May 16, 2011

Deuteronomy 6:5, part 2

You shall love the LORD your God with all your soul. We try to satisfy our desires with all kinds of things. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the problem with our Christianity is not that God finds our desires too strong, but too weak. He said basically that we would rather fool around with drugs and alcohol and food and sex instead of finding the all-satisfying fulfillment of our souls in Christ. He equates it to being offered a vacation at the beach but turning it down because we’d rather play in a mud puddle in our backyard. We would rather have the immediate gratification of temporal, felt needs rather than the ultimate satisfaction of fellowship with Christ. Jesus talked about this in John 4. He went to Jacob’s well and saw a Samaritan woman. Jesus asked her for a drink of water which was completely inappropriate in the culture. Jews and Samaritans did not associate with one another. So she asked, “Who are you?” Jesus, “If you knew who I was you’d be asking me for a drink of living water. You drink my water and you won’t ever thirst again.” Jesus is the only one that can fully satisfy the longings in our heart and soul. Jesus is the only one that is strong enough to overcome our desire for sin.

Your soul is thirsty. My soul is thirsty. There is a book titled Soul Searching that came out a few years ago, and the basic premise of the book is that teenagers are constantly seeking to satisfy a longing in their souls, and they are filling it up with drugs, sex, and grandpa god – a god that basically could be summed up as this pie-in-the sky old man that just wants you to be happy and healthy. That is not the God of the Bible. Yes, he wants you to be happy, but he wants you to be happy in him forever! Not in his things, not in his blessings, and not in your health. He wants your soul to find it’s true satisfaction only in him! Nothing is going to bring satisfaction to their sinful, guilty, aching hearts besides God. I love what John Piper says about satisfying our soul: The pursuit of our soul’s satisfaction – our joy and delight and happiness – is not sin. Sin is the exact opposite: pursuing happiness where no lasting happiness can be found…Sin is trying to quench our unquenchable soul-thirst anywhere but in God.

You shall love the LORD your God with all your might. I take this to mean that there is an intentional effort. When you are utilizing all your might to accomplish something what else can you think about at that moment? If you’re power-lifting and you’re on your last set are you half-way thinking about getting the bar up, or making sure your knees don’t lock? No! You’re committed! You cannot think of anything else. Your whole attention is focused on that one task. Moses was basically saying to apply all of your might, all of your attention on your love for God.

This complete, utter infatuation with God stands in stark contrast to complete and utter infatuation with ourselves. Jesus told us that anyone who comes after him must take up his cross and follow. He must daily die to himself. Anyone who follows Christ must be willing to give up his own life because anyone who desires to keep his life, in other words loves himself, will lose his life, and anyone who loses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

May 10, 2011

Deuteronomy 6:5

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 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. And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant – and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:1-12)

The book of Deuteronomy is an interesting book. It begins with Moses recounting the wilderness journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, and ends with someone else completing the story as we watch Moses pass away before our very eyes. In the meantime, Moses reminds the Israelites of all that God has done from the beginning of their journey through where they have come to this point, and then admonishes them to "be careful and do" all that he is reminding them of.

In chapter one Moses recounts the Israelite’s rebellion and refusal to enter the land that God had promised to them. Chapter two tells of the subsequent wilderness that Israel was forced to wander for a generation. However, chapter two and three also talk about God preparing his people for entry in to the Promised Land and God’s provision. This is summed up in 3:18 And I commanded you at that time, saying “The LORD your God has given you this land to possess.” God had already provided the land. He defeated the inhabitants. All Israel had to do was obey and go in.

Chapters four and five describe the standard of holiness God requires. Moses warns to them to “diligently keep their souls” and then in chapter five brings to mind the Ten Commandments. So that brings us to chapter six. Verses one through three Moses again commands them to obey and be careful to do so, but then comes 4-5. I wonder if Moses felt like he was losing the crowd. I wonder if he looked out and saw the bewilderment/defeat on their faces. “Moses, come on dude! We can’t do all this!” So he sums it up for them. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

This verse is basically the hinge verse in Deuteronomy. It is the verse that connects everything that precedes it with everything that follows. We looked at an overview of the chapters that preceded it, and the only correct response to the God who brought them out of Egypt, as Moses reminded them repeatedly, is love him with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

What do you love?

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart. That means that you will not love anything more than you love God. This is a reinforcement of the first commandment “You shall have no other gods before me.” We love a lot of things. I love football. I love hockey. I love baseball. I love my wife and my son. But above all else, I am to love the LORD my God. The truth that God’s glory and our joy in God are one radically undermines modern views of self-centered love. God-centered grace nullifies the gospel of self-esteem.

January 11, 2011

God Hardened His Spirit

The thing I love about grace: it is free. No way could I ever earn or merit the favor of God. The thing I hate about grace? No way could I ever earn or merit the favor of God! This is troubling for so many people. We spend our whole life seeking the favor of others. It is drilled into us from our earliest memories. "Be a good little boy, and Santa will come see you." "If you're good, I'll get you (fill in the blank)." We even use good behavior as an offer of redemption - from a reduced sentence in time-out to one day off for every six good days in prison. We are wired to earn favor. I think this is why people ask questions like "Why do bad things happen to good people?" We have an expectation that if we do good we deserve good, and if we do bad we get what's coming to us. On the surface this is true enough. But there is a deeper theological truth in play. When the Israelites sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon all they asked was that they be allowed to pass through the land. A simple enough request I presume. Then we get to the "but." "But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him." Now, if you stop here and read no further you could assume that if you mess with the people of God the God of the people is going to mess with you. Again, a correct assumption. However, you must ask the question, "Why?" Why would Sihon not allow the Israelites to pass through his land. We could list a multitude of different reasons ranging from stubborness to mental shrinkage! The real reason for Sihon not allowing Israel to pass through was God did not want him to. Finish the verse. "But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day." (Deuteronomy 2:30) Stop and meditate on this verse. God. Hardened. His. Spirit.

Verses like these tend to be difficult for people because we want to be in control. My wife hates when I drive, and I equally hate her reactions when she rides with me. She always thinks I'm going to have an accident, and I always tell her she's going to cause me to have one. She likes to be in control. So do I. That's why I drive! We want that same secure feeling of control when it comes to God, too. If I'm good, God will bless me. If I give, God will reward me. If I, then God. We fail to realize that it is not "If I, then God." It is "If I, it is because God." There are few truths more damning than this. We hang on the divine mercy of God. If we respond to God, it is because he enabled our hearts to respond. If we reject God, it is because he did not enable our hearts to respond. I love the old adage, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." I believe this is why humility was so central to Christ's message. The Jews had begun to think of themselves as deserving God's grace, of earning divine favor. They looked down on other races (Gentiles) as subordinate because the Jews had the Law, and the prophets, and they sought to measure up to the standard every day. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

There is no logical explanation as to why Sihon would not allow the Israelites to pass through his land. It was only because God had hardened his spirit. I love the way John Piper illustrates this truth from 2 Chronicles 30:

This responsiveness of God to the choices we make causes some people to jump to a very unwarranted "common sense" conclusion. They say: "Well, if God responds to our choices, then what we choose and what God does in response must depend ultimately on us." This is what I call "philosophical" interpretation. In other words, this way of understanding conditional statements in the Bible comes from commonsense human reasoning rather than careful attention to the uncommon ways of God revealed in the text...What verse 12 teaches, in the light of the preceeding context, is that God commanded, "Return to me and I will return to you." Some people did return. Why did they? Verse 12 gives the deepest reason: God gave them a heart to do what he had commanded...It is the closest biblical parallel to St. Augustine's famous prayer, "Command what you wish, but give what you command."

While we have examined that Sihon was obstinate because God hardened his spirit we must also pay homage to the truth that Israel took possession of the land that God gave them. Even their going up and possessing was done because God ordained it, not of their own volition, but of his sovereign grace.

And the LORD said to me, "Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy this land." Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Jahaz. And the LORD our God gave him over to us, and we defeated him and his sons and all his people...The LORD our God gave all into our hands. (Deuteronomy 2:31-33, 36b)

We need to understand that God's ways are not our ways. There are some, if you are even still reading, who bristled at the idea of sovereign grace hardening Sihon's spirit. I was once in your shoes. But God's ways are not our ways. God's greatest concern is for His glory, and His glory is my ultimate good. We believe that God wants our good. On the contrary, we should want God's good. In order to achieve his purpose of delivering Israel to the Promised Land, Sihon's heart had to be hardened, just as in order to deliver Israel from the hand of Pharoah, Pharoah's heart had to be hardened. Perhaps the greatest treatise on this subject came from the hand of Paul in Romans 9:

[T]hough they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls - she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharoah, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whom he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" (Romans 9:11-20)

God hardened Sihon for the same reason he lifted Israel - because it is his sovereign grace. I would have you consider one final thing. In light of this truth, how should we respond to the Lord? To the one who believes you are entitled, remember that there, but for the grace of God, go you. Be careful not to judge, remembering that if it were not for God's grace extended to you at the cross, you too would be on the path to hell. To the one who believes already that we are dependent upon the sovereign grace of God be grateful in knowing that there, but for the grace of God, go you. Rejoice knowing that God loves you, and adopted you to be his heir. And finally, to the one who does not believe, throw yourself on the altar of mercy, not to appease an angry God who is ready to cast you in to hell, but instead to perhaps receive the divine grace, the unmerited favor of the one, true, God.

December 14, 2010

God has been with you

In Deuteronomy chapter 1 we become well acquainted with the Israelites’ rebellion and disobedience against God. I remember reading some of the stories in Deuteronomy when I was in high school, and all I could think was how stupid the Israelites were. They had seen the mighty hand of God send plagues, part waters, and provide fire by night and clouds by day for the Israelites to be protected. What on earth could allow the Israelites to disobey? Yet they did, and they did so numerous times. Not only did they doubt God, but they actively rebelled against him. You read, “God said,” followed by, “But you did.” Does this sound familiar? I know it does for me. My heart is rebellious, and that is the problem. By nature and by nurture, I am sinful. I am inclined to rebel, “prone to leave the God I love.” And, while painful, God disciplines those he loves which brings me to an interesting place. In the middle of reading Deuteronomy 2, it hit me. I touched on this in an earlier blog. God did not abandon Israel. Israel abandoned God. God never left.

Then the LORD said to me, “You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward and command the people, ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. (Deuteronomy 2:3-5)

Even in the midst of their disobedience and subsequent punishment, God was directing Israel, as the author always conducts the characters of his book, as if God is saying, “You will do this, because I have done this. I am the Author.” Could Israel have risen up against the people of Esau? God had already promised this land to Esau, and this speaks to the very character of God. When he promises, he delivers. When he appoints, he provides. God will not be outdone, or undone. He is just that: GOD. Meditate on this. Let it sink to the very fiber of your being. What are you worried about? If God promised it, he will deliver it. (Do not mistake this for so-called “name-it, claim-it” theology. There is no such thing. I can no more claim athletic ability or medical healing than I can claim that the man in the moon is my brother. Hogwash!)

This is not really where I want to camp, though. Read on:

You shall purchase food from them for money, that you may eat, and you shall also buy water from them for money, that you may drink. (Now pay attention!) For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.

Now that is good! “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands…These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” Stop. Think about this truth. Even in the midst of your discipline, in the middle of your wilderness, in the middle of the silence of God, God has been with you. Wow. WOW! This attests to the great hope that we have in the One True God. He is with us. He knows our going out and our coming in. He knows our sleeping and our waking. He knows us, and he is with us. Remember that the Israelite’s wandering in the wilderness was God’s ordinance to bring them to full dependence upon him. Again, this speaks to the character God more than it does the value of his people. God’s people, we, are unfaithful, sinful, rebellious, and prone to wander. God is faithful, perfect, righteous, and steadfast. “These forty years…God has been with you.”

Perhaps you need to be reminded of this today. Maybe God has given you a direction, a dream, a desire but you are in the wilderness. And maybe you have been in the wilderness for a long time. “He knows your going through this great wilderness…God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” You may not be where you thought you were going, or where you believe you will end up. You may be passing by Mount Seir and thinking, “That looks like a good land,” but God is saying, “Not this one. I have promised this to someone else. Keep going.” God has been with you.

I want you to notice something about this passage. Look at the word “your.” I had to read this line several times before it finally hit me. I kept thinking it was a typo. Your. The word should be “you’re” meaning you are. God knows YOU ARE going through the wilderness. But that is not what it says. It says your. “God knows YOUR going through this great wilderness.” It is personal. He knows YOUR path, YOUR wilderness, YOUR frustrations, YOUR praises, YOUR cries. He knows YOU. Oh yes, he knows you are, but more importantly he knows YOU. As you continue to pass by land after land, dream after dream being reminded, “Not this one. I have promised this land to someone else,” take courage knowing that he knows YOUR path, and has a land, a dream, a desire that is YOURS.

For forty years the Israelites wandered, and finally God showed them.

Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle. This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you. (Deuteronomy 2:24-25)

God had a purpose for the wilderness – that Israel would be found utterly dependent upon God. Notice that the Israelites did nothing to take over the land. God told them, “I have given into your hand.” It is the appearance of self-fulfillment, but God was the provider. Not only this, God was the contender. “This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples.” God had already secured the victory, provided the land, and sealed the results. All Israel had to do was move. We will look more at this next time. Be encouraged. God has been with you. He knows YOUR going through this great wilderness. You have lacked nothing.

In the spring of 2006 I was nearing graduation from college. Life was about to change in a major way. No longer would I have the luxury of “working” for only 4 hours per day then returning home to play countless hours of video games and hang out with friends. This was tragic, of course! Not only was the schedule about to change, but so were my dreams. At the age of 14 I surrendered to ministry. At the time, I believed this meant I would be the pastor of a mega church in Suburbia, America. As time went by, my vision of ministry changed. By the time I graduated college, nearly eight years later, my vision of ministry as it began no longer existed. I began filling out an application to join a mission organization and was planning on heading to the Middle East or India upon graduating college. In April, though, I stopped filling out the application, but I still knew in my heart that missions – whatever that would look like – was my calling.

In May of that year I fell in love with the woman that would later become my wife. One of the things that drew us together was our commitment to ministry, and in particular – missions. As we grew together our commitment strengthened, culminating in my resignation from a youth ministry position in April 2008 to leave the comforts and confines of America and head to the mission field of post-Christian Europe. But God had not given us that land. For reasons beyond our control, we were not able to go, and thus, the beginning of our journey in the wilderness. (I wrote about this on a previous date. See Running.) The great thing about the wilderness is how God uses these times to draw us closer to himself. Now this did not happen in the beginning. In the beginning came frustration, anger, etc. But now, having been reminded of God’s faithfulness, comes the closeness. We have drawn, and continue to draw closer to God, because of his faithfulness – his character – because for all the days in the wilderness God has been with us. We still do not know where our land is, but we know we are going with the full confidence that God knows our going through this great wilderness, and that he has been with us.

December 3, 2010


Chuck Swindoll tells a story from his thirteenth birthday:

Do you remember the last time you got a spanking? I remember the last time I got one. I had reached the ripe old and wise age of thirteen. That’s the age where you are amazed that your father has been able to make it as far in life, being so ignorant without your counsel. As a matter of fact, the spanking came on my thirteenth birthday. And in our home, since this fell on a Saturday, when you had a birthday you were sort of “king for a day.” I remember lying around in the bed and on the sofa, barking orders here and there, demanding response.

And so my father, from the flower bed outside, sensing the need for some correction, called me, “Charles.” And I said, “Yeah,” which was mistake number one, because in our home you didn’t say “Yeah”; you said, “Yes sir.” And then he called my name again and said, “Come out and help me weed the flower bed.” And I said, “No,” which was mistake number two. He graciously continued his pleading by saying, “Now don’t lie there and act like a three-year-old. Come out and help me weed this flower bed.” I said, “Daddy, I’m not three, I’m thirteen.” Now that’s the last thing I remember on that day, because with both hands and both feet he landed on my body. And did not let go until I was vigorously weeding the flower bed.

I still remember it even though it was years ago. As we worked together through most of that day, he said to me at a time that was well chosen, “Son, I would be less than a good dad if I did not correct you when you disobey.”

Those final words have a power punch, don’t they? “Son, I would be less than a good dad if I did not correct you when you disobey.” These days we don’t want to talk about discipline. It’s my life, leave me alone. We teach our children that it is their world and we are privileged to be living here by their good grace. We have been taught not to damage our children’s self-esteem, and the easiest way to do that is to let them do whatever makes them happy. Truth be told, it is easier not to discipline our children than to offer corrective reproofs. But this is antithetical to our faith. Parents are admonished to discipline and train their children, and we are given the ultimate example in the corrective love of our heavenly father.

As Moses was recounting the Israelites deliverance from Egypt and subsequent wandering in the wilderness, he reminded them of the rebellious spirit that led to their wandering.

And the LORD heard your words (referring to 1:27-28) and was angered, and he swore, “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!” Even with me the LORD was angry on your account and said, “You also shall not go in there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it. And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them, I will give it, and they shall possess it. But as for you, turn, and journey into the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.”

God was not being mean or spiteful. He was disciplining his children, correcting their behavior and reminding them that he is God and his ways are best. We like to have a Sesame Street view of our Father – some gentle giant who just wants us all to be happy. Translation – God lets me live how I want and doesn’t interfere or have an opinion of my sin. False. God does care, and he is the standard bearer of righteousness. Sin has no place before God. The truth is, God hates sin! And he wants us to hate sin, thus correction. Further, God does want us to be happy. But our happy and God’s happy do not always measure up. God desires for us to be happy in him, forever. To be completely satisfied in his goodness and his grace. As John Piper so frequently says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Satisfaction in what God can give us, or has even done for us, misses the point. God wants us to be satisfied in and dependent upon him. This is why Israel was sent to the wilderness. “Alright, son. You want to do this your way? I will show you that my way is better. Off you go.”

A few things to notice about these verses. First, the Israelites condemnation was communal. Go back to verse 37: Even with me (Moses) the LORD was angry on your account and said, “You also shall not go in there.” This was Moses. The same Moses God spoke to out of a burning bush; the same Moses who said, “I am slow of speech,” and God promised to be his mouth piece. The blessings and curses of God are almost always communal, all throughout scripture. There is little room for individualism. We are reminded of this in Hebrews the readers are told not to forsake meeting TOGETHER. Numbers 14:33 illustrates the communal condemnation this way: And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for YOUR faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. Can you just hear your kids in the background, “Thanks a lot, dad!”?

Next we notice that evil/sin has no place in the presence of God and God is faithful. These two statements seem to have no correlation, but indulge me for a moment. Moses declared on God’s behalf “Not one of these evil (i.e., sinful, rebellious) generation shall see the good land.” It is doubtful that every single Israelite grumbled against God. This actually speaks volumes to the human condition. Sin is not only the choices we make and actions we do. It is our VERY BEING! We are born, because of Adam, separated from God in sin. It is interwoven in our DNA. Our being dictates our behavior. We sin, because we are sinful. Think about in these terms. Does a dog bark because he is a dog, or is a dog a dog because he barks? If I get down on all fours, bounce around, hang my tongue out of my mouth, and bark would that make me a dog? No. That would make me crazy, not a dog. The same is true of our condition. God was punishing Israel not just because of the sin of their actions, but because they were sinful.

Despite this setback, God still stood by the promise he made. He said, “Not one…except.” EXCEPT. What a powerful word. An entire generation just received a death sentence – wandering around in the wilderness until the last one falls. EXCEPT Caleb – and his children. This not only demonstrates God’s faithfulness, but his faithfulness to communal blessing. But what made Caleb, and also Joshua, special. Why did these men inherit the blessing, but the entire rest of the Israelites were cast off? First, the scripture tells us clearly, “because he wholly followed the LORD!” If you go back to Numbers 13, Caleb and Joshua were two of the twelve chosen to go spy out the land (Numbers 13:6). In verses 25-30 we are given a solid look at the character of these men. They believed the Promise. While the other ten stated, “It is a good land…but…” Caleb and Joshua stood firm in their belief that God would deliver, just as he said he would. The inhabitants of the land may be stronger, but we will overcome because our God – YHWH – is greater! Faith is always what has pleased God, all the way back to the very founder of our faith, Abraham, who believed God and is was counted to him as righteousness.

How would you like to be that one?! Everyone else – EXCEPT – you. Caleb and Joshua believed God. They trusted him. And they wholly followed, not faltering to the right or to the left. God did not command Israel to sort of possess the land, to kind of follow him, to waiver back and forth. These men were faithful in response to God’s faithfulness. It is his love that allows us to love. His faithfulness that allows us to be faithful, and these men honored that. This is God’s faithfulness, going all the way back to Abraham. God made a promise, and he intended to keep it. As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

But remember, that just because he has called us, and just because he will surely do it, does not mean it will not come without discipline. And discipline hurts. I believe it hurts both father and son. I cannot imagine spanking my child, after all, he is barely two weeks old. But there will come a day, as there does with every child, that he will rebel against my will, and he will need to be corrected. I am not looking forward to it, and it will not be fun, but it is necessary. If God did not love Israel he would have allowed the nation to continue to do things against his will without reproof. But God did love Israel, and those whom God loves, God disciplines. Not out of meanness, out of love. In response to God’s faithfulness, be faithful!

November 30, 2010


The book of Deuteronomy is an interesting book. It begins with Moses recounting the wilderness journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, and ends with someone else completing the story as we watch Moses pass away before our very eyes. In the meantime, Moses reminds the Israelites of all that God has done from the beginning of their journey through where they have come to this point, and then admonishes them to "be careful and do" all that he is reminding them of. Deuteronomy 1:5-8 we read:

Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law, saying, "The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, 'You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring.'"

Moses points out the beginning of their journey. "You have stayed long enough at this mountain." We have a tendency to be boorish, don't we? To become comfortable, even in discomfort? We will take uncomfortable over unknown, almost any day of the week. The Israelites had not arrived at the land God had promised them, but they were comfortable in the land where they were. They were in the wilderness! It does not get much more uncomfortable than that, but you don't find much more familiarity than forty years somewhere, either. Friends, we have stayed long enough at the mountain. Move!

I think another important point here is that God told the Israelites to "Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers." There was no committee formed. There was no vote. There was no decision necessary. God had already provided the land, the Israelites just needed to accept the free gift before them. But they wanted to complicate the situation. Do you ever think, "This is too easy? I must not be doing it right." So they did what we do. They formed committees. They had votes. They sent out PR representatives to see if this would go okay. (see v. 21-25)God told them to take possession of what he had already delivered to them. It was free! Go possess it. But the unknown is scary. To be overly profound, it is unknown! So they searched out the unknown land, and they saw that the land was good, but they were still afraid! And Moses reminded them, "Yet, you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the LORD your God." (v. 26) The Israelites started running.

I hate running. I detest it, actually. I would rather swim, walk, ride a bike...sit on the couch!! I HATE running. In fact, when I was forced to run track in high school, the coaches put me on the distance team. They did this because I was too slow to be a sprinter. When practice would start we always began from the south end of the track, the end furthest from the field house. Around the track we would go, and as I would near the completion of the first lap, coach would holler, "Pick it up West! You need to be on pace for 8 minutes. PICK IT UP!" And I would. I would run so hard in front of him, around the curve, down the straight away, on to the next curve, and then right out the gate that led back to the field house! You never saw anyone shower and change faster in your whole life. Then I would sprint to the car in the parking lot, jump in, and take off. I have always hated running, yet, for the last three years, I haven't stopped - running. Not physically, of course. Anyone could take one look at me an know I'm not a runner. Spiritually. I have been running from God. I have been bitter.

Almost three years ago I made a decision to leave the church where I was working to pursue missions. We were certain this was right. We felt a vitality that we had never known before when we would talk and dream of missions - of serving the Lord in meaningful ministry, not in planning games or "fun activities" that, in the end, no more lead to life than a kick in the face. Ministry, as I had come to know it, was not ministry. There was no deep devotion to God. No dependence upon prayer. It was all superficial. No depth. And this was what was expected of me. Not at one church, but at all I had served in. My frustration level grew stronger and stronger each day, angered by the peddling of the Gospel as though it were some cheap trick and Jesus some magic genie to make all your worries disappear. So we prayed. We talked. And then, one day, we left - feeling like Abram when God said, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land THAT I WILL SHOW YOU." (Genesis 12:1) Don't miss that last part. I - God - am sending you to the land that I will show you. He did not tell Abram where he was going, when he would get there, or the road he would take. He simply said go, and I will show you. We clung to this verse with unabashed hope! With JOY! We are going, and God will show us! How exciting?! But the land where we thought we were going turned out not to be. And the wandering began.

I told you we stepped out in faith, unsure of where or when we were going, but that we were going nonetheless. And then the silence came. No land. No road. No time frame. Just silence. I do not know that there is a more painful sound than the silence of God, and if you have ever heard it, you know exactly what I mean. It is excruciating. Six months of unemployment. Countless interviews with churches and mission organizations. Nothing. Dead end after dead end. "God, what happened?" I began to get angry. My heart hurt. "Maybe we should never have left Egypt," I thought. This must have been how the Israelites felt as Moses reminded them in Deuteronomy 1:27 "And you murmured in your tents and said, 'Because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.'" Wandering in the wilderness is lonely, frustrating, and fearful, especially when the one who told you to go stops talking to you. So I started to run. For the last two and a half years I have run, believing that not only does God not want to use, but that he can't use me. I'm not smart enough, not charismatic enough, not connected enough. No one will want a seminary drop out, former youth minister turned school teacher. God doesn't want me. Church attendance has been sporadic, at best, and when I do go it is painful to remember what used to be. Preaching. Spending the week perusing and studying scripture. Searching out the beauty of Christ. Loving people. Helping students, and parents, grow spiritually. But so returns the pain, too, of watching more churches game and gimmick people in to the pews, spreading their nets wide, but not DEEP. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. God is using churches all over the place, many doing great things to introduce people to the love of Christ. But that's it. That's where it stops. There is so much more to the beauty of Christ than just entering in to a relationship with him. It would be like asking a woman to marry you, then never looking beyond the proposal again. So the running continued.

In March, Jennifer and I found out we were having our first baby. There are no words to describe the joy and excitement we felt. Then, a few weeks later we had our first sonogram. For the first time, when he was six weeks and one day in to being formed, we saw our son's heartbeat. A tiny, white flash on a screen of black and dark grey. There he was. Our baby. And this, God used to begin melting my heart of stone, turning me ever so slowly back to him. My thought, I can't raise this baby on the run. I am accountable to God for how I raise him. I am accountable for how I lead my family spiritually. So the running began to slow.

The Israelites were frustrated with the process. They were angry with God. Look at Deuteronomy 1:27-28:

And you murmured in your tents and said, "Because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, 'The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the size of the Anakim there.'"

They were angry and afraid. But be it known, the Israelites had abandoned God. God did not abandon the Israelites. They ran from him because they were afraid of the unknown. They were brought from Egypt and told to go to a land that God would show them. Then quiet. Be quiet. Just listen to the silence - the silence that is so quiet it literally hurts your ears. We were leaving a baseball game one night. Thousands of people were leaving the stadium, and in the noise I heard a high pitched squeal, "MOM! MOM! MOM!" I looked to see a mentally challenged adult who had been separated from her party. "MOM! MOM! MOM!" The cries continued. No response. That is how the Israelites must have felt. That is how I felt. "ABBA! ABBA! ABBA!" No response. "DADDY WHERE ARE YOU?!?!" Nothing. Having been lost more than a few times in my life, I can say that most often we get lost because we did not follow the directions given to us. The Israelites were wandering around the wilderness lost because they failed to follow the directions of the direction giver.

Moses, trying to cheer them up said, "Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place." (1:29-31) Can you imagine the thoughts running through the Israelites as he's saying this? "Hmm. Right, Moses. He carried us. That's why my feet hurt. That's why my body is exhausted. I'm hungry. I haven't had a pillow in years. 40 years Moses! 40 YEARS! And not one day have my feet left the ground. Out of Egypt. We would have been better off staying. We had MEAT, Moses. We didn't live in fear. It was better there." When you're running you can't think rationally. God had sent plagues, parted a sea, provided cover in the day and fire by night, yet the Israelites disbelieved God. He had forgotten them, surely, they thought. He must have. Why else would they have wandered 40 years? God had not forgotten Israel. Israel had forgotten God. Moses reminded them of the great things God had done for them, how he had provided for and even carried them. Verse 32, "Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go." God never stopped leading Israel, they simply stopped recognizing who it was they were following. They had become blind to the things of God, much as we do in our own wilderness.

Can I offer you encouragement? It is the same encouragement I have found. God is not done. He has not stopped leading you. He has not called you to a place he will show you just so you can lay destitute forever in the wilderness. If you have gone blind, if you have stopped recognizing the things of God then remember. Just as Moses reminded the Israelites of all God had done for them, so I remind you. He brought you out of your Egypt - your pit of sin and despair. He carried you through your wilderness, like a father carries his son, just as he did with Israel. Remember. Remember what God has done. I hate running. I have spent the better part of almost three years doing it. I am tired. Stop running with me. Remember what the LORD has done, and return to him today. For the past few months I have thought about these things - about life and ministry, family, priorities, and following God. The climb seems mightily uphill. I have doubts and fears. I worry - after all, how can I ever get back? More importantly, how can I get where I'm going when I don't know where I'm headed? What I do know is that my heart feels full again, and for this I am grateful. I know that the LORD our God goes before me and will himself fight for me, just as he did in Egypt, and he will carry me, as he did Israel in the wilderness, as a man carries his son. Believe it!

April 16, 2010

Dad's day

WOW! Again, I just want to say thank you for all of the encouragement and prayers today. This was all very sudden. Dad went to the hospital on Wednesday for what he said were "chest pains." Apparently those "chest pains" were a mild heart attack. They tried to do a catheter yesterday and stopped because there was so much blockage. He looked terrible after surgery but the doctor said he was doing very well. It's hard to see your dad like that, but I am so grateful he made it through.

I realized some things today that maybe I knew before but had forgotten, or maybe I just never knew them - I don't know. Dad's are supposed to be strong. That's what we think. They will be around forever - to be taken for granted and complained about and generally not liked! ;) Dad's are supposed to be old men with white hair who let YOUR kids sit in their lap and pull on their face and say "you smell funny." Dad's are supposed to be superheros who can do no wrong and can beat up your dad.

I learned that dad's are mortal - and precious. They are fragile and impermanent. They are a blessing - no matter how stubborn they may be. They are strong, and superheros - and they will beat up your dad! My dad is a good guy and I love him very much, though I say it very little. My heart hurts today, not like his, but it hurts just the same. It hurts because I have taken my dad for granted, like he will always be here to be griped about and blamed for my bad habits. I stood in that room with my two brothers and lost it. I had to leave. It hurt my heart.

I love my dad - and that is what I learned today.