Speaking with the Voice of God

Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eugeniowilman/3292454823/">Eugenio Wilman</a>

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

God will see to it that another truth-teller like me emerges from your midst. Listen to that truth-teller. This is what you asked God for back at the desolate place. You got together and said, “If we ever again hear the voice of God or see God’s great fire, we’ll die.”

God concurred. You were right. So God told me, “I will see to it that a truth-teller emerges from their midst, who is just like you, who will tell them what I say. Whoever won’t pay attention to what that truth-teller says will be on the hook. But, then again, any truth-teller who claims to speak for some other god, or one who tells the people a lie – that truth-teller is toast.”

How can you tell whether someone speaks for God? How can you know whether someone is speaking for God and you’re on the hook for what they say, or whether someone is full of crap? Surprisingly enough, the vast majority of the time, it’s fairly easy.

99.44% of the time people who claim for themselves the right to speak for God are the ones who are full of crap. People who make claims that they’re divinely appointed seldom are. Witness Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry.

On the flip side, there are others who never make any claim to divine right, who when you hear them, you know. And the most wonderful truth about it is that they are “from your midst.” They are nearby, not flying in on a private jet to give a speech and then leave. The ones who are speaking for God may not – probably don’t – even know they’re speaking for God.

Maybe she was your grandmother telling you what you needed to hear when nobody else was there for you. Maybe he was the college professor who helped you find your calling. Maybe it was the old guy you barely knew on the bar-stool next to you. Maybe she was the orderly in the neonatal ICU who gave you the thread you needed to hang on to survive. You know the truth when you hear it. Because it, well – because it rings true. When you hear it you’re on the hook. It doesn’t matter whose mouth it comes through. Once in a while, it may even come through you to someone else – more than likely when you’re least aware of it’s happening.

The warning in this passage is that when you do hear it, you still have the choice to follow it, or to ignore it.

Ignore it at your peril.

Pay it Forward

pay it forward
Image credit: Heather Bauer, Yellow Makes Me Happy

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

God is bringing you into a good place with flowing with streams, with artesian wells and aquifers springing up on hill and in dale, a place where staple crops, fruit vines and trees grow, a place where you will find delicacies like olives and honey in abundance, a place where you’ll never lack, and where you’ll find iron and copper. You’ll stuff yourselves full and thank God for the blessings of this good place.

But, make sure not to forget God or fail to follow God’s instructions, laws, and ways. When you’re stuffed full in the beautiful homes you will have settled down in, and when your livestock are multiplying, and when your money is accumulating, and when everything is going well, don’t think that you’ve come by it on your own and forget that it was God who brought you here from slavery in Egypt. Don’t forget who led you through the vastness of the desert wastes with its poisonous snakes and scorpions. Don’t forget that God made water flow from rocks and fed you all that time, through all that ordeal, and in the end did right by you. Don’t tell yourself that you’ve made all this by your own strength. But remember that your strength is on loan to you from God. It’s a loan guaranteed by a contract between God and your ancestors.

Moses must have been channeling Elizabeth Warren:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Whether you read Moses’ version or Ms. Warren’s, the bottom line is you’re never as independent as you think you are. And your success depends on the hard work and contributions of a lot of people. Many of whom you don’t even know. Many of whom are long since dead. Your success and prosperity is on loan to you. This Thanksgiving Week, three things to do:

  1. Take some time to be grateful, and to tell someone – heck, tell everyone – how grateful you are to them.
  2. Pay it forward. Don’t just say something to someone. Do something for someone.
  3. Don’t squander the gifts and advantages you have. Do something significant with them. Something that will make the next generation realize how much they have and be thankful.

End of an Era

View from Mt. Nebo
View from Mt. Nebo, Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Then Moses left the plains of Moab and climbed Mount Nebo to the overlook at Pisgah, opposite Jericho. From there God showed him the Land, all of it from Gilead to Dan, from Naphtali to Ephraim and Manasseh, from Judah to the Mediterranean Sea, from the Plains of Negeb (including the valley of Jericho with all its palm trees) to Zoar.

God said to Moses, “This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I told them I would give it to their descendants. I’ve let your eyes see it, but you shall not go there.”

Then God struck Moses down and he died there in Moab. He was buried in an unmarked grave in a Moab valley opposite the House of the Gorge. But no one knows exactly where. Moses was 120 years old when he died. He never lost his sight or strength.

The Israelites mourned Moses’ death there on the plains of Moab for a month. When the official morning period was over, Joshua Nun became their new wise leader, hand-picked by Moses. So the Israelites continued to follow Moses’ orders. But never since has there been a truth-teller like Moses, who knew God face to face. When it comes to the number of signs and spectacles of God in Egypt against Pharaoh, his minions, and his empire, and the number of the mighty deeds and displays of sheer power he showed the Israelites – nobody can match Moses. Nobody.

The Herbrew tries to soften the blow. A close translation reads: “Moses died by the Lord’s command.” But however you try to make it sound, God ended it. By God’s command may as well be the same as a flaming sword or a bolt of lightning.

In the same way, the Scripture makes it very clear that Moses was the best there ever was. The best. The greatest. Bar none. And he died.

Deuteronomy doesn’t go into making excuses for or explaining away either of these two disturbing points. There is no recapitulation here about striking the rock at Horeb. There is no rationalizing God’s action. Thankfully. Because this is how it is. With Moses and with us.

No matter how great we are, or what we’ve accomplished, or how famous we are, no matter how close to God we may be, we are time-limited. At some point it ends. And the greatest lights of our day are great in part because they recognize that death is integral to our reality.

In part, then, to become great at whatever you’re doing (ministry, being a church, business, scholarship, art, whatever) requires realizing that the time we have is it. Do your best work in every moment you have. That way, when you come to the moment when you, by the command of the Lord or otherwise, come to the end with no excuses, no regrets.

Almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
– Steve Jobs