Selected verses from Deuteronomy 11
“Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.”
With these words of the first verse of Deuteronomy 11, God, through Moses, gave Israel a purpose. Her purpose was to “keep his requirements.” Keep “his decrees, his laws and his commands…always.” That’s a pretty clear purpose.
But there’s more to it. It also included a “what that looks like” portion. If the Israelites would be obedient to God, they would take the land – the Promised Land – which God had set before them. Obedience would be tough, but God also let them know that it would be well worth their efforts. In verses 11-12 we read:
But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.
The blessing of obedience to the covenant is that Israel would get all this and more. The curse of disobedience of the covenant was that she wouldn’t…and more.
Obedience is an essential part of purpose. What would be the point of knowing your purpose – what you were created for – if you didn’t pursue it? It’s only as we obey God, follow Christ, die to self, count others better than ourselves by serving them, extend God’s Kingdom into every sphere of life, etc., that we discover God’s blessing for our lives – which may take on different manifestations in our lives as we travel down the path... the right path.
But can any of us hope for more than the knowledge that the eyes of the Lord our God are continually on it [our purpose] from the beginning to the end?
Grace and Truth,
A couple of years ago one of the men of our church shared with me a little about his Kairos Prison Ministry retreat that he had just been a part of. One of the things he told me was that since the prisoners don’t often get to eat any sweets in prison, many of them attend the Kairos weekend “for the cookies.” In other words, they want a less stressful weekend… some cookies and other good food… but not necessarily Jesus. Jesus just happens to be there with the cookies.
My friend then commented about how wonderful it is for the men who run the retreat to watch the transformation of these same prisoners over the course of the weekend. On the first day of the retreat the prisoners almost boastfully declare that they are there for the cookies. However, over the course of the weekend, as the Spirit moves in and through the men, the Word, prayer, fellowship, testimonies, etc., those same “cookie-seeking” men (at least many of them) really do encounter Christ and are truly changed by his Spirit.
For those who “come to Christ” and his church for dubious reasons, God often “stoops to conquer.” That is, God will often show up and lavish his grace upon a person, regardless of why that person “thinks” he or she is there. When a person, even unwittingly, puts himself or herself in the way of grace, Spirit-led change takes place.
Just think of these examples…
It’s easy to judge such people. We think we know what’s going on in their hearts. And it is true that some folks might do all of this and more, and then leave... only having eaten a few cookies. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we are too easily pleased. A holiday at the shore is offered us, but we’re content making mud pies in a mud puddle. Yet, instead of judging such folks, let our hope be that they brush up against God’s grace and that God’s grace will be filed away in that person’s heart for God to use at a later time. That should be our prayer.
So let folks come for the cookies. And let us pray that they genuinely meet our Lord and come to know, love, and follow him… and stay for the feast.
Grace and Truth,
Jeremiah 7 (selected verses) and Galatians 5 (selected verses)
As was often the case in the life of Israel, God was not happy with them. They brought it upon themselves. Israel’s history went something like this: God would first save them and then establish or reestablish a covenant with them. In response, Israel would repent, and then, after the good times were rolling, Israel would commit spiritual adultery (i.e., run off after foreign lovers). Predictably, after her disobedience (and the subsequent punishment for said disobedience), Israel would routinely cry out to God, be mercifully heard by him, and the whole process would start all over again.
It is Israel’s response to idolatrous and adulterous false teaching that our texts deal with today. The Lord, through Jeremiah, tells his people that if they are going to be allowed to continue to live in peace, then they are going to have to reform their ways and their actions (v. 3).
Verses 5-7 serve as a warning against wrong behavior and an encouragement for right behavior.
If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,  if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,  then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.
So why would God’s people act disobediently? Verse 8 gives us a clue: They were trusting in deceptive words that were worthless.
Again, God says to them in verse 23,
…Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.
God wanted so much to bless them, but he wasn’t kidding about what would happen if they didn’t obey him. However, they must have thought he was, for we read these sobering words in verse 24,
But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.
God’s people were stubbornly committed to their sin… and for that sin we discover God’s indictment regarding them. Verse 28 tells us that truth had perished…that it had vanished from their lips.
Because they were no longer trusting in God’s Word, but trusting in the deceptive words of false teachers instead, they were soon to experience the wrath of God.
There’s a similar story in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul was bewildered with the Galatian Church. They had heard and responded to the pure Word of God as Paul had preached it. But, like God’s people in an earlier generation, many of the Galatians began trusting in deceptive words. They were being enticed to mix the finished work of Christ with their own works as a means of salvation. Paul was dumbfounded at such a move. We read in verses 7 and 8…
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.
God, through Paul, was warning them (and us) that such deceptive words were (are) like a little yeast, which works through a whole batch of dough (v. 9). It infects it like a disease. In the Bible, yeast often symbolizes evil or a false teaching.
When people begin to listen to deceptive words rather than the Word of God, trouble is sure to follow. Satan, the father of deceptive words, is not stupid. He will show us the worm, but not the hook. He will never show us the consequences that must follow his deceptive words. Instead, his words will always appear quite enticing, beautiful, practical, and relevant.
That is why everything must be tested against God’s Word – the Word properly understood. Even the best of intentions can be marred by deception. The church must constantly be on her guard against such yeast that seeks to contaminate her whole body. Whether it is what is preached from the pulpit, what is taught in a Bible study, the administration of a committee, or what programs are being implemented for evangelism, service or mercy, the church must always make sure she is taking her cues from God’s Word.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but today’s texts reveal that the church has not always gotten this right. In fact, the history of the church shows us over and over again what a little yeast can do. Even a cursory glance at the contemporary church scene shows plenty of evidence of the very idolatry and adultery that Jeremiah and Paul warned against.
So stand firm against all deceptive words. Cling to God and his Word as the only sure light by which to deal with the world, the flesh and the devil. Only with and through God’s Word may we know the one true God and his Son, Jesus Christ, whom he sent. That alone is eternal life (John 17:3).
Grace and Truth,
When I was in seminary I had a spiritual mentor who offered wonderful direction for my life. Furthermore, his life matched what he taught. One of the things that stood out about him was his love for God’s Word. I believe his love for Scripture was one of the key influences on my life.
He used to talk about a dear friend of his who, every time they would see each other would ask, “Got any fresh bread for me?” The goal of the question was to find out if these two brothers in Christ had been spending time in God’s Word. And not just within the last week or two…but that day. Was the bread FRESH?
Our Lord referred to himself as the Bread of Life. One of the chief ways we encounter him is when we meditate upon his Word day and night. His Spirit fills us and ministers to us when we do.
Interestingly, Jesus teaches us to ask God, in prayer, to give us each day our daily bread. The implication is that we need to depend on God DAILY for his gracious provision. To make such a request each day reminds us that we are in constant need of him and what he supplies – whether it’s spiritual, physical, or emotional nourishment.
The children of Israel were taught the same lesson. After they had escaped from Egypt they wandered around, not quite sure where they were heading. And they were hungry…which didn’t help their attitudes much.
Therefore, God is his great mercy, promised them food – manna from heaven. But there was a stipulation about this divine sustenance: One could gather only enough manna for each day (except on the day before the Sabbath…when one could gather enough for two days). No storing was allowed. In fact, if they tried to store the manna it would begin to rot immediately. Why? I suspect for two reasons, at least. The first reason is the same as why Jesus told us to pray daily for our bread; it shows our continual dependence upon God.
The second reason, I imagine, has a great deal to do with our fallen human nature. If God had set no limits on how often the manna could be gathered (and that it wouldn’t spoil if it was stored for more than a day), I believe the children of Israel would have started to believe that they, and not God, were responsible for meeting their needs. They would have robbed God of his glory. They may have begun to actually believe that they were smart enough, righteous enough, industrious enough to diligently collect, store, and even sell the bread.
God’s message was clear: “You must depend on me each and every day. My grace will have to be sufficient for you. Trust me…I’m all you need.”
So it is in our spiritual lives. We must turn to God each and every day. We can’t store up enough grace on Sunday morning and coast on it the rest of the week. We need fresh bread to sustain us. This is how we abide in Christ and how he abides in us.
Let us join with the psalmist who knew the joy and delight of feeding on God’s fresh bread…
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
 Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees.
 With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
 I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Thanks be to God,
Nehemiah 13:2 – “Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.”
What the devil and the world mean for evil, God can use for good. He is a Romans 8:28-kind-of-God. He can turn curses, ill-will, and hate-filled words, thoughts and actions aimed at us into blessings. But to be honored in such a way, we must honor him (1 Samuel 2:30).
The priests in Malachi 1 and 2 did not honor God in such a way. Thus, God vividly reminded these “spokesmen and ministers of his” that blessings can also be turned into curses. In Malachi 2:1-2, God declares…
“And now this admonition is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not ‘I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.’”
A covenantal relationship involves God’s promises of blessings and curses. To even be offered a covenantal relationship with Almighty God is an expression of grace.
Why, then, do we dishonor God? Why do we show contempt for his blessings? Why wouldn’t we want to experience all that he has to offer those who honor him?
Lord, I’m a fool. Forgive me for not honoring you with everything I say, do and think. Enable me, by the power of your Spirit, to honor you in every sphere of my life and with all that I am. Amen.
Grace and Truth,
Question: How do you think a spiritually alive person learns what to desire and how to obtain it? (cf. Colossians 1:9-14 and Philippians 1:9-11)
Answer: Here are some bullet points of what the texts above reveal…
We must pray non-stop, asking God to fill us with the knowledge of God’s will – through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
We must pray that we may live a life worthy of the gospel – of our Lord – and that we may please him in every way.
We must pray that we will bear fruit in every good work and that we may grow in the knowledge of God – strengthened with all power…with God’s might.
We must pray that we will have great endurance and patience.
We must pray that our love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. This will enable us to discern what is best. It will enable us to be pure and blameless until Christ returns. It will fill us with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. This will glorify God and be a praise offering to him.
And yet, God will not give us such wisdom, knowledge, discernment, depth of insight, etc., just because we want it…just because we ask for it. To be sure, we can’t obtain such things without him, but we will not receive these gifts and graces without active participation on our part.
I believe this is what it means to “let the words of Christ dwell in us richly” (Col. 3:16). This is surely what Jesus meant when he said that we are to abide or remain in him and he and his words will abide or remain in us (John 15).
God fills us with his Spirit (Eph. 5:18) as we pursue him for all we’re worth in prayer and digging deeply into his Word (i.e., more than a two minute devotional). We must study God’s Word, meditate upon it, share it, teach it to others, and obey it. This is how God’s Word abides in us and dwells in us richly.
This is how the Holy Spirit conforms us into the likeness of Christ. It’s how he transforms us – through the
renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). It’s how we begin the process of offering our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord (Rom. 12:1)…of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
To restate the prayers of Paul from Colossians and Philippians, it’s how we are enabled (including even given the desire to be enabled) to live lives worthy of the gospel, lives that will please God, lives that will bear fruit in every good work, lives that will be pure and blameless until Christ returns.
Sanctification – or growing in holiness or Christlikeness – will happen in no other way. Nothing truly worth having or achieving happens easily and without effort and intentionality…including this. But the reward will be far greater than we can even imagine.
Grace and Truth,