Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
When we visited mainland China a few weeks ago we had two young women as our guides. Wendy was our guide in Beijing; Luna was our guide in Canton. Both we in their late twenties and had grown up after the Cultural Revolution. Wendy had no religion and really didn’t understand any of the traditional religions of China or Christianity. She made sense of my being a pastor by thinking of western movies where there was somebody standing up in front of a bride and groom in a wedding service. I told her, that, yes, I did that sometimes. Luna had become a Buddhist joining a Mongolian temple in her hometown in the north of China . She said only about twenty per cent of Chinese have any religion, now. In Hong Kong and Macau we saw the traditional Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian ways of old China but that was pretty much gone in the mainland. Communist ideology had gone too and there was nothing to fill the void
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A week ago in the newspaper a Chinese Muslim student wrote in about her experience in a China without religion:
“Although a student at one of the most prestigious universities in China,
I was extremely ignorant about religion….
Brainwashed by a Marxist and communist education,
I regarded all religion as false world views,
as opium to which only the pessimistic people resorted as a spiritual consolation.
At the same time,
I also felt that the moral education in China was very problematic.
If everything was as Marxist ideologues claimed,
ultimately materialist then there was no solid basis for morality.
Why bother to be a moral and noble person
if there was only self-interest in this life and nothing more?”
Fatima Chen goes on,
“The moral slogans I was taught to believe at school
were often tools for people to cover up their selfish actions.
I felt disappointed by hypocrisy and emptiness.”
This student encountered Muslim students and became a Muslim. She concludes,
“My anxiety about the basis of morality was eased.
I gained courage to be an upright person in this unpredictable world
and my heart became calm and peaceful by remembering God.
Before I knew it I became a sincere follower of Islam.
I never regretted my choice.”
St Augustine said so long ago, that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. We are people searching for meaning and purpose in life, for a basis of morality and conduct, for some understanding of the larger picture. Post-modern philosopher tells us that all meta-narratives are suspect, that meaning is found only in what I want something to mean, that language and social standing determine our view of reality. We hear these things and our hearts are restless. We want to be good people, to find work to which we are committed, to have connection to family and friends. We want good, stable marriages and children who are happy and productive.
There is something rather interesting occurring now especially among younger people. People in their twenties and thirties are not looking for easy religion, the quick and shortened answer, but rather many are turning to churches that are rigorous in their demands, that are clear about what to believe and what to do. Many are turning to more orthodox forms of faith be it orthodox Judaism, Eastern Orthodoxy, more rigorous Catholicism or Protestant churches that give a clear message.
Nothing could be clearer about our responsibilities than Moses in our first lesson. The people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land and Moses gives instructions on what they should do. Moses could be speaking to us today when he says be faithful to God’s Word. The command in our text is to put God’s Word in heart and soul, bind them as frontlets and fix them on the hands, put it on the doorposts of the house. Orthodox Jewish believers put on phylacteries with the Shema Yisroel , the creed which proclaims the oneness of God: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one.” The same creed is put on the doorpost of the house in the Mezuzah, the Hebrew word for doorpost. More than just the visible reminders put on the body and the house is the reminder to make God’s Word part of the human heart and soul.
And then God gives the people a clear choice: “I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse.” In another translation this verse reads, “I am offering you a choice today, a blessing and a curse.” If the people obey the commandments of God, they will be blessed. If they disobey the commandments of God, they will be curse. It is as simple as that and also very difficult.
Now it is important for us as Christians to separate these words about blessing and curse from the notion of God’s salvation. The people of Israel are not saved by their obedience; they are saved from the angel of death and the armies of pharaoh because of God’s grace. We are saved not by our obedience but by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Obedience is the response to grace. Because God saved the people of Israel from slavery, therefore the people should follow God’s commandments. Because we have been saved form sin, death and the devil because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we should be obedient and follow God’s Word.
Our text also clearly tells us what we should do to be obedient to God’s Word and be blessed. We should teach God’s Word to our children. You see we can only be obedient to God’s Word if we know it.
As Protestant Christians we claim a heritage which freed the Bible for people to read it and learn it. The Scriptures were translated into languages the people could understand. Did you know that Martin Luther is credited as the founder of modern German? Why? Because the language of his Bible became the common language of the German people. It was much the same in England with Wycliffe and the translators of the King James Version. The common school was formed—another one of Luther’s great achievements—for the purpose of teaching children to read the Scriptures. Christian knowledge was imparted to children by parents and grandparents.
Moses tells the people to talk about God’s commands when they were are home or away, when they would lie down or rise. When the Muslim student at the University of Oregon said that Islam does not everyday life from faith, she could be speaking of true Christianity too. She said,
“Faith is manifested in every aspect of life,
from big things such as politics and economics
to smaller things such as eating, drinking and married life.”
Our faith should not be separated from our life. Our faith should inform our decisions. Certainly we should bring our faith into our homes, to teach our children the good news of Jesus, to help them to grow into the people God wants them to be. We should want our homes and families to be blessed. Moses put it “so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”
The blessing of long life and happy family, blessing from God, should be something we want for ourselves and our loved ones and the promise could not be clearer on how to receive the blessing of God—make God the center of your life, and your children’s life. Don’t rely on the Sunday school to impart knowledge of God, read your children Bible stories at home, help them memorize Bible verses. My wife used to quiz our daughters during the work about their catechism memory work for confirmation. Say family prayers and meal prayers. Help your children to grow in their faith and grow in your own faith by reading the Bible and prayer and fellowship with other Christians.
This week I was visiting with one of you. You told me about Lyle Jacobson , and what a great and wonderful man he was. But what you wanted to tell me was what a difference he made to your son when he taught him the Bethel Bible Series, how the margins of his Bible were covered with notes—and how this played a great role in his faith and commitment even today.
There is a choice given us. The wrong choice is to follow after other gods, strange gods. There are so many other paths for people to take these days—the way of false religion or no religion, the way that pretends every path leads to the same destination but the way of Baal is not the way of the Lord. Not every teaching is true, not every belief is good. Follow God’s way to life and long-life, blessing for yourself and your children. Put God’s Word in your mind and heart and follow God’s Word to blessing. Amen.
—Copyright 2005, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.