Friday, March 27, 2015

The Danger of Living in the Land of Plenty

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I admit, I love my electronic gadgets.  I love my smartphone and the music I can play from it.  I love my computer and the ability to write this blog...and play games on occasion.  I love the fact that I can watch Netflix or the current NCAA tourney from my computer or phone.  I love the advances given by man that make it easier to be entertained.  (Have I ever mentioned how much I love Disneyworld?)  I love discovering the "new" thing...whether that new thing is a movie I'm looking forward to, a new electronic gadget that I am sure will revolutionize my life, or a new ride at my favorite amusement park.

While many of my enjoyments revolve around being entertained, I'm sure you could easily fill in the blanks of the above paragraph with the interests you find so easy to enjoy, as well.

Despite many of the grumblings we may have in the current state of affairs in our nation or world, we are living in a land of plenty.  And while there are many ways for which we should count our blessings for living in such a land, the blessings of the land itself are a danger to our walk with Christ.

Let me explain how this happens.

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest of all commands, He answered by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5.  This, of course, was to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  We will often read this quote from Jesus in Mark 12:28-32 and think that we fully understand what Jesus was saying.  However, whenever Jesus (or Paul or anyone else in the New Testament) appealed to the Old Testament as the foundation of anything, it wasn't just to pull a few verses out of context.  Actually, it was the exact opposite.  Jesus was appealing to the verses found in Deuteronomy and its fuller context so people would understand exactly what He meant.  His audience would have known both the verses that He quoted and the surrounding context.

So let's take a look at the surrounding context of Deuteronomy 6 and see if it helps us understand what Jesus meant by loving the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

Hear, O Israel, the Lord 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.  --Deuteronomy 6:4-5

This is what Jesus quoted as the greatest of all commandments.  In other words, for those who serve God, it is a command, not a suggestion.  But what is so great about God is that He doesn't give a command without an instruction on how to keep that command.  The rest of the paragraph is the outline of how God wanted us to keep that command.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.  --Deuteronomy 6:6-9

In other words, we are to be thinking about God all the time.  We are to be talking about God to our children...all the time.  We are to have reminders in our home that point us and anyone who enters our house to our belief in God...all the time.

That's a heavy order.  It's one that I fall short of all the time.  It seems like the faithful today are more challenged than ever, because we are more distracted than ever.  Have you ever wondered why it is that way for us?

Well, I believe God provided the answer to the Israelites in the very next verses...

And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you--with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not full, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant--and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  --Deuteronomy 6:10-12

You see, while in the desert, Israel was totally dependent upon God for everything.  Food was given miraculously by way of manna...everyday.  For 40 years, God allowed the Israelites to wander in the desert, but He took care of their needs, their feet didn't swell (though they constantly traveled) and their clothes didn't wear out (though they were in constant use).  Even the land where they were going to, God was providing.  It was described as a land of abundance and flowing with milk and honey.

Things were about to get a whole lot easier for the Israelites as they transitioned as a people under the yoke of slavery, to a freed people under the guidance of God, to the temptation of a self reliant people with the illusion that they didn't need God to provide for them. 

That's what the land of plenty does to you.  It tempts you to forget the Lord in the land of distraction.  It tests you to see whether you will keep the greatest of the Lord's command as a command...or merely a suggestion.  It provides the illusion that somehow we can provide for our own needs or pull ourselves out of our own situations that we have gotten ourselves into instead of relying solely on the Lord who has brought us into this land of blessing in the first place. 

This is why well meaning Christians can tell me that they haven't had time to get into the Word during the week, but they have had time to watch a full season of their favorite show on Netflix...or 17 hours of March Madness over the weekend.  It's why many Christian parents have children who neither know the Lord nor what He has done for them.  It's why many Christians find it hard to witness to the goodness of Christ to their friends around them, though God tells them to talk about Him all the time.  We have replaced what Jesus meant by loving the Lord with all of our heart, which came with specific instructions on how to do it, with our touchy, feely version of love that requires nothing but a feeling of good intentions to the One we say we are serving...without our actions.

Don't get me wrong.  I love the land of plenty that we live in.  But I have fallen victim to its temptations enough to know that amidst the blessing, this land is a dangerous place.

We would do well to learn how to put these blessings in their proper place...behind, not before, our relationship with Christ.

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