Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lord's Day Message: The Call to Life


If you have you Bible, turn with me to Deuteronomy, chapter 30, beginning at verse 15.  If you don’t have your Bible with you then I have to ask you why you have come to worship the Lord without bringing his Word with you.  And if your answer to that question is that you don’t own a copy of the Bible that is portable enough for you to bring it to church, then I want you to come and see me personally after worship and I will get you one and bring it to you this week so that you can have one with you next week when we gather.  You see, that is just how important the Word of God is.

Today is the last time I’m going to give you the crutch of writing out the text for the sermon on an insert sheet.  We’ve been working up to this.  I’ve been dropping little hints for several weeks now that this day was coming, and we’re going to do it. Beginning next week I will expect you to each have a copy of the Bible in your hand when we come to worship.  If carrying a Bible here each week is difficult for you, you can bring a copy and leave it in your assigned seat from week to week.  But from here out, you need to have a copy of the Word of God with you for worship or you’ll be pretty lost trying to follow the messages.

Now, before we can approach Deuteronomy 30, we need to know what’s happening here.  It is around 1300 BC.  It has been about 40 years since Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt.  During that time they have lived a nomadic life on the Sinai Peninsula because when Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God, they had turned to worshipping another god, one made from melted jewelry they had cast into the shape of a calf.  In their opinion Moses had been on the mountain too long and might never come back.  Therefore, they needed to have a god to worship.  Their nomadic wandering was their punishment for turning to another god.  The entire generation of those who were adults when they entered Sinai would have to die off before the nation could enter the land.

Moses is now a very old man, and he has gathered all of Israel on a hill overlooking the Dead Sea, just a couple of miles from the spot where, under Joshua’s leadership, they will soon cross the Jordan River and begin to take possession of the land God had been promising them. 

Today’s text picks up in the very middle of Moses’ Farewell Address to Israel that day.  Here is what he said.  Deuteronomy 30:15: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”
(Deuteronomy 30:15-20 ESV)

These words are A Climactic Conclusion to Moses’ life and ministry.  The paragraph begins with him saying, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”  I don’t know about you, but when I read something like that, it makes me want to go back and find out what the author is talking about.  “I have set before you today life and good?  What had Moses set before them?  What had led up to this moment in his speech?  If you have a copy of the Word with you, you are free to do this searching for yourself… right now.  And I’m sure a few of you can.  God is saying something very, very important to you right now, and you don’t want to miss it.  That’s why it is so important that you have not only the key sermon text with you, but also the rest of the Scriptures.

As it turns out, Moses’ speech that day begins at Deuteronomy 29:1.  They were on a point of land overlooking the Dead Sea in an area then known as Moab.  The writer of Deuteronomy sets the scene: “These are the words of the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.”
(Deuteronomy 29:1 ESV)

But wait.  You still need that Bible most of you left at home.  We’re about to read the covenant made at Moab, but the writer just told us about another covenant they were already living under, a covenant made at Horeb.  And you’ll find that covenant all the way back at the beginning of Deuteronomy, in chapter 5.  LISTEN, because most of you cannot read it right now for yourselves, LISTEN to Deuteronomy 5:

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them.

Do you begin to see why having access to the Word of God is so important?

The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain.

Moses wants us to understand that the Covenant is not something that was given to an earlier generation to be enshrined as history.  The Covenant is living truth that these people are to observe carefully.  This is for today, Israel.  With God that’s all you’ve got.  Today.  With God there is no tomorrow.  The only opportunity you have to obey is today.  And here is what he said at Horeb:

He said:
            “‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
            “‘You shall have no other gods before me.
            “‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
            “‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
            “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
            “‘Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
            “‘You shall not murder.
            “‘And you shall not commit adultery.
            “‘And you shall not steal.
            “‘And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
            “‘And you shall not covet your neighbor's wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.’
(Deuteronomy 5:1-21 ESV)

TODAY you shall do these things.  TODAY, Israel, you shall do these things.  TODAY, Immanuel Community Church, you shall do these things.  But you cannot do them if you don’t know them.   And you can’t know them if you never review them.  Until this minute, if someone had asked you what the content of the Book of Deuteronomy is, could you have told them that Deuteronomy is an account of Moses reading the Law to Israel as they moved closer and closer to the Land that God was about to give them?

Do you begin to see how important the Word of God is?  Do you see why you need to bring it with you when you come to worship?  Everything Moses has been doing in this final phase of his ministry has been about God’s Word.  Just a few days before Israel stood on the plain in Moab, Moses delivered another a message at a place called Mt. Ebal.  They were on their way to the Land to possess it.  And there, on Mt. Ebal, beginning at Deuteronomy 27:1, Moses said,
            “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today. And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over to enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the LORD your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God. And you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly.”
(Deuteronomy 27:1-8 ESV)

The Altar that was forever to guard the place where Israel entered the Land was to be inscribed with the Word of God ON EVERY STONE.

So, as you would expect, on the last day of Moses’ ministry, the Climactic Conclusion to everything he has said to Israel is about the Word of God.  Listen to the words that dominate what he said, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.”

Israel, you need to know this stuff.  Immanuel Community, you need to know this stuff and do it.  And you can’t know it, and you’ll never do it if your Bible spends its days on a shelf with all the other novels you have forgotten the plots of.  Remember that the Covenant Moses is giving them here at Moab is A Conditional Covenant.  “IF you obey the commandments…THEN you shall live. 

There is a second half to this Covenant.  And thank God, Moses began with the positive half, because it indicates that there is some hope in his mind that we will rise to the challenge.  The second half is another “If/Then” statement, and it is a lot less positive: But IF your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, [THEN] I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.

Notice how flat that statement is by comparison to the first.  And notice that this is the first time where Moses has spoken to us that he doesn’t mention God’s word.  Also notice that obedience is a matter of the heart, and not just of the body.  “If your heart turns away…” If you had your own copy of the Scriptures in your hand right now, you’d have seen that Deuteronomy 30, verse 14, which comes just before the passage we are looking at says, “The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”  And then comes verse 15, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”  You can’t separate the hearing, the reading, and the doing. 

A thing is only in your heart that has been in your hand and that your eye has seen and your mind has absorbed. 

What does John say as he opens his first letter?  “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.”
(1 John 1:1-2 ESV)

And the Apostle Paul thought this moment in Scripture was so important that when he wrote his mighty letter to the church at Rome he incorporated it into his best gospel presentation: “But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
(Romans 10:6-10 ESV)

The Covenant comes with a warning as well as a condition.  Moses says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.”  The law in ancient Israel says that any matter may be established in a court on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  In a pinch, two will do.  On the one hand, Moses is only invoking two witnesses: Heaven and Earth.  But looked at another way, Moses has called upon a host of witnesses to speak against the fickleness of his kinsmen, and to testify that what he has said in the Law is true. 

When Jesus was on trial before Pilate his accusers brought many witnesses to testify against him, but their testimonies didn’t agree, and so Pilate had no choice but to conclude that he found no fault in Jesus. 

John’s first letter says, there are three witnesses that testify to the presence of Christ in a human heart, what he calls “the spirit, the water, and the blood.”  That is, the Holy Spirit testifying in our heart that we are sons of God, the voice of the Father speaking at Jesus’ baptism “this is my son, my beloved, listen to him,” and the voice of the shed blood of Jesus.  And, John says, these three agree:
            “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
(1 John 5:6-12 ESV) 

And so A Court is Convened to testify that the Law is good and that God is good and that there is no one righteous before God because no one has fully done the Law --except one.  Christ, who laid aside his position as God and suffered on behalf of fickle Israel, and on behalf of all the rest of us whom he will call to own his name. 

This leaves you and me with A Critical Choice to make.  Moses was just the first to articulate it, but the whole testimony of heaven and earth, the whole force of Scripture, the whole import of the life of Jesus, and the whole witness of the Early Church lands us squarely at this conclusion.  We have a Critical Choice to make. 

John begins his gospel with these words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” 
(John 1:1-4 ESV) 

And when Jesus asks his disciples if they wanted to leave when everyone else abandoned him, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
(John 6:68-69 ESV)

Some of you have been part of Immanuel Community Church all your lives.  Some of you have only recently come here.  And yet you may never have had this choice placed this squarely before you.  Until this moment, how has the court spoken when it comes to your soul?  Does your heart leap for joy at the name of Jesus?  Or do other loves come first?  Do the Spirit, the Father, and the Son testify with your soul that you have believed and have come to know that He is the Holy One of God?  Do you have the life of Christ in yourself?

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.   Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days.

If you have never personally and irrevocably answered yes to The Call to Life, then you are not a Christian, your soul is dead toward God, and you are not yet destined to spend eternity in his presence.  It doesn’t matter if you are 10 or 90, or how many years you have inhabited a church, the choice is the same.  Say yes to Jesus today.  Say yes to the only one who can make the decision of the court fall in your favor.  

You will know when you have made this Critical Choice, because the Spirit will begin to testify in your heart, and you will begin to love God, and you will begin to order your life and the life of your family around obeying God.   And your soul will breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Ah… he is my life and length of days.”

Amen.

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