The Lord Is Our God
Formations: July 1, 2018
Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4-16
Moses learned key lessons from his life as a stepson in Pharaoh’s palace, as an exile with a price on his head, as the deliverer of his people from slavery in Egypt and as spokesperson for God in a forty-year wilderness wandering. Moses knew fear, anger, disappointment and failure. But the single truth that was his strength, the grounding for his life, is expressed in his last words to a people who would experience the Promised Land: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your might” (v. 4). That first imperative verb “hear” (shema) means pay attention and act accordingly. When our Savior faced Satan’s temptations in his wilderness struggle, he answered Satan with this shema: “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (Matthew 4:10).
The land called Canaan was geographical and could only become the “promised land” if the Jews would go beyond theological words. As a toddler must learn the meaning of love and how to live beyond the flawed values of this world, so Israel and all of us must study and practice the teachings of God’s written word if we are to be God’s people.
The challenges of Moses’ day were not much different from ours and the lesser gods are still part of the landscape – the only difference being the absence of impressive pagan temples at our city centers. Our temples and deities are success, wealth, power, national identity, etc., acting as though we deserve our trophies and status, unlike “those others.” (Make your own list of ultimate symbols and goals.)
Moses offers some ideas on how to stay focused on God and live by faith. Just as polytheism was common back then, the idea of one God is still challenged today. Israel must love God and, out of that love, live for God, memorize God’s laws as well as teach their children about God, carry God’s laws on their person and post those laws on their houses. By the time of Jesus, devout Jewish men had established the custom of writing key biblical texts on bits of paper, putting them in small leather boxes (phylacteries), and tying them to the forehead and wrist. They also included biblical texts in a small container mounted next to the door of their houses. These are called mezuzot, that may be seen on a Jewish friend’s front door.
Reminders are good. The world bombards us with ideas, obligations, challenges, responsibilities and emotional stress. Neurologists have discovered our brain has a “reticular activating system” that helps sort or ignore stimuli. In other words, we can tune out what we don’t want to hear. The problem is, we can use that filter to push challenging and important information aside, choosing instead what is comfortable and convenient. The Bible can short-circuit this comfort mechanism if we remember daily that the Lord is our God and we should serve him only. When we get to the New Testament we learn that the Holy Spirit is our daily companion who will help us remember we are God’s children, though we must still make the choice to listen and follow as God leads.
Israel should have been able to look back over the years in Egypt and the wilderness wandering and remember God’s faithful love for them. Too often the present trumps the past in our decision-making process. So we relearn the hard way: experience! Traditions can be reinterpreted and reshaped or even discarded over time. This is why it is so important to “keep these words … in your heart … recite them to your children … talk about them when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise” (v. 7). For ancient Israel, and for the modern church, this is the point of our failure. The majority of younger Americans today have little knowledge of the Bible or Jesus. Frequently the visible church is seen as negative, judgmental, irrelevant and flawed. When government and church become partners, the result is immorality, corruption and power struggles, pushing the gospel into the shadows of irrelevance. This repeatedly happened in Israel and we are witnessing the same spiritual disaster today.
Our text concludes with a stern warning: “Do not follow other gods … because the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the Lord your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth. Do not put your Lord your God to the test” (vv. 9-10). We think of jealousy as a negative word, but look at it from the perspective of the God who has chosen to love you because that is his nature. He is the God who will move heaven and earth to give you that love, the God who will deliberately forget your rejection and failures, the God who sends his own Son into the world to die for you. This jealousy is born out of grace that wipes all evidence and intent off the record so you can be a whole person. Neither the Sinai desert nor the landscape of this twenty-first century can stop the love of God. To turn away to the gods of this world is to embrace emptiness and tragedy. Yet our headlines, politics, and world perspective drown out the message of grace: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone” (v. 4).
Now we must choose what it means to love God. It means to accept his gift of life through Jesus Christ, to live out compassion for others, to care for the disadvantaged, to minister to the sick, to help orphans and refugees, to treat those who are different from us with respect and to offer God’s love to all. When the Lord is your God it makes you a different kind of person.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We are supposed to stand for different values than what may dominate our culture. Slogans, whether based on politics or wrapped in religious catchphrases, cannot redeem society. Honoring God in your living is our calling … this must be our confession of faith.
Retired after almost 50 years in pastoral ministry, Michael K. Olmsted enjoys family, supply preaching and interim work, literature, history, the arts and antiques.
Formations is a curriculum series from Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc. through NextSunday Resources.
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