Avoiding Shortcuts To Nowhere

For a few years, our family lived in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. After spending most of my life in Denver, where the streets run north and south in straight lines, Philadelphia threw me for a loop. Literally.

Many of the roads in Philly date back hundreds of years. One of the main roads in an outlying town is called “Cowpath Road.” Obviously, the road was once a cow path that was converted into a road. Cows don’t walk in straight lines. This is just one of many examples.

So at times, when the traffic on the two-lane roads backed up, I tried taking side streets to get ahead. On more than one occasion, my “shortcut” brought me back to my starting point. I was literally driving in circles.

That’s often the case when we take shortcuts in other areas of our lives.

Please join me today as we look at one such shortcut.

If you don’t have plans for celebrating Easter this Sunday, and you live in the Denver, Colorado area, please join me at The Neighborhood Church. We meet at 10:00 a.m.

TODAY’S READING

Deuteronomy 13:1-15:23
Luke 8:40-9:6
Psalm 71:1-24
Proverbs 12:5-7

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Deuteronomy 13. Prophecy, healing and other miraculous works have played a significant role in my spiritual journey. In fact I wrote a book about my experiences that was released about a year ago entitled Strange Fire, Holy Fire.

Despite my belief in the existence of what the Bible calls “signs and wonders,” I was mildly surprised to read Moses’ words at the beginning of this chapter. He tells Israel to follow God rather than any prophecy the people might hear.

Many people with backgrounds like mine will benefit from Moses’ instruction. Signs and wonders are exciting, but they should never serve as the point of our spiritual journey. And they should never replace the importance—and authority—of God’s word.

Next, Moses tells the people to kill anyone who might tempt them to worship other gods. Obviously, we can’t—and shouldn’t—kill anyone today who might lead us astray. But we can incorporate that same attitude toward temptation.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11. Once again, the theme of caring for the poor presents itself. In verse 11, Moses tells the people, “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”

Jesus quoted this verse in the Gospels. “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11, et al). As a result, many Christians take a fatalistic approach to caring for the poor: “Jesus said the poor will always be with us, so why make it a priority?”

But the force of Moses’ instruction here is that because the poor will always be with us, we should always be generous to them.

Luke 8:40-56. To reread what we discussed on the story of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage, read the post from February 21.

Luke 9:1-6. After watching Jesus minister to the crowds, he sent his disciples throughout the region to imitate him.

The New Bible Commentary offers some interesting insights into Jesus’ instructions to the disciples:

They were to live as simply as possible, perhaps so as to avoid any criticism for making money out of their work, and also to avoid being mistaken for other travelling people who made money unscrupulously…They were not to go round looking for (better) hospitality.

Psalm 71. This is an anonymous psalm written by a middle-aged person who is encountering adversity but wants to end well.

In verse 7 he writes, “I have become like a portent to many.” A portent is an example that others can see.

In spite of the psalmist’s adversity, this psalm resonates with hope. He writes in verse 5, “For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.” Then in verse 14, he writes, “But as for me, I will always have hope.”

God was the psalmist’s hope in the past and will be his hope in the future.

Verse 20 really jumps out at me:

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Growing up in the church, I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly in church leadership. At various stages in my life as a pastor, I must admit that I’ve done my part in presenting a poor example of leadership as well. So please understand that I’m not casting stones.

Our reading in Deuteronomy 13 addresses who we follow in spiritual leadership. Our human nature gravitates toward following charismatic individuals who will speak to us on behalf of God. Often, this is the result of our laziness. Relying on someone who will “stand in” for God is like opting for the Cliff’s Notes version of a great novel. Rather than read the Bible for ourselves and seek an intimate relationship with God, we prefer that someone do it for us.

Moses was concerned that the people would follow false prophets who would lead Israel away from God. So Moses warned Israel, “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere” (Deuteronomy 13:4).

When our walk with God is dependent upon the leaders we follow, we set ourselves up for tremendous disappointment and pain.

Pastors, TV preachers, televangelists, and authors all must be compared against the truth of Scripture. Just because they say something that sounds good, or they say something that you want to be true—doesn’t make it true! Many have led well-meaning believers astray. And history continues to repeat itself.

Nor can we allow them to play the role of God in our life.

Not long ago, I witnessed first-hand a church split that affected thousands of people. Some of the people who were damaged by the fallout were devastated and vowed never again to return to church or trust a church leader. In my judgment, many of those people followed the Senior Pastor rather than God.

My friends, please join me in following Moses’ advice. Let’s follow God and avoid the unnecessary disappointment and pain that inevitably meets people who depend on fallible men and women for their walk with God.

Shortcuts in our walk with God lead us nowhere.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What shortcuts have you tried in your walk with God? Where did they lead you? If you were hurt from the experience, how did you recover? Have you recovered?
  3. Why would God want us to avoid following people instead of him?
  4. What does this tell you about God?

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www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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