For Your Own Good

A very smart four-year-old I know recently told me that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the beach. (Okay, full disclosure … it was my grandson.) Skeptics are welcome to go here. Naturally I believed him since he has known the word “paleontologist” since he was three and can identify about twenty different dinosaurs, including his favorite, the Mosasaurus. Have you ever heard of a Mosasaurus? Me neither.

So, when you read things in the Old Testament that talk about the number of stars in the sky, you know you are talking about a really big number. A really, really big number.

This passage ends with a reference to stars, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. The writer begins with the startling question, “What does the Lord your God ask of you?” Have you ever thought about that? Do you even want to know? Maybe it’s too much …

Deuteronomy 10 (Common English Bible)

12 Now in light of all that, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, by loving him, by serving the Lord your God with all your heart and being, 13 and by keeping the Lord’s commandments and his regulations that I’m commanding you right now. It’s for your own good!

Well, so far, so good. Revere God: check. Walk in all his ways: check. Love and serve him: check. Keep his commandments and regulation: daily effort, but we do the best we can. Check.

14 Clearly, the Lord owns the sky, the highest heavens, the earth, and everything in it. 15 But the Lord adored your ancestors, loving them and choosing the descendants that followed them—you!—from all other people. That’s how things still stand now. 16 So circumcise your hearts and stop being so stubborn, 17 because the Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. 

“Circumcise your heart” is a hard teaching. The writer is suggesting we “cut away” anything extraneous thing that might prevent us from revering, loving, serving, and keeping the commandments. What would that mean in your life? Less screen time? Less arguing? Less bashing your ex on social media? Less spending money on frivolous things while people go hungry? Less self-indulgence?

And now for the challenging part.

18 He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. 19 That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt. 

I realize that immigration is a scalding hot political issue. It is complex and there are no easy solutions. But what exactly do you think verses 18 and 19 are saying to us? How can we care for the widows, orphans, and immigrants in our community?

20 Revere the Lord your God, serve him, cling to him, swear by his name alone! 21 He is your praise, and he is your God—the one who performed these great and awesome acts that you witnessed with your very own eyes. 22 Your ancestors went down to Egypt with a total of seventy people, but now look! The Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the nighttime sky!

God requires a lot from his people, but he gives even more. What does that mean to you today?

Tonight, look up at the stars and ask God to show you places where you might revere him more, love him deeper, serve him better, and follow his commandments with greater integrity. Remember what it says in verse 13; it’s for your own good! We have been made more numerous as the stars in the sky. We are his people! May we witness to the world what that means.

Grains of Sand by Michelle Robertson

Counting Stars

One of the unique aspects of the Outer Banks is the ability to see the stars at night. Our small population, the lack of high rise buildings and pollution, and our minimal use of street lights make this the perfect place to stargaze. I live on Colington Island, where there are no street lights on the side roads, so it is especially lovely to see the entire heavenly realm from our front porches.

A few weeks ago, I returned from our Ash Wednesday service well after dark and was struck once again by the beauty of the night sky. The pancake supper and service had been very lovely and uplifting. Many families finally returned to church after a pandemic absence. Dare Challenge, our local drug and alcohol recovery group, was in attendance. I watched them joyfully consuming seconds and thirds of supper before helping to clean up and put tables away. I made ash crosses on foreheads that I hadn’t seen in a very long time, and my heart welled up with joy. Yes, I was wearing a mask. No, I didn’t care.

It finally felt normal.

Lent is a season when we pursue righteousness. We hunker down and get serious about Scripture reading, prayer, fasting, self-examination, repentance … anything that can draw us closer to the heart of God. Lent is the perfect time to get right with God.

Surprisingly, into this moment comes Abram. Speaking for myself, I did not see that coming.

Abram was a man whom God found to be righteous, and so God promised him more heirs than stars in the Outer Banks sky:

Genesis 15 (New International Version)

 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

You have to love Abram’s skills here. He is a master negotiator. Somehow he politely but forcefully reminds God that since God has given Abram no children, there cannot be heirs. I wonder if Abram was a lawyer in his past. Well played, Abram!

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

The promise is made, the course of Abram’s life is dramatically changed, and Abram believed:

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Belief is the cornerstone of righteousness. It is the foundation of all of our moral centering. When we believe in a loving God who provides, a saving Son who redeems, and a living Spirit who empowers us to to what is right, we are on the path toward righteousness.

Do you believe? Do you love God with all you heart, mind, soul, and strength?

As we continue on this Lenten journey together, may we encourage one another to remain on the path that leads to righteousness.

Moon Rise by Michelle Robertson

Known By Name

Have you ever been in a place where the overwhelming majesty of God’s creation caught your breath in your throat and rendered you speechless in awe? Was it something as major as the Grand Canyon or the Mediterranean Sea, or something as small as a perfect sand dollar washing up on shore, or a newborn‘s first smile?

God’s majesty is all around, yet our busy, self-interested lives often prevent us from observing it. I have a challenge for you. Read this, then read it again. Then make a PLAN to go somewhere this week with the sole intention of observation. Even if you simply go out your front door tonight and look up, you are guaranteed to see God’s wondrous works.

Isaiah chastises us when we go for days or weeks without one simple moment of awe. I feel this rebuke sharply when I realize that I live minutes from the ocean and I haven’t set foot on the beach or even parked someplace where I can watch the ocean for many, many months. I am indeed a grasshopper.

Isaiah 40 (New Revised Standard Version)

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

He brings princes and rulers of the earth to nothing. How much time we have wasted by passionately following earthly leaders as though they had the power to save us! Not a one of them has the power to save us. Only God does…and he blows on them and they are carried off like the stubble that they are.

The image of God sitting about the circle of the earth and stretching out the heavens like a curtain is glorious. Ponder that for a moment and then read on…

25 To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

The final image that Isaiah paints is of a God who numbers all the planets, nebula, and stars in the sky and instructs the universe where and how to spin. And he knows the names of the stars. HE KNOWS THE NAMES OF THE STARS. How could you possibly think that he doesn’t know yours? How could you possibly think that your troubles are too much to share with him, your sin too deep to be forgiven, or your circumstance too complicated to be fixed?

Lift up your eyes on high…and see.

26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.

Not even the tiniest star goes missing from his sight. Neither do you.

Known by Name by Matt Seals