From SEAMS TO ME
(c)2013 D. Dean Benton
WORDS IN YOUR MOUTH
“Be careful to obey to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
The words prosperous and successful are enchanting, seductive and capture attention. As I write these words, our son is in the Rocky Mountains taking pictures and interacting with some interesting characters. Two phrases from his Facebook posts stirred my imagination: “…while Two Feathers and I were panning for gold.” He didn’t say if they found the Mother Lode or even one gold nugget. He did say that he was striking camp and “going further in….”
Studying Joshua one has been panning for gold and a trek further into the mysteries of God’s plan, promises and invitation. A friend has just moved to Montana. As his family looks out their front door, they see beautiful mountains. He said he went climbing and the oxygen was thin or he was out of shape. I came away from this study slightly breathless for the climb “further in” has been invigorating and challenging.
Our study has been partially focused on teaching the young how to succeed in life—how to bring to their lives the essential competencies of Emotional Quotient. So, imagine one of your young friends—the one you are coaching or mentoring—and invite him or her to go further in. If you want to be prosperous and successful, this is route to the gold—pan here!
The instruction before us in this session is “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth.” What is the “Book of the Law”?
My assumption was that it referred to the Pentateuch. That is the entire writing of Moses which we have in the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. In my New International Version Bible, that is about 350 pages. It is doubtful that the hundreds of thousands of people walking with Moses had copies of the NIV or even Hebrew scrolls. How many of them knew how to read? So even if they had access to the Pentateuch would it have made any difference? My opinion is that the reference to the “Book of the Law” is about a smaller slice. I’m guessing the book of Deuteronomy. (32:44-47 & 31:23-26).
Deuteronomy is given to the Hebrews for a specific purpose:
“(Moses) you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess” (5:31). The Message Bible translates those words, “…so they’ll know how to live in the land that I’m giving them as their own.”
Deuteronomy pulls back the curtain to reveal God’s heart. It is a covenant revelation of God’s intention and devotion to these people and to Moses. He whispers to Moses the principles, practices and priorities that are to guide behavior, worship and business. Remember every word, never let it out of our mind, practice every detail—your success depends on all that.
Maybe the whole book of Deuteronomy is too large. Is this referring to a distilled statement or a principle? The Ten Commandments are reposted in chapter five. Is that what is not to “depart from their lips?” Chapter six contains the most precious words to the Hebrew faith. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one.” (6:4)
When Jesus was asked the most important command, he quoted Deuteronomy 6:5. In Matthew 22:37-40, He said all of the law and prophets hang on these:
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus adds, “And love your neighbor as yourself.”
Important stuff! I conclude that Deuteronomy was the “Mother Lode.” It was foundation for what should never depart. This is to be the framework of our worldview, our mindset, the default assumptions upon which we think and act and our reference point. With that rock in place, we will be predisposed to observe and “be careful to do everything written in it.”
What makes up the grid, screen, filter through which we see the land to which we are being called? I suggest some things from Deuteronomy.
DON’T TRIFLE WITH GOD’S PROMISES OR COMMANDMENTS
A friend introduced us to Matthew West’s song entitled “Hello, My Name Is.” (Sparrow 2013). The video graphic is a sticky backed name tag. We arrived home to find one of those name badges on our porch with the word “Treasured” written on the label. There was no signature, but the labels and the song have become her signature. There was a scripture reference:
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Dt 7:6).
The Gospel—Jesus’ message—can be imagined as a video of God walking into your room, slapping a name badge on your chest that says, “My Name is Treasured.” Don’t let that ever leave your self-image or your lips.
Read through Deuteronomy and listen to God speak of His treasuring. When Israel turns to idols made of wood or stone, God’s resulting anger is not petulance, it is an expression of hurt—rejection. Can you visualize God walking through the thin air of a high mountain to find a person—you—caught in addiction, underachievement or one activity this side of goal fulfillment? God peals the backing off the glue and slaps the badge on the person’s chest. “Hello, my name is Treasured.” If we can learn to hear and see all things through that scenario, life will take on a different direction.
Someone has said that Ownership of the promised land was promised by God. Occupation was the responsibility of His People. “Don’t be afraid…God Himself will fight for you” (3:22).
Joshua’s selection and commissioning is retold several times in Deuteronomy before we read it in Joshua one. Deuteronomy 3:21-28 is one of those places. That paragraph also tells about Moses pleading with God to allow him to enter Canaan. God responds, “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (vs 26).
That is tough! God will not wink at sin, the Bible says. Obedience is a must and the one thing God most wants from us is trust.
GOD’S TOUGH COMPASSION AND LOVE
Deuteronomy begins with rich grace and about chapter fifteen falls off the cliff into some grisly stuff. This loving God commands the Israelites to wipe out entire cities. How ugly this is can be seen in the words, “We killed all the people—men, women, children, but we kept the cattle as plunder.” (3:6-7) I can’t explain or even allow myself to think about why a cow is a keeper and kids are not. We are missing part of the story—the part that makes sense of this slaughter.
God’s treatment of Moses doesn’t compute for me. “The Lord was angry with me because of you…” (4:21). Numbers 20:1-13 tells the incident that placed Moses in conflict with God. Again, it feels like we haven’t been told the whole story. The Israelites are whining to Moses and accusing him and God. They had no water to drink which can make a person cranky. Whining and grumbling against Moses and God, however, had become a lifestyle. The Waters of Meribah is known as the locale where the arguing with God stepped over the line. Yahweh told Moses to speak to a rock and out would flow adequate water for people and cattle. Moses went to the rock and smacked it twice with his walking stick. Can you understand the frustration? Water gushed out. The people and their livestock drank. “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (20:12).
I have felt that God was excessive in His punishment. The punishment does not seem to me to match the crime. I want to plead Moses’ case and get him into Canaan. Honoring God as holy is apparently a big deal. It is that holiness that sets Yahweh apart from all other gods.
Don’t trifle with God’s instructions or trivialize His love, compassion, promises or blessings.
As I am writing, my thinking goes strangely to the parking lot behind the Bible College which I attended. I can remember playing catch with the building as a backstop. I vividly remember leaving the college building to sing at a church across town on a New Year’s Eve. The parking lot was icy and I slipped, fell flat on my back, hit my head. I recall lying there in the icy water wondering if I had just killed myself. I didn’t, so I went to sing in a wet black suit, now wondering if I smelled like a wet dog.
I don’t recall ever doing anything in that parking lot that would dishonor God that would keep me from fully entering God’s promises for me. Since the scene is so heavy, I wonder if I agreed with a lie about God’s love, compassion, promise or personal blessing. Since the image came unsolicited and is heavy, I do what seems to me to be the appropriate thing.
“Lord, if I offended you by thought or action while in that parking lot that removed me from your favor, I ask your forgiveness and ask You to speak specifically so I can confess specifically.”
What we speak either opens God’s storehouse or padlocks all the doors to His resources. Words matter—for “Out of the heart the mouth speaks.”
PROSPERITY AND SUCCESS
Success for Joshua meant defeating the enemies and inhabiting the cities. That was his assignment.
Do you ever wonder if Joshua got a day off? Was he ever off the clock? Where did he go to “get away”? Did he have a hobby? Did he like to fish? I don’t recall ever hearing about a wife or children. Did he have a life beyond his assignment? It is easy to see biblical characters as one-dimensional—get the job done—kind of people.
“Give it everything you have, heart and soul…” God tells Joshua. Moses got into serious trouble with God when he burned out. “Had it with these people!” Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, warned Moses that he was burning out and headed for catastrophe and gave him very good counsel how to change his work habits. Learning to delegate was a big deal for Moses as it is for all visionaries and organization founders. Giving up power and encouraging initiative is threatening to builders.
I don’t remember hearing any such conversations involving Joshua. Who spoke into his life after Moses died? Did Joshua have a life group—guys who got together at a pub or in someone’s vacation tent? All of this comes from a larger “wonder.” I wonder if the success and prosperity that God promises connect to his personal life, as well? But then, did he have a personal life? Was Joshua God’s treasure even on days when he was unproductive or wasn’t working eighteen hours a day conquering some city?
Brene Brown says the one thing that separates people who experience deep love and belonging and those who struggle with it is a belief in their worthiness. Dr. Brown says to really experience love and belonging a person has to believe they are worthy of belonging and to be loved. Do I deserve to belong? Do I deserve to be loved? Your answers?
That is huge! I have looked over my list of friends who are struggling. I can hear them saying they don’t feel worthy of belonging or succeeding.
Seth Godin is one of America’s most provocative writers about marketing. He warns marketers that people don’t believe what marketers tell them. People will often believe what their friends tell them about products. People always believe what they tell themselves.
Let me remind you that your worthiness was established at the Cross. The New Covenant established there carved “worthy” onto your permanent record. Being “In Christ” applies His worth to you. It is no longer about you, it is about Him and your position in Him.
I cannot convince you that Abba Father will stop you on the street and slap the name badge on you that says “Hello. My Name is Treasured.” If you were abandoned by your parents, or you felt they tossed you out of the nest; if you have experienced rejection through divorce or being dumped by someone you wanted to live the rest of life with; if you have lived your whole life being the last one chosen for the team, no one will be able to convince you of your “worthiness.” You are going to win that argument because you alone know how you’ve been explaining your unworthiness to yourself. And in your deepest soul, the evidence you are using is incontrovertible. You will think and act and feel in such ways to prove your case. If Seth Godin is right, and he is, you are the only one you will listen to about your worthiness.
It is not just about being invited to join your favorite card club. It is about success and prosperity. Worthiness is not arrogant entitlement. It is the acceptance of your worth as a gift from God. It is a given—since God has given me worth, I will do what needs to be done to build a productive life. The Holy Spirit will not over ride your voice. He will be persistent and make a case. What are your voices saying? Are you arguing with God?
As Moses lists the things His people cannot do, repeatedly the final and heaviest rationale for certain behavior is: “Among all the people on the face of the earth, God chose you to be his treasure.” A treasure acts in certain ways.
How do we get a feel for our worthiness? Dr. Brown says it comes when we own our story. I add we begin to access our worthiness when we let go of the lies we have agreed with.
If abandonment, betrayal, abuse, and/or wrong choices define a segment of your story, then chances are you will feel unworthy to succeed or prosper in healthy ways. Self-management is one of the EQ essential competencies. Since no one can convince you but you, you are responsible to manage this with a decision to listen to God’s case for your worthiness. And words are the key to success and prosperity.
“Do not let this Book of Law depart out of your mouth…” (vs. 7).
“Careful to do everything written in it” (1:8b).
Psychologist Al Andrews asked Jon Acuff, “What do your voices tell you?” I have friends who really do hear voices speaking to them. One of my friends, who is a delight to me, has a weather lady living in her head who blames her for bad forecasts and bad weather. Meds keep my friend from being crazy. Andrews was talking about self-talk—the voices we pack around rent-free as they make comments on every aspect of our lives. Weight, sex appeal, brilliance, lack of good sense and the amount of worthiness we possess.
Not everyone agrees with Dr. Andrews’ statement, “No one has a positive internal voice.” I don’t know about “No one” having a positive internal voice. I can tell you that not many have a native positive voice.
I have rehearsed the recent events in my family’s life. I have rehearsed the words we have said to each other and the words we’ve been saying to ourselves and the action those words have led to. Paralysis!
Those voices have names: doubt and fear.
Jon Acuff says those “voices are invisible bullies and they hate when you make them visibile.” He says they also hate community. “Never waste time trying to battle those voices alone.” Don’t go it alone.
You don’t need people to solve your issue; you need someone who will faithfully listen. Someone to “be present” for you. You will benefit from having a person or life group who will beat back the darkness by shining light on the voices of doubt and fear.
Be very careful about the words you use for they will lead some kind of action.
At this moment, it seems to me the most important questions that determine success, prosperity, happiness and self-fulfillment are:
- What are your voices saying to you?
- Do you consider yourself worthy?
We have the command—“…meditate on (this Book of the Law) day and night” (1:8b). The mind can mediate on one thing at a time. What you decide to ruminate will set loose life-determining behavior and spiritual entities. To meditate means to repeatedly mumble it to yourself. The grid, screen, default thought pattern, worldview will inevitably feed thoughts to you and filter what is allowed. So the translations tell us to “Read it, repeat it to yourself, speak it to yourself and to others.”
Some words I have heard today from people I’ve talked with:
- I’m stuck
- I don’t laugh anymore
- I have isolated myself
- I just got dumped
We are where we are because of the words we’ve been using or erroneous, self-destructive, self-limiting words that “never depart from our lips.” Again, the choice of words determine our success and prosperity. Choose well! Ask someone if you are hearing and speaking correctly.
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your house and on your gates…” (Deuteronomy 11:18-20).
A person living in that atmosphere would be confronted with God’s word at every turn. Everywhere. On every wall, between the mayonnaise and the turkey in the sandwich, underneath the bed and hanging in the air. Being stuck then is situational, not a permanent diagnosis or sentence.
Makes me long for that atmosphere, place, environment, culture, group. The researcher is right. “We are hard-wired for belonging and love and if we are not connected we break.”
Everyone I’ve read in recent days, every podcast I’ve listened to has instructed me to use action words. One of my mentors says we must find an adequate language to express our beliefs and dreams. One social scientist says we open the door to joy with the practiced act of vocalizing gratitude. “Never let these words depart from your mouth—meditate on this day and night.”
Self-management and self-regulation empower us to use words intentionally and deliberately in response and reaction.
- How to say it
- A place to say it
- Someone to say it to
- A purpose in saying it
You may want to spend some time with this Book of the Law and select what part of it has departed from your speech habits. What words in Deuteronomy melt in your mouth like Key Lime Pie? A “word” from God to you.
Hello! I see your name is TREASURED.