Saturday, March 21, 2009

Prone to Wander, Lord I Feel It

The very next chapter after the blessings and curses, God starts talking about what would happen if His people turned away from Him. He offers a path back, saying He will forgive, and recieve the people back after they repent and turn back to Him.

The phrase that jumped out to me this morning is:

6 -7 "God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children's hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live."
Thick calluses on your heart. Wow. That describes it pretty well.
There is that verse in Isaiah that says, " 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way..."
I am reminded of a hymn we used to sing. I have reprinted all the words here.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Here is the story of the author of the words of that hymn.

Robert Robinson

"Robinson’s wi­dowed mo­ther sent him at age 14 to Lon­don, to learn the trade of bar­ber and hair dress­er. How­ev­er, his mas­ter found he en­joyed read­ing more than work. Con­vert­ed to Christ at age 17, Ro­bin­son be­came a Meth­od­ist min­is­ter. He lat­er moved to the Bapt­ist church and pas­tored in Cam­bridge, Eng­land. He wrote a num­ber of hymns, as well as on the sub­ject of the­ol­o­gy. His lat­er life was ev­i­dent­ly not an ea­sy one, judg­ing from a well known sto­ry about his hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Ev­ery Bless­ing.” One day, he en­count­ered a wo­man who was stu­dy­ing a hymn­al, and she asked how he liked the hymn she was hum­ming. In tears, he re­plied, “Madam, I am the poor un­hap­py man who wrote that hymn ma­ny years ago, and I would give a thou­sand worlds, if I had them, to en­joy the feel­ings I had then.”

The story of the people of Israel was one of wandering away from God and coming back to Him.
It is the story of Robert Robinson.
Unfortunately, it is my own story far too often...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Blessings (or Curses)

I want this!

"God's blessing inside the city,

God's blessing in the country;

God's blessing on your children, the crops of your land, the young of your livestock, the calves of your herds, the lambs of your flocks.

God's blessing on your basket and bread bowl;

God's blessing in your coming in,

God's blessing in your going out. " (Deuteronomy 28:2-6)

7 "God will defeat your enemies who attack you. They'll come at you on one road and run away on seven roads.
8 God will order a blessing on your barns and workplaces; he'll bless you in the land that God, your God, is giving you."

The blessing of God on your life, your family, your work, your investments. God's blessing on your food, your daily activities and your travels. God's blessing everywhere. All the time.

The promises go on.

9 "God will form you as a people holy to him, just as he promised you, if you keep the commandments of God, your God, and live the way he has shown you.
10 All the peoples on Earth will see you living under the Name of God and hold you in respectful awe. "

This has certainly happened to the Jews as a group. By any measure, God's blessing has been on them as a people. If you look at creativity, in music, in art, photography, acting, producing or writing movies. If you look at accomplishments, in science, research, agriculture, patents. If you look at business, whether industry, or banking or international trade. God has blessed them. That same blessing is offered to us Gentiles as well. Read on...

11 -14 "God will lavish you with good things: children from your womb, offspring from your animals, and crops from your land, the land that God promised your ancestors that he would give you. God will throw open the doors of his sky vaults and pour rain on your land on schedule and bless the work you take in hand. You will lend to many nations but you yourself won't have to take out a loan. God will make you the head, not the tail; you'll always be the top dog, never the bottom dog, as you obediently listen to and diligently keep the commands of God, your God, that I am commanding you today. Don't swerve an inch to the right or left from the words that I command you today by going off following and worshiping other gods."
That could easily be presented as the story of North America over the 200 years that they followed God. Not so much now, as in the last 70 years the country has officially, governmentally and educationally gone far away from God.
Are there conditions to this happy state? Yes. The passage begins with conditions.
1 -6 "If you listen obediently to the Voice of God, your God, and heartily obey all his commandments that I command you today..."
The entire passage begins with an "IF".
What if a person or people does NOT follow God and His commands? I mentioned curses in the title. Read with me...

15 -19 "Here's what will happen if you don't obediently listen to the Voice of God, your God, and diligently keep all the commandments and guidelines that I'm commanding you today. All these curses will come down hard on you:

God's curse in the city,
God's curse in the country;
God's curse on your basket and bread bowl;
God's curse on your children,
the crops of your land,
the young of your livestock,
the calves of your herds,
the lambs of your flocks.
God's curse in your coming in,
God's curse in your going out.

20 God will send The Curse, The Confusion, The Contrariness down on everything you try to do until you've been destroyed and there's nothing left of you—all because of your evil pursuits that led you to abandon me.
21 God will infect you with The Disease, wiping you right off the land that you're going in to possess.
22 God will set consumption and fever and rash and seizures and dehydration and blight and jaundice on you. They'll hunt you down until they kill you.
23 -24 The sky over your head will become an iron roof, the ground under your feet, a slab of concrete. From out of the skies God will rain ash and dust down on you until you suffocate.
25 -26 God will defeat you by enemy attack. You'll come at your enemies on one road and run away on seven roads. All the kingdoms of Earth will see you as a horror. Carrion birds and animals will boldly feast on your dead body with no one to chase them away. "

And it goes on.

Here I thought following God was all bliss and joy. Happy, happy, happy all the time. A free pass to heaven, and rollicking good times here below. Name it and claim it. Whatever you want, is yours. A santa claus in the sky that doled out wonderful presents all the time.

Looks like the Bible presents a more serious God. A real God. A holy God who has demands.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Foundation of a Happy Society

We start our class for premarrieds next week. It is the 11th time we have taught this class. We have 5 new couples, one just married couple, and one couple, married many years, who are taking the class to see if they would like to teach it.

In today's reading is one of my favorite marriage verses. It is Deuteronomy 24:5 Here it is:

5 "When a man takes a new wife, he is not to go out with the army or be given any business or work duties. He gets one year off simply to be at home making his wife happy."

The principle is easy to discern. The first year of marriage is a foundational year. Pay attention and take time to adjust. The delight (or bad patterns) that you establish that first year will reverberate througout the years of your marriage.
Would it not be cool if our society took this principle seriously? Let a new couple actually have a year to adjust. No job. No army. No school. No business. Just a time to enjoy each other, get used to living together, and creating patterns of interaction that lead to long term joy.
It is difficult in our modern fast paced society to fulfill this verse literally. However, the principle can still be honored. Cut back on community and church involvement. If you are studying, cut back on classes for a while. If working, don't volunteer for extra hours. What you have just started is huge. It is a marriage. It usually leads to children. It is the foundation of the society.
Ultimately, it is the foundation of a happy society.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No Juvenile Delinquents

There were no juvenile delinquents in Israel. At least, not for long.

Read this with me:

18 -20 "When a man has a stubborn son, a real rebel who won't do a thing his mother and father tell him, and even though they discipline him he still won't obey..."

Wait a minute! Does the text say mother AND FATHER! You mean, this rebel youngster was raised in a real home? There were TWO parents? Together? And they love this child, and discipline him? OK. I am starting to get it. Read on...

"his father and mother shall forcibly bring him before the leaders at the city gate and say to the city fathers, "This son of ours is a stubborn rebel; he won't listen to a thing we say. He's a glutton and a drunk."

So - his parents are together, and he is part of a caring community. There is order in the society. There are rules. The rules are to be followed. It is a moral society that does not approve of a rebel, an undisciplined no good, who takes chemicals to excess.

21 "Then all the men of the town are to throw rocks at him until he's dead. You will have purged the evil pollution from among you. All Israel will hear what's happened and be in awe."

The MEN are present. And engaged. They are role models. They have standards. And expectations. They carry out capital punishment. And yes, it IS for prevention.

I spent a very long time yesterday trying to find a picture that would work for this blog. In my searching, I ran across teen ranches, counseling for out of control teens, the whole gang movement, gang violence, violence in the schools. Even death row inmates.
I never found a picture that I could put up, that did not seem like a racial put down, or be insensitive to troubled young people.

Any picture I used would have to pass the test of my children's approval. One son-in-law is a youth pastor. His wife (my daughter) works with children. My other son-in-law was a teacher for many years. His wife (my other daughter) is a social worker, working with severly broken homes.

I gave up the search for the perfect picture. But my thinking ended up in a very different direction than it started. Most rebellious teens are reacting to divorces, or the knowledge that they are not loved, or parents that are dysfunctional or distracted. Gangs are all about family. They are a very violent, very harsh substitute for the deepest longing that God has placed in all of us. A relationship with God and a relationship with a loving, integral family.

Before I even finished this blog, my girl cousin, Heidi, commented about her brother and myself...

"I wonder how many times you and Bruce would have been stoned when you were teenagers!"
And she wasn't referring to marijuana.
So I guess that comment sums it up rather nicely!

Monday, March 16, 2009

His Cherished Personal Treasure

"His cherished personal treasure."
Brings up images of a treasure chest full of gold.
But no.
It is God talking about YOU.
In this passage there are many rules and regulations. Underlying it all is that God loves His people. He wants the best for them.
There is to be prosperity, and generosity, justice, fairness and mercy. After 7 years all debts are to be forgiven. No one should be poor among them.
4 -6 "There must be no poor people among you because God is going to bless you lavishly in this land that God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance, your very own land. But only if you listen obediently to the Voice of God, your God, diligently observing every commandment that I command you today. Oh yes—God, your God, will bless you just as he promised."
They are to lend to others, but never borrow, because God is going to prosper them.
"You will lend to many nations but won't borrow from any; you'll rule over many nations but none will rule over you."
Their gifts and sacrifices to God are to be from the first, and from the best, that they have.
Underlying it all, is this truth.
They were "His cherished personal treasure."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

He put you through hard times

There is a lot in today's passage that jumps out at me.

These are hard times for many people. They have been for us.

As I am coming back into the real estate listing and selling business, I am noticing in practice what I have been reading about and seeing on the news. That is - there is an avalanche of foreclosures and "short sales", where the people selling owe more than the house is worth. Every single one of those properties has a story. Mostly it is a story of anguish.

Americans are the most optimistic people on the planet. And among North Americans, the Christians have a firmly held belief that as you follow God, life will just get better and better. Financially, my generation is the most prosperous in the history of the world.

A time of financial contraction, such as we are now in, is a great time for reflection. And a good time to reevaluate life and our assumptions. Listen to what Moses says today:

"Remember every road that God led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don't live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God's mouth. Your clothes didn't wear out and your feet didn't blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that God disciplines you in the same ways a father disciplines his child.
6 -9 So it's paramount that you keep the commandments of God, your God, walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him."

You remember that the people were just about the enter the promised land. God knew they would prosper in the years ahead. Here is His prophecy, and also His warning.

11 -16 "Make sure you don't forget God, your God, by not keeping his commandments, his rules and regulations that I command you today. Make sure that when you eat and are satisfied, build pleasant houses and settle in, see your herds and flocks flourish and more and more money come in, watch your standard of living going up and up—make sure you don't become so full of yourself and your things that you forget God, your God, the God who delivered you from Egyptian slavery; the God who led you through that huge and fearsome wilderness, those desolate, arid badlands crawling with fiery snakes and scorpions; the God who gave you water gushing from hard rock; the God who gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never heard of, in order to give you a taste of the hard life, to test you so that you would be prepared to live well in the days ahead of you."

Doesn't that sound a lot like our experience in North America? As I visit the church around the world, I discover that the North American church is consumed by money and materialism. Christianity, in many cases, is a veneer over rampant consumerism. Yet listen to God...

17 -18 "If you start thinking to yourselves, "I did all this. And all by myself. I'm rich. It's all mine!"—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today."

Then a summary. As powerful today, Sunday March 15, 2009 as the day it was spoken:

12 -13 "So now Israel, what do you think God expects from you? Just this: Live in his presence in holy reverence, follow the road he sets out for you, love him, serve God, your God, with everything you have in you, obey the commandments and regulations of God that I'm commanding you today—live a good life."

And when He says, "live a good life", it is a life with the moral quality of goodness. Not the selfish, materialistic, easy life we think of.

Live in His presence.

Live a good life.