Survivor's Guide (part one)


A Study of Deuteronomy 1:1-18

Sometimes in life we may feel as though we are adrift. Things around us have become routine, and we get the sense that we are not advancing. We may know intuitively that we must act, but we stay frozen. We are in the wilderness. The text shows that there is a way out. It speaks of how the Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years before emerging to enter the Promised Land. They had been trapped only because they had shunned God’s guiding hand. They had ignored his commands to fix their gaze on their ultimate goal, and take steps to move towards it. The day we, in our lives, begin to seek out and pay attention to God’s guiding hand is the day we, too, shall emerge from our wilderness and realize God’s promise for us.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

A wilderness experience can best be described as “living in the in-betweens.” You know you are having a wilderness experience when you are in-between …

– hope and promise;

– potential and realizing your potential;

– vision and actualizing the vision.

A wilderness experience is characterized by periods of barrenness and despair. As you scan the landscape of your life, it seems as though you are going around in circles, and for every step forward, you find yourself taking three steps backwards:

– You manage to get yourself on the road to getting out of debt, and something happens that plunges you right back into debt – but perhaps a little deeper.

– You finally start getting interviews from all of the résumés you have sent out, and begin feeling more confident each time someone sees you – but then none of them calls you back.

– The years begin to accumulate, and the same body that once enabled you to take a flight of stairs in a single bound now begins to betray you. Your sight begins to fail; you can predict the weather by the stiffening of your joints; your level of independence begins to decrease; and you find yourself becoming more and more dependent on others to accomplish the simplest of tasks.

I am talking about a wilderness experience.

In the wilderness, we’re surviving more than living life to the fullest. We are in “maintenance mode.” We never seem to have more than enough, rather, just enough or not enough. We often think about how good things used to be, and wish we could go back to times past.

Everyone, believer or not, will go through the wilderness in this life – some more than once. But for believers, the wilderness is a stop-along-the-way; it is not our final destination. God has declared that we are children of promise and that we are on a journey that will culminate in the realization of God’s promise to us. We need only to follow God’s direction, and listen to His counsel.

The book of Deuteronomy contains the last three sermons of Moses. The book itself, as the title implies, is a repetition of the law. Moses is addressing the second generation of Israelites, who are preparing to enter into the Promised Land. The previous generation has died, and Moses is instructing the new generation in the statutes of God. They are receiving this instruction as they prepare to realize the promise that God made to their ancestors.

There are some promises God has made to us that only our children and our children’s children will realize.

Before this address, the children of Israel marched in circles around the desert for 40 years. The journey to the Promised Land should have taken them 11 days. It took them 40 years. Why so long? The primary reason is that they did not listen. Just as God speaks to us today through pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers, He spoke to the children of Israel through Moses and Aaron. The Bible says in Romans 10:14 &15,

– “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And, how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And, how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And, how can they preach unless they are sent? How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

God only holds us accountable for what we have heard and been taught.

Another reason they marched in circles was because God allowed them to do it their way. God does not compel us to listen to Him. Once we have made it clear to God that we are bent on doing things our way, He takes His hand off us and gives us over to the power and control of our own will. I do not know about you, but this is a frightening thought for me.

God is our MapQuest map, our compass, our direction finder as we go through life. When we choose to operate without God, the journey becomes exponentially more difficult, and invariably takes longer. We may not even survive a journey without God’s guiding hand.

Israel’s wilderness experience was the result of willful disregard for the counsel and directives of God. As we examine Israel’s actions, we see that not listening to God carries consequences.

First, it puts us in open rebellion against God. Walther Eichrodt, a German theologian, defines rebellion against God as “a conscious act by which humanity ignores and goes against the unconditional authority of God to decide for themselves what way they should take and to make God’s gifts serve our own ego.”

Scripture is full of examples of men, women and children who did not listen to God. None of them fared well. Our oldest ancestors, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and got kicked out of paradise. Cain, the world’s first murderer, killed his brother Abel and was banished from the presence of God. The Israelites who left Egypt refused to follow God or listen to Moses, and forfeited their privilege to access what God had promised them. Saul, the first king of Israel, rebelled against God – and it cost him his throne. David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery with Bathsheba. He then had her husband killed to cover up her pregnancy. In the end, his children rebelled against him.

Not listening to God will also lead us to battles we could have avoided. Note that in the 40th year of wandering in the desert, Israel went into battle against Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. These battles may not have occurred had Israel listened to God from the beginning. In addition, those who fought were the children of the original group of Israelites that left Egypt. The Bible says,

– “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

Rebellion can have generational implications; our children will face the consequences of the seeds we have sown.

To be sure, we will face battles in life. Each one will serve to either humble us, or to remind us all that victory comes from God.

Invariably, wilderness experiences cannot be avoided, and the question is, how do we survive during these dry barren times? The short answer is, listen to God when He speaks, and follow the direction He provides.

In our text, God gave Israel three commands that we need to follow when we find ourselves in the wilderness:

God said GO. When you are in the wilderness, the natural tendency after a while is to stop because we are in a place that is unfamiliar and probably unfriendly. Instead of going in circles, God says we should advance and move forward. God is our navigational device. When we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, we need to look to God and rely on Him to plot our course. As we move forward with God, we do not have to be afraid of anything or anyone because He has laid out our path and will give us the victory over whatever we face. If God says, “Start a business,” then start the business. If God, says, “Go back to school,” then go back to school. If God says, “Buy a house, a condo, a co-op,” then go buy it. Stop procrastinating. Go, advance and move forward, stop going around in circles.

God said SEE. Literally, open your eyes and it will become clearer to you that God has provided for your journey. As we open our eyes and look beyond our own abilities and resources, we will see that when we go with God, we have everything we need. The Scripture says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” One of the greatest mistakes Israel made was to rely on themselves. They forgot they had an almighty God to depend on. Our bodies and our minds get tired, sick and wear out, but God never slumbers or sleeps. God has at His disposal legions of angels to help us and to minister to us in our times of need. A few weeks ago I was talking to our former administrative assistant who has be diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was telling me about the experimental therapies she has been trying, and that, in her body, she does not feel like she is getting any better. Then she told how she was reminded that healing is not in her feeling, but in God. See, open your eyes and look for God. Stop looking at yourself and your situation.

God said TAKE. In other words, lay claim to your inheritance, by force if you must. We need to understand that, as children of God, we are heirs to the promises He has made – from Abraham through to the New Covenant. God’s promises are realized in the lives of believers through our obedience to God. As we live in submission to God, we can then lay claim to all that God has promised. This is our privilege and God desires that we live in our privilege, not beneath or outside it. Whatever God has for us, He will reveal to us. He will lay it before us. Our responsibility, at that point, is to step up and take it.

Today, God is speaking to us and says,

– Go and stop marching around in circles. You have done that long enough. Move from where you are and start engaging in forward progress.

God says,

– See, open your eyes and look at what I am offering you and have provided for you. Quit bellyaching about what you think you do not have, and move toward what I have prepared for you.

God says,

– Take charge of what is rightfully yours. Leave what belongs to someone else, and lay claim to what I am giving you, because what I am giving you is for you.

In order to get anywhere in life, you have to move from where you are to where you are headed.

There is some effort involved. You cannot get anywhere in life standing still. This applies to people, churches, households, businesses, and so on. You have to move in order to get to your destination. Going around in circles will only bring you back to the point from which you started. You also have to see your destination. People who are always looking behind them do not get very far. God says that we need to stop looking back and hanging on to the past. God says that this is a new day and He has put before us the potential for a brighter and better future if we stop looking back, and start looking ahead. Finally, when someone offers you something, you have to receive it in order to enjoy its benefits. If you keep refusing what you are being offered, eventually it will not be offered to you anymore. God does not waste His gifts. Israel refused the Messiah and God offered Him to the Gentiles. It is time we stop refusing God’s gifts.

The most precious gift that God offers is His Son, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ, we are able to access the promises of God. Jesus teaches us how to live in our privilege. If you do not know Jesus and would like to come to know Him, please take a moment and acquaint yourself with Him by inviting Him into your heart.

Almighty Father,

I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.

You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.

I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.

In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer.


Sunday 6 September 2009

May God Bless You

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