ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker said, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared.” It is courage in the face of fear that allows us to exhibit the same reckless ...

 

Reckless Abandon

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker said, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” It is courage in the face of fear that allows us to exhibit the same reckless abandon of our Bible heroes. Of course, God has given us a rational brain that we ought to use—a lot; he provides us with godly people to offer wise counsel; he has gifted us with discernment to skillfully navigate daily living. Yet there are times where God allows circumstances that are not calling for more prayer or counsel or analysis—more of those would frankly be spiritual stalling tactics. No, there comes a time when big, hairy, audacious steps of faith are the order of the moment. And it is those times when reckless abandon and ruthless trust are the ingredients necessary for spiritual victory.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 10:9-12

Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”

Joab was one of the bad boys of the Bible. There were a few others like him. In the New Testament, Peter was cut of the same cloth. They often spoke before they thought, acted before they considered the consequence, and had to have people bail them out of the messes they created from time to time.

But at the same time, like a broken clock that is right twice a day, these guys displayed reckless abandon in their faith in Almighty God. Peter was the only disciple, and human being as far as I know, to get out of the boat and walk on water, at least for a few steps, to meet Jesus. A contemporary of Joab, King Saul’s son Jonathan, not a bad boy of the Bible but certainly a man of reckless faith, said to his armor bearer, “hey, let’s go up to the garrison and take on these dirty Philistines. Who knows, maybe God might even help us.” And then there’s General Joab, a relative of King Dyavid and a guy that even David had to distance himself from on a few occasions, who said to his brother, Abishai, “man up and let’s take on these Arameans and their Ammonite sidekicks. Let’s fight for God and Israel and leave the outcome up to the Good Lord.”

You’ve got to love that kind of reckless abandon! Of course, God has given us a rational brain that we ought to use a lot, and he provides us with the counsel of wise people to help us figure out the best way to do life well, and he has gifted us with discernment that we ought to skillfully apply in analyzing circumstances to see when things are to our advantage. Yet there will be times in the journey of faith where the Lord allows us to be in circumstances that are not calling for more prayer or counsel or analysis—more of those were be nothing more than spiritual stalling tactics. No, there comes a time when big, hairy, audacious steps of faith are the order of the moment. And it is those times when reckless abandon and ruthless trust are the ingredients necessary for spiritual victory.

It is in those moments where testimonies for the ages are born. Again, those moments don’t occur every day; they are more likely to come just every so often in a lifetime. But when they come, we must be ready to seize the day and step out. And nothing prepares you for those unique moments like living the rest of the time with the strong theological commitment that “the Lord will do what is good in his sight,” always.

The famous World War I pilot, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker said, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” It is precisely that kind of courage in the face of fear that allows us to exhibit the kind of reckless abandon that Jonathan, Peter and Joab became famous for.

Maybe you will have that opportunity today. Maybe I will. Or maybe we both will. Who knows, but let’s be ready. And in the meantime, today is the dress rehearsal for the moment that may come when God allows us to be in one of those defining moments. So what do we do in rehearsing for that moment? We stand on our theological commitment that “the Lord will do what is good in his sight,” always.

I think what G.K Chesterton said about courage applies to this business of reckless abandon: “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of a readiness to die.” God help us to live that way today, ready to die for the Lord’s cause, if that is good in his sight!

Going Deeper With God: I invite you to join me in this prayer today: Lord, help me to cast off my natural reserve for a little Joab-like raw readiness today. Enable me to see those opportunities where faith is calling me to step out into the rare air of ruthless trust. Pour some Holy Spirit boldness into this ready heart that I might abandon myself recklessly for you.

Faith takes God without any “if’s.”

—D.L. MOODY

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The Object of God’s Kindness

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Apart from grace, we are refugees. That is our identity. But out of his covenantal kindness and faithfulness and love, we are brought into God’s family, assigned a permanent and rightful place at his table, given a new identity and destiny, and showered with grace, not due to our own merit, but for the sake of Jesus—hallelujah! We are the object of God’s undeserved kindness.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 9:1

King David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

David was looking for an object of kindness because of his incredible love for Jonathan. Jonathan was his best friend in life, and his love for this treasured friend was not even diminished by death. Now David found a way to continue his love by showing kindness to Jonathan’s surviving son, Mephibosheth, who was now a young man living in obscurity in a far away place. Mephibosheth had been permanently disabled when he was dropped as a child by his nurse as King Saul’s household fled in panic at news of the king’s defeat. (2 Samuel 4:4)

The Hebrew word for “kindness” in this verse is very interesting—its “chesed”. It is a complex word that is narrowly translated as “love”. It describes a love that is more than just an idea or a feeling or the spontaneous emotion of the moment. Rather, it refers to a sustained action.

You might say that “chesed” is kindness with hands and feet. It is undeserved, unconditional, un-repayable, unrelenting kindness that is offered without regard to shifting circumstance, personal convenience or one’s emotional state du jour. Actually, “chesed” is God’s love—the way God loves you and me.

We see this kind of Old Testament “chesed” in action in Titus 3:3-7 and as the New Testament marriage of God’s kindness and love for us: “At one time, we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another…”

That is, we were like “Mephibosheth, who at the time David found him, was living in bitterness and fear in Lo-Debar”. Literally, Lo-Debar means “the barren place”. And as the only living heir to Saul’s dynasty, Mephibosheth’s whereabouts was kept secret, for obvious reasons now that David was the new king. He grew up as a refugee in this barren place with his kingly identity suppressed, his royal privileges denied, with no hope for the future except obscurity, poverty and, if he’s ever discovered, execution. And to make an already bad situation worse, his physical handicap was a painful, frustrating, and constant reminder of the life he’d lost and that would be his forever.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior…”

Sound familiar? “Is there anyone from Saul’s house I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

“So that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs, having the hope of eternal life.”

Notice the similarity to something repeated four times in 2 Samuel 9:7, 10, 11, and 13: “Mephibosheth will always eat at my table.”

You will also note that Mephiboseth’s name is repeated seven times. Why the repetition? David is going out of his way to show that Mephibosheth has a permanent place in the king’s family—that is now his new destiny—royalty restored! David is also going out of his way to show that Mephibosheth’s name is no longer an object of loathing, but an object of loving. Mephibsoheth, which was likely a nickname, means “seething dishonor”. (1 Chronicles 9:40) But the king whispers his name, and a hopeless refugee is now a redeemed child—that’s his new identity.

Now if that is not a picture of our reconciliation to God through Christ I don’t know what is! Think about it! We are Mephibosheth in this story: We too, suffered a fall that left us crippled! We have a permanent sin-limp to prove it. We too, were estranged from God—distant in Lo-Debar, the barren place—a place of emptiness and dissatisfaction. We too, lived under the fear of judgment.

That was our identity—refugees apart from grace. But out of his covenantal kindness and faithfulness and love, we were brought into God’s family, given a place at his table, given a new identity and destiny, and showered with grace, not due to our own merit, but for the sake of Jesus—Hallelujah!

We are the object of his undeserved kindness.

Going Deeper With God: Go back and re-read this obscure chapter. Change the names to read yourself and Jesus into the story. David was a type of Christ and you are Mephibosheth. And take a moment to rejoice, since it is you who is the recipients of God’s unconditional, unrelenting, un-repayable love. The good news is, God really does prefer you as the object of his kindness.

The lovingkindness of the Lord is an essential part of Himself; His severity is accidental. One belongs to Himself, the other to external circumstances.

—TERTULLIAN

  

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The Right Stuff

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Influence—there is nothing better. Not for ourselves, but the divine enablement to make God famous in our world is the best blessing that we could ever hope for. Better than earthly fame or personal power or luxurious living—all of which are short-lived at best—is the influence that will be ours long after we are gone from this world and will follow us into the next. That kind of eternal influence only comes through a life dedicated to the glory of God alone.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 8:15

So David reigned over all Israel and did what was just and right for all his people.

If you are a David fan, as I am, this is a great chapter. Things are golden for David in this season. Literally, the unified kingdom under David begins what historians call the Golden Age of Israel—a time of economic prosperity, cultural advancement and military dominance that would last throughout David’s reign and clear to the end of Solomon’s. Times were good in Israel because in their king, they had a leader with the right stuff.

It wasn’t always that way for David; he has had more than his fair share of tough chapters. Most of the chapters in 1 Samuel that include David in the narrative paint a picture of a very difficult road from his anointing as Israel’s next king to his ascension to the throne of a nation solidly united behind his leadership. Life was not easy for David, and his path to the throne was a grind beyond anything we can imagine.

In 2 Samuel 8, however, David has arrived; he is in the sweet spot of God’s favor. Battle after battle is won, enemies are subjugated and the way to peace and prosperity for the nation has been paved. Though not perfect, which we will soon see in subsequent chapters, and while he maintained more that a few detractors (just read some of his complaints about them in the Psalms), David now has a clear path to become Israel’s greatest and most influential king ever.

What was the secret sauce to David’s great run as a leader? Well, obviously we cannot discount God’s sovereignty in the matter. Uncommon favor was upon him because the Lord had found in him a man after his own heart. The Almighty uniquely loved and took delight in David, and as a result, blessings that are not explainable for any other reason are lavished upon the new king. In fact, twice in this chapter we are told that God was the reason for David’s gains:

So the Lord made David victorious wherever he went.” (2 Samuel 8:6)

So David became even more famous when he returned from destroying 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He placed army garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became David’s subjects. In fact, the LORD made David victorious wherever he went. (2 Samuel 8:13-14)

When the Lord is shouldering the load, success is sure to follow. Yet it wasn’t just God; it rarely is “just” the Lord. David’s had a part to play, too. And what David did to enhance what the Lord had already done for him and through him is critical to the success equation. In this chapter, we are given two specific attributes that contributed to the phenomenal reign of David:

First, David focused all of his victories back onto the Lord. David wasn’t pursing power, fame and fortune for himself, he was heaven-bent on making God look good. 2 Samuel 8:10-12 says,

Joram, the prince of Hamath, presented King David with many gifts of silver, gold, and bronze. David dedicated all these gifts to the Lord, as he did with the silver and gold from the other nations he had defeated—from Edom, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, and Amalek—and from Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah.

David didn’t personally profit from these gifts, although he could have. Rather, he made sure the Lord’s house was the beneficiary. David was concerned that people recognize that his many victories were all about God. And the more he did that, the more the Lord turned fame, power and fortune back to David.

Second, David leveraged all of his victories to benefit the people he served. The David narrative is very clear that he very wisely, skillfully and organically put his people ahead of his own interests. He was the consummate shepherd over God’s people. David knew Israel belonged to the Lord, not to himself, and for that reason, he was indefatigable in serving them.

David ruled over all of Israel and made sure that his people were always treated fairly and justly. (2 Samuel 8:15)

The Lord chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” (Psalm 78:70-72)

With his head, his heart and his hands, David was both an authentic servant of the Lord and a true public servant. What wouldn’t you give to be led by a man or woman like that? Unfortunately, that kind of leader is rare. So I would suggest that when you find one—whether in your home, at work, in your church, or a political leader, celebrate them, encourage them, follow them and pray that God will increase their tribe.

Going Deeper With God: Does David remind you of a good and godly leader in your life—a true servant of the Lord who is also a servant of the people? If you are thinking of someone who fits that description, take some time today to lift them up to God in your prayers. And if you can, heap them with appropriate praise.

God ultimately raises up leaders for one primary reason: His glory. He shows His power in our weakness. He demonstrates His wisdom in our folly. We are all like a turtle on a fence post. If you walk by a fence post and see a turtle on top of it, then you know someone came by and put it there. In the same way, God gives leadership according to His good pleasure.

—MATT CHANDLER

  

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The Best of God’s Blessings

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Influence—there is nothing better. Not for ourselves, but the divine enablement to make God famous in our world is the best blessing that we could ever hope for. Better than earthly fame or personal power or luxurious living—all of which are short-lived at best—is the influence that will be ours long after we are gone from this world and will follow us into the next. That kind of eternal influence comes only through a life dedicated to the glory of God alone.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 7:11-14

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son.

Some time after David had settled in as king of Israel, he began to reflect on the immense blessings God had poured out upon him. God had given him victory over his enemies, he had established Jerusalem as the capital of the nation, times were good and David was now living in a lovely home—a palace of cedar. David remembered from whence he had come—he had been an unknown shepherd boy tending sheep on the backside of the Judean countryside as his warrior brothers served with significance in Saul’s army.

Then things turned for David. Due to no fault of his own, he lost favor with King Saul and became a fugitive on the lam for a decade or so. He lived in caves and in foreign lands. There were times that it looked like David was a goner—he was a man who had lost everything and had no prospects for a better tomorrow. Yet God was with him each step of the way, and David learned that even in the dark times, God was preparing him for a brighter future.

That future was now; David was the king of Israel—the dominant nation in the Middle East. And as David thought it over, he came to a very wise conclusion: God alone was the sole source of this many blessings; none of them were due to his own worthiness. The wealth, power and luxury were solely gifts of grace. As he pondered the goodness of God, David was grateful, and in his gratitude, he desired to now do something for God: he would build the most splendid temple imaginable, a house for God befitting the glory of the Great King.

God said no. For certain reasons, that was not God’s path for David. David’s son would get that honor; the father could help prepare his son for temple building, but it was not to be his assignment. However, God did declare that other divine blessings would come to David—some of them temporal blessings that would adorn his earthly reign as king, but one in particular that would last way longer and be far greater than even the blessing of having his name attached as the architect and builder of the temple that would house the presence of the Lord God: David would get eternal influence.

You see, while David wanted to give God a house, God would give David a house—a dynasty of kings. Going forward, God would establish David’s lineage as kings of Israel forever. And one of those sons would actually be the greatest and final king, a ruler in perpetuity, not just over Israel, but over all creation. Jesus, the Son of David, would be the King of kings and Lord of lords forever and ever.

Influence—there is nothing better. Not for ourselves, but the divine enablement to make God famous in our world is the best blessing that we could ever hope for. Better than earthly fame or personal power or luxurious living—all of which are short-lived at best—is the influence that will be ours long after we are gone from this world and will follow us into the next. That kind of eternal influence comes only through a life dedicated to the glory of God alone.

Unlike David, we are not earthly kings, but we are part of a royal family, the family of God. And like David, God desires to give us something far better and longer lasting than temporal blessings. He may very well give us those too, but he desires to bless us with influence. It doesn’t matter how big the opportunity is from our human perspective; from God’s perspective, whatever he gives is huge, since he will mold the outcome for his glorious purposes. David thought the temple would be the biggest impact he could have—and from a humanistic viewpoint, he was right—but God gave David a temple not made by human hands. God gave David something far bigger and longer lasting than an impressive temple that lasted several centuries; he gave him eternal influence.

When you dream and pray for things from God, ask for what God wants you to have. Ask for your needs—for sure. Go ahead and ask for your wants—that is okay, too. But mostly, ask for the influence he wants to give you to make his name famous. That is what will be celebrated long after you are gone and all the way through eternity.

Going Deeper With God: What do you desire from God? Whatever it is, add “making Jesus famous” to the top of your list.

It is not great men who change the world, but weak men in the hands of a great God.

—BROTHER YUN

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A Tale of Three Worshipers

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Whenever we exchange recognition of God’s holiness, surrender to his will and the sheer delight of his presence for a more controlled, convenient and cool experience of worship, we risk the loss of the kind of passionate praise that truly pleases him. Surrender and wonder are the heart of authentic worship, so offer that to your magnificent God the next time you’re in a worship experience—then offer it again the next time, and the time after that, too.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 6:5-8, 14-16

David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah… [Sometime later, when the Ark was finally brought to Jerusalem] David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.

If you were to outline this unusual text, it neatly falls into a three-act play on passionate worship based on the three main characters of the story.

  • Act One, Uzzah Died. 2 Samuel 6:6 says, “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.”
  • Act Two, David Danced. 2 Samuel 6:14: “David danced before the Lord with all his might.”
  • Act Three, Michal Despised. 2 Samuel 6:16, “When Michal saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.”

For sake of time and space, let’s focus on the least known of these characters, Uzzah. As you read this story, if you are like me, the question you have is, why did God kill this seemingly well-intentioned man for his momentary mistake?  Here is what we need to consider:

It is always fatal to take charge of God. Uzzah was a priest, consecrated to oversee the care of the Ark, which he’d done for thirty years. You could say, he had hung out with the holy for three decades. That meant he was very much aware of the law of God and the Levitical regulations about moving the Ark.

So Uzzah’s reflexive act wasn’t a mistake of the moment, it was a lifelong obsession with managing the Ark. During those thirty years, it is highly likely he began to cut corners in his worship and to be selective in his obedience to God. Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, he learned to control the presence of God. So to him, the cart was a more efficient way to worship. Eugene Peterson, who wrote a brilliant book on David called, Leap Over A Wall, says of this incident,

A well-designed ox-cart is undeniably more efficient for moving the Ark about than plodding Levites. But it’s also impersonal—the replacement of consecrated persons by an efficient machine… Uzzah is the patron saint of those who uncritically embrace technology without regard to the nature of God.

Do you think we tend to do that in our day, that we tend to manage God into more convenient and cool forms of worship? Do we ever approach worship in terms of what’s preferable to us or trendy to our culture rather than what is pleasing to God? Whenever we move from obedience to God and recognition of his holiness to a more controlled, convenient and cool worship, we risk the loss of the kind of passionate praise that pleases him. As Peterson writes,

Uzzah should forever be posted around the church as a warning sign: Danger! Beware of the God

There is certainly a danger in our day of getting too casual and too convenient in our worship and forgetting that God is still holy. We need to remember: God will not be controlled. When we fall into a pattern of control, deliberately or not, sooner or later, like Uzzah, we will become spiritually dead in our worship. Now since we were created to worship God, this is a grave danger.

Thomas Carlyle rightly stated, “Wonder is the basis of worship.” Let Uzzah be a perpetual watchman who cries out from the walls of our church, “Don’t ever lose your wonder of God!”

Going Deeper With God: Next time you are in a worship service, make it about God, not you. Then try that again the next time, and the time after that, too.

Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause, but which we call Our Father Which Are in Heaven.

—A.W. TOZER

  

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