Deuteronomy Series #2

Here we are as a nation facing a major election. The presidential candidates tell us this election is a major decision at a critical moment in this nation's history. (I have observed that every four years presidential candidates declare it is a critical time of decision in our nation.) We are informed that this is a "cross roads" election that will determine the direction of our nation in a new century.

Locally, we face some interesting decisions. We face another initiative to legalize gambling in Arkansas. Gambling zones have been established prior to the decision. Regina's House of Dolls taught our city a hard, expensive lesson: the importance of establishing zones before a decision. We citizens of Arkansas will decide if the state will or will not legalize gambling.

So what does this nation and this state need?

  1. Some say, "We need to return to the moral values that built this nation!"
    1. It is seriously suggested that we as a people need to return to the great morality that once characterized the American people.
      1. My question: when and where was that?
        1. Was that when towns killed women who were accused of being witches? our first president had children by a slave? our early cities used children virtually as slave laborers? the person who controlled bootlegging and "speak easies" became wealthy? the age of saloons, brothels, and violence? the time of Bell Starr (who used to visit Fort Smith)? the time of Pretty Boy Floyd who grew up and is buried not far from Fort Smith?
        2. Was that when plantations functioned by using slave labor? the Native Americans' land was confiscated and reservations were established? the Cherokee was forced to walk the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma? the Garrison Avenue area had sixty-six saloons and seven houses of prostitution (about 1900)?
    2. When was that age?
      1. My own conclusion: the age of great American morality is a myth we created by remembering what we want to recall and forgetting the ugly.
      2. In every age, religious people find reasons to think their generation is the worst of ages--conditions and situations were always better in the past.
      3. If you really examine beneath the facade, get below surface appearances, the ideal age of great godliness and morality never has existed.
      4. There certainly were ages when "keeping up appearances" were more important, but it was appearances, not substance.

  2. Some say, "This nation needs to return to faith in God!"
    1. What do we mean by return to faith in God?
      1. Was there an age of great faith when the whole nation was religious?
      2. Is it just a matter of talking about God? or passing and enforcing laws that are in agreement with Christian standards? or having religious meetings? or controlling what happens in a community?
      3. Do we define spiritual success as causing everyone to agree that the God of the Bible exists?
    2. I am confident that the circumstances and situation of my childhood community and the circumstances and situation of many of the older adults' childhood community are not that different.
      1. In my childhood community, many people who were not openly religious expected their kids to live by the rules of Christian morality.
        1. They did not attend a church of any kind.
        2. In fact, many people in the community were not active in any church.
        3. They did not oppose Christianity; they did not oppose churches; but they were not religiously involved.
      2. There also were religious people who were involved.
      3. And there also were ungodly people who had little respect for religion.
      4. Is that the way it was in your childhood community?
      5. Would we conclude we achieved spiritual success as a nation or a city if we reproduced the conditions of our childhood? My question is not, "Would you like that better?" My question is, "Would that be spiritual success?"

  3. What is your understanding of the obedience God expected from Israel?
    1. "God declared the law and said, 'Do it!'"
    2. "Israel was expected to do it just like God said to do it."
    3. "If they did what God said to do exactly like God said to do it, they were okay."
    4. "If they did not do exactly what God said to do, God destroyed them."
    5. So your understanding of obedience for Israel was basically "do what you are told to do"?

  4. Take your Bibles, turn to Deuteronomy, and read with me.
    1. Deuteronomy 4:9
      1. Context: Moses urged them to remember the great things, the unique things that God did for them.
      2. "Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons."
      3. Keep your heart in your memories of God.
    2. Deuteronomy 4:29
      1. Context: Moses said that future generations would turn to idolatry, and the result would be that God would be angry and scatter them.
      2. "But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul."
      3. What happened in their hearts was the key to the repentance that would cause God to return.
    3. Deuteronomy 4:39
      1. Context: Moses stressed a basic understanding Israel must never forget.
      2. "Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other."
      3. Their commitment to God had to come from their hearts.
    4. Deuteronomy 5:28,29
      1. Context: The nation of Israel heard God speak the ten commandments from Mount Sinai.
        1. They sent a delegation of leaders to Moses who said, "We heard God speak in a human voice and did not die."
        2. "But the experience terrified us."
        3. "From now on let God speak to you only, and we will listen to and obey everything you tell us."
      2. "The Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, 'I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me (reverence me) and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!"
      3. To God, their words were pleasing, but God understood they had a heart problem; God wanted a heart response, not just a word response.
    5. Deuteronomy 6:4-6
      1. Context: Moses stressed Israel's basic responsibility to God (the commandment that Jesus said was the most important commandment God ever gave).
      2. "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart."
      3. Obedience must began with the heart belonging to God.
    6. Deuteronomy 8:2
      1. Context: Moses explained God's purpose for Israel's wandering in the wilderness for forty years.
      2. "You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not."
      3. God wanted something far beyond control; God wanted obedience to be a response from the heart.
    7. Deuteronomy 26:16
      1. Context: Moses admonished Israel to obey God's instructions.
      2. "This day the Lord your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul."
      3. It was not enough to do them; they needed to obey with all their heart and soul.
    8. That is not all the scriptures in Deuteronomy that emphasize that obedience must come from the heart.
      1. There are too many to read in one lesson.
      2. Others include 8:5; 8:11-14; 28:45-47; 30:1-3; and 30:6.

  5. Let me ask you to think with me.
    1. Do you give God control of your life, or do you give God your heart?
      1. In your relationship with God, is that one question or two questions?
        1. Is the matter of God controlling your behavior one issue?
        2. Is the matter of God having your heart a separate issue?
        3. Or, is it the same issue: God is in charge of your behavior because your heart belongs to God?
      2. Is the primary issue in obedience the issue of control, or the issue of heart?
    2. God always has expected people's obedience to come from the heart.
      1. God always has expected heart based obedience.
        1. That is what God expected in the Old Testament.
        2. That is what God expects of Christians.
      2. The people who truly obey God are the people who love God.
      3. It is as necessary to belong to God inwardly as it is to do what God says.
      4. Do these words sound familiar to you? "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8,9).

  6. What do our nation, our society, our state, our city need?
    1. My understanding: the greatest need in America is the need for men and women who love God with all their hearts.
      1. Heartless obedience to God will not bless our society.
      2. Heartless obedience to God will not redirect our families.
      3. Heartless obedience to God will not rescue our children.
      4. Heartless obedience to God will not save us.
    2. From the moment they left the slavery of Egypt, heartless obedience would not work in Israel.
      1. It will not work in the church.
      2. It will not work in our families.
      3. It will not work in our personal lives.
      4. The greatest single restoration need in Christianity is the need to restore the obedience of love--we obey God because we love God.

With all that God did to prove His love and compassion, Israel had every reason to love God from the heart. With all that God did to prove His love and compassion, Christians have every reason to love God from the heart.

Israel quickly forgot what God did for them. Do you remember what God did and does for you?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 8 October 2000
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