A MISSION STATEMENT FOR GODLY PEOPLE
Dear friends in Christ,
In the Hebrew Bible the book of Deuteronomy is called “Elleh Haddebarim.” That’s Hebrew for “These are the words.” “These are the words” are the first words of the Book of Deuteronomy. The word “Deuteronomy” comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. That was called the Septuagint. The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” There is no second law. It is really the first law given the second time. Martin Luther wrote, “In the fifth book…God repeats the whole law. When they went wrong over the forty years in the wilderness (the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land), Moses explained the Law and reestablished it.”
The forty year wilderness journey had ended. Israel was ready to enter into the Promised Land. Before they did, God spoke through Moses – the book of Deuteronomy. How appropriate!
When people begin a new phase of life, it is common to take stock. It is good to evaluate the past and corrections made for the future. The words of Deuteronomy were a great reminder as Israel was about to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. These words are good for our graduating senior. They are good for all of us. Put and keep the LORD God front in center. These words are a “Good Mission Statement for God’s People.” 1) The LORD is your God; 2) the LORD guides you with his word; 3) The LORD’S hand is in your life.
My professors I had years ago said things that have stuck in my mind. I quote them now and then. One of my sainted professors who taught homiletics, the art of sermonizing said, “A Lutheran sermon should never be one that a Jew or Muslim should be comfortable with.” You can understand why, don’t you? Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world, should be very much a part of every sermon. Neither Jew nor Muslim believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world.
My professor also said that a pastor we must be careful of referring to God in a generic way where a Muslim can understand God as Allah or that a Jew can understand God as monotheistic as we believe him to be, but he is also Triune - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If you mention the Triune God, the Jewish rabbi and Muslim imam will turn their noses. But the reality of the Triune God is what the Old and New Testament teach. In fact, the words of Deuteronomy 6:4 teach the Triune God…if you take a good close look.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Someone said that this verse is to a Jew what John 3:16 is to a Christian. Jews call Deuteronomy 6:4 their “Shema.” “Shema” is the Hebrew word for “hear,” as in “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the Lord is one.” Many orthodox Jews say these words twice a day as part of their evening and morning prayers.
Notice that God has two names here – “the LORD” (all capital letters) and “our God.” Each of those names has more to them than meets the eye. I have explained the name “LORD” (all capital letters) before. In Hebrew it was the word “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” God Himself explained the meaning of his name to Moses when he passed by Moses in Exodus 34: 6, 7. The LORD spoke, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” He is all of that. He is to be feared for his holiness and justice and loved because he loves all at the same time.
Martin Luther wrote explanations to each of the commandments and began each by saying, “We should fear and love God…” Fear is the awesome respect all creatures ought to have when they think of the LORD’S majesty. When we realize he is holy and perfect and demands perfection because anything else would make him less than perfect, we have reason to be scared to death. But this slavish fear is taken away when we hear God say that he loves and forgives and shows mercy and compassion. That’s the LORD (all capital letters).
The second thing that needs attention in the passage, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one,” is the phrase “our God.” It is the Hebrew word “elohenu” – our God. That’s a plural word for God. In fact in the Old Testament the word that is used the vast majority of time is the plural of God.
At first glance this passage seems to be a contradiction, the LORD (Yahweh) our God (seems to be plural), the LORD is one. He is plural and he is one at the same time. How do you explain that? He is triune – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is one God but three persons. I have always wondered how a rabbi, who knows Hebrew well, explains that. I am sure someone has written about it. I have never looked that hard to find one to explain.
But there are many places that the Triune God reveals himself in the Old Testament. Just one example is from Psalm 2 where God the Father speaks to the Son using David as his mouthpiece, “You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” In the midweek Oasis class we just finished a study of the Trinity. We looked at passages in the Old Testament that referred to the Trinity. The class was very surprised at the number of passages that refer to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Hear O Christians: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Israel’s neighbors worshipped a pantheon of gods. But the LORD our God, the LORD is one. He is undivided. He is not three gods, but one God in three persons. This verse is begins our mission statement - the LORD our God.
His word is our guide. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The LORD who loves you…love him back. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Love him with all your heart. That’s sincerity. In the Old Testament Israel did some real serious and tragic straying from the truth. They got so far from the truth that they lost the Word of God literally. They literally found the scrolls one day cleaning stuff out of the temple. Josiah was the king. Josiah read and realized what he had. Josiah called for a 180 degree turn around. In II Kings 23, “The king stood by the pillar (in the temple) and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the covenant. The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley.” Many other things were done too. That’s sincerity.
In the city of Ephesus the Gospel made such inroads that “many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.” Love God with all your heart…sincerely.
Love the Lord with all your soul. That means there are no reservations. No conditions. No if’s, no and’s, no but’s!
Love the Lord with all your strength. That means engaging your faculties, your senses and your members in loving the Lord. Our eyes want to see only good things; our hands want to do only good things; our ears want to hear only good things; our tongues want only to say good things; our minds want to think only good thoughts.
Our personal mission statement needs to include the family. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” When he writes “Impress them on your children,” the Hebrew word means to cut. I think about how the finger of the Lord cut the Ten Commandments into stone. When we teach children it is not like a quick coat of paint, but we need to etch God’s word into their minds so it is there permanently.
The Bible says it clearly that parents are the first and best teachers. The teachers your church supplies are there to help but do not completely rely upon them. Parents are more effective because parents are with their children far more than any teacher or pastor.
Moses writes, “Talk about them (the commandments) when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Teaching family members is not done once a week for an hour or two at church, it is a lifestyle. Judy and I have a son-in-law who is a master at this. He is teaching his two girls all the time how the LORD fits into life.
One of my fond memories is when we lived in Orlando and we sent our oldest daughter to a Lutheran high School across town for two years until she got her driver’s license. Orlando traffic was heavy too. The time and gas were worth it. We were able to talk about the Lord she learned in her religion classes, her goals, and her life. Besides we laughed a lot.
How many missed opportunities do we have because the kids are playing with video games and as parents as we drive just don’t want to be bothered?
Moses probably meant the following more figuratively than literally, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” The Jews took these words very literally. Jewish males thirteen and older were to tie phylacteries on to their foreheads and their left arms. They were little boxes containing tiny parchment scrolls on which Scriptural passages were written. Devout Jews fastened something called the “Mezusoth” to the door frames of their homes. They were small boxes that held two scrolls on which were written verses from Deuteronomy 11 that reminded all what God had done for Israel and what Israel could do in return to love him.
We have pictures on our walls of Biblical events or people. We have passages that are embroidered and framed and hung. We wear crosses. Are you more and more appreciative of crosses people wear like I am?
Moses’ words underscore the importance of Christian education. It was important three thousand years ago; it is still the case today. Transmitting that faith needs to start in the family. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Read Proverbs and notice how many passages are devoted to the subject. Let your mission statement include the need for the Lord to guide us through his Word!
See also the hand of God in your life. When the Children of Israel lived in Egypt, the land was 95% desert. The only water supply came from the Nile River. It would flood each spring and bring rich soil from upstream. When the people of Israel came to Canaan, the Promised Land, they would find conditions quite different. It was a land flowing with milk and honey. God provided them with “a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.” But God’s blessings were and are taken for granted. Hosea the prophet wrote about their later history, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” Unfortunately that is the way of man; what Israel did we do too.
Lazarus, in the story about him and the rich man, didn’t have much in life. Every day he was taken to the gate of the rich man’s home and begged so he could stay alive. Yet when life was over, he possessed what really mattered, a faith in the Lord who forgives. No one here is begging like Lazarus. We have so much more. See God’s hand in it for you spiritually and physically. Live a thankful life. Let your mission statement in life be something like this: 1) The LORD is my God; 2) the LORD guides me with his word; 3) The LORD’S hand is in my life.