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.