Thoroughly Equipped: Faithful and Generous

Today’s reading includes Deuteronomy 13:1-15:23, Luke 8:40-9:6, Psalm 71:1-24, Proverbs 12:5-7.

As I read through the text today, what stood out to me was that God has laid out a plan and command for two character traits to develop in the attitudes and actions of His people.  I am one of His people because I have been grafted into the vine of His beloved, chosen ones.  And you are too, if you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  And because we are His people, we can glean wisdom from His instructions, even though they were originally written for the Israelites.

And today’s instructions can be summed up in two commands. Be faithful to God and be generous to others.  First, let’s look at the character trait of faithfulness.  What does it mean to be faithful?  Webster’s dictionary includes the following as a definition of faithfulness:  steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty, given with strong, binding assurance, and true to the facts and to a standard.  Read over that description again and ask yourself, “Am I faithful to God?”

Can He trust me to choose Him with every decision, every detail of my life?

Many verses in the passage today as well as in previous chapters, talk about idolatry.  When we think of idolatry, we often think of worshipping a golden calf.  Of course, we would not bow down to a golden calf.  But would we bow down to golden coins?  Would be bow down to other’s opinions of ourselves?  Would we bow down to the idol of our children, their sports, or even their well-being?  I must confess, I am stepping on my own toes here.  I have committed the sin of idolatry in each of those ways at times.  But as I read through today’s passage, I am convicted of the seriousness of those offenses.  I am convicted that I must closely guard my heart, my mind, and my motivations.

“Suppose someone secretly entices you—even your brother, your son or daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend—and says, ‘Let us go worship other gods’—gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known. They might suggest that you worship the gods of peoples who live nearby or who come from the ends of the earth. But do not give in or listen. Have no pity, and do not spare or protect them.

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 13:6-8

We are to put God above our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters.  We are to put God above our beloved spouse and our closest friend.  Our God is a jealous God and wants and desires first place in our hearts.  But after 25 years of marriage and 7 children, I am convinced that if I love God first, I will love my family better.

The next characteristic that we see instructed is that of generosity.  We must be generous to God in our tithes and offerings, which is a lot like when my littlest children wrap up a gift that I gave them.  I paid for it, it is technically mine, but when those little cuties hand it back to me as a gift, it is a great gift indeed. I love it, not because I need it, but because they gave it to me in love.  And as we are generous first to the Lord, He multiplies that generosity to overflow to others.  Today’s passage talks of forgiving debts, loaning to others, and helping the poor.  One of the verses stopped me in my tracks.

“There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession.

                                                                        Deuteronomy 15:4

There should be no poor among you?  Really?  Even Jesus said there will always be poor among us.  But, the reality is that in our sphere of influence, as far as it depends on us, the poverty problem should be greatly reduced.  Why?  Because our God will greatly bless us.  We are blessed to be a blessing.  Blessings are a tricky thing.  God is generous with us and expects us to be generous with others.  But we can easily fall into the sin of idolatry when it comes to our blessings.  What is the cure?  The cure is the first quality we have discussed today.  Faithfulness to God.  If we are faithful to Him, if we put Him first, above all else, we will be more likely to have the quality of generosity.  One will precede the other.

Today, let’s commit first to faithfulness to God.  Let’s ask Him to point out any areas of idolatry in our lives.  Then, let’s be open to His work in our lives, transforming and increasing the characteristic of generosity in our hearts.

Thoroughly Equipped: Copies and Shadows

Today’s reading includes Deuteronomy 9:1-10:22, Luke 8:4-21, Psalm 69:19-36, Proverbs 12:2-3.

In today’s reading we find Moses not only recounting their 40 year journey, but also providing plenty of warning to the people, along with the assurance of the promises and capabilities of God.

Hear, Israel: You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you.

                                                                                                Deuteronomy 9:1-3

Moses does not sugar-coat the challenges that lie ahead of them, but he also reminds them from where their strength and victory come.  God is the one who goes ahead of them preparing the way.  God is the one who will destroy their enemies on their behalf.  God is the one to fulfill His promises, every one.  And it will not be because of who the people are, it will be because of Who God is.  In fact, if the strength for the victory came from a measureable amount of righteousness, the people would indeed fail.

Though the Lord takes away our sin and our shame, we should not forget the lessons learned by our failure.  The memory of our failures should not continue to bring us shame—Jesus took that shame away.  But we should remember in Whose righteousness comes the victory—and it is not in ours.  The same was true of the God’s chosen people.

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

                                                                                                Deuteronomy 9:5

Our covenant God keeps His promises even when we do not.  And for that, I am very grateful.

Moses continues in his review of the previous years, recounting the big episodes of unfaithfulness and failure, reminding them how he had to intercede on their behalf.  Look at the following accounts and see what is the repetitive cycle in each.

18 Then once again I fell prostrate before the Lord for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the Lord’s sight and so arousing his anger.

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 9:18

23 And when the Lord sent you out from Kadesh Barnea, he said, “Go up and take possession of the land I have given you.” But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You did not trust him or obey him. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord ever since I have known you.

25 I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 9:23-25

10 Now I had stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I did the first time, and the Lord listened to me at this time also. It was not his will to destroy you. 11 “Go,” the Lord said to me, “and lead the people on their way, so that they may enter and possess the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 10:10-11

Each time, Moses acted as a mediator between the sinful people and a holy God.  Each time, he went before the Lord for forty days and forty nights.  This holy number, forty, represents a time of cleansing and preparing, as well as a probationary time period or a time of testing or trial.  In these cases, it is a time of cleansing and preparation.  But it is not Moses who needs cleansing.  The cleansing is needed for the people, and Moses serves as a savior symbol—a reflection of the Savior to come, who goes before the Father on our behalf and pleads our case.  Our plea is guilty, of course, but also with a “paid in full” sign placed on us by the blood of Jesus.

Think about other times God used the number 40 for cleansing and preparation.

Noah was in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights.

Moses was in Egypt for 40 years, then in the desert for 40 more.

He spent 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai on two separate occasions.

The spies went to scout out the Promise land for 40 days.

The people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

This preparation time, Moses’ last work, lasted 40 days.

The prophet, Jonah, preached to the sinners of Ninevah for 40 days, and                    thwarted its destruction.

Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah’s sin.

Elijah went for 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb.

And Jesus, the One who is reflected in all of the above accounts, went into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days in preparation for the great work He would do on our behalf.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see brave, righteous men go before God as a mediator between a sinful people and a holy God.  But these are only copies and shadows of the Only One who could truly make things right.

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

…there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.

                                                                      Hebrews 8:1-5

What a humbling thing to know that Someone is willing to stand in the gap for us,  for without that sacrifice we would perish.  So, what is our response to this glorious truth?

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

20 Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God…

                                                                   Deuteronomy 10: 12, 13, 20, 21

Thoroughly Equipped: Don’t Forget

Today’s reading includes Deuteronomy 7:1-8:20, Luke 7:36-8:3, Psalm 69:1-18, Proverbs 12:1.

Today, we see more instructions, more pep talks for the people before they enter the Promise land.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites,Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—

                                                                                       Deuteronomy 7:1

Remember, 7 is the number of completion and perfection.  God is putting before them a mighty test and a difficult trial.  These 7 nations will provide the opportunity for the people of God to completely trust the Lord.  The nations will be bigger and stronger than God’s people, but He is on their side.    And He is strongest of all.  They will have to trust Him for their very survival, as well as their victory.  They are to remain who they were meant to be and not fall into the trap of the ungodly habits of those around them.  They are smaller and weaker, but God will make them strong.  They are given a series of promises that can apply to our own weak, God-follower hearts.

18 But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. 19 You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear. 

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 7:18-19

They have good reason to be of good courage.  The mighty One, the Creator of all things is on their side.

21 Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.

In the midst of this great courage-building speech, there is also a warning sandwiched in the middle.

22 The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you.

Though God is capable of a swift and great victory, an immediate healing, or a miraculous upset, He usually works little by little.  Our enemies will fall, our deliverance will come, but it may take a while.  But even in the waiting there is purpose and protection.  We can’t see how one event effects another.  But He can.  We don’t understand God’s perfect timing, but He has one.  And in the waiting, we must trust Him.

This passage continually provides promise and warning.  It speaks of promises for victory and success and blessings and provision which He will provide for His people.  And it speaks of warnings to never take our eyes off the Provider of these things, lest we find ourselves slaves to pride, forgetfulness, and punishment.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

19 If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. 20 Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God.

  Deuteronomy 8:10-20

We must not forget what He has done for us and what He has promised us.  We must not forget Who He is.  He is worthy of praise for Who He is, not just for what good things He has done.

Thoroughly Equipped: Pass It Down

Today’s reading in Deuteronomy 5:1-6:25, Luke 7:11-35, Psalm 68:19-35, Proverbs 11:29-31.

Today’s reading highlights the commandments given to the people of God.  The ten commandments are repeated here and Moses makes an interesting distinction.

It was not with our ancestors[a] that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.

                                                                        Deuteronomy 5:3

According to some scholars the translation here is more accurately a “not only” with our ancestors was covenant made.  It was also nod to what was stated in Deuteronomy 4:37.

Because he loved your ancestors, he chose to bless their descendants, and he personally brought you out of Egypt with a great display of power.

We see a truth here that is demonstrated throughout the Old Testament.  The past is connected to the present and the future.  What we invest or squander makes a difference in the future.  A righteous generation benefits a future generation.  If we want things to go well with our children and children’s children, we must make efforts toward developing a faith which can be passed down to the next generation.  As we continue reading in today’s text, we come to a crowning moment of truth in this regard.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[c] 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 on 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 6:4-8

When we realize our responsibility in this passing on the truth to the future generations, it may feel overwhelming and intimidating.  So, how will we do this?  How will we be faithful witnesses when we are still working out our own faith questions?  First, we acknowledge He is Lord:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[c

Next, we love Him.  Not with just a “go to church on Sundays” love, but with all our hearts and souls and strength.  We focus on, absorb, memorize, test and approve His way as the right way. We hide His Word and truth in our hearts.

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 on your hearts.

This great love is then passed down in the day to day living.

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.

As our children spend time with us, they should experience the overflow of the love we have for God and see the love He has for us—and for them.  We make it a contagious faith.  But note that the methods of passing down truth to our children involves our close proximity to them.  We talk with them, sit with them, walk with them, live out our faith for them night and day.  And the responsibility is ours.  We tie the symbols on us and bind our foreheads—our thought processes—with God’s truth.  We display the truth in our homes with our words and actions.  When a child is surrounded by a sincere faith which is modeled day in and day out, it will become a contagious faith passed on to the next generation.  The best thing we can do for our children is to develop our relationship with Jesus.  It will make a difference in our lives and the lives of ofuture generations.

Thoroughly Equipped: Be Careful to Remember

Today’s reading includes Deuteronomy 4:1-49, Luke 6:39-7:10, Psalm 68:1-18, Proverbs 11:28.

We begin today’s reading with Moses reminding the Israelites of truth and reminding them of the consequences of not adhering to the truth.

Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 4:1-2

Moses was giving them a truth-filled pep talk before the game begins.  They are about to enter the long-awaited Promise land and he has only 40 days to get them ready.  He is going to teach them the laws and decrees of God.  Surely, they have heard these before.  But it was the first generation of Israelites, the ones who have now died out, who originally received these instructions.  This is the second generation, and Moses needs to make sure they understand.  He sums up his message at the beginning.  He follows the old speech writers’ method:  Tell ‘em what you are going to tell them, then tell it, then tell what you told them.

He begins this oracle with a reason to listen intently:  Follow them so that you may live.  These instructions are words and actions that bring life, not death; blessing, not cursing; pleasure, not pain.  And these commandments should not be added to or subtracted from.  They should not be adjusted to be more pleasing nor tweaked to be easier to follow.  They have been established and they are what they are.

Next, he taps into their experience.  It was this second generation who experienced the plague at Baal Peor.  And what is this he is referring to?  It is the episode when Balaam told Balak how to trip up the Israelites.  “Send in the women,” he said.  It was not just the sexual sin that was the problem.  It was the idolatry.  These sin seduced the men, but also invited and encouraged them to worship their false gods.  And they did.  And it did not go well with them.  All those who participated in this revelry died in the plague.

You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor. The Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today.

                                                                                                Deuteronomy 4:3-4

Moses is speaking to those who did not participate in sin.  They displayed great wisdom in this choice.  Yes, wisdom indeed is to learn from others mistakes so you don’t have to make them, too.  And all of those who held fast to the Lord were listening now.  And he reminds them to continue to hold fast.

23 Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

                                                                                                Deuteronomy 4:23-24

An interesting comparison is between the first generation and the second generation.  Both generations were guilty of idolatry—the first generation made a golden calf as an idol; the second generation followed after the gods of the Midianites.  They needed to be reminded of some things.  They needed to know of their bent toward idolatry, lest the same mistakes be repeated generation after generation.  And he reminds them once again about the responsibility to remember.

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 

                                                                                                Deuteronomy 4:9-10

What is the lesson for our practical application?  First, we must remember that we, too, are prone to idolatry.  We can make an idol of anything.  Even good, godly things can become an idol.  Anything we believe in our hearts or acknowledge with our actions as more important than our relationship with God is an idol.  And what is the remedy, the protection for our propensity to make idols?  Remembrance.  Be very careful and watch yourself closely so you don’t forget.  We must remember who He is, what He has done, and what He promises to do.  And then, we pass this faith, this remembrance, down to our children and grandchildren.

Today, ask the Lord to reveal if there is anything that is an idol in our lives.  And then be willing to repent and renounce the idol’s position in your heart.

28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. 29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.

                                                                                    Deuteronomy 4:28-31

Praise God for His mercy!