“Whose Land Is it Anyway?” Deuteronomy 8

Chapter 8 brings another warning to the Children of Israel.  The previous chapter had been a warning to not take on the ways and worship of the people already in the land that they were soon set to enter and occupy.  The warning in chapter 7 to stay away from others was given in the harshest of language.  The warning in chapter 8 is one for the people to be on guard not only against not those beyond themselves, but to be on guard against their own pride.

The first 10 verses of chapter 8 recount all the ways that God had guided and provided for them during the hard time of wandering in the wilderness.  The warning begins in verse 11:  “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God.”  As the passage continues, Moses warns the people once they have settled and built houses, planted crops, built up herds of animals… once they are no longer wandering in the wilderness but settled in comfort….Moses warns them in their comfort not to forget their continued dependence on God.

With verse 17, the warning grows sharper.  In their comfort they were cautioned against patting themselves on the back and giving themselves credit for their good fortune, “Do not say to yourself,  ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten met this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth.”

The class had much discussion about how these words speak to us today.  In what ways do these words speak to our pride in “pulling ourselves up by our boot straps?”  On whose shoulders do we stand?


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Posted by on October 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


“Harsh, Difficult Words!” Deuteronomy 7

Today we discussed a very difficult passage.  Class member, Nancy Finlayson, shared a story about teaching a children’s Sunday School class and the curriculum for the day was based on Deuteronomy 7.  She said the elementary age student read the chapter then shut her Bible firmly and announced, “This is not the God I know!”  Indeed the directions to the Children of Israel, in this chapter, are astounding to us, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy….you must utterly destroy them [the people already there]…show them no mercy.” (7:1-2)

While we can say that there are things that remind us of the God of love – such as the references in the chapter to the land being a gift of God and the statement that they had been chosen not because they were worthy, but because God loved them, (7:7) – there is still much that does not sound familiar.

This is one of those passages that reminds us that we have to read Scripture with an awareness that it was not first written to people in 2016, it was written to an ancient people with very different sensibilities.  There was an acceptance of the doctrine of Holy War – everything and everyone is destroyed – that is not true in our time.

When we moved beyond the dismay of the differences in our cultures, we explored how this chapter addressed the importance of the Second Commandment: that we are not to worship idols.  Anything we give a place of priority before God is an idol.

The discussion turned to our idolatry today and we were helped by some of the reflections of Kyle Idleman in his book, Not A Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus.  Idleman looks at the man and who says, “’I will follow you wherever.’ And Jesus points to a place that will be a threat to this man’s comfort and security and asks, ‘What about there?’ Following Jesus literally means that you go where Jesus goes…… If you say yes to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever,” you can be sure that where he points will be out of your comfort zone.  ‘Out of your Comfort Zone’ could be defined this way:  ‘The places where saying ‘yes’ to God means saying ‘no’ to me.’” (p. 176 -182)

In our closing prayer, we took quiet time to accept the recommendation of Idleman and complete the following sentence:

Saying yes to following Jesus means saying no to___________________________.

To what “idol” must you say “no” today?


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Posted by on October 14, 2016 in Uncategorized


October 6: Hear, O Israel! Deuteronomy 6

In Deuteronomy 5, Moses reviewed the Ten Commandments; in the 6th chapter, Moses catches up what all the Law means with the “Shema”.  The word shema is the Hebrew word for “hear” or “listen”.  It is the first word in the passage, Deuteronomy 6:4 – 5, and it became the title for this passage. This passage is the central affirmation of faith of the Hebrew people.  When Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees as to which was the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:35-40), Jesus quoted this passage from Deuteronomy.  [He then added a second commandment to it, quoting Leviticus 19:18.]

The Shema captured the essence of what it meant to be a follower of God.  It was so central that the people were given concrete ways of being reminded of its primary place in their lives (6:8-9).  They were told to bind it to their arms and wear it as an emblem on their heads, which they did literally with a phylactery (cording for the arm and a small box for their foreheads that contained a small scroll with Deut. 6:4-5) .  They were also told to write the words on their doorposts, which they did literally with a mezuzah (a rectangular box in which a small scroll with Deut. 6:4-5 was inserted).

Moses told them that faithfully living out the “Shema” would be the way to a life in which things went well with them and this life style would enable them to go in and occupy the good land that God had given to them. (6:18).

In class today, we talked about what that kind of life would look like.  We talked about how challenging it would be to do that consistently. Having concrete reminders,  like a phylactery and a mezuzah, would certainly be constant guides to help to stay on track.

The last third of our class time was spent creating our own concrete reminders.  We made Prayer Beads.  Varieties of craft beads and plastic string were used.  Different colors and shaped bead were strung to symbolize those things for which we wanted to be in prayer or symbolized reminders for how God had called us to live. They will be kept in pockets or in our place(s) of prayer, each bead will be fingered and prompt us to prayer and action.

Beyond our personal prayers and reminders, the following process for using prayer beads was distributed.  It comes from 50 Ways to Pray:  Practices from Many Traditions and Times, Teresa A. Blythe:


  • Select or create a string of smooth, round beads of any length to hold as you pray. Keep a Bible close if you need to read the words of some of these prayers.  Spend a few moments in silence at the end of each prayer, pondering the mystery of faith.
  • Touch the first bead and recite the opening of the Gospel of John, 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
  • Touch the next bead and repeat the Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:9-13)
  • Touch the next bead and recite the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-31)
  • Touch the next bead and say the Jesus Prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
  • Touch the next bead and recite the Doxology, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise God all creatures here below; Praise God above ye heavenly hosts; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
  • You may repeat the five prayers in the same order or repeat one of them over and over until you have fingered all your beads.
  • Close with the Doxology.



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Posted by on October 7, 2016 in Uncategorized


September 29: These Words Deuteronomy 5

The original title which the Jews first used for Deuteronomy was “These Words”.  Titles typically were drawn from the opening line/s of the book and Deuteronomy begins, “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan…” (Deut. 1:1)  Deuteronomy is about words spoken that would prepare the people to enter the Promised Land. “These words” would remind the people of God’s grace with them in the rescue from Egypt, the deliverance through the Red Sea, and God’s initiative to unite with them in the Covenant of the Law.  The Ten Commandments were a gift to guide the people.  The Law guided the people in the faithful way of responding to God’s love (Commandments One through Four); they guided the people in the faithful way of living with each other –(Commandments Five through Ten).

Deuteronomy 5 contains Moses’ review of the Ten Commandments.  The people are on the border, preparing to enter the Promised Land.  In Chapters 1 – 3, Moses reminded them of God’s faithfulness in their escape and their journey, in Chapter 4 Moses called the people to equip themselves appropriately so that they could not only enter the Promised Land, but occupy it, i.e., live in it fully. Now, in Chapter 5, Moses holds up what is most needed to be appropriately equipped.

The Law that is given,was given not as just something that they might be able to recite, it was given as direction for something that they were to do.  Moses tells the people that God had said to him, “I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances that you shall teach them [the people], so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” (Deut. 5:31)

In class today, we discussed what the Commandments command us to do today.  We examined the Commandments through the manner taught by John Calvin:

In each commandment we must investigate what it is concerned with; then we must seek out its purpose, until we find what the Lawgiver testifies there to be pleasing or displeasing to himself.  Finally, from this same thing we must derive an argument on the other side, in this manner:
If this pleases God, the opposite displeases him;
If this displeases God, the opposite pleases him;
If he commands this, he forbids the opposite;
If he forbids this, he enjoins the opposite. 

                        [The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, II.VII.8, 1541]


Join our discussion by make a list of the Ten Commandments.  Think about what each commandment not only prohibit us from doing, but what does it also call us to do.  For example, Commandment #3, “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain,” – the positive action is “You shall do things that bring praise to God’s name”.

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Posted by on September 30, 2016 in Uncategorized


September 22: Enter and Occupy

In class today we examined Deuteronomy 4.  One thing that is notable about this chapter is how many times Moses speaks about what is necessary in order for the people to enter and to occupy the Promised Land.  The class discussed the difference between entering and occupying.  Entering involves being present; occupying involves going beyond just being present but also becoming engaged.  To occupy you have to invest yourself, give yourself over to something.

In the discussion about how the Children of Israel would be able to not only enter the Promised Land, but also occupy the Promised Land,  we reflected on the help that they were given: They were given the Law and teachings that would unite the people in an agreed upon way to live together; they were put on guard to be alert to the lure of worshiping pagan idols and how split devotion would cripple their ability to fully “occupy” God’s promises; and – most importantly – they were assured of God’s continued faithfulness.  In Deut. 4:28-31, Moses predicts that they will stumble and make bad decisions, but beyond their failings Moses assures them of a great promise, “…the Lord your God is a merciful God, he will neither abandon you nor destroy you; he will not forget the covenant with your ancestors that he swore to them.”

As the discussion continued and considered how these words speak to us today, we reflected on how we are called to enter and occupy the sanctuary when we come to worship.  Do we only enter?  What is our worship like when we “occupy’?  In our discussion about the threats of idolatry, we looked at idolatry as that which diverts us from a primary focus on the God.  What are the things to which we are most susceptible to such diversions?

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Posted by on September 22, 2016 in Uncategorized


The Study of Deuteronomy Has Kicked-Off!

Download the study guide: CLICK HERE

Deuteronomy contains 3 sermons Moses delivered on the border, before the people were to cross over into the Promised Land.  The class time today was spent reviewing the first lesson, “Looking Back to Go Forward.” The purpose of looking back was to remind the people of past mistakes with the goal of not repeating those mistakes as they moved forward.   In the class discussion of the material that is in the first three chapters of Deuteronomy,  several themes were identified:  the people were obstreperous, faithless, continually confronted by the consequences of their behavior.  The good news is that while God was angered by the people and did provide discipline, God never gave up on his people – the Lord continued to be their God, the promises made to them were still valid.

The lesson next week is based on Deuteronomy 4, pay attention to the ways in which Moses speak to the people about “entering and occupying” the Land.


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Posted by on September 16, 2016 in Uncategorized