Memory test - Deuteronomy 8
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The story is told of a duck that was flying with his flock in the springtime northward across Europe. During the flight he came down in a Danish barnyard where there were some tame ducks. He enjoyed some of their corn and their company. And he stayed, at first for an hour, then a day, then for a week, then for a month and finally, because he relished the good fare and the safety of the barnyard, he ended up staying all summer. But one autumn day when the flock of wild ducks were winging their way back southward again, they passed over the barnyard, and their mate heard their cries. He was stirred with a strange thrill of joy and delight, and with a great flapping of wings he rose in the air to join his old friends in their flight back home. But he found that his good fare had made him so soft and heavy that he could rise no higher than the eaves of the barn. So he dropped back again to the barnyard, and said to himself: ďOh, well! My life is safe here and the food is good.Ē And so every spring and autumn when he heard the wild ducks calling him, his eyes would gleam for a moment and he would begin to flap his wings. But finally the day came when the wild ducks flew over him and uttered their cry, but he paid not the slightest attention to them. Because he was now far too comfortable in the barnyard to care. And nor did he notice that every so often one by one those ducks would disappear only to reappear on the farmerís table for Sunday lunch. For those comfortable fat little ducks were slowly fattening themselves for the day of slaughter.
Complacency can be a killer. Itís true in many different walks of life isnít it? Get complacent about driving your car by becoming slack about safety or failing to take due care and attention and it will lead to an accident. Be a complacent doctor, and you will do someone serious harm by prescribing the wrong drugs, or performing the wrong operation. Grow complacent as a parent, and your children will be harmed. Complacency is very dangerous and can sometimes be a killer. But nothing is more serious and dangerous than complacency in the spiritual realm. Nothing is more dangerous than slackening off in your commitment to God and slowly but surely forgetting him. This is the most dangerous kind of complacency of all.
And that is why Moses penned this passage before us this evening. Because the message of Deuteronomy 8 is very simple but very important. Donít get complacent. Donít grow spiritually slack. Donít forget your God. If you remember, the people of God were on the very edge of the Promised Land and about to go in. Forty years had passed since the previous generation had been in exactly the same place, but they had committed this dreadful sin of complacency and failed to obey God. And it cost them their entry into the Land and it cost them their lives. And Moses says to this new generation: ďDonít make the same mistake as your forefathers. When you get into the Promised Land, donít forfeit it by complacency and disobedience and forgetting God. Because otherwise you will end up like your predecessors. You will face the judgement of God.Ē
And to my mind there is no more important a lesson that the Christian can hear than this one Moses teaches us here in Deuteronomy 8. Because we too are heading for the Promised Land, not a patch of land in this world, but a gloriously and perfectly restored new world that God will give to his people, that is his kingdom, his heaven. And if we are to make it through to that wonderful future hope, then we have got to avoid complacency and not forget the Lord. And time and again the Bible warns us against it. So you and I need to listen very carefully to what God is saying to us this evening, if we are to avoid the pitfalls of complacency. And can we do that, says Moses, by remembering three things:
1) Remember Godís Lessons in the Past (Vv 1-5)
2) Remember Godís Grace in the Present (Vv 6-18)
3) Remember Godís Judgement in the Future (Vv 19-20)
1) Remember Godís Lessons in the Past (Vv 1-5)
So the first thing we need to remember is remember Godís lessons in the past. Verse 1: ďBe careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.Ē Now Moses begins by urging the people to be obedient to the Lord because with obedience comes blessing. Obeying God is a good thing and it will lead to a life of blessing, living under Godís rule. In this case it means living in the promised land. And what does it mean to obey the Lord? Well Moses goes on in verse 2: ďRemember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you.Ē Following Godís commands and being obedient to him means remembering what God has done. Thatís part of obeying God. Now at this point we might be tempted to ask why God tells his people to remember. Are we likely to forget God and what he has done? Well the short answer is yes we are. Human nature has a nasty habit of forgetting its creator. But actually in the Bible remembering is not just about recalling something to mind. It is acting on what you remember. For example I can remember that my wifeís birthday is sometime in May. But woe betide me if I fail to act on that recollection and she doesnít get a present. I will be in a steel padlocked doghouse for the next six months! You see itís one thing to recall something to mind. Quite another to act on what you remember. And in this case, the people are to remember what God has taught them in the past and respond accordingly. So what lessons has God taught them in the past that they need to remember and act upon?
Letís read from verse 2: ďRemember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.Ē Now here we get a very different perspective on those forty years that Israel spent in the wilderness. Our common understanding of those years is that God was punishing his people for their disobedience. And that is true. But here we find he was also teaching them some crucial lessons which they needed to remember. Moses says that God was humbling and testing them to see what was in their hearts. He was allowing them to go through difficulties to show them that they must put their trust in God and God alone. They could not provide for themselves. Only God could do that. They needed to learn that they could not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. In other words they had to learn humble dependence on God for everything. It was God who fed them with manna in the wilderness. It was God who prevented their feet from swelling and their clothes wearing out. It was God who sustained them. And through this difficulty God broke the peopleís pride and taught them total dependence on him. And why did he do it? Verse 5: ďKnow then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.Ē Yes, the wilderness years were a result of the peopleís disobedience, but also they were times of testing for the people. They were years of discipline. And God only disciplines those he loves. Just as a father disciplines a son he loves so that the son will learn and become stronger and better, so God tests and disciplines his people so they will learn to shun pride and trust him. And that was the lesson that God taught his people in the desert. They had to learn to trust him and be dependant on him and his word alone. And now as the people were on the verge of the promised land, Moses urges the people not to forget Godís lessons in the past. The people learnt so much in the desert. Now youíre going to a land of plenty, donít grow complacent. Instead remember the lessons of the past, remember how you had to trust God then for everything, and keep trusting God in the future.
And that is just as crucial a lesson for us today as Godís people as it was then. Because the lessons God has taught us in the past and his past faithfulness are a spur to keep going in the future. And the problem is when things are going rather better for us, we so easily forget what God has taught us in the past, often through great difficulty. You see the fact is God can use difficulty to discipline us and refine our characters as his children. Even the tough times of life can be used to teach us important lessons about trusting God. And the question is do we forget those lessons and fail to act on them. Or will we remember them and put them into practice. Because when you remember Godís faithfulness to you in the past and the lessons he has taught you, then you will find yourself in a much better position in the future.
So for example, consider these words from a young couple with four children, two of which have very rare identical terminal wasting diseases which will lead to their early deaths. ďWhile at university we had both come to trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin. Since then God has made a real difference to our lives as weíve tried, with his help, to walk with him and live for him. Now in the midst of difficult times, we have a great sense of his strengthening and upholding hand upon our lives. Although we canít understand why this should happen to us, we found we were able to trust God fully. We are confident that God does not make mistakes and that though things can be difficult, he is with us in the difficulties. We have continued to know Godís help in recent years. It hasnít always been easy, but God has been good. We have had to learn to take one day at a time and to trust God day by day. As we look back we are overwhelmed by the goodness of God through it all, and as we anticipate difficult days ahead, our trust is in God who hasnít failed us in the past.Ē Can you see what this young couple are saying? They are saying that God has taught them lessons in the past through difficulty, and those lessons learned are strengthening them for the future, whatever it holds, be it good or ill. They are refusing to grow complacent and instead trusting God. Now I donít know what lessons God has taught you in the past. He may well have brought you through a time of testing and discipline. But I do know that God has been faithful to every person who is his in this building, whether through good times and bad. And I also know how easy it would be for us to forget his kindness and his lessons to us and to grow complacent especially if things get easier. And the challenge is not to forget the Lordís past lessons, but to remember. To keep trusting the one who kept you in the past. Because if you forget his past lessons, then you are on a slippery slide into complacency and spiritual decline. So instead resolve to remember the Lordís past lessons and act on them.
2) Remember Godís Grace in the Present (Vv 6-18)
But thereís a second lesson to help us not to slide into complacency and that is to remember Godís grace in the present. Because having reminded them of the past, Moses tells the people what God is doing for them now and in the immediate future when they cross over into the promised land. So have a look at verse 6: ďObserve the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good landóa land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.Ē Thatís what God is doing for you, says Moses. He is bringing you into the promised land. And itís a fantastic place, a wonderful gift of God for his people. And whatís their response to be? Verse 6, observe the commands of the Lord. Walk in his ways. Be obedient, says Moses. And verse 10: ďWhen you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.Ē What are the people to do? Praise God. Give him thanks for what he is doing in their lives. Make sure you say thank you to God and praise him for his wonderful gifts to you. And the challenge comes in verse 11: ďBe careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.Ē The challenge is donít forget. Donít ever forget that God is the one who has given you the land and all that is in it. And heís the one who sustains you in the land. And why would it be dangerous to forget? Verse 12: ďOtherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.Ē If you fail to give thanks to God and acknowledge his power in your life, then you will grow proud and you will forget the Lord. And youíll utter that dreadful statement in verse 17: ďYou may say to yourself, ĎMy power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.íĒ Itís almost defies belief doesnít it that the people of God would say that after all God has done and is doing for his people. But is that not the story of Godís people all over? That time and again they fail to give thanks to God, they forget him and they proudly assert that they are the ones who have done what has been done. And they forget verse 18, that it is God who gives us the ability to produce wealth. God is at the centre of it all and he is the one who gives all good gifts. He deserves the praise.
And notice that the downward spiral of forgetting God and descending into pride begins with a failure to thank God for what he has done and is doing. And again and again that is where such pride begins. When we fail to thank God for his goodness, so we get presumptuous and proud. And then the next time something good happens, we think we are due the credit. And so we proudly assert that we have done it. Arenít we great we say! Itís exactly Paulís argument in Romans 1. That human beings fail to glorify God and give him thanks and so they turn away from the Creator and worship their own creations. And stubborn human hearts hate it when someone else gets the praise. Itís the like the ancient Indonesian fable which tells of a turtle that could fly. He would hold on to a stick with his mouth as it was carried by two geese. When the turtle heard some onlookers on the ground saying, "Aren't those geese brilliant!" his pride was so hurt that he shouted, "It was my idea!" At which point, having opened his mouth to defend his pride, he plummeted to the ground to meet a sticky end. His pride became his downfall. And Moses says to the people on the verge of the promised land, that pride can be their downfall if they are not careful. So remember Godís grace in the present. Remember it is he that gives and sustains. Donít forget him. Donít proudly assert that you have done everything well.
Now it may be that you are saying to yourself: ďWell thatís fine for the people of Mosesí day. After all they were a rebellious lot. But Iím alright. I praise God. Iím not likely to fall into that trap!Ē Really! The Bible writers would say to you donít be so naÔve! You do not know your own heart. We 21st century Christians can so easily fall into spiritual complacency, just as easily as these believers did in Moses day. Why is it for example that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10 that if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you donít fall. Why is it that he says in 2 Corinthians 13 that we are to examine ourselves. Why is it that the writer to the Hebrews says again and again in his letter: ďIf you hear Godís voice today, donít harden your heart.Ē Why? Because itís possible that you and I could harden our hearts against God. We need to be battling with the sin of complacency every day. We need to be making sure that thankfulness and praise are at the very heart of our personal and corporate lives each and every day. Otherwise we are in serious danger. So there is a challenge for us both as a whole church and as individuals.
So what about us as a church? Are we guarding ourselves against complacency? Are we making sure that praise for Godís present grace is a part of our corporate life. Because it is very possible that we could fall into this trap. Because great things are happening arenít they? Weíve just had a good time of reaching out to the community with Summer in the City. Weíve got two church plants. Weíve got a thriving youth and student work. Weíve got many people who give up their time to serve the Lord and his people. But do you know what would be fatal? To begin to believe our own publicity, so to speak. To forget to praise God and give him the glory as the givers of all good gifts. To rest proudly on our laurels. To say arenít we great. Weíve got it sorted! And what happens when that proud self sufficiency comes into a church? Without repentance it will lead to disaster. Do you know that an average congregationís lifetime is little more than a generation. What does that tell you about the human heart. That it is so easy to grow complacent. Listen to these words of Abraham Lincoln when he addressed the American people in 1863: ďWe have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.Ē And if it could be said of a nation, how much more could it be said of the church in our land. It could be said of many a congregation. May it never be said of our church. Instead may we be marked by humble prayer, vibrant thankfulness whenever God does something in our midst, and gospel vision.
And of course such corporate resistance to complacency means personally we must all be resisting as individual Christians. So are you fighting complacency in your personal spiritual life. If you shrug your shoulders and say itís not a problem, then it already is. For example, how much is thankfulness a part of your daily routine? Do you praise God in the morning? Do you thank God for his provision of your food? How many of us say thank you to God at the beginning of a meal? How many of us praise God for his hand upon us at the end of the day? Because complacency begins with lack of thanks and leads to forgetting the Lord and eventually will lead to proud stubborn resistance to God and we say: ďI did it my way.Ē And each of us needs to take the challenge very seriously to resist sin and remember the Lord. Because I have not yet met anyone who woke up one morning and suddenly decided to give up being a Christian. But I have sadly known many over the years who started well, and gradually drifted from God and the church and are now nowhere. And drift is always slight. A skipped Sunday because the weather is nice, which makes is harder next time to be committed, or to make sacrifices for Christís sake. A day which leads to a week whereby we donít read Godís word. Getting rather complacent with sin in your life. ďWeíll it wonít hurt this time, will it?Ē And slowly but surely like a ship which has slipped its mooring we drift away on the tide of complacency. And it breaks my heart that time and again I see it. And that is why we need actively to engage in the battle today with sin and remember the Lordís goodness today. Today if you hear his voice, says the writer to the Hebrews, do not harden your hearts. Being a Christian is about engaging in the battle today. Donít rest on yesterdayís spiritual victories. Donít trust in yesterdayís spiritual capital. Are you pressing on today? Are you trusting today? When you are satisfied, praise the Lord. Do not forget him, says Moses. Instead, remember Godís grace in the present.
3) Remember Godís Judgement in the Future (Vv 19-20)
But why the challenge? Why worry about pressing on today? I mean itís not that serious is it? Well yes it is. And thatís why as we finish, we see Mosesí third incentive to avoid complacency, and that is to remember Godís judgement in the future. Because unless we are serious about avoiding and battling with complacency in our lives, then we are heading for judgement. Verse 19: ď If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.Ē Godís people will be treated like those who refuse to worship him. In other words if you or I through complacency slip away from the living God, if our hearts grow hard and we turn from him, then he will treat us as all his other enemies who worship other gods. Itís painfully simple isnít it? Your attitude and actions to God over the long haul will reveal where you really stand with him. Either as his child or his enemy. Which is why we must keep battling and fighting and remembering the Lord. Because if we donít, well itís not just a lifestyle choice weíve taken. Itís a decision which will affect our eternal future. And surely that is a huge incentive not to grow weary or give up.
But if you are a Christian here tonight, if youíre trusting Christ for forgiveness and a fresh start, then remember one last thing. That we donít fight this battle on our own. God is with us in the battle. And he will never leave us or forsake us. When we do fail there is forgiveness if we come back to him. For we have one in Jesus who knew what it was to live not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We have one in Christ who has walked our walk. He knows our struggles and he can help. But that doesnít soften the challenge- for we must still be obedient and take to heart what Moses says. We must avoid complacency as we head to the Promised Land. And we will do that by remembering Godís lessons in the past, by remembering Godís grace in the present, and by remembering Godís judgement in the future.
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