William Shakespeare has been quoted as saying, “Your greatest strength begets your greatest weakness.” What he says is both an encouragement and a caution to us. And we see this at play in our lives:
- The leader who is excellent with details can get lost in them.
- The leader who is great with executing tasks can run over people.
- The leader who is incredible with people can forget about assignments.
This morning the passage I want to read to us has a similar encouragement and caution. Read Deuteronomy 8:6-20
Just so that we have it clearly in our minds, Moses speaks these words to the nation of Israel as they stand at the edge of the promised Land. They have been wandering in the desert for the last 40 years because they were not prepared to take God at his Word. God rescued the from the tyranny of Pharaoh and their captivity in Egypt; he set them free by the testimony of the plagues; the red sea closed over and destroyed the Egyptian army. Through all this he had promised them a land flowing with milk and honey but when they came to the edge of the Jordan River they became “grasshoppers in their own eyes”. Their faith in God evaporated and they saw only insurmountable obstacles.
They are now at the edge of the Jordan River again. 40 years have passed; the old ‘faithless’ generation died in the desert, and Moses is retelling this new generation all they need to know for the full life God has promised, and he is pre-cautioning about a grave potential weakness.
Celebrating the goodness of our God
This passage celebrates the goodness of God and his provision. Moses says that you will have all have (8:7-9. 12-13, 18)
- Resources: springs, streams and pools of water; copper, silver, gold, and stone to build fine houses.
- Food: wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil, and honey
- Livestock: herds and flocks
- Ability to produce wealth
These and many other good things God gave them when he brought them into the Promised Land. They were good things that they were meant to enjoy. And they were made even better against the backdrop of the difficult years in the desert – living off manna and water from a hard rock; faced with the threat of scorpions and snakes (15-16). What you have is more beautiful and valuable when you know what it is like to live without it. Cape Town is busy learning that through the water crisis – when our dams are full again we will value the precious resource of our water far more that we did before! The desert period was meant to grow in the people the grace of humble dependence – it says, “to test you so that is might go well with you” (16). What might that mean?
It is always dangerous to draw direct parallels with Israel and the church. However, the character of God and the way he principally interacts with his people does not change. God is good! And he gives good things to his people to bless them. Here at ECCC we have enjoyed the blessing of God passed down to us from those who went before us. The church of the 1960s took a leap of faith. They took out a bond of R22,000 and built this building! And were they happy! ECCC had ministered out of Craven Hall and the Small hall. When this building became the church, the Sunday School could use the hall and there was so much more space and possibilities. And the bond was paid off in less than half the time expected. It I only when you know what it is like to not have to squash 120 children into the small hall while the winter rains pour outside that you really appreciate a new church!
Forgetting the God of our goodness
Now for the people of Israel there was an inherent weakness in the great joy of God bringing them into the Promised Land. The warning is given three times, “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God” (11, 14, 19). The warning is linked in verse 11 to failing to obey God’s command, in verse 14 to pride, and in verse 19 to idolatry.
And these are the very things that would overtake and undermine Israel and would become her downfall. The three are not distinct – in fact they are almost always linked. The people would become comfortable and self-satisfied. They would ascribe their success and wealth to they own efforts. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). They would stray from obeying the good commands that God had given for their protection and joy. And in the end, they would choose to serve the foreign Gods of the neighbouring people groups.
This warning rings true for the church and Christians in general, but for us in particular as ECCC this morning. Although you can’t liken moving into a new church building (50 years ago) to the people of Israel conquering the Promised Land and making it their home, we are still threatened by the same inherent weaknesses. The three warnings still ring true for us: will we forget the laws of God in favour of choosing to obey our own ways of living our lives; we forget the provision of God in favour of pridefully thinking we did it all; we forget the position of God and rather worship something created than worship the Creator alone.
The specific command that stares us in the face is: “Remember the Lord your God” (18). The problem is when things are removed by a generation or two (50 years) we start to forget. Forget what? That God provided; that we didn’t have; that we were very overjoyed at his provision. But now there is no need to depend on him. We are comfortable. We got this!
East Claremont: are we comfortable? So comfortable that we have forgotten God? In what ways are we remembering him, needing him, depending on him, desiring him, hungering for him? My prayer is that God would so move in this congregation that we would have to depend on him. And it will feel like hardship – a bit like a desert – but the enemy of comfort and calm has pacified us into inaction and faithlessness. So many other streams in society are driving us toward the ideal of comfort and amply provision – but these vey things militate against faith and dependence on God.
I would suggest that if we are going to faithfully obey means to take seriously the Great Commission that we have been interrogating for the last few weeks – discipleship and evangelism. It means thinking seriously about whether we ourselves, or in partnership within other churches can be involved in church planting. It means taking seriously the need for building a multi-cultural community of faith where all South Africans can feel welcome and are welcomed.
Remember your salvation
But it would be a terrible misunderstanding of the work of God through his gospel of grace if we were to base our enthusiasm for “remembering” in a 50th anniversary sermon. Before a Christians ever fall into disobedience, comfort, idolatry they must first forget their great salvation.
This is why Paul write in Ephesians 2:11-12. What is he referring to? The cold of verses above! Read Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5, 8-10. Moses instructed the Israelites to remember God’s great act of saving the from Pharaoh and Egypt. Paul points us to the greater work of Christ. Looking to the great salvation work of Christ on the cross is the cure for our “do what I please” hearts, our pride-in-our-own-works, our seeking after other worldly and temporal things to worship and serve.
Remember your salvation
It was when the Israelites has a permanent home, then they were established in their land, when they were amply provided for that they lost vision, direction, dependence and faithfulness to God. I pray that God would rescue us from a downfall of that nature, and help us to remember him.
- What is your most precious memory of ECCC over the last 50 years?
- Read Deuteronomy 8:6-20
- Why is it so hard to remember and so easy to forget God?
- There are three things linked to “do not forget” (11, 14, 19) Why do you think each is important?
- Think through the history of Israel: how did they forget God? And How did the remember him (there are hundreds of examples)? How did the warning of verse 19-20 come true?
- How is ECCC at risk of falling into “forgetting” God?
- How are you as a Christian at risk of “forgetting” God?
- Grant said, “our comfort militates against our spiritual growth”. Do you agree or disagree? Discuss
- How does what Paul says in Ephesians 2:1-12 link remembering and the gospel? Why is this crucial?