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Category Archives: Deuteronomy

THE VAIN PURSUIT OF BLESSINGS PART TWO

In part one of The Vain Pursuit of Blessings, we talked about blessings pursuing us (often because of a lifestyle of obedience) rather than us pursuing blessings. There is ample evidence that God really desires to bless us. And He will bless different people in different ways. If we pursue the blessings of our choice, we greatly decrease our chances of experiencing superior blessings from God. In part one we focused on the blessing of wealth because seeking it is such a common pastime of Americans, even Christians. And there certainly is nothing wrong with wealth. Wealth is never condemned in the Bible. The problem comes when our priorities are misplaced and we focus on wealth and our lives become all about getting it rather than all about getting close to God. If we become wealthy but are not close to God, our lives are a miserable failure. That is why Jesus told us to seek first His kingdom and righteousness. Let’s briefly review the verses we used from the previous blog:

Now if you faithfully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow His commands I am giving you today, the Lord your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition (1 Timothy 6:9).

King Solomon also weighs in on the subject:

Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it (Proverbs 23:4).

Jesus seemed to have an opinion on the subject too:

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

And again:

Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23).

If we are honest as we read these verses, we have to admit that the pursuit of wealth is discouraged in the Bible. Blessings happen and we should let them happen on schedule, only in accordance with the will of God. It is not the will of God that all become wealthy. Wealth is a major distraction that most can’t handle. Oh, we think we can handle it, but most of us would be negatively affected by wealth.

I can speak from experience here. For years, I made major amounts of money selling real estate, and worked hard and sacrificed things I shouldn’t have to do it. I can say with confidence that nothing good happened because of this wealth. I became more and more sidetracked and spent huge amounts of money on things I never dreamed I would buy. Much of the wealth was squandered and much of it was invested in investments that went south. Eventually, I lost it all and began to think clearly again. While I wouldn’t mind some of that wealth now and then, I don’t miss how shallow my walk with God became because of it. The Lord had better blessings for me than riches, and when I took my focus off riches, they became available to me. The Lord may also have better things than riches waiting for you. Don’t miss those blessings because you are focusing on something YOU want.

We must seek God, not his blessings, and certainly not wealth. If we seek wealth and it is not the will of God we gain that wealth, we will likely be sidetracked by it and unintentionally forego other blessings more suited for us. Let the Blesser choose the blessing in response to the obedience of the blessed. Then we can be assured that the character is there to handle the blessing. Far greater is the blessing in accordance with the schedule and will of God in our lives than some type of “good thing” we can work up in the same way that any unbeliever would. Trust God to know what is best for you.  Seek first His kingdom, and the blessings will follow as He sees fit, when He sees fit. And blessings in accordance with the will of God last, bring little hassle, and are not distractions. Rather, they can be a great aid in living our lives to glorify Him and build His kingdom, which ultimately is true wealth and a true blessing.

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THE VAIN PURSUIT OF BLESSINGS PART ONE

Deuteronomy 28 talks about the blessings of obedience to God. It begins with a good summary of the chapter:

Now if you faithfully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow His commands I am giving you today, the Lord your God will put you far above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come and overtake you, because you obey the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

I have written before about how many “IF” verses there are in the Bible. Lots of the good things available to us are contingent upon our faith, obedience, etc. The blessings in Deuteronomy 28 are contingent upon obedience to God. Obedience equals blessings; no obedience, no blessings.

It is interesting and significant that the people need not pursue these blessings. Because of obedience, the blessings pursue them and overtake them. So one could say, we don’t have to pursue the blessings, they pursue us, as long as the contingencies are met.

It has become popular in the church to pursue riches so we can support worthy Christian causes. I have conversed with people who constantly talk about and pursue riches, supposedly for the good purpose of giving some of it away. While their desire to give is admirable, the method is a little off. Are we supposed to seek riches? What does the Bible say?

Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition (1 Timothy 6:9).

King Solomon also weighs in on the subject:

Don’t wear yourself out to get rich; stop giving your attention to it (Proverbs 23:4).

Jesus seemed to have an opinion on the subject too:

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

And again:

Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23).

Blessings pursue us, we don’t pursue blessings. If God wants you to be rich, you will become rich by living a life pleasing to Him and making the most of the opportunities that come to you. You don’t’ have to spend day and night in hot pursuit of those opportunities. Becoming wealthy is a calling and with wealth comes incredible responsibility and also temptations. Why would we want to be rich if it makes it hard for us to enter the kingdom of God? Why would we want anything in our lives that makes it hard to enter the kingdom of God? If wealth happens to us, fine. But don’t pursue wealth. It is very risky to pursue wealth, no matter what our motive. If we become wealthy without the ability to still deny ourselves and live like Jesus, we have done ourselves a great disservice.

 

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OUR CONDITIONAL GOD

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It seems it is in our nature to want something for nothing. Many overcome that by growing up to be responsible and provide needs with hard work, etc. In the church it is also common to want something for nothing. It’s all God’s responsibility to give, give and give some more. To be sure, our God is a very giving, generous God, but the scriptures make it pretty clear that a lot of what He offers is conditional.

Because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. Deuteronomy 7:12

Much is said about God keeping His covenant with His people. But a two way covenant has always been His terms. If His people don’t keep their part, God doesn’t have to keep His. He may, but He doesn’t have to.

If you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season…Deuteronomy 11:13-14

Throughout the Bible we see the conditional blessings of God offered to His people. But they have never been automatic. They are based on certain terms of obedience. That is why we see an entire chapter, Deuteronomy 28, dedicated to the conditional blessings of God. It outlines specifics on the blessings for obedience, and the curses for disobedience. To put it into New Testament terms:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7

The blessings of God are still conditional today, as well as the curses. We still reap what we sow. Many, because of the grace of God, are not treated as their sins deserve and are not sent to hell. But, believe it or not, we still must obey God. Many in the church have taken the grace message too far and require nothing or at least little from the believer. Not so. Jesus said,

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. John 15:10,14

The “IF” verses of the Bible have challenged me for years. They really do mess with lots of popular theology. But they say what they say, and they are plentiful in both the Old Testament and the New. If we do “X” then “Y” will happen. If we do not do “X”, it won’t happen. A book could be written on “If” verses alone. Blessings are contingent on “If”, as well as an upcoming judgment for unbelievers and believers alike.

And they were judged, each one according to his works. Revelation 20:13

The word “If” is the biggest little word in the Bible. If we give, we will be blessed. If we bless, we will be blessed. If we obey, we will be blessed. If we have faith, we will be blessed. If we pray, we will blessed. If we abide in Him, we will be blessed. If we repent and believe we will be saved. Most if not all of the blessings in the Bible have the word “if” or at least the concept of “if” attached to them. Yes, that means we have to do to receive. As you read your Bible, take notice of the “If” verses and take to heart what they say. And behold, our conditional God.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2014 in Deuteronomy

 

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RADICAL REPENTANCE

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REPENT: “To feel such sorrow for sin or fault as to be disposed to change one’s life for the better; be penitent.” More eyes roll at the word “repent” than perhaps any other. It suggests admission of guilt and a need to change and most aren’t interest in either. Even in the church repentance has become somewhat optional.

In Deuteronomy chapter seven we have some instructions for the people of Israel when the Lord brings them into the Promised Land. The instructions had to do with breaking ties and annihilating anything evil that may influence them to turn from God. Here are a few of their instructions:

  1. You shall utterly destroy the nations the Lord your God delivers over to you
  2. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them
  3. You shall not make marriages with them
  4. You shall destroy their altars, pillars and images
  5. None of the accursed thing shall remain in your hand
  6. You shall not learn to follow the abominations of the nations
  7. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God
  8. You shall put away the guilt of innocent blood

God demanded a radical and decisive shunning of evil. Not only were the Israelites to refrain from evil but were to watch closely their relationships with others who do evil. They were to break all ties with sin. They were to break any and all agreements with darkness. They were to abhor evil and cling to what is good.

God’s covenant changed but His moral commands have not. Does a new and better covenant grade on a curve? Are the demands of the new covenant less than the demands of the old? The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in those under the new covenant so our ability to overcome evil is far greater than those under the old covenant.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Romans 6:1-2

The 21st century western church has become soft on sin. Every one sins daily in thought, word and deed, we are told, almost as if it is some kind of obligation. Yet in a recent New Testament Bible study I came across nearly 200 individual verses that say otherwise. One here or there could be explained away, but not nearly 200! God has not become tolerant of sin in His old age, He still hates it. And He has made provision for better and expects better from His holy people.

I think we could learn something from the Lord’s expectations of His people under the old covenant. Like them, we also should utterly resist and destroy anything that reeks of evil in our lives. We also should not be unequally yoked with any type of evil. What fellowship does light have with darkness? To be sanctified is to be set apart and we need to be decisively set apart. We are to be different.

Sin separates us from God and there is no place for sin in the believer.

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts. Romans 13:14

 

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FORGETTING GOD

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It seems odd that we could forget in some measure One as great and awesome as our God, but we often do. In spite of Him loving us before we loved Him, redeeming us, forgiving us, empowering us and the like we still get sidetracked. Somehow, sometimes, we forget God.

In Deuteronomy 6:12 Moses exhorts the people of Israel, “Beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” The children of Israel had been gloriously delivered from the house of bondage in Egypt. This a picture of what we believers have also experienced with so great a salvation. Jesus, like Moses, is the deliver. Egypt is the world we have been delivered from and the house of bondage is bondage to the world and its ways and sin. Like with Israel, God so loved that He gave, and delivered us.

But like Israel, we often take grace and mercy for granted and go on our merry way. We forget God. We forget His kindness. We forget His ways. We forget His commands. Often we don’t mean to, but we do. Probably the number one culprit in causing us to forget God is busyness. We in American have made busyness a virtue and we equate slowing down with laziness. After all, shouldn’t we be all we can be? Shouldn’t we seize each moment and make the most of every opportunity? Well, yes, we should, but perhaps not in the way we do it. Too often we equate making the most of every opportunity with prospering financially, or advancing somehow. Between us and our kids we run ragged and give God the left overs, if there are any. Or we just get so busy God gets lost in the shuffle. Have you ever ended a day and realized that you didn’t pay any attention to God all day? It can easily happen, but doesn’t have too.

Biblically and historically saints through ages have combatted this by recounting the blessings of the Lord back to Him. That’s what lots of the Psalms are about. Often David or someone else remembered the blessings or deliverance of the Lord and affectionately recalled those blessings in worship in the form of songs or poetry. 150 of them have been recorded for our benefit. We can use these to do the same thing, or we can make up our own. We have been saved, we have been delivered and we have been blessed. So we too can sing or pray these back to God with gratitude in our hearts in worship. Open the Psalms and start reading and let it turn into praising. Psalm after Psalm will lift your spirit and help you to not forget God.

There are many other ways to keep from forgetting God but they all boil down to seeking Him first. Instead of giving Him the left-overs after all the money, time and energy is gone, switch it around. Give Him the first of the money, time and energy and use the left overs for the less important stuff that now fills our lives. Again, the ancient text speaks to us today:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

 

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WHY DO OVER HALF OUR KIDS LEAVE THE CHURCH?

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Let’s pull our heads out of the sand and admit it: Well over half of our children will leave the church. The statistics have brought sadness for decades and yet the church pretty much keeps doing the same thing and expects the results to change. But they don’t change and even get worse. This is not to make parents of wayward children feel bad. It happened. Keep praying and be an example of a zealous believer to your adult children. But for those of us still with youngins, something has to change.

In the mid 1900’s the youth group and youth ministry became popular and over the next 50+ years has been increasingly “perfected.” One problem though, it hasn’t worked. In fact as we perfect it more the children appear to be more likely to leave the faith. With results like that why doesn’t someone get fired? In the centuries before the big youth movement, most children in the church stayed in the church. What went wrong? Well, it’s not entirely or maybe not at all the youth leader’s fault that the children are straying. Kids have been dumped on them by the millions to make sure they get saved. No, you might say the blame lies closer to home. In spite of all our conveniences and a much easier life, Mom and Dad have gotten too busy with their own lives thus too sidetracked to train little Johnny in the things of God.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang about teaching our children well but were hardly the first with the idea. In Deuteronomy six Moses reminds the Israelites of the importance of obeying the commandments of the Lord. He also said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. This precedes an exhortation to teach the children well but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The key to teaching the children well is for the adults to love and obey God. Having grown up in the church and observed families by the hundreds, I have made a few observations. Here are a few things that are characteristic of families of children that leave the church or cool in their faith:

  • A split family
  • Parents are…sidetracked
  • The Mom wears the pants in the family
  • The family doesn’t pray together
  • The family doesn’t read and discuss the Bible together
  • The parents aren’t generous givers
  • The parents’ relationship with God is primarily via the church
  • Faith is often compartmentalized

These things are tried with little or no spiritual effect:

  • Better schools
  • More sports or extracurricular activities
  • More things
  • More youth group time
  • Better grades
  • Better clothes
  • Better opportunities
  • Pacifying the children

Whether or not little Johnny ends up smoking pot is a poor barometer of success. Does he end up loving Jesus? How can we get Johnny to love Jesus?

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:7-9

Thou shalt be a fanatic in front of thy children. That is King James for how to influence your children.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Training is much more than merely teaching. Teaching is what they do in school and we forget most of it. Training is what they do in the military and it conditions the soldier’s way of thinking for the rest of their life. We need to be on the constant lookout for ways to teach and train our children in the ways of God. Every day. When we sit with them, walk with them, talk with them  and eat with them. When we do everything with them.

If one is sent out on a dangerous mission he or she goes through rigorous training first so the mission succeeds and they survive. Life is that dangerous mission and our little sheep will soon be sent out to the wolves. Will they succeed and survive spiritually? It really is mostly up to us parents. Will we leave it to the professionals and keep the pathetic statistics going strong? Or will we teach them well and train them?

 

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GOD GETS A BAD RAP

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Recently I visited my uncles Don and John and their wives Carolyn and Shirley in the Detroit Lakes, MN area. After a scrumptious meal uncle Don pulled out his Bible and asked if He might read some verses. For the next while he took us through how Israel has repeatedly thumbed its nose at God. But he also showed us God’s desire to forgive and heal them, even in these last days. Imagine, after thousands of years of rejecting God and His Messiah, He still desires fellowship to be restored.

I think God gets a bad rap for the way He “acted” during Old Testament times. We forget the “why” behind His actions and words. One thing about studying the Old Testament is that, by today’s American standards, it is more negative than we want to read or hear. We think God should be “nice” all the time. And so some of God’s ways, principles and punishments for doing wrong seem to be extreme. First of all, we probably would do well not to judge God. But secondly, throughout the Old Testament the Lord repeatedly reveals His underlying motives for being a bit stern.

“Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever (emphasis added)!”Deuteronomy 5:29

Crazy Love. From the beginning God had in His great big loving heart to have a loving relationship with man and to have a people devoted to Him. He never, ever wanted to punish them. His desire was to bless man and to be blessed by him. That hasn’t changed, even with sin. He has dealt with sin through Jesus Christ that He may again bless man and be blessed.

In Deuteronomy chapter 4 there are some “negative” verses:

  • The Lord is a consuming fire, a jealous God
  • When you have children and they provoke the Lord to anger, you will soon perish from the land
  • The Lord will scatter you among the peoples
  • You will serve other gods

When a people or a person sins, there is a slippery slope that just keeps getting worse. Ultimately one runs the risk of slipping into hell.  But in spite of the inevitable slip further into sin and the punishment of sin, we have find some hope:

“But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deuteronomy 4:29

Reconciliation always has been the motive of a stern, holy God.

“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in our mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled.” Colossians 1:21

Man in general and the people of Israel more specifically have a horrible track record of defying God and His commandments to this day. But God, with love and reconciliation in mind, spoke of His original chosen people even related to these latter days:

“When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.” Deuteronomy 4:30-31

Even in the last days the people of Israel will look on Him whom they have pierced and mourn for Him. And a remnant will repent and be saved. So the question is not why is God so demanding and why would he send people to hell. No, the real question is why would such a holy God be willing to forgive and give those who disobeyed Him a chance for peace with Him and everlasting life? It’s because His desire to fellowship and bless us and be blessed by us has never changed. And thankfully, He never changes.

 
 

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