ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude. Faith never plays it safe, never settles for the comfort zone, and never lacks risks. Following God means letting go of what you know and what you see for the risky adventure of pursuing what only God knows and sees. ...

 

Way Out In Front Of You

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Faith never plays it safe, never settles for the comfort zone, and never lacks risks. Following God means letting go of what you know and what you see for the risky adventure of pursuing what only God knows and sees. God said to Abraham, the father of our faith, “leave your land and go to one I will show you.” That wasn’t the last time God said that to a person of faith. If God said it to the father, he says it to the children—he is saying it to you: Go! And remember that where you go, God is already there.

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 31:6

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.

Not only does God have your back, he’s got your front! In fact, he is way ahead of you. If you are his child, wherever he is leading you, literally, he is leading you. That means he is out ahead of you, which is what “leading” means. What that also means is that God already is where he is calling you to go.

Now I don’t know about you, but that gives me great comfort in my own journey of faith. And I need that because letting go of what I know and what I see for the risky adventure of pursuing what only God knows and sees requires courage, in large doses.

To be sure, faith is an investment of trust! God said to Abraham, the father of our faith, “leave your land and go to one I will show you.” That wasn’t the last time God said that to a person of faith. If God said it to the father, he says it to the children, and since you are a spiritual child of Abraham, God is probably saying that to you right now. So if you are going to obey God’s call to steps of faith, you will have to risk your trust.

Moses had led the Israelites to the edge of their Promised Land. He had proven himself formidable, fearless and skillful as their leader. They had come to rely on him as the voice and arm of God. But he could go no further; they would have to go on without him. And while God had graciously selected Moses’ associate, Joshua, to now lead them into battle ahead, the people were nervous. This was a new thing; Joshua was not proven as a leader to the same degree as Moses. That is why God reminded them that no matter who their human leader would be, it was God himself who would be way out in front of them.

Now think of what that implies for your steps of faith. When you are a God-follower, you are led only to where God already is. You cannot take a step that God has not already secured. Sure, you may not see where you are stepping with your natural eyes, but faith calls you to see what God has promised as firm reality. And firm reality means that where God already resides is the guarantee of your victory. That is precisely why God exhorts you to be bold and courageous.

From the human view of things, steps of faith are risky, uncomfortable and stretching. No doubt about that! You well know that if you are processing a faith decision right now. And if you are, as you are processing what faith requires of you, let me encourage you to listen to those that have already gone before you on a journey of faith—Moses, Joshua, the Israelites and everybody else in the Great Cloud of Witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1) They will say that while you may think you are going where no man has gone, the reality is God is already there. They would know—they went there, too. And they will assure you that wherever you go in response to faith is where God already is, and as you go to where God already is, you cannot lose.

God is way out in front of you; he has personally gone ahead of you. Therefore be strong and courageous!

Going Deeper With God: Where is God calling you to greater steps of faith? Perhaps he is prompting you to witness to a co-worker. It could be that he is speaking to you about giving of your finances. Maybe he is asking you to serve in a ministry. Possibly he is even calling you to make a major life change in order to follow him. Wherever he is calling you, he is leading you. And wherever he leads you he is already there with your victory in his hand. So be courageous and go for it.

Faith is spiritualized imagination.

—HENRY WARD BEECHER

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Behold the Kindness and Severity of God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Those who think of the Old Testament God as an angry, punishing deity are wrong. There is not one God of justice in the Old and another God of grace in the New; there is only a God who loves his children beyond description, patiently endures their rebellion, punishes the sin when they persist, but looks for ways to restore them to his favor as soon as he can. As the Apostle Paul exclaims, “Behold the kindness and severity of God.”

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 30:1-4

In the future, when you experience all these blessings and curses I have listed for you, and when you are living among the nations to which the Lord your God has exiled you, take to heart all these instructions. If at that time you and your children return to the Lord your God, and if you obey with all your heart and all your soul all the commands I have given you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes. He will have mercy on you and gather you back from all the nations where he has scattered you. Even though you are banished to the ends of the earth, the Lord your God will gather you from there and bring you back again.

I would argue that one of the disservices to the reader of our modern Bible translations is the addition of chapter and verse numbers. Of course, these were added to help us find our way around God’s Word. It would be quite difficult to find Psalm 119:64 when your pastor asks you to turn there during the sermon without a point of reference. So yes, chapter and verse numbers are helpful. I am not voting to get rid of them.

However, they were not there when these letters and books were originally penned. To that point, Moses didn’t divide Deuteronomy into sections: there were no chapters 28, 29 and 30; the blessings and the curses and the restoration from the curses were not seen as separate. It was one seamless sermon. That is critical to understanding God’s loving heart when he is warning the Israelites of the very bad things that will happen to them when they backslide into spiritual rebellion. If all you read about is the dark side of God’s punishment, you will fail to see the loving heart in which it is rooted.

The Apostle Paul’s word in Romans 11:22 perfectly describes the blessings/curses section of Deuteronomy: “Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.” The kindness and severity of God—that is it. God is both loving and just. He would not be one if he were not the other. If he is not just, then he is not loving. If he is not loving, then he cannot be just.

Furthermore, you cannot truly grasp the severity of God’s justice if you do not understand the longing of his heart to redeem the punished from their punishment. Again, take note of Moses’ seamless proclamation of the blessings and curses—and the restoration of the Israelites when they have been exiled for their persistent rebellion. Even in their punishment, God looks for repentant hearts so he can restore them to the promised blessing:

If at that time you and your children return to the Lord your God, and if you obey with all your heart and all your soul all the commands I have given you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes…. The Lord your God will change your heart and the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!” (Deuteronomy 30:2-3,6)

Those who think of the Old Testament God as an angry, punishing deity are wrong. There is not one God of justice in the Old and another God of grace in the New; there is only a God who loves his children beyond description, patiently endures their rebellion, punishes their sin when they persist, but looks for ways to restore them to his favor as soon as he can. In an example that falls far short, God is like a loving parent who warns his children about their misbehavior, sends them to time out when they cross the line, but does not leave them there forever. In fact, that parent counts down the time when pardon is possible.

That is the Lord our God—the One who longs to forgive and restore. That is why the prophet Joel offered this plea:

“Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead,” says the Lord. Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Who knows? Perhaps he will give you a reprieve, sending you a blessing instead of this curse.

An angry God—not in the least!

Going Deeper With God: Is God warning you about your sin? Repent, for he longs to keep you in his favor. Is he punishing you for rebellion in your life? Turn to him, for he longs to restore you to the blessings. Do you see him as an angry, vindictive Deity? Let go of that picture once and for all, for he is a loving and compassionate Father who loves you with an everlasting love.

The offer of Jesus Christ as the atonement for sin means that both the justice and the love of God have been maintained.

—MILLARD ERICKSON

  

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A Need To Know Basis

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

While we want to know everything that God knows—on its face, a ridiculous desire—he keeps certain things to himself! Like a good parent with a small child, he gives us bits and pieces of information at a time, as we are able to absorb and obey it. We couldn’t handle a divine data dump of everything God knows; it would overload us and even damage our development. Rather, he gives us what we need and simply asks us to obey it. And with what we don’t know, he asks us to trust.

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 29:29

The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions.

I think you would agree, whether you are a parent, grandparent or a teacher, that a child’s ability to grasp information is connected to his or her level of emotional and intellectual development. When we teach our little ones, we give them bits and pieces at a time, but not the whole wagonload of knowledge. They couldn’t handle it if we did; we would overload them and even damage their development. We simply teach them at their current level, helping them to understand and obey what they know.

So it is with God. And while we want to know everything within his domain of knowledge—which we know, on its face, is a ridiculous desire—he keeps certain things to himself. We may have a spiritual tantrum, stomp our feet and demands answers, but he doesn’t give into our “why God” whining. Sure, as we mature, he reveals deeper truths to us, but like a good parent, there are things we are not yet ready to handle. And in those cases, he simply wants us to trust and obey.

It will always be that way in our walk with God. I suspect it will even be that way in eternity. While we will have unlimited capacity to grasp the deep things of God in the eternal future, we still won’t know everything within his domain—that would make us God. We will, however, be on an ever-increasing journey of grasping the revelation of God throughout the endless age, for there is no limit to the mind of God. How exciting! Those who think of heaven as sitting on a cloud and strumming a harp for eternity are in for a big surprise; they will instead find a boundless adventure of growing, learning, discovering, achieving and reigning over God’s ever-expanding creation.

But for the time being, God has revealed certain things to us. He has given us what we need to know. Of course, we have to unpack it—know it, develop it into wisdom through the disciplines of the faith, and apply it practically in our everyday lives through obedience. We have to prove ourselves faithful with the information we have. Yet there remain secret things that he has not yet revealed. With those, we simply need to trust. With some of the thing of God, we are on a need to know basis.

It is likely that when Moses spoke to Israel of God’s secrets, he was referring to their future. And by that he was simply telling them not to get caught up in what might or might not happen in the future—a year, or ten or a lifetime later; that was an outcome known only to God. Their responsibility was simply to be accountable for the conditions of the covenant today. They were to trust and obey God today; God would take care of their tomorrow.

The next time you wrestle with the unknown, and perhaps are frustrated that God has not given you an adequate explanation, remember Deuteronomy 29:29. The truth is, whether you like it or not, the secret things belong to the Lord your God, but the things he has revealed to you are adequate for today. Obey them and trust God with what you don’t know and can’t see.

You are on a need to know basis with God. And while there are some things you may never know, what you do know is that he has a flawless track record of accomplishing his good, perfect and pleasing will in the lives of his people.

Going Deeper With God: Memorize Deuteronomy 29:29. It might seem like a strange verse to commit to memory, but believe me, it will come back to you at just the right moment, probably when you are frustrated with not knowing everything God knows.

It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

—MARK TWAIN

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When Much Is Given, Much Is Required

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

As redeemed followers of Jesus, we have been given much: salvation at no cost to us, paid in full through Christ’s sacrificial, substitutionary death. We have received much; much will be required. And what is required is nothing less than to continually and eternally serve him with joy and enthusiasm!

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 28:7-48

If you do not serve the Lord your God with joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits you have received, you will serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you.

Nowhere in the Bible is the blessing of God contrasted with the cursing of God as clearly as in Deuteronomy 28. On the one hand, when the people whom God chose to be his very own hold up their end of the covenant, the blessings he promises to pour out upon them would make the so-called prosperity gospel of modern American Christianity look tame by comparison. God is clear that obedience to all of his commands will lead to, among other things,

  • Dominion: “Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world.” (Deuteronomy 28:1)
  • Success: “Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be blessed.” (Deuteronomy 28:6)
  • Wealth: “The Lord will guarantee a blessing on everything you do and will fill your storehouses with grain.” (Deuteronomy 28:8)
  • Divine Favoritism: “Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you…. the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always be on top and never at the bottom.” (Deuteronomy 28:10,13)

And while is it not specifically enumerated as one of the blessings of obedience in this chapter, physical health is clearly one of the benefits as well. As Moses spells out the awful curses that will result from wanton disregard of God’s commands, the removal of health and the affliction of disease will be one of the first consequences Israel experiences.

Then after describing these incredible blessings of obedience, Moses gives a long graphic warning of what will happen if Israel violates their covenantal commitment. The list is extensive, hard to hear, dark and depressing—intentionally so. God anticipates that over time, his people will drift from full devotion to him and began to chase after false gods, so he wants to be very clear that nothing less than cruel suffering will be the consequence of their backsliding. Indeed, the very things Moses enumerates in this chapter literally occurred at different points in Israel’s future history during extended seasons of spiritual rebellion. I won’t take the time to list them here, so you will have to read them for yourself. But fair warning: they are awful.

So why would God threaten his people with such immense and unspeakable suffering? Well, I would ask a similar question: Why would God promise his people such immense and indescribable blessing? The answer to both questions lies, in part, to God’s sovereign call upon Israel. Both the unspeakable curses and the indescribable blessings can only be explained in the context of his rights of ownership over Israel. Due to no worthiness of their own, God chose them to be his own people from all the nations of the earth. Israel belonged to him as no other people did. He had poured out his unrestrained favor upon them, and he now called them to serve him with “joy and enthusiasm for the abundant benefits.” It was only right that Israel would remain fully devoted to the Lord their God. If they did, ever-increasing blessings of abundance awaited; if they didn’t, ceaseless curses would be unleashed.

Jesus described a similar contrast of blessings and curses in Luke 12:47-48 in an eschatological illustration known as the Parable of the Banquet:

The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Perhaps this, more than anything, describes the incredible joys of obedience and the unspeakable cruelty of disobedience: to whom much has been given, much will be demanded. You and I, as redeemed followers of Jesus, have been given much: salvation at no cost to us, paid in full through his sacrificial, substitutionary death. We have received his abundant benefits—how could we not continually and eternally serve him with joy and enthusiasm?

Going Deeper With God: Assess the joy and enthusiasm level of your service to God. If it is lagging, take some time to review the abundant benefits of the free grace you have received. That should do the trick.

Concentrate on counting your blessings and you’ll have little time to count anything else.

—WOODROW KROLL

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Burdensome Rules or Relational Blessings

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

You don’t huff and roll your eyes whenever you see a traffic sign that reminds you, “Danger Ahead: Reduce Speed.” No, you subconsciously say, “It’s there for safety—mine and others.” So why get bent out of shape when God’s law is preached and you are warned of wrong behavior and called to right living? God’s law is God’s covenant of love, and there are blessings for obeying it and consequences for not. The Bible is not a burdensome rulebook, it is an amazing relational covenant that will lead a life of abundance with God and with others.

Going Deep // Focus: Deuteronomy 27:1,8,10

Then Moses and the leaders of Israel gave this charge to the people: “Obey all these commands that I am giving you today…. You must clearly write all these instructions on the stones coated with plaster…. So you must obey the Lord your God by keeping all these commands and decrees that I am giving you today.

Deuteronomy is the Greek word for second law. Actually, it was the first law given a second time. As Moses nears the end of his administration over Israel and the people of Israel now stand at the edge of the Promised Land, ready to go in and take possession of it, one final time their leader reminds them of the covenantal relationship God has called them into. What might appear to us as yet another endless lists of rules to obey is actually a powerful reminder to them of the blessings and curses associated with this covenant.

In our world, we tend to associate law with legalism, and we don’t like it. We don’t want to be reminded of the rules. We would much prefer to talk about grace, which in reality, is often code for don’t hold me accountable for my attitudes and actions; I want the freedom to be my own master. We can insist on that until we are blue in the face, but God is not swayed. He is still a covenantal God. And he still expects us to abide by the rules of the covenant.

Now of course, keeping rules does not save us. Let’s be clear about that one more time. We are saved by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not by works of law keeping, period. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, and that is what saves our bacon. Yet our salvation evidences itself in how we behave. We may not have to keep the rules, but we honor the rules because we are saved—rules that demonstrate our love for God and our love for one another.

Let me offer an earthy illustration. I entered into a human covenant with my wife the day we spoke our wedding vows to one another. It was an act dominated by love, not rule-keeping. Yet we both promised to each other to keep certain rules: faithfulness to one another exclusively, cherishing each other unconditionally, loving and respecting the other through thick and thin, ‘til death do us part. We joyfully embraced those rules, not as burdensome, but as continual reminders of our covenantal love. After years of marriage, we do not verbally repeat the rulebook to each other, but we do live the rules out in our attitudes, words and actions. And if ever we sense dissonance in our covenantal commitment, you bet we talk specifics. It is what love does. No, our marriage vows are not burdensome rules. They are a cherished and necessary part of our relational covenant.

It is in the context of relationships that God called Israel into covenant. It is a covenant that spells out how God will treat them and how they will treat God and how they will treat each other—not as separate subsections of the contract, but as a seamless way of living. The covenant makes it plain that commitment will be lovingly demonstrated by specific obedience. The covenant is likewise quite clear as to the blessings of obedience and curses of disobedience. Now once again, this only makes sense in the context of love—God’s love for his people, their love for God, and God’s love through them for each another. The rules are simply a reminder of that love.

All that to say, rules are not burdensome; they are reminders of a very powerful relational covenant. Now we don’t woodenly apply many of those Mosaic rules today—our situation is different. We don’t have a Levitical priesthood that needs to pronounce us ceremonially clean from mold in our home; we don’t need to sprinkle ashes from a red heifer to relieve our contamination from touching a corpse; we don’t sacrifice animals to purify us from sin. Most of those Old Testament laws were subsumed in the sacrifice of Jesus. But that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bath water. We still follow the rule of loving God and loving each other; of not lying, or lusting or stealing—hopefully. So we have to be mature enough as it relates to Mosaic Law to know what is still literally to be obeyed and what is only spiritually to be observed. This spiritual maturity recognizes that the rules remind us of love, and love is demonstrated in obedience to covenant.

So give the law a break! Don’t roll your eyes or huff when the Old Testament is preached or you are called to adjust your behavior or a sobering reminder of the covenant is given. You don’t huff and eye-roll whenever you see a traffic sign that reminds you, “Danger Ahead: Reduce Speed.” No, you subconsciously say, “that is there for safety—mine and others.” And you know there are blessings for obeying it and consequences for not.

God’s law is God’s love. Look at it through the lens of covenantal love and you will never read the Old Testament again as a burdensome set of rules to keep. No, you will gratefully think of it as an amazing relational covenant—one that became even more amazing as it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Going Deeper With God: Re-read Deuteronomy 27 through the lens of love, as your marriage vows to God. I think you will read it much more accurately and joyfully.

In the Hebrew-Christian tradition, the law unifies people. No one is made righteous before God by keeping the law. It is only following redemption that we can truly understand the moral law for what it is—a mirror that indicts and calls the heart to seek God’s help. This makes moral reasoning the fruit of spiritual understanding and not the cause of it.

—RAVI ZACHARIAS

  

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