Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Four: Complacency is to Idolatry as Remembrance is to Thankfulness

"But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your mind, make them known to your children and your children's children" (4:9).

Idolatry happens when our hearts become complacent "After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time —if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol..." (4:25). It is after they settle in the land that Israel risks idolatry, is what we hear from this verse. Andrew Walls, former Missionary to Nigeria and now professor at the University of Edinburgh, says, "Hunters and Gatherers are the most likely to be aware of the High God," meaning that once a tribe settles it is able to cultivate and prepare its own food and therefore risks degenerating spiritually into local-agricultural Deity worship. Whereas the hunter and gatherers were immediately aware of their need for provision bringing them to worship an omniscient-sovereign God, the agriculturalists, or settlers, become in a sense complacent. They forget the God who provided for them while they were at their greatest need.

This statement rings true for Israel, that is why Moses tells Israel in Deuteronomy 4:9, "To [not] forget these things your eyes have seen nor let them slip from your mind." Israel has seen great displays of provision from an omniscient-sovereign God: freedom from slavery to a world power, water pouring out from rocks, bread from heaven, and the list goes on. If the Israelites let these great events of provision and freedom "slip from their mind" they will then regress into complacency, thus giving the perfect soil for idolatry and pride.

So, once Israel settles in the land of promise in one sense the sojourn will end in another it begins on a more significant level. The new journey that will begin is one of the heart; the Israelites must hold up what God has done for them above all other things. The true test for Israel is remaining faithful while living comfortably. Anyone will agree, it is only after having something that you risk taking it for granted, again, it is for this reason that Moses tells Israel, not to forget what God has done for them but to hold it up to the eyes of their heart.

As Christians we rest in another promised land, a new salvation has been given to us. Like Israel we risk idolatry and self-exaltation if we do not continually hold up what God has done on our behalf before the eyes of our heart. Complacency is the first step to sin, but remembrance of what God has done is the beginning of true peace and honest worship.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Three: One Big No.

God gives Israel appetizers of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy ch.3, "for I have handed him over to you," (Deut. 3:2), the him being the King of Bashan (this came with all of his land). God then gives Israel the land of all the Amorites (Deut. 3:8), and to Joshua God says, "Your own eyes have seen everything that the Lord your God has done to these two kings; so the Lord will do to all the kingdoms into which you are about to cross. Do not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you" (Deut. 3:21-22).

Amongst all of this, the beginning of promise, Moses makes a plea to God, "O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon," (Deut. 3:23-24). YHWH says no (Deut. 3:26). To understand why God might reply so harshly in a time of so much blessing we have to return to Deuteronomy ch. 1 where God first tells Moses that he is not to enter the Promised Land (v.37-38). Here we again witness the reality of sin. Sin destroys community, and creation but the worst effect is the offense it is to God. Think of it like this: when you offend someone do you always understand what, particularly, offended them? My response is often: "Are you serious, that little thing offended them?" What this tells us is that we are, at some level, detached from other people; we don't understand each other's hearts well enough to live in perfect community. It is this way with our relationship with God too. Sin is the ultimate offense to God. Oftentimes, we read the Old Testament or the Passion narrative in the Gospels and are left asking, "is sin really that big of a deal?" I believe that the answer is a hearty yes, the image we have signifying this reality is the cross of Christ; other than the crucifixion we have no frame of reference for establishing the level of offense sin is to God.

So when Moses asks God if he has changed his mind about allowing him entrance into the Promised Land God replies with a harsh "No". Here God isn't being a bully, no, rather Moses is failing to understand the gravity of sin, and his failure at keeping Israel out of sin (see chapter one). With that in view, we can see that God's grace lasts much longer than his anger (Deut 5:8-10) and his promise of the Promised Land remains a promise for Israel through the Hebrew Bible and on into the intertestamental period until Jesus initiates a new promised land in himself.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thoughts While Walking Down Stairs

Background Thought: Carry out your theology to its logical ends... be consistent.

I was walking down the stairs from my classroom yesterday (I'm a fifth grade teacher), and my mind sort of switched on to a make believe argument with a Christian who is stuck on the issue of evolution vs. creationism. My mind sometimes does this. I hear an argument again in my head and I almost verbally respond to it as if it is really taking place, but it's all in my head. Anyways enough commentary on my thoughts. It seems to me that there are two main reasons why Christians think evolution is evil, a grand scheme of the devil to eradicate the Christian religion (you know, something like Harry Potter). I want to address these two reasons and ask some questions at the end.

The first reason is that it eliminates God from the picture and is an alternate explanation of how things came into being. So a Christian would want to argue in such a way as to prove that God exists and that everything came from him, instead of natural processes. That is not a hill that any of us can climb, and who are we to be God's advocate? The evidence of creation is clear enough to me- God can defend himself, and I'll hide behind him. Arguments from this reason are not very convincing because they take a changed heart to believe.

The second reason is one that I have heard often. Evolution places people on the same level as every other organism. By saying that we are just another species of mammal, we are denying God's special plan and design for humans. I think that Christians would like to preserve the dignity of humans so they can be saved - Christ came to save people, so we better make sure we aren't just a higher species of ape, we're people, and so we can be saved. The other day a person told me that a reason why suicide rates among young people are increasing all the time is because they are saturated with the ideas of evolution and so their lives are considered as meaningless. If they are just an animal, then what is there to live for? I agree with the diagnosis that their lives are purposeless, so they turn to suicide, but not because of evolutionary thought. Another friend said that it might be more dangerous to watch the Discovery Channel or read National Geopgraphic than watch MTV. I have never thought that humans have very much trouble placing themselves on "top." The human propensity to being godlike is incredible. Do we think that a century of evolutionary thought can change the human so much? I think that this is where evolutionists and Christians agree. Evolution places humans on the top of creation, and so does Christian thought- Christ came to save us, so we are the "top" reason he came. It is here that the Christian argument against evolution actually works against them. The gospel only penetrates the heart when it is softened and turned outwards to God, away from itself. Humans are by nature hard-hearted and self-exalting. Suicide can even be called the highest act of selfism or defiance there is- you took your own live, you are alone in the universe, you take orders from no one but yourself, God is not in charge of life and death, I am. My point is this: humans have no problem placing themselves on a pedestal. Lots of Christian thought also places them on a pedestal- the centerpiece of creation. What I'm saying is that the Christian arguments put people just as far from God as evolutionary arguments do.
Let's think where our arguments might lead before we begin them. For example, why are many Christians afraid that homosexuality will be proven to be genetic? Do they think that our genetic codes are free from the bondage and decay of the fall? No, let's not be surprised if sin is proven to be genetic, lets rejoice that God's word is true- we are sinners by nature. The truth is much deeper than we think. Let's be careful as we handle the truth, let it shape us, and not us wielding and shaping us.

What do you think? Do the common Christian arguments against evolution keep people in their prideful state and far away from Christ? If you agree, do Christians do this with other issues as well?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Two: To Take and Give

We start to see some spiritual maturation in Israel in Deuteronomy Chapter two. Wherein the previous chapter we saw the sin of Israel exposed for what was when Moses tells us, "The Amorites who lived in that hill country then came out against you and chased you as bees do. They beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. When you returned and wept before the Lord, the Lord would neither heed your voice nor pay you any attention" (1:45), this is where are left, a stark picture but an honest one if sin is the portrait.

Chapter two begins with God ending a period of literal repentance, "we journeyed back in the direction of the Red Sea, as the Lord had told me and skirted Mount Seir for many days. Then the Lord said to me: "You have been skirting this hill country long enough. Head north, and charge the people as follows [...]" (2:1). God then directs Moses to turn back towards the promised land. We might empathize at this point, for how often are we turned away from a promise in repentance, only for God to turn us back--when He see's fit.

Moses is then directed to head north through the territory of Esau where they are not to engage in battle for God "will not give you even so much as a foot's length of their land, since I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession" (2:5). Then Moses is called to lead Israel through the land of the Moabites. Again, God warns Israel through Moses not to attack the Moabites, "for [he] will not give any of its land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession of the descendants of Lot" (2:9). Simply put, Israel's spiritual maturity is seen in them listening to their Lord. Where the previous chapter we saw the sin of Israel, and it's fatal end, here we see obedience and its blessing, "I have handed over to you King Sihon the Amorite of Heshbon, and his land" (2:24).

In this chapter we also might take note of the difference between "given" and "taken". Here, God gives a land to Israel, but he is also specific about which land. He does not give Israel the land of the Moabites, nor does he give them the land he promised to the descendants of Lot. The point is, that land is not for them, God has already given it to a different people. If, like the previous chapter, Israel decided to take a land that was not theirs (e.g. the Moabites land) the end would be, again, fatal. To take what is not first given is sin, and self-focused, but to receive of what God has given to you can be, in a sense, can be humbling because to receive is to simultaneously say, "I did not provide for this by myself" and "I am in need of this". The gladness of the receiver's heart acknowledges the grace of the giver.

Also, there is a natural ease that comes with receiving, and a natural dis-ease that comes with taking. The ease in receiving exists because God, who is eternal, creates a conclusion to an event before it has been actualized, this is clear when God says to the Israelites, "The Lord your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, and in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child [...]" (Deut. 1:30-31). However, the one who takes and does not receive wages war against an already resolved conclusion, thus the fatal end we witnessed at the end of Deuteronomy chapter one. The second problem that the "taker" creates is a frustration with God's desires, or to put it simply: they mess with the people humbly waiting on God. This is part of the fallen world, where "toil" happens because people in high and low positions are struggling against a God's desires.

Along with the Israelites we too are called to "receive of" not "take from". Salvation, at the core of Christian belief, depends alone on God. He not only gave himself as a ransom for many by dying on the cross, but he also reveals himself to us; are part in the relationship is to receive.

We must daily ask ourselves, what in us is making war against God's heart and his purposes. When we feel we have an answer, repentance is the solution. The first question, however, should be: "What is God's heart, for me and my community and all the nations."

Friday, February 10, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter One: A Need To Turn Away

I've been reading through Deuteronomy and have been seeing some things open up to me. I'll try to share one a week. Here is one on Deutronomy chapter one.


In Deut. 1:27 it says, "You grumbled in your tents and said, 'the Lord hates us, so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us." Moses rebukes them, telling them, "Do not be terrified, do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did in Egypt, before your very eyes" (1:29-30). Still they are afraid. Rather than hesitate, or stutter step, towards their land, they all together reject it. And then...enter God: "Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers...And the little ones that you thought would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad--they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. But as for you turn around and set towards the desert along the route to the Red Sea" (1:35, 39-40). Then, upon hearing this they try to atone, or put things right, for their sin. Instead of following God's new command and literally repenting (going back to the Red Sea), they say in effect, "Well, O.K. I guess I'll do it," this is akin to the child who tell his father that the task assigned him is to big:

"But Dad, the garage is huge, I really don't want to clean it; even if you will give it to me as my own hang-out space."
"Well then son, I'll discipline you."
"No, No, No--O.K I'll clean it."

In this analogy we see God's fierce desire to provide. Though God appears, at a first read, to be tyrannical a closer look shows us that the real picture is the tension that is naturally created between a holy and loving God and an obstinate and hard-headed people. God desires to bless his people with land and Israel, like spoiled children, tell him "No, it's just to much effort," even though Moses makes it clear that it will be God that will be providing everything they need to succeed in battle (1:29-30). God, instead, confers the promised land to a generation that do not yet know "right from wrong" (1:39b), perhaps implying that He will raise them up to know his ways, so that they will be fit for the promised land*.

Of course, they go anyway in so doing they reject the path of repentance of sin that God has laid out for them (1:40) and they fall deeper into sin by trying to make things "right" on their own terms, by attempting to atone for themselves. So, the end of the chapter is grim, "And you came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you" (1:45).

*on this note the Bible is not explicit