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The Stumbling Block Prayer

“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11

Image result for plate of moneyAgain, Jesus reaches back into the Old Testament and produces a heavenly gem for His hearers to reconsider. They would’ve know the Proverbs, studied the wisdom sayings to apply in their everyday life as was their practical purpose. But did they really think about the heart-level meaning of them?

Maybe some did, but Jesus knew what these listening hearts needed. He spoke to the gap in their understanding.

And He quoted from a man named Agur, who was, like Job, a wise man though probably not an Israelite. The full context of the phrase, Give us today our daily bread, is worthy of consideration. Agur prayed:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9

When Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread, it is so that we will learn to depend on God once again. In the Garden of Eden, God provided for everything that Adam and Eve needed [1:29]. When sin–the decision to be their own gods–entered the world, they had to begin to provide for themselves, and the ground didn’t cooperate because humans do not have the power of God to control the earth as He does [Genesis 3:17-19].

But He didn’t leave them without sustenance [Genesis 8:22]. God desired to reconcile them to Himself and to be their provider–if only they would trust in Him. And He desires the same for us.

Ironically, so fallen is the sinful nature that even God’s provision can become a stumbling block to the life of faith. As Agur notes, when times are tough we might turn to God or we might turn to self-as-god and steal our needs for ourselves. Yet, when times are plentiful and God provides in abundance, again we get cocky and pat ourselves on the back–Look how good I’ve done for myself. God warned the Israelites that they would face the self-same temptation when they entered the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 6:10-12] and assumed the homes, vineyards and riches of the people they drove out.

Both extremes, poverty and riches, turn our hearts from God. Instead, Agur prayed that God would keep him on the straight and narrow path that leads to life [Matthew 7:13-14]. And Jesus said that we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God [Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4].

In the scheme of temptations, Satan doesn’t care which extreme he lures you to accept. So long as he keeps you off the path that leads to life. His only desire is to steal from you, kill you and destroy your eternal life [John 10:10].

Are your prayers filled with requests for abundance or provision of wants rather than basic needs? Ask the Holy Spirit to tune your heart to God’s. Trust Him to provide exactly what you need at exactly the time you need it. In all things, seek the advancement of His kingdom first, then trust God to provide the rest [Matthew 6:33].

KCS

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The Mercy Flow

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48

Image result for heart water flow

Do apple trees grow lemons or thistles in drought conditions? Of course not! Then neither should we, as Christians, grow cantankerous with those who hate us or mistreat us. It’s the same principal.

Only, unlike the apple tree, we have free will.

We get to choose whether we will do what God created us to do–love everyone like ourselves, no matter what–or not.

The command to, Love your neighbor, should be easily recognizable as the second greatest commandment in scripture [Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28]. But the saying, hate your enemy? Where did that come from?

Scripture cross references cite Deuteronomy 23:6. This passage specifies who may and may not enter into the assembly of God’s people back in the Hebrew desert wanderings and into the Promised Land. Interestingly, the Ammonites and Moabites are specifically excluded and the Israelites are told not to seek peace with them or fortune from them. Apparently, this translates as hating enemies because these two nations were notorious foes to God’s people and refusing to seek peace is hateful.

But again, God had a purpose for the original order to stay separate from the Ammonites and Moabites. It wasn’t so that people could decide for themselves who to treat hostilely. It was so that ungodly ideas and practices would be kept out of the sphere of influence.

So Jesus brings the command back to its original intent. Love people. All people. Don’t become like your enemies by living alongside them, but do treat them with the love of God and do pray for them. By this, they will recognize us as God’s children. And God will receive the glory and the honor for our loving response in hard times.

You see, God’s love doesn’t distinguish between believers and unbelievers. He offers it freely and equally to all. Not everyone recognizes or accepts it, but that doesn’t change the fact that God gives it. And it’s the same with His mercy, His creation, et al.

We too, having been made in God’s image, shouldn’t distinguish between people who are nice to us and those who aren’t. As Christians, we should respond generously with love and mercy to all.

But what on earth does this have to do with perfection? Perfect simply means, complete. While we can never attain to God’s complete knowledge, love, mercy, et al in this life, we can be made complete in Him. We can let His love and mercy flow through us to everyone around us.

Are you a conduit of God’s love and mercy? Or do you dispense in favoritism?

KCS

Mile 2: Settling Scores with Love

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42

Image result for 2 mile markerRemember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.

In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.

A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.

In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.

And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.

But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.

1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].

And,

2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.

After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.

God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.

And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.

Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.

Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?

KCS

The Empty Bat Signal

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No;’ anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37

Image result for bat signalJesus doesn’t quote directly from the ten commandments this time, instead He cites another command of the law, which actually had to do with making oaths to God Himself [Deuteronomy 23:21]. Apparently, people didn’t consider that it might be just as sinful to make an oath to another person and then break it.

Remember, Jesus is referring to seed sins. And He’s deepening understanding of the extent of the sinful nature in general.

Often, people who feel the need to back up their promise with some type of oath–cross my heart, hope to die, or I swear on my mother’s grave, or I swear *raises hand* you can even ask my…–are the same people who lie and break their promises. The content of their character isn’t enough to assure others to trust them. And frankly, often these added baggage words aren’t either.

But people also make loftier assurances, citing God as their witness or swearing to God. As if the Most High will back their finite, sinful promise when even their own character will not.

Enter Sermon on the Mount commandment number three: do not take the Lord’s name in vain [Exodus 20:7].

In Jesus’ day, people were somewhat mindful of saying God’s name directly, so they indirectly implied His involvement in their oaths swearing by things related to Him, like heaven where He resides, the earth He created or Jerusalem where His Temple was.

Essentially, they invoked God’s name emptily. They weren’t praying to Him, praising Him, bringing glory to His name or sharing the good news about Him. Often they were trying to wheedle their way into–or out of–a situation which they did not actually want God to have anything to do with. Like slapping up a Bat Signal without wanting Batman to actually show up. Or forging the president’s name on a document and hoping no one will try to authenticate the claim.

Other people swore by their own heads–as if they themselves had God’s power to make the impossible happen. Again showing how so many of us still live under Satan’s lie that we can be our own god [Genesis 3:5].

The bottom line is that when we live a Godly life, the integrity of our character should speak for itself. If we tell someone Yes, that should be enough for everyone to know they can depend on us. Similarly, if tell someone No, that should also be enough to know that we mean business.

When this is the case, it shows God’s image in us. He is eternally immutable and infinitely faithful. His promises are always Yes and Amen [2 Corinthians 1:20]. Just as His Do nots are always Do nots, because His Word never changes [Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25].

Does your character align with God’s? Do others trust your simple assurances? Or do you have a habit of adding some type of I swear to your promises?

KCS

Loophole Adultery

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:31-32

Woman And Man Wearing Brown Jackets Standing Near TreeEven though it seems like the topic has switched to marriage and divorce, Jesus is still addressing the command not to commit adultery. In addressing each of the commandments, He gives multiple levels of information, because He knows the human heart and our tendency to ask, But what if…? scenarios.

The sin of adultery starts with lustful eyes. It continues with the hands and the rest of the physical body following suit. And the struggle with this unchecked sin continues through the rest of adult life.

There were those who wanted to walk the spiritual line. They wanted God’s blessing, or at least not not to be punished by Him, so they tried to cover their adultering ways within legal limits.

Marriage and divorce.

If they were married to the woman they lusted after, then their actions weren’t breaking the law. And, if they were free to divorce the woman whenever they felt like it and marry someone else–and repeat the process over and over again–then they would never be considered adulterers in human terms because they were keeping the law.

But Jesus lets them know that no such loophole existed. God still saw this practice as full-fledged adultery. In fact, the divorce certificate was never God’s idea to begin with. Moses allowed the people to divorce because their hearts were too hard to accept God’s design of one man and one woman for life [Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Matthew 19:8].

So why the harsh warnings about the divorced woman being labelled an adulteress and becoming off-limits? Aren’t both the man and the woman who divorce in the wrong?

Absolutely.

But the woman didn’t have any say in this cultural climate. The men made all the decisions–except, of course, if the wife herself was the one who chose to be unfaithful to the marriage. So Jesus is bringing marriage back to the foundation that it was always meant to be built on–love.

Number one: no one should marry unless they can commit to live with their chosen spouse for the rest of their lives.

Number two: no one should divorce, because they should so love God and each other as human beings that they don’t want any harm to come to the other person [Malachi 2:16; Matthew 1:19].

As it was, men were running around marrying for sport, and women were being treated like legal prostitutes. And Jesus told them to stop. God saw their hearts. He knew their sinful ways. And now He was trying to tighten their understanding of the intent of the law so that people would stop sinning against one another through the holy covenant of marriage.

Our world today doesn’t even bat an eye at marriage of all kinds and divorce for any reason. But God’s Word never changes [Numbers 23:10; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 13:8; 1 Peter 1:25; James 1:17]. It’s still just as wrong today as it was from the beginning.

As Christians, we need to steel our marital resolve with the commitment to love for life. A commitment that starts with guarding our eyes, minds and dating practices right now.

Are you committed to love one spouse for life? Are you praying for this future-someone even now? Are you guarding yourself out of your love and respect for the man or woman that God has for you?

KCS

Eternal Regrets

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30

Image result for eye bandagesJesus is still talking here about the command not to commit adultery. But He hyperbolizes the practical application of it.

In Biblical culture, anything on the right side of the body was considered honored [Mark 16:19; Acts 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1]. While the left hand was typically considered dishonored because of its hygienic function. So if the eye–which is the lamp that lets light into our whole body [Matthew 6:22]–and the honorable eye at that, gazes lustfully at others, we’re guilty of the sin of adultery.

Remember that God is transcendent. As humans, we tend to see good and bad, right and wrong in spectrums. We qualify things as kind-of-good and not-so-bad. But God does no such thing. Either it’s of God or it’s sin. Lustful eyes are symptomatic of a sinful heart.

So again, if the most honorable light source in our life fixates on sinful passions, we would be better off living this finite life half-blind, so that we don’t miss out on eternal life.

Now obviously, the struggle with lust can’t be associated with only one eye. We use both to look. So both are the offenders. Just like a person isn’t likely to commit sins of theft or adultery with one arm tied behind their back. But even if one did, the whole person would still be guilty of theft. By using a hyperbole–an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally–Jesus emphasizes His point. It is the sin that needs to be cut out of our lives by whatever means necessary.

God made a covenant of circumcision with the patriarch Abraham and His chosen people, Israel [Genesis 17:1-25]. After the Exodus and throughout the New Testament, God let the people know that true circumcision needed to be of the heart [Deuteronomy 10:16 & 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29].

You see, circumcision is physically removing some unnecessary flesh that could create health problems. But we need to cut the love-of-this-world-flesh off of our whole heart–intellect, will and emotion–because it only leads to spiritual health problems. Jesus’ command to gouge out an offending eye or to cut of an offending hand has the same meaning.

Does God really want people to go around maiming themselves? Not at all! But He does want us to understand the seriousness of sin, to repent of it and to flee from it [Isaiah 59:2; Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:18]. In the end, it’s better for us to miss out on the emptiness of this finite life than to spend the rest of eternity regretting our lack of self-control.

We all struggle with a particular sin or another [Romans 3:23]. But we can ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to flee from it or to miraculously heal us and cut it out of our life. What sin are you in? Will you willingly give it to God? Or eternally regret it?

KCS

Keeping Short Accounts

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26

Money, Bills, Calculator, Save, Savings, TaxesAnd Jesus is still talking here about the command not to murder. Though we should keep short accounts with everyone, this time the subject is our dealings with non-believers.

Whatever the spiritual difference we may have with others, God’s grace does not exonerate us from misdealings with the world. Whether business or personal affairs, all should be done as unto the Lord [Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:7]. In so doing, we bring glory and honor to God and may win some to His saving grace [1 Peter 2:12].

So first of all, we should do everything in our power not to end up in a legal situation. Obey policies and procedures of our workplace. Don’t slander, gossip, lie, steal, accept bribes or otherwise act corruptly [Exodus 20:15-16 & 23:8; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 4:16; Proverbs 17:23 & 26:20; Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Colossians 3:9; James 4:11]. Pay back our monetary debts and give people the things that belong to them [Romans 13:8].

But if we do find ourselves in a situation where we have wronged an unbeliever, we need to do everything we can to settle the matter without court arbitration. It is our responsibility to take responsibility for our actions–whether knowingly or unknowingly wrong–and make restitutions for them. When we can be honest, act in integrity and swallow our pride. We can submit ourselves to whatever consequences befit the situation.

But if we try to distort honesty, if we pervert integrity and act pridefully, then we will surely have to stand trial in the world’s courts. Then, the consequences for our actions will be so much worse.

Whether we choose to settle the issue out of court or in court, we will still have to make our wrong right. But settling in court may mean that we are subject to more severe penalties than just correcting the misdeed.

Do you already have a job? Do you do your job with honesty and integrity that brings glory to God? Do you keep short accounts with everyone, but especially your unbelieving coworkers?

KCS