Do Not Forget the Lord Your God

Deuteronomy 8

By Chuck Griffin

In this season of Thanksgiving—this coming long weekend where we count our blessings and look toward God in gratitude—we Americans find ourselves in a good land.

Some would call such an assertion debatable, citing a pandemic, inflation, a strange job market, and social unrest as their evidence. And these problems do exist, causing suffering.

We still live in a good land, however. If for no other reason, it is good because it remains a place where we can freely remember and worship God. I also think there are many other reasons it remains a good land. Despite the current gloom, I’m an optimist, and I’m mindful that we’ve faced much worse as a nation.

To me, the parallels between our situation and the situation the Israelites were in as they prepared to enter the Promised Land are striking. The book of Deuteronomy largely is Moses reminding the people of their history and their relationship with God, preparing them for Moses’ imminent death and their first steps into a long-anticipated future.

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper,” Moses told them, his words recorded in the eighth chapter. “You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.”

With a few modifications to the types of crops and some additions to the minerals, this could serve as a description of North America.

There also is a warning: “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God,” Moses said. After reminding them once again of all the perils God had brought them through, Moses added, “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ “

I would not go so far as to describe the United States as some kind of new Promised Land. Our nation was not designed to relate to God through a direct covenant. It is, however, structured so that individuals can enter into any kind of covenant with God, assembling with those of like mind without fear of persecution. That freedom has allowed Christianity in all its variations to thrive here.

Yes, we debate loudly about politics, and the price of a Thanksgiving meal is up; yes, gas is once again over $3 a gallon where I live, and as high as $6 a gallon in other parts of the country. But this land remains a great blessing to its inhabitants and the world as long as our principles of freedom remain. Less stuff would not diminish our connection to God.

The lesson from Deuteronomy is simple, and as relevant to us as it was to those desert people longing for a little variety in their diets and a constant water supply. Remember God—remember the one you follow, the one you have declared to be above all creation.

Worshiping God in good times and bad is our primary task.

Dear Lord, your first blessing was to give us life; help us to use our lives as ongoing acts of thanksgiving and praise. Amen.

The Danger of Anger

Numbers 20:1-13

The potential for anger to destroy our plans and dreams comes through very clearly in the above story. God gave Moses straightforward instructions about how to call water from a rock for the thirsty Israelites. Instead, in his frustration, Moses whacked the rock twice with his staff, making a self-righteous declaration in the process.

God provided the life-giving water anyway, but Moses’ harsh action cost him the opportunity to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Moses had reasons to be angry. The people were stubborn and ungrateful, and no doubt he grew tired, listening to their complaints day after day. Today, we might say he needed to vent.

Such emotions cannot get the better of us, however. It is an easy thing for anger to cause us to focus on our baser desires (“I’ll show them”) rather than God’s plan, and in such moments we make ourselves into idols.

If I’m preaching right now, I’m preaching to myself more than anyone else. I know how my own self-righteous anger can distract and confuse me, particularly if I’m tired or feeling betrayed in some way. (You might be surprised how often pastors feel tired and even betrayed.)

My solutions are almost kindergarten simple. First, recognize what’s rising up inside. Breathe; take a time-out. When the emotion subsides, pray for guidance about how to inject some grace into the situation.

No doubt, at least 50 people who know me and are reading this can cite examples of when I failed. And they would be right. Managing anger is part of the human experience, and I am quite human.

The trick is to not let anger destroy our plans and dreams. We should never let anger position us in such a way that we never fully recover.

If you find yourself going down that path, get help. Talk to a pastor or a counselor, someone rooted in Christian concepts of grace and forgiveness, before it’s too late.

Lord, when we are red-hot with anger, hose us down with that peace that passes all understanding. Amen.