Deuteronomy 34:1-7 – Take the Long View

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, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 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.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak, nor his strength gone. (New International Version)

A signpost stands at a fork in the road.

Pointing in one direction, the sign says “Victory.”

Pointing in another direction, the sign says, “Fulfillment.”

We must pick a direction.

Which one will we choose?

If we choose the path to Victory,

the goal is to win!

We will experience the thrill of competition,

as we rush toward the finish line.

Crowds gather to cheer for us!

And then it’s over.

And everyone goes home.

If we choose the path to Fulfillment,

The journey will be long.

There will be times in which we must watch our step.

There will be times we can stop to enjoy the view.

We keep going.

We keep going.

Crowds gather to join us on the journey.

And when our lives are over,

those who joined us on the path to Fulfillment,

will keep going without us and

inspire others to join them, too.

–Simon Sinek

Fulfillment

It wasn’t all about Moses. The dream and vision of entering the Promised Land didn’t die with Moses. He was just one character, albeit an especially important character, along generations of Israelites who anticipated the fulfillment of God’s promises to the people.

In Christianity, the victory has already been won. In Christ, every good promise of God is and will be fulfilled. Therefore, we can choose fulfillment. We can live into Christ’s victory over sin, death, and hell by choosing to be fulfilled in our Christian lives and our Christian service.

Fulfillment of our godly dreams, good vision, and compassionate ministry requires looking beyond the short term. Long term sustainable thriving in Christian mission and flourishing as a Christian community requires an eternal perspective.

Change

To have the end in mind, a future far ahead of us, demands systemic change. This alternative system will be inspirational, not fear-based. Rather than afraid of what might happen, a long term view is for the next generation – not the next budget crisis due to the next building need.

Maybe because I have been a pastor for so long and know my tenure in each place is only temporary, I know that my vision needs to look further down the road than my own time with a group of people. And a vision of any faith community needs to outlast our own mortal existence. If such a perspective and vision appear as if it will take the energy and will you do not have, then there is no shame in saying so and planning for a good death.

Resilience

The church is resilient. It has lasted two millennia. She has weathered a lot of challenge and adversity.

Metaphors matter. The word pictures we use are important. I choose not to view the church as the first bite of the apple, which I believe is the best bite. Instead, I see the church as a fine cigar. It’s the last puff of a cigar which to me is the best of all. Christ’s Church is far from its last puff. Rather, I’m saying that the best is yet to come.

Perseverance

Your best years are not in the past; they are in the future. And that is exactly what the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews wanted his readers to see. Yes, it is difficult in the present. You might be tired and weary, feeling as if you cannot keep going with this whole church thing. Maybe you’ve even dropped out altogether. So, according to Hebrews, this is what we do:

You must encourage one another each day. And you must keep on while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If you don’t, then sin may fool some of you and make you stubborn. (Hebrews 3:13, CEV)

Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIV)

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance of faith…. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess…. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:22-24, 35-36, NIV)

So then, with endurance, let’s run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up,and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne. Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged, and you won’t give up. (Hebrews 12:1-3, CEB)

So, through Jesus we should never stop offering our sacrifice to God. That sacrifice is our praise, coming from lips that speak his name. And don’t forget to do good and to share what you have with others, because sacrifices like these are very pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:15-16, ERV)

Community

If we are united in a common cause; choose to collaborate with others; then, even if there is no clear end in sight; we will be on a road of contributing to something bigger than ourselves; something with value that will last well beyond our own lifetimes.

We can anticipate fulfillment.

This is a hard road. It requires counting the cost of discipleship. More important than our doing, is our way of being together, how we are with one another.

For, in the end, relationships bring fulfillment because relationships are the only things we will take with us.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 – Leave a Spiritual Heritage

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

Remember God’s Law

The book of Deuteronomy is a farewell address by Moses to the Israelites. Moses was about to die. The Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. So, Moses restated God’s law and called the people to remember all that God had done. He exhorted the people to communicate the law and their heritage to the next generations. If God’s Word and God’s ways are continually observed, then the people would prosper in the land.

The overarching command and call to the people is to love God with everything they have and everything they are. God’s people are to have a total commitment of mind, body, emotions, and spirit to the law of God. Each ability and gift, and all that makes a person a person, is to have its clear direction and orientation toward loving God through obeying God’s commands.

Talk About God’s Word

The love of God is meant to become a habit in the normal daily rhythms of life. And we are told how to do that:  impress God’s commands in the family; talk about them at home; talk about them when you are out and about; talk about them in the morning and the evening; even write them out and have them before you continually.  The entire day is an opportunity to love God by talking about God’s Word.

The privilege of discussing God’s Word doesn’t need to be forced or awkward. Yet, it is something which needs some intention and purpose to it. Most people like talking about things which are important to them. If someone is really into classic cars, he does not have to try and force a conversation about it because it just comes out of him. Because they go to car shows, maybe own a classic car that they are continually tinkering with, and read up on car magazines, a discussion about the subject is quite natural to them.

So, then, the best way to live into God’s law is to spend time with God through regular Bible reading, focused and earnest prayer, conversing with others, and taking advantage of opportunities to learn and know about God.  For the Christian, talking about Jesus is meant to be organic, springing from a heart which loves God and observes God’s law.

Discuss God with Family

When it comes to family, we don’t need to be an expert on God or the Bible. We just need a willingness and a curiosity to ask questions. Typically, when raising my girls, most of our conversations at the table centered around one question I would ask. We discussed it, talked about it, and mulled it over. Sometimes it was a deep theological question. At other times, it was a practical question. My wife and I often had others share a meal with us, so I usually asked our guests to tell their God story or participate with us in the question. If they were not Christian, I would ask them what they thought about Jesus, and why.

God loves it when we have conversation in the home around biblical teaching. God also loves it when we have discussions in public. Some Orthodox Jewish persons still to this day wear a “phylactery” on their foreheads – a small box with little Scripture passages inside of it – testifying to their value of the written Word.

I’m not sure that’s what Moses had in mind when he talked about binding God’s commands on the forehead and tying them as symbols on the hands. Much of the Hebrew language is metaphorical, speaking about concrete things as a way of communicating something intangible. So, I wonder if the big idea here is simply to be open about faith and love for God and the law.

Keep Tangible Reminders of Scripture

Although I don’t believe we have to take these verses quite so literally, there is, however, something to be said for keeping Holy Scripture in front of us, continually, to remember divine commands and promises. It’s good to write some Bible verses and place them on your bathroom mirror, the dash of your car, in your pants pocket, or anywhere you will see them on a regular basis. It’s a practical way of remembering to observe all that God has commanded.

Physical reminders of significant spiritual events can help us keep God’s Word in our lives. When the Israelites experienced God in some significant way, they built an altar. For example, when they approached the Jordan River to enter the land, God caused the water to stop flowing so that they could cross over. Here is what happen next: 

Joshua erected a monument, using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan. And then he told the People of Israel, “In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

“Yes, God, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as God, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always.” (Joshua 4:20-24, MSG)

Passing the spiritual baton and leaving a heritage for future generations is a sacred trust. The best way for that to happen is within the home, talking about God and Scripture as a daily routine, as well as freely conversing about spirituality in public.

Pass Faith to the Next Generation Church

Hopefully, God and Jesus get talked about in the church! There are several ways churches can impress God’s Word to younger generations: 

  1. Train them to lead.  Adults do not have to do everything in the church. Every generation can be empowered to engage in ministries on a regular basis. Everyone needs a mentor to do anything well – which means taking others with us along the journey of ministry so they can both shadow and participate.
  2. Empathize with young people and young families. That means avoiding criticism. It’s easy for older generations to be critical about millennials – their lack of involvement, or how they live their lives. They don’t need our criticism; they need our help. To have empathy means we recognize they’re just trying to do the best they can in a crazy world. A world, I might add, which is quite different than the one many of us grew up in. This is an extremely competitive world, requiring more energy and drive than previous generations. Being a student today is not like being a student when I was a kid.  Being a young parent is not the same today as it once was. Today’s family structure is completely changed; what we think of as a traditional family only makes up 7% of the American population. The stance to take on this is not to criticize, but to encourage and help.
  3. Take Jesus’ message seriously.  Discussion, conversation, questions, and mutual sharing are the ways Jesus developed his followers, and it is a way we can reach younger generations. Dialogue goes a lot further than just telling others what they should believe and do.
  4. Adopt a young person, or a young family. If you consider yourself part of an older generation, seriously consider taking a younger person or even family under your wing who is not related to you. Invite them to a meal, read these verses, and discuss them together. Commit to praying for them daily for a set period.
  5. Look for ways to support children, teens, and young families. Prioritizing younger generations means they don’t have to do everything our way. Rather, it means we will listen to what they need in loving God and building into their own kids’ lives.
  6. Be great neighbors. Discuss, teach, empower, and develop young people without criticism into good neighbors who engage their local community by addressing issues with great love and lots of compassion.

There are certainly more ways to engage. The idea here is that we think about how to embody the teaching we have in Deuteronomy by passing on God’s love and God’s Word. Where will you start? Is there a way that resonates with you?  If you are a younger generation, who are some people you believe could be helpful to you? Let’s work together to realize God’s Word springing to life!

Deuteronomy 11:1-17 – Knowing Our Boundaries

Love the Lord your God and follow his instruction, his regulations, his case laws, and his commandments always. And know right now what your children haven’t known or yet witnessed:

  • The Lord your God’s discipline, his power, his mighty hand and outstretched arm.
  • The signs and the acts that he performed in the heart of Egyptian territory, against Egypt’s King Pharaoh and all his land.
  • What God did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots—how he made the water of the Reed Sea flow over their heads when they chased after you, but the Lord destroyed them, and that’s how things stand right now.
  • What the Lord did for you in the desert, until you arrived at this place.
  • And what he did to Dathan and Abiram, the descendants of Eliab the Reubenite, when the ground opened its mouth and swallowed them, their families, their tents, and every living thing they possessed in the presence of all Israel.

Your own eyes witnessed each of these powerful acts the Lord performed. So, keep every part of the commandment that I am giving you today so that you stay strong to enter and take possession of the land that you are crossing over to possess, and so that you might prolong your life on the fertile land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants—a land full of milk and honey.

The land you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt, where you came from, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it by hand like a vegetable garden. No, the land you are entering to possess is a land of hills and valleys, where your drinking water will be rain from heaven. It’s a land that the Lord cares for: The Lord’s eyes are on it constantly from the first of the year until the very end of the year.

Now, if you completely obey God’s commandments that I am giving you right now, by loving the Lord your God and by serving him with all your heart and all your being, then he will provide rain for your land at the right time—early rain and late rain—so you can stock up your grain, wine, and oil. He will also make your fields lush for your livestock, and you will eat and be satisfied. But watch yourselves! Otherwise, your heart might be led astray so you stray away, serving other gods and worshipping them. Then the Lord’s anger would burn against you. He will close the sky up tight. There won’t be any rain, and the ground won’t yield any of its crops. You will quickly disappear off the wonderful land the Lord is giving to you. (Common English Bible)

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out.”

Henry Cloud

God has boundaries. The Lord doesn’t just flit about doing whatever seems alright for the moment. No, God is firmly secure as the divine Being. God has a deliberate will and way. The Creator God is not okay with created humanity having no boundaries. Since we are people created in God’s image, we are to reflect that image in all things, including having the established boundary of taking charge of our own spiritual lives and obeying the Lord in all things.

God has opened the way of redemption for wayward people. It came first in the incredible event of the exodus from Egypt, then in the culmination of our freedom through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Therefore, God expects us to live into this opportunity without blaming divine action or inaction for our problems, as if fault lies outside of us. Just because God stands up to people and does not cave into their demands and their whining does not make the Lord mean or unjust – it simply means God doesn’t need the props or accolades of people. God is secure enough to not be dependent on humans.

Divine expectations are quite clear on where the boundary lines fall: Love. Yes, indeed, it comes down to love. Love the Lord your God and always hold tightly to the law with its statutes, rules, and commandments. There is no fudge factor to that statement, scratching our heads wondering what we ought to be doing. If we obey God, we will discover life as it ought to be lived – free from all the machinations of the world’s brokenness and insecurity – and yet securely confined within godly boundaries. 

God can exhort people to be strong and take the land. That’s because the Lord made it possible for them to do so by acting in history. Therefore, God expects us to respond in obedience to the boundary lines established so that we will flourish and grow as people in a new land.

There is a big divine pasture for us to enjoy and thrive within. Yes, there is a fence around it, marking the boundary of where we can go. It is there for our benefit and protection, and not to simply keep us in line. Longing for the green grass on the other side of the fence is to be unaware of the vast beauty and foliage all around us.

For we already have everything we need – if we possess the awareness and the gratitude to see it.

Great God Almighty, I choose today to obey you in all things out of the grace given to me because of Jesus Christ.  I want to please you in all I say and do, so that you will be seen as the glorious and exalted king of the universe.  Help me to live up to my standing in Christ in the power of the Spirit as I step into your world with the keys of the kingdom.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 12:28-32 – Curious

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it. (NRSV)

The old phrase “curiosity kills the cat” certainly applies to the ancient Israelites concerning the pagan nations that surrounded them. The book of Deuteronomy is a re-statement of the law for a new generation of God’s people poised to enter the Promised Land. The previous generation had experienced a failure of faith and completely died out over the course of a forty-year sojourn in the desert. But now their children were ready to enter the land and receive the promises of God.

There is the healthy curiosity of seeking to understand, and then there is a bad curiosity borne from discontentment. God knew the people would be curious, in all the negative sense of that word. Today’s Old Testament lesson is a clear warning to keep away from the practices of the nations which God was about to dispossess from the land. 

Now, thousands of years removed from the Old Testament, we know the end of the story. The Israelites, although possessing a remnant of people faithful and devoted to God’s law, allowed their curiosity to get the best of them and ended up not following the Lord as they were commanded.

“Curiosity is not a sin. But we should exercise caution with our curiosity yes, indeed.”

albus dumbledore to harry potter

Before becoming a Christian over forty years ago, I did not live according to God’s commands or the way of Jesus Christ. Because of that reality, I have always found it “curious” that there are believers who wonder if they are missing out on something, having always been in the church. They may even adopt some cultural practices, like offering their children on the altar of wealth or sports, serving the idols of security, or getting ahead.  

Spiritual F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) is likely to lead one down a damaging path. We must all have the wisdom to identify the healthy practices of our culture consistent with God’s Word, and the unhealthy curiosity to pursue endeavors uncritically without making sound godly decisions. 

Ever-present God, you have given us your gracious and holy Word to know and live by. Strengthen our knowledge and faith so that we may serve you faithfully today and always through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.