Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 9

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Know this and don’t ever forget it: It’s not because of any good that you’ve done that God is giving you this good land to own. Deuteronomy 9:6 (MSG)

Thus far in life’s journey, I have come to believe that the single-most misunderstood of spiritual truths is that of God’s grace (grace: unmerited favor). Time and time again God’s Message reminds me that His blessing and salvation are gracious gifts made possible by His own love and sacrificial act. I have nothing to do with it other than to truly believe.

And yet, my heart and mind always want to wander back to the perception of God being a stingy behavioral accountant sitting in heaven with his tally sheet of good and bad things I’ve thought, said, or done. In practice, I reduce God to some sort of omniscient Santa who will fill my day with presents or lumps of coal depending on how my behavioral scale is tipping today.

When God speaks to the children of Israel in today’s chapter, He is also speaking right to me: “Tom, remember this and don’t ever forget. Salvation and every blessing you experience have zip to do with you or what you’ve done. It’s not about you.”

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 8

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After a meal, satisfied, bless God, your God, for the good land he has given you. Deuteronomy 8:10 (MSG)

Wendy and I drove to Des Moines this past Friday. The rolling hills of the Iowa landscape stretched out as far as one could see. It’s beautiful this time of year with layers of color from the rich dark soil and the deep green of the crops covered with a glowing golden blanket of tassels. After gazing out the window for a long time Wendy commented that Grant Wood had captured the Iowa landscape so perfectly. I agreed. The comment brought to mind a memory of walking through the gallery at the Des Moines Art Center many years ago and seeing a pastel of the Iowa landscape. I did not know the artist, but I knew immediately that she must have grown up here. There was a depth of knowledge of the land beneath her pastels.

Growing up in Iowa you feel a certain connection with the land. The landscape is not an attraction, it’s a part of you. The people and the land are inexorably intertwined. In Iowa, you grow up with an appreciation for both the divine providence and the hard work that produces a family dinner on Sunday.

Many years ago I was on a journey through God’s Message and passed through this section of Deuteronomy. The verse above resonated deep within me. You could say I memorized it, but I feel more as if it attached itself to my spirit. This verse comes to mind after every good meal, and after an exceptional meal my family will hear me utter it out loud.

I never want to forget the blessing of living in a good land.

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Day 17: Things That Make You Scared

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30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 17: Things that make you scared.

It’s a little bit of synchronicity that this question comes on the heels of what I’ve just written about Deuteronomy 7. While I’m far less likely to be intimidated by others, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel fear and anxiety.

Bats. Bats freak me out. We just had one get into our house on Friday night. It’s a seasonal occurrence in our old house. Wendy even told me that she knew there was a bat in the house the previous night, however we were both in bed and she knew that if she woke me to let me know I would never get back to sleep.

The economy. Shocking, I know.Every morning when I pick up the Wall Street Journal off the porch and read the headlines, I feel the fear and anxiety. What I’m witnessing in today’s business environment is that bigger government, increased government regulation, and more taxes are slowly strangling our economy. Companies are fearfully hoarding their capital rather than reinvesting it. I find myself having to exercise my faith more and more to combat the fear and anxiety the daily headlines stir inside me.

Irrelevance. I’ve always been a sucker for the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I so identify with the character of George Bailey, and no matter how many times I see the film I never fail to get a little misty at the final scene. I want to make a positive difference in people’s lives, and I’m scared of having little or no influence on those my life touches.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 7

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So don’t be intimidated by them. God, your God, is among you—God majestic, God awesome. Deuteronomy 7:21 (MSG)

When I was younger, I found myself easily intimidated by people. Perhaps it was from being the  baby of the family, but it didn’t take much for me to feel “less than” another person whom I perceived to be have some kind of power or authority.

Along life’s journey God has placed me in positions in which I’ve interacted with people at many different levels of worldly power and authority. I’ve worked with people in extreme poverty and have dealt with people of extreme wealth. I often work with both front-line employees fresh out of college starting their careers as well as Presidents and CEOs. I’ve had the opportunity to know leaders of business, well-known authors, and government officials.

One of the lessons that these experiences have taught me is that every person, no matter their position in life, has their own set of troubles, trials, and temptations. Means and influence do not make you a better person, and often I’ve observed how they create more problems. I’ve known some individuals in relatively impressive positions of earthly power and influence who are deeply insecure, while others with little or no earthly power and influence have incredible personal strength.

My experiences have made me far less likely to be intimidated by others. I am constantly reminded that God instructs me to be content, keep growing and be fruitful where I’ve been planted. Others may have more worldly power, more influence, more stuff, and greater means than I do, but in God’s economy we all stand on equal footing.

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Day 16: 3 Things You Are Proud of About Your Personality

Murph with his tongue waggin'
Murph with his tongue waggin’

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 16: Three things you are proud of about your personality.

Over the years I’ve used a personality test introduced by John Trent and Gary Smalley in their book The Two Sides of Love with different groups I’ve taught and led. Trent and Smalley use animals as word pictures to describe the four predominate personality types: Lion, Otter, Beaver, and Golden Retriever. It’s a quick and easy little test and the word pictures are something with which people can quickly identify.

While we all have certain dimensions of every personality type, according to the Trent-Smalley test I’m predominately a Golden Retriever. Here are three traits of a Golden Retriever personality I’m proud of:

Deep Relationships: When it comes to relationships, I like to go deep. Some people may be able to survive having a million relationships that are an inch deep, but I require a small handful of relationships that mine the depth of each other’s hearts and lives. I like it that way because it is relationship in the deepest, truest sense of knowing and being known. It is intimate and life-giving for both participants.

Patient: Living in community with others requires generous doses of patience. As a spouse and as a parent I’m glad that my personality comes with a natural sense of patience. I often see conflict and relational damage done by jumping to conclusions and flying off the handle with one another. I like to look back and see how patience with others has allowed the other person to experience, grow and mature in a natural, organic way in God’s time without the entanglement of my impatient pushing, pleading, and critical cajoling.

Good listener: I like that others find me to be a good listener, and I’m often amazed at what complete strangers will tell me within just a few minutes of meeting them. While at times it’s disconcerting, I feel blessed that others trust me to be a confidant to both their joys and their trials.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 6

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Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (MSG)

It is interesting the things that stand out about other countries and cultures when you visit. When I traveled to Israel several years ago, one of the first things that stood out to me were the little ornate boxes that were attached to seemingly every door frame of every house, shop or hotel room.

I learned very quickly that the box is called a mezuzah and it is hollow inside so that a scroll with God’s word could be treasured inside it. It was Israel’s way of being literally obedient to the command in Deuteronomy 6 to take God’s commands and “inscribe them on the doorpost of your homes.” As you go in and out of the house you will see the mezuza and you will remember Deuteronomy 6 and both God’s command and his promised blessing.

I bought a mezuzah in Israel and brought it back with me. I have hung it on the most used door in every home I’ve lived in since. When Wendy and I moved into our house I brought it with me. It’s been sitting on a bookshelf in the living room.  A while back I asked Wendy to pick out some verses she wanted placed in our mezuzah. I then picked out some verses of my own, but like many other things in life I shoved the “to-do” of hanging the mezuzah on the back burner. After reading today’s chapter, I can think of no better day to get off the dime and hang it.

There is nothing magical about the mezuzah. It’s simply a mnemonic device. It’s a reminder. As I go out my door and return each day in the hustle and bustle of life, my mind is usually buzzing to remember a million “urgent” things. The mezuzah reminds me in that moment that I need to give both my mind and my heart to remember those things that are eternally significant.

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Day 15: The Best Thing to Happen to You This Week

Rock Climbing 101

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 15 (I’m half-way home!): The best thing to happen to you this week.

This week my son-in-law and I went rock climbing at Climb Iowa. I’ve always loved the thought of rock climbing. I brings back the boy in me who figured out how to stand a garbage can between our garage and the neighbors garage then climb up between the two garages by putting one foot on one window sill and the other foot on the other eventually scaling up between the two until I was on the roof. In retrospect, it wasn’t that huge of an accomplishment, but to a ten year old it was frickin’ Mount Everest.

I’ve rock climbed a number of times, but it had been many years ago. So, Clayton and I headed over to take the beginner’s class. We learned to tie on properly and belay one another. That means that while one of us was climbing, they were tied to the other who stood on the ground and managed the rope so that if you fall off the wall the other person locks the safety rope and won’t let you plummet to your death. When you get to the top, the belayer on the ground slowly lets you down.

It’s a bit tricky at first and the first time I got to the top of the wall I gave Clayton the appropriate command by yelling, “Falling!” Clayton is then supposed to say “Fall on!” to let me know he’s ready to slowly let me down. The first time, Clayton didn’t have the exact feel of how to do it and instead of falling slowly I fell rather fast for a terrifying ten feet or so before the instructor stepped in and helped slow the rope. It was scary for just a moment as I realized that my life was literally in the hands of my son-in-law (Was he wondering how much he stands to inherit if I kick the bucket?) 😉

I’m being silly, of course. We had an awesome afternoon together and after climbing several walls of varying difficulty, our arms and fingers were simply refusing to work. You will never find me out climbing sheer cliffs in the wild, but I found the safe and challenging environment of Climb Iowa to provide a great workout and a rush of boyhood excitement.

Climb on!

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 5

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“You were afraid, remember, of the fire and wouldn’t climb the mountain. He said:….” Deuteronomy 5:5 (MSG)

When a music group becomes very popular they eventually repackage their most popular songs in a “Greatest Hits” CD. A popular movie will eventually be re-released again and again as a Directors Cut, an Anniversary Edition, or an Unrated version. What many people don’t realize about the book of Deuteronomy is that it’s basically an Anniversary Edition of what’s already been told in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Deuteronomy is a “second reading” or “retelling.” You’ll notice in today’s chapter that Moses says, “remember when you were afraid” and then recounts the events of Exodus and the ten commandments.

A few years ago I was meeting with some bloggers and happened to complain that I felt that I was running out of things to say on my professional blog.

“Then say them again,” one wise old blogger said to me matter-of-factly. “Do children hear their parents the first time, or do parents have to repeat themselves over and over before it sinks in?”

Sage advice. No matter how old we get, we are all still children. We need to hear the same truths over and over again, packaged in different ways and spoken by different voices. God knew that the ten commandments would not sink in on the first reading. Truth is not a one and done enterprise. We need to “remember.” We need to pick up the greatest hits version, then the bootleg series and then we’ll want to listen to the remastered copy.

God is not finished with me. I will never be finished with His Message. I will continue to be a wayfarer trekking through its Truths again and again and again until the journey’s end.

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Day 14: Something Digusting You Do

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Several people have asked me about the 30 day blogging challenge I’ve been doing. I found it here along with a bunch more at heckyeah blogging challenges on tumblr.

So, onto Day 14: Something disgusting you do.

I am sometimes given to picking my nose. (Sincere apologies to mom, Wendy, and my daughters)

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