Deuteronomy 15: What we must remember

Dear church,

Never forget what God has done for you. His actions in your life are to be the driver of all you do for other people and for how tightly you cling to the material possessions you have gathered in this life.

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you.” God did not just redeem his people. He enriched them and sent them out of the land of Egypt in triumph (Exodus 12:35-36; Numbers 33:3).

This truth was to dictate the actions of God’s people when they found themselves in the position of redeemer. They were not to be stingy. They were not to calculate gain or loss. “You shall open wide your hand to your brother.”

Make special note of the obligation God’s children have toward their brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been bought with a price by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:20). We’ve been set free from slavery to sin and death. And we have a sacred duty to others among us, to those who also abide in the church, to never be grudging in our attitude toward them (1 John 2:9-10). 

Our culture is constantly speaking the lie of individualism. But we know there is no such thing in the life of Christ. The life we have in Christ is not possible through individualism. It has everything to do with our dependence on the Son of God, who expressed his own dependence on the Father. 

We should not be surprised when we find, in the church, that we also are dependent on each other. This is not something from which we should run away. It is the lead sentence of our message of good news to the world (John 13:34).


Deuteronomy 14: Holy to the Lord

Dear church,

We understand the holiness of some of the things we find in our lives. These are God’s things – like sacred space or objects. These are holy to God, and so they are holy to us. We treat them with special care. There are actions we don’t feel comfortable taking with the holy things of God because those things are unique. 

Did you know that you are a holy thing to God himself? More than anything else on this earth – and perhaps to the exclusion of everything else – God considers his people to be holy. Clean and unclean no longer have anything to do with food. It has to do with you (Mark 7:14-23).

The children of God – and every Christian is a child of God (John 1:12) – are “a people holy to the Lord your God.” God cares for his holy ones. They are sacred to him, and he desires to protect them. He doesn’t want them used for profane purposes. 

If we are members of the Son of God, and made holy as he is holy, then we watch where we direct our steps and what we do with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:15). We understand the difference between holy and unholy because our character is being shaped after God’s character. 

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself called to do things differently than the world does things. It is perfectly reasonable that God’s holy ones would speak and act and think in patterns that don’t match up with the world’s. If you find yourself in that place, be pleased and seek even more after the holiness of God.


Deuteronomy 13: Discernment

Dear church,

Have you learned the skill of spiritual discernment? Many people think they have this skill, but relatively few actually do. This is why the church so often is silent in the face of pure deception and evil. 

“Let us go after other gods.” This is always the call of false prophecy – that is, prophecy that comes from humans or the devil. These forces desire the children of God forsake the Lord and leave Him behind. All sorts of deception will be tossed about in order to lure away those who have put their faith in God. Such was the case for the Israelites, and such is the case for Christians. 

It is easy to know a false spirit, and it is hard at the same time. “And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” All we must do is know Jesus, and we will immediately be able to discern when the falsehoods are being presented to us. 

But we must really know Him and not just know about him. Some Christians do not know Jesus in this sense – knowing his character and his ways. And so they are tricked sometimes into thinking Jesus only wants us to be wealthy or healthy or on top of our games. 

To know Jesus is to know him personally. “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Here is a key piece of knowledge about the Son of God. He came in the flesh, and to be in the flesh means to suffer. False spirits tell us there is no suffering for the children of God, and the children of God have believed this lie far too often (Exodus 16:2-3). But we know better – because we know Christ (John 16:33).

We learn spiritual discernment first by slowing down. We must have unhurried time with Jesus, to begin to understand his ways. A mature Christian takes his Bible and disappears for a time each day (Hebrews 5:13-14).


Deuteronomy 12: In Christ

Dear church,

All of our worship is to be done in Christ. That is, it is to be done in honor and praise of Him. This is what Jesus meant when he said his followers were to worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). These things – spirit and truth – are all about the One True God and all about Christ himself, who came full of the Spirit and who is the embodiment of truth (Luke 4:18; John 14:6).  

The Israelites knew what they must do when they entered the Promised Land. All the old places of worship were to be smashed. “You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars.” Nothing was to remain – no religious sites to lure the eye. 

A new place of worship would be established – “the place that the Lord your God will choose to put his name.” The Temple Mount in Jerusalem became the sacred heart of the nation of Israel and the place where the presence of God remained with his people. It was to that place the people were to approach God. It was there they were to bring their offerings. 

Do not think God is any less specific today, under the new covenant, about proper worship. To worship “in Christ” means no false gods or spiritual philosophies cut in front of Jesus. We must recognize this is our blessing and our refuge – to be “in Christ.” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

We do not focus our worship on a place but a Person. Everything else must be put aside so we may focus our attention solely on the one who saved us and who has the power to give us so much more than we ever imagined. “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:26). 

Be ruthless when it comes to cutting out of your life the things that compete for your worship and devotion. Nothing compares to Jesus.


Deuteronomy 11: A choice to make

Dear church,

Everyone must make a choice about Jesus Christ – to accept him or to reject him. On our last day, that choice will loom larger than mountains.

God’s people were expected to follow him, but that didn’t mean they were forced into a relationship with God. They could choose to forsake him and seek other things to worship. Even in the Promised Land, they could choose another path. The fact that the people of Israel eventually did choose another path is one of the great tragedies in history. 

Looking east from the Promised Land, they would have had the mountain of blessing on their right and the mountain of cursing on their left. The leftward course led to 

“gods that you have not known.” The rightward course led to the sweetest of joys – “No one shall be able to stand against you.”

The choice seems simple, if you believe what you read in the Bible and distrust what you hear from the world. But many people try to believe both – or to disbelieve both. And many try to avoid making a choice. They want to walk between those mountains always. 

A rich young man once asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-22). The man went away from Jesus sorrowful because he was presented with a choice. He found something on the right hand and something on the left. 

The rich young man clearly preferred not to have to make a choice.

If you could go back to the beginning and make your choice, what would it be? Would you choose Jesus all over again? And are you living today as if you have chosen Him and Him alone?


Deuteronomy 10: What does God require of you?

Dear church,

We enter into the new covenant with God by faith, and we remain in that covenant by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). We must never forget this. But we also must never forget God does require something of his chosen ones. 

Jesus said we are to love one another and to obey him (John 13:34; John 14:15). The disciple John announced we are to walk in the “light” (1 John 1:7). We are not to look at this as some heavy burden but as the honor we are given as children of God, saved by grace through faith. And we have the help of the Holy Spirit.

God’s requirement of the Israelites was no different than what he requires of those living under his new covenant. God chose Israel, and it had nothing to do with their own righteousness. (See Deuteronomy 9). 

“Fear the Lord your God.” We live in reverent fear of God. He is capable of so much more than we can imagine. His justice is perfect. His holiness sees through all our flimsy defenses. He knows who we are.  

“Walk in all his ways.” We are on a journey through life, and this requires us to act. We do not simply think about God and his character. No, we mimic his character when we wake up, as we do our chores, as we interact with our neighbors, and as we sit with our families.  

“Love him.” Where is your heart today? Do you think about the Lord and his grace often? To love God means we are devoted to him. We want more of him in our life. 

“Serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” A servant is humble and looks only to the needs and desires of his master. We are not half-hearted servants, counting down the minutes until we can clock out and pursue our own desires. We are all-in for the mission of Jesus Christ.

“Keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” The Sermon on the Mount tells us what we need to know about kingdom living. We do not accept the grace of God and continue on our selfish paths. We do whatever Jesus commands us to do. 


Deuteronomy 9: Righteousness, and God’s choosing

Dear church, 

God knows the human mind very well. He has watched people think and reason from the very beginning. And after sin entered the world, he must have noticed their desire to get the credit for the good things that happen to them. An innate human drive is to “earn it.”

But in the kingdom of God, no one but God gets the credit (Romans 5:8). “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land.’”

God must hate this attitude in his children who think there must be something inherently good about them that caused God to love them. The fact of the matter is we may never know why God chose us. That is bound up in the unsearchable nature of God. 

No, God says, “You are a stubborn people.” Your response to that accusation by God toward Israel will tell you what you need to know about yourself. If you find yourself thinking, “Well, I’m not all that stubborn. Not like them” – then you have much work to do. 

“Do not say in your heart …” This is where we do our worst evil against God. It is in the secret of our hearts where we tell ourselves our lies and where we shun God and his grace and think we are superior to the pagan people around us and our brothers and sisters in the church. 

We do not shout these things from the rooftops. But God hears them, nonetheless (Psalm 139:1).


Deuteronomy 8: Into the good land

Dear church,

The hard times you face today are not designed by God to punish you. They are designed to bless you. The discipline of God is always meant to bring us into a blessing – “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills.”

Pride is our primary enemy. The discipline of God will be savage with our arrogance. Deep inside of us, we may think we can shape ourselves up on our own. Worse yet, we may think we are pretty good already. God will do deep surgery to remove that thought. And he tends not to use anesthetics.  

“That he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.” This is the point of God’s discipline, when he leaves us wanting something that we cannot provide ourselves. God wanted his people to live in the land in holiness, reflecting his glory. They were to be a tangible reminder to the world of the goodness, grace, and justice of God. 

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Are you being trained by God’s discipline, or are you rebelling against it?

Sometimes, God answers our prayers with an emphatic “No!” (See Deuteronomy 3:26.) This is not because God doesn’t love us. Rather, it is because he does love us, and he knows what we need – or what his people, the church, need – better than we do.


Deuteronomy 7: Are you swept clean?

Dear church,

The goal of our spiritual lives is not to become empty, like people who meditate while looking at doorknobs or special symbols. No, the goal of our spiritual lives is to become full of Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

The Israelites were blessed with a conquest that occurred “little by little.” In this way, the land wouldn’t be overrun by nature – or by other opportunistic peoples. The conquest would take time, but it would be complete. Every vestige of pagan idolatry would be wiped out of the land. It would be clean, and it would be full of the people of God.

God works in this way with us. He doesn’t hollow us out all at once, instantly expunging from our lives all our old dreams and likes and dislikes and habits. We never are empty shells of human beings. 

Slowly, little by little, we are shaped and molded into Christlikeness. We call this discipleship. We are learners in the Way. And over time, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we push out the old sinful patterns of the past in order to make room for Christ in us.

This is why we should not become overly frustrated when we fall back for a time into old patterns. A certain frustration is good, but we should not allow our spirits to become crushed. Our faltering does not mean God is not at work in us. It simply means we must learn again how morally frail and fragile we really are, and we cannot do this work on our own. 

“These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?” God will fight for you. Your job is to remain faithful to him, to love him with your whole self (Deuteronomy 6:4). And obey him where he has spoken to you, even down to the smallest detail. 

Patiently and joyfully watch as God moves in.


Deuteronomy 6: To hear well

Dear church, 

Shema is Hebrew for “hear.” What are we to hear as we gather together as the people of God? What are we to say when one of our young ones comes close and asks why we take the bread and the cup, and why we sing, and why we pray, and why we give thanks?

“Then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” To hear well means we also must proclaim well. We hear and remember the story of the great acts of God – in Egypt, yes, but most prominently at Golgotha and at the tomb. We were taken out of the house of slavery to sin and death, once and for all. 

We hear about these things, and we believe them. Then we tell them to others. 

“What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?” What would you say? Do you understand that this covenant is based, first and foremost, on love?

We cannot love Jesus if we do not obey his commandments (John 14:21). In this way, we walk the same ancient path as the Israelites. We love God, and we obey him. Nothing has changed, even though so much has. 

Is Jesus the primary object of your love?