obey the Lord with your whole life.

I think, as Christians, we are subject to a couple of temptations. We are tempted to treat our relationship with God as primarily a private interior thing or only as an exercise in external performance. It can’t be just one of those things. It must be both. Our love for the Lord and our devotion to him alone is certainly rooted in the heart. But it’s demonstrated in the wholeness of our lives, in a passion to speak about our faith with our families, and to publicly declare our allegiance to the Lord in front of the world. This passage says the very decorations in our homes and the things we wear on our arms and around our necks should testify to our loyalties to God.

Peace,

Allan

Obey the Lord with Your Family

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” ~Deuteronomy 6:7

Your devotion to the Lord is a family matter. Declaring that the Lord is our only God means you talk about him with your family, intentionally and spontaneously. The Lord’s love and grace for us and his mighty acts on our behalf and his plans for us as his people — those are the topics of conversation around the dinner table, on road trips, and when it’s time for bed.

A people who belong to God are required to indoctrinate their kids. I don’t care how that sounds; that’s the right word. We’re commanded to pass it on to our children and we accomplish that by impressing these words on them. This word “impress” means to repeat over and over, to teach by repetition, constantly repeating.

So, talking about the Lord doesn’t just happen at church on Sunday. This is about Monday in the house and Tuesday on the way to school and Wednesday when you wake up and Thursday at the store and Friday while you’re eating a club sandwich and Saturday while you’re in the middle of laundry. Talking to your children about the Lord is not for the high priest or the children’s minister or the new youth minister. This is mom and dad and uncle and aunt and grandma and big sister. This is what you do as a family that’s faithful to God. You establish the priority with your children and your grandchildren. You let them know what the first things are — the important things — by repeating the words over and over, by making talking about the Lord a regular part of your routine.

Peace,

Allan

 

Obey the Lord as an Individual

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” ~Deuteronomy 6:6

The Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, this foundational passage that demands we put first things first, details a love for the Lord and an obedience to God that extends to every part of one’s life. Verse five tells us to love the Lord with every bit of who we are. Verse six commands us to obey the Lord first as an individual.

We live in an age where all of us are trained from the cradle to choose for ourselves what’s best for us. By the time we can hold a spoon we’re choosing from 87 different kinds of breakfast cereal. We decide what clothes we’re going to wear and what color our hair is going to be. I decide what college I’m going to attend, what kind of car I’m going to drive, who I’m going to marry, and what church we’re going to join. It’s affirmed to us over and over in our society: I have the decisive say in the formation of my life.

What I need and want and feel is what controls and shapes my life.

My needs are non-negotiable. My needs are essential to my identity. My need for fulfillment, for expression, for respect, for my rights, my need to get my own way — those can become my center and my reason for being.

My wants are compelling. The goods and services I demand, more things to possess, more situations to control, more stuff and more power — that can become my motivation and my goals.

My feelings are paramount. Our culture tells me more and more that what I feel is actually who I am. Any thing or person who can give me joy or excitement or happiness validates me as a human being. So I require more vacations, more technology gadgets, more hobbies, and more entertainment so I never get bored or upset or discontent. If I’m not careful, my feelings can become the truth of who I am.

Obedience to God has to be at the core center of my life. The Lord and his Word, his commands, his ways — have to be the authoritative center of your life or things won’t go well. We’ll sink into a swamp of well-meaning men and women who are stuck in our needs and wants and feelings.

We obey the Lord’s commandments first because they reside deep in our hearts. His commands are at the core of who we are and what we do. When we put first things first, all that other stuff takes care of itself.

Peace,

Allan

First Things First

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” ~Deuteronomy 6:4-9

This passage is called the Shema. That’s the Hebrew word for “hear,” the first word in these famous ancient words. For more than four-thousand years the Israelites and Jews have recited these words out loud at least twice a day. Orthodox Jews today recite this passage out loud during their morning and evening prayers. These words are vitally important in both Jewish and Christian history, they’re so foundational for our faith.

Who is the God of Israel? Who is our God? Who are we loyal to? How many gods are we going to have?

“The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”

This is truly first things first. Before we cross the Jordan River, before we settle in the new land, before we become lights to these people and God’s image-bearers in the world, before we do anything… are we going to be devoted to the Lord? Will we be faithful to the Lord exclusively, or are we going to be seduced by the pagan gods of this new country?

By reciting this statement day after day, year after year, century after century, God’s people declare their complete and unqualified devotion to the Lord. This is not just a monotheistic confession. It’s not “This God is one God.” It’s “This God is our one and only God! We will not serve any other God!” This is a foundational pledge of allegiance. This is an affirmation of a dead-serious commitment. This statement is all about who we are and to whom we belong. First things first.

In order to consider the depth of what’s being confessed, I want to break this passage down into four parts this week.  First, today, you love the Lord with your whole person.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”

That’s interesting, isn’t it? Can you command somebody to love? Isn’t love a mysterious feeling that just appears and sometimes disappears? Isn’t love just an emotion and it’s either here or it’s not? No, not according to Scripture. The Bible teaches that love is an act of the will. Love is more about intentional action than accidental feelings. Each one of us decides whether to love or not. In the ancient Hebrew language, the word for “heart” here actually means your heart and your mind; this is your entire inner being. This is where you feel and think. It’s both.

The literal word for “soul” here is “throat” or “gullet.” It means your appetites, your desires, who you are as a person who does things and interacts with the world and other people.

And then “strength.” This Hebrew word is translated in the Greek Old Testament as “dynamis.” That means “power.” Dynamite, right? Hebrew scholars say this is about any power you have to accomplish something — maybe “resources” would be a better word. Physical strength, yes; but also economic or social strength, maybe even the things you own like tools or livestock or your house.

The point is: you love the Lord your God with your whole person, without reservation. No loopholes. A covenant commitment to the Lord that’s rooted in your heart, but extends to every level of your being. Jesus quotes this verse and says this is the most important thing. This is primary, the first thing! Love the Lord with your whole person.

Peace,

Allan

The Creed & Biblical Identity

CommunityPeople“The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” Deuteronomy 6:4

This “creed” in Deuteronomy is about the corporate identity of Israel as the people of the one true and living God. This is who we are. This is in your heart. Impress this on your kids. Talk about this all the time. This is who we are.

In Corinth, the church was really struggling with their identity. “The church leader I follow is more important and more respected than the church leader you follow.” “I have more and better spiritual gifts than you do.” “I pledge my loyalty to Christ, but I don’t want to give up the prestigious civic luncheons at the pagan temple.” “Pool people can belong to our church, but the culture says they can’t eat the meal with me at my table.”

Paul answers all of that by reminding them of who they are and to whom they belong. In correcting their behavior, he reminds them of the story to which they now belong:

“I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the Word I preached to you… For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

This is who we are. Summaries of the core beliefs remind us. There’s a difference between the non-negotiables of the Christian faith and the disputable matters that aren’t that important. Likewise, the Apostles’ Creed reminds us: these are the mountains we die on. And becoming more familiar with the mountains keeps us from sticking our flags in the molehills, from getting our knickers in a wad over silly stuff.

This is who we are. This is what we believe.

And today, as Christianity falls farther out of favor with our culture, as the world becomes more secular and more hostile to our faith, we’re going to be less and less identified by the secondary things. The primary things will move more and more to the center of who we are. The Apostles’ Creed is primary. Things of first importance.

Peace,

Allan

Church: No Whining Zone

“Do all things without complaining or arguing.” ~Philippians 2:14

The Greek word in the original text is panta: all things, everything, total, complete, whole, every kind of, all of it, the whole enchilada. No matter how you translate it, there’s not one part of your life as a disciple of Christ that is not implicated here. Most of us, I think, are pretty good at doing most things without complaining or arguing. Most of us. But all things? Everything?

Just so you’re fully prepared for what is about to follow, here’s the whole text:

“Do all things without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” ~Philippians 2:14-16

Paul takes complaining and arguing very seriously. According to the apostle, God’s purpose for you, what God is working in you, what transforms you into blameless and pure children of God, what allows you to shine like stars as a powerful witness to the difference he makes in the lives of his children, which is God’s whole plan for you — all of that begins with “Do all things without complaining or arguing.”

When you’re complaining or arguing, your Christian witness is hindered, if not completely destroyed. You have no credibility with the world.

You claim to be a child of the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth, you claim to be a subject of the eternal Lord who has defeated sin and death and Satan and reigns right now today at the right hand of God, you claim to be a citizen of heaven, a citizen of the Kingdom that cannot be shaken, you claim to belong to a God who promises to always protect and provide, but when you complain and argue you’re telling the world you don’t believe a word of it. Your behavior contradicts your belief. You live like those things don’t really matter, like they have no impact on your life. And it wrecks your testimony. Why would anyone think that your belief and your faith work for all the massive eternal questions, why would they suppose your allegiance to Christ and his Kingdom provides all the answers to sin and suffering and death, if it won’t even work at the Whataburger drive-thru or in line at the post office?

Sometimes I think we actually reward this godless behavior in the Church.

Church positions should never be formed and church decisions should never be made based on who’s going to complain. Church policy can’t be based on complaining or arguing because complaining and arguing have no place in the lives of God’s people, much less a prominent place in an important decision-making process. When we allow the complainers to dictate the direction — or non-direction — of the congregation, we’re honoring and rewarding the outright disobedience of one of God’s direct commands. It’s like finding a dozen people in the church who are suffering personal bankruptcy or presiding over failed businesses to chair the church’s finance committee and set the annual budgets. It’s the same as allowing six or seven guys who are currently cheating on their wives to teach the young marrieds class.

Why do we honor the complainers?

In Deuteronomy 32, the grumblers and complainers were punished by God. They were declared by God to not be his children anymore because of their complaining. Yet, so many of our church leaders honor the complainers by bowing to their grumblings when it comes to charting the direction of the congregation.

I would gently suggest that we all — panta all — pledge from this moment forward to take complaining and arguing as seriously as the apostle Paul does. Vow to stop doing it. Church leaders, promise to stop rewarding it.

Peace,

Allan

 

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