Deuteronomy: Israel’s First Day at School

Israel stands just outside the border of Canaan, the land they are promised to inherit. Moses is there with them, but he will not follow them in. God has told him it’s the end of the line. So, the man who has lead Israel for 40 years now, delivers unto them a final address.

To be honest, it really does read like a parent giving last minute instructions to their child before he or she boards the bus for school. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Do this. Don’t do that. These are the “nice people.” These are the “mean people.” This is God. This is not.

Of course, in true children’s lit narrative fashion, there is a short list of good things that will happen if you obey the instructions and a very, very long list of bad things that will happen if you disobey them.

But the narrative does not end there. Because Moses is channeling the voice of God, we gain insight into later events that this fledgling nation won’t deal with for a while.

God tells them how a king should act. David wouldn’t become king for 400 years. God tells them that they will eventually turn away from His instructions, be taken over, and redeemed. That happened 800 years later at the hands of the Babylonians and Assyrians. He tells them that a prophet in the same vein as Moses would come. At the recording of the final chapter of Deuteronomy, no such prophet had appeared, yet we know that prophet, king, and priest to be our Savior, Jesus Christ, and He didn’t come onto the scene for 1400 years.

Thus, these simple instructions lasted young Israel not just into elementary, not just into middle or high school, but up into its college years, where Israel now stands poised to spread to the whole world (via the diaspora).

It’s into this transitional stage that Jesus enters, and He shakes up everything that Israel has learned. He hangs out with the “mean people.” He challenges the “good.” He grants mercy where before there was punishment. He works on the holy days. His famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is full of statements like “you have heard it said, but I say…” In doing so, He does seek to negate the Law (Deuteronomy means “second law), but rather to deepen Israel’s understanding of it. Everything they have known about holy living and their relationship with God, He calls into question, not to invoke doubt, but to force Israel to delve deeper into the instructions they already know.

Why does He do this? Because 40 years after His physical departure from Earth, the temple of God would be ransacked and Israel would have to go out into the world to create a new national identity.

But Jesus did not send them out alone. He sends His Holy Spirit on our journeys, to continue our education through a deepening relationship with Him and an emphasis on critical thinking, which drives us to discern what God has to say to us in the very nuanced and particular situations we face in our lives.

I think of my own parents. When I was a child, they gave me simple and good instruction, the black-and-white “thou shalt”s that kept me happy, healthy, and safe. Now that I am older, they trust me to make good decisions and offer advice where they see ahead into places I have not been. My relationship with them is deeper than it was as a child. I recognize and appreciate the ways their mannerisms, behavior, and values have copied themselves into my daily life. I am as much their child as I am a adult, both fully theirs and fully myself. And the more I step into my own, the more I find my place in the Ybarra family.

Likewise, God is our Good Father. He raises us up to be more and more like Him and more and more into the person He created us to be. He continues to teach us through His Holy Spirit, offering us advice and instruction as we grow and mature. We are forever His children, yet we also disciple others, teaching them to be more like Christ and also themselves (Matthew 28:18). That way, we continue the legacy of the family of God.

Seeking the Face of Christ

David is called “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).

It’s a wonderful title. What earned him it in the first place?

I love David’s sentiment in Psalm 27. More than anything else in all creation, he would love to see the face of the LORD.

We talked yesterday about looking the temple. Again and again, David kept his desire on the court of God.

When his eyes wavered, that’s when he got in trouble.

God, keep our eyes fixed on you. May we see You always as we go about our day.

No Turning Back, a.k.a. Pillar of Salt

Salt, in the Scriptures, is usually shown in a positive light. It brings flavor and sustaining power to life. But there is a case where salt is not so good.

In Genesis 19, Lot and his family are told to get out of dodge. The city in which they live has gone sour. Five chapters early, Abram saved both Lot and the entire city from destruction from neighboring kings. This salvation however does not serve as a wakeup call for the city, but rather an endorsement of their declining behavior. Gratitude gives way to wanton greed, lust, and violence. They turn against Lot, against God, and against each other. Now, God is ready to clean house.

Before He sends in the bulldozers, however, he tells Lot to get out, promising Lot safe passage so long as he and his family do not look back. Lot’s wife does and she turns into a pillar of salt. Some scholars hold this to be an origin story for the salt columns that surround that neck of the woods (the Dead Sea). But I think it serves as a great reminder. Lot chose Sodom because it seemed like a better deal than Abram’s field. The Jews wanted to go back to Egypt because at least there they were guaranteed three square meals and front row seats to the most decadent culture in town.

But God is not distracted by fancy appearances. He looks at the heart. He knows what is good for us and what is not, and if He says go, we need to go. And not look back.

It’s so easy. You can spend a lifetime looking back. Saying, if only… or what if… but God wants us to keep moving forward. He knows the journey is hard. That is why He allows Lot several pitstops along the way. But still we need to go forward.

For better or worse, all we have is this moment. And what we do with it determines what the next moment looks like, and the moment after that. Will you keep taking the next step forward, even when it’s hard? Will you trust God with the journey?

“Don’t You Care We’re Going to Die?”

So the disciples are in a boat (Mark 4:35-41). They’re professionals. The sea is near and dear to their hearts. So, Jesus decides to take a little nap while they’re on their way.

The problem is things start to get a little rough. Real rough, actually. So rough that the disciples fear for their lives.

But Jesus is still asleep.

They shake him awake. Though their world is falling apart, Jesus remains calm. He stands up and tells the waves to be quiet. He tells the disciples not to be afraid, and they become even more afraid than before. After all, fear is one of the most powerful motivators in our lives. Who is this person that is even more powerful than that?

Yet, even with all that power, He does not let it go to His head. He does not berate His disciples for their lack of faith. They just do not understand. He guides them into the understanding of a greater reality at play. It completely blows their minds.

There are plenty of times when we believe that Jesus is asleep, especially when our boat is not only rocking but underwater. Still, Jesus cares. He is with us in the boat, no matter what happens. That’s perhaps the craziest thing about the Gospel. Jesus came down from heaven, the perfect place, to be here in the insanity with us.

He knows the boat is rocking. He feels the waves. He senses our fear. And he stands up and says, “calm.”

David’s Trusty Slingshot

When David goes to slay Goliath (1 Samuel 17), King Saul offers him all this cool swag to get the deed done. Nowadays, imagine drones and infrared night goggles and heat seeking missiles. David wants none of that. Instead, he sticks with his handy dandy slingshot.

This is the slingshot that has slain bears and lions in order to protect his sheep. David trusts the slingshot and he trusts his God, who has empowered him to do all things. David would need God many more times after this as well, as he went on not only to slay the giant, but also to be king of Israel.

Life is full of ‘quick’ fixes and ‘convenient’ solutions. David was constantly tempted by them. Still, when he chose God’s way over the easy way, he was blessed. May we all be bold enough to do the same when we too are called to step out and face our giants.


Vanity Mirror

Ecclesiastes is an interesting book. Some consider it a bit of a downer and it kind of is, but the context of what is being said is truly transformative.

The book is credited to Solomon, the man with everything. One of the those people you kinda dread going Christmas shopping for.

But that everything is not enough. In fact, it becomes more of a burden than a blessing, distracting him from the God who gave it to him and ultimately bringing about his ruin.

Now, with everything gone, he thinks back upon his life and cries, “vanity!”

It’s an important reminder: without God, we’ve got nothing, because one day everything else (including our own bodies), will be worm food. So, when we look into that vanity mirror, may all of see Christ, for He alone is our future and our hope.

Worst. King. Ever.

So, today we’re gonna brush off the cobwebs and wander over into the Old Testament.

In 2 Chronicles 33 (and 2 Kings 21), we meet a guy named Manasseh. Despite having a pretty solid role model for a dad (yay, Hezekiah), Manasseh turns out to be a pretty rotten king. Idolatry, demon worship, the wholesale slaughter of innocents. He basically trained the nation to flip God the bird, and God wasn’t having any of it.

After a time, God lays the smack-down on Manasseh, bringing in the Assyrians to take over his kingdom (Judah).

Then, things get interesting. Manasseh, now in Assyrian jail, repents. And God hears him. Not only that, but God restores Manasseh to the throne and the man finishes off the rest of his term in relative peace.

Just goes to show you: God is does not tolerate fools, but He is quick to redeem where there is true forgiveness being sought. No, not all of us will experience such a quick and whole return. Sometimes, the consequences are paid in full.

But how cool is it to believe in a God who cares about us enough both to correct us when we have wronged and to lift us up when we are ready to rise again.