Blown away by God’s grace
2 Samuel 7: You’ve done all this not because of who I am but because of who you are.
The promise God makes to David through the prophet Nathan is an enormous one. His offspring will rule Israel forever. When I see how Saul’s sad story plays out then compare it to this promise of “forever” made to David I find it to be breathtaking. All this blows David away too. He goes into the presence of the Lord to express his thanks. Along with that is a real sense of unworthiness on his part. While David’s done a lot of the right things, this isn’t God responding to David’s deeds. Instead, this is God acting out of his goodness and David responding as he ought to respond. It’s true of me too. Oh how blessed I am! God is good to me in wonderful ways. He’s blessed me, not because I’m more spiritual, or more obedient than others. He’s blessed me because of his goodness. Like David, I’m blown away by all the Lord has done and is doing for me. And, like him, I want to express my thanksgiving to the Lord.
Take Away: How can I say thanks for all the good things the Lord has done for me?
Ruth 2: God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!
A ray of sunshine in a dark place
Naomi and Ruth are destitute and alone as they return to Israel. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. They are two widows on their own. Ruth goes out to the fields hoping to find enough left over from the harvest to give her and Naomi something to eat. To her surprise, she finds herself talking to a wealthy landowner who welcomes her and treats her kindly. Upon returning home she tells Naomi of her adventure. It’s then that Naomi makes this wonderful statement concerning God’s grace. “God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all!” It seemed that way. Naomi has buried a husband and two sons. In Ruth’s surprisingly good day of gleaning, and especially in her encounter with Boaz, she sees God at work. “He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!” That, my friend, is pretty good theology from a widow woman living in the dark days of the book of Judges. I’m reminded today that my circumstances aren’t an indicator of God’s work, or lack thereof, in my life. Just because things get hard it doesn’t mean that God has stopped loving me. Naomi is wise enough to recognize this truth, and I need to realize it too.
Take Away: Even in the hard days the Lord, sometimes unseen, is at work bringing good to our lives.
Good old boredom
Judges 10: After him, Jair the Gileadite stepped into leadership. He judged Israel for twenty-two years.
I’m thinking today about the “one paragraph” judges of the book of Judges. I’ve already read about Deborah and Gideon. Jephthah and Samson are just a few pages away. Scattered throughout the pages of Judges are references to national leaders whose stories are summed up in one paragraph each. Usually the most prominent feature is now long these leaders ruled; around 22 years on the average. While it would be thrilling to watch Gideon’s 300 defeating the Midianites and Amaliekiets, I think I’d rather live under the rule of Tola or Jair. These folks quietly go about living their lives under the authority of the Lord God and lead their people in faithful worship of him. Today, I thank God for people like that and I’m reminded that without spectacular spiritual failure we don’t need to have as many stories of miraculous divine rescues.
Take Away: Good leadership sometimes means no big stories, no disasters, just lives quietly lived…
The funeral was poorly attended
Deuteronomy 34: No prophet has risen since in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face.
At 120 years of age Moses is physically and mentally as fit as ever. The years have not taken their toll because the Lord has intervened, overriding the aging process. Now, though, the time has come for Moses to die. Under God’s direction this 120 year old man sets out alone to climb a mountain. From the peak he looks across into the Promised Land. He will never set foot there but he knows his people will. Then Moses dies leaving a legacy of superlatives. The only one at his funeral is the same God who met him alone at the burning bush eighty years earlier. From first to last it’s been God and Moses. I’m a bit sad that after giving his life to the project that Moses doesn’t get to lead the Israelites across Jordan. However, it’s hard to be too sorry about it. After all, he lived long and well. He walked with God and knew his Maker face-to-face. At the end of his long journey, the Lord, himself, lays him to rest. I can only hope that, with the more spectacular elements stripped away, something remotely similar can be said when the final lines of my life are written.
Take Away: There’s something beautiful about the passing of one of God’s choice people.
Deuteronomy 28: God’s blessing in your coming in, God’s blessing in your going out.
After reading the curses listed in the previous chapter I’m ready to hear some words of blessing! All the curses are related to the intentional breaking of the Laws of God. Once I get past them, I find myself in showers of God’s blessings. Moses tells his people that when they live in an obedient relationship with their God that he delights in pouring good things into their lives, blessing them in the city and in the country; blessing their children, their land, and everything about them. As a people of God they’ll be the envy of all the peoples of the Earth. I’m happy to dwell here among the blessings because I know that Moses is about to turn things back around again and restate all these blessings as curses that will come if they turn their back on the Lord their God. As a Christian I want to lay claim on all the blessings that are given to the ancient Israelites. After all, Christians have been grafted into the vine that is God’s people. However, I’ve concluded that I need to bridle in my enthusiasm at this point. While I’m sure God wants to bless his people I also have the balance of the Bible to read. Being a devoted follower of God can, at times land me, covered with sores, in an ash heap or I might find myself in prison asking my friends to be sure to send me an overcoat before winter comes. My conclusion is that God does bless his people (even those of us who have merely been grafted in). He blesses us with his presence in our lives and sometimes in big, unbelievable, material ways. I also conclude that these “here and now” blessings are only the tip of the iceberg of God’s good intentions for us. Ask any believer a million years from now about God’s blessings and I think you’ll hear a list that makes this one from Moses sound rather minor in comparison.
Take Away: The greatest blessing is God’s presence in my life.
Deuteronomy 15: Give freely and spontaneously. Don’t have a stingy heart.
The people in Moses’ congregation are a blessed people. If not for the grace of God they’d be slaves in Egypt. Because of God’s generosity they have food to eat and clothing to wear. The Lord has protected them from their enemies and provided guidance to them in their travels. Even now they’re poised to occupy the Promised Land. Moses reminds them that blessed people ought to be a blessing to others. Those who have received much should be givers and that giving should flow freely from their hearts. Does this describe me? The part about being “blessed” sure does. God has been good to me on many levels. Now, I need to ask him to help me to have a giving heart that will result in genuine generosity. Lord, please deliver me from having a “stingy heart.”
Take Away: Blessed people are to be people who bless others.
Point of decision
Deuteronomy 11: I’ve brought you today to the crossroads of Blessing and Curse.
Free will is both a wonderful gift and a terrible burden. It’s a gift in that it sets us apart from all other creatures. We’re made in God’s image. It’s a burden because it’s possible for us to freely make foolish decisions, which God will allow us to make, and for which he will hold us accountable. The people Moses speaks to stand at a point of decision. On one hand, they have the route to blessing. On the other is the cursed route. Clearly, the Lord wants them to pick “Blessing Street.” However, he won’t force them to do so. Since I have the benefit of being able to turn the pages of my Bible and gaze into their future, I find that, while there are many “blessing stories” yet to be told, there are plenty of the others too; even to the point of near extinction of their race. In his Sovereignty the Lord grants Israel the right to choose. By his grace they’ve arrived at this place of choice and by his grace they’re allowed to decide the next step. However, their choice at this point isn’t without consequences. Some of those consequences are good, others bad. The ability to choose is a gift of God but it’s also a burden because choices have consequences.
Take Away: The exercise of free will can bring wonderful blessings into our lives. It can also be our downfall.
The path to the good life
Deuteronomy 10: …live a good life.
These days, “health and wealth” preaching is pretty popular. “Have enough faith, pray hard enough,” even, “Give me some money” and as a result you’ll drive a nice car, live in a big house, and never be sick. Moses, though, has his own take on “health and wealth.” In this passage he carefully lists the route to the “good life.” It’s all centered on doing what God expects. What does he expect?
1. “Live in his presence in holy reverence”
2. “Follow the road he sets out for you”
3. “Love…and serve” him “with everything you have in you”
4. “Obey the commandments and regulations of God”
It’s not about me taking advantage of some spiritual principle for my benefit or my tapping into some hidden potential within myself. It has nothing to do with driving off the spirit of poverty or illness. It sure isn’t about me manipulating God to get him to do nice things for me. When I align myself with God’s expectations my life is a good life. That goodness, by the way, may not be seen in temporary things like health or wealth but, instead, in my living a truly blessed life, pleasing to God. The path to the good life is summed up in four words: live, follow, love, and obey.
Take Away: Many spiritual “secrets” are hidden in plain sight.
Live long and prosper
Deuteronomy 4: Obediently live by his rules and commands which I’m giving you today so that you’ll live well and your children after you.
So how does it work? Is it that God has given me these rules and regulations and will pay me back with blessings if I keep them? I don’t think so. God doesn’t lay down arbitrary rules just for the purpose of keeping me in line and he doesn’t treat me like a little child who’s rewarded with a stick of candy if I’m good. His purposes for me are filled with grace and mercy. If God says, “Don’t” I can be sure that it’s for my benefit and not his. My Creator, who knows me better than I know myself says, “When I created you I hardwired some very specific things about you. If you want your life to function at its best, here’s how you’re to live.” Following these guidelines doesn’t mean life will be trouble free (after all, there’s that ugly business of the fall in the opening pages of my Bible) but it does mean that I’ll live the best, most satisfying and fulfilled life possible. Not only that, but by living according to God’s plan, I’ll be teaching my children the best way to live. The result will be that my kids will be more likely to adopt my approach to living in a relationship with God and their lives will also be better lived.
Take Away: When I live God’s way, not only is my life better, but I also influence my children to live for God, resulting in their lives also being better.
What God intended in the first place
Numbers 23: How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
Balaam is hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. After the talking donkey incident, Balaam has had a change of heart. After all, part of that unusual event is that he saw the angel of the Lord with sword in hand blocking his way. Now as he arrives, Balak urges him to go ahead and curse the Israelites. Balaam agrees to do his thing, but warns Balak that he can only say what the Lord allows him to say. He enters into his “prophetic trance” and the words that come out of his mouth are a disappointment to Balak. Right off it’s plain that the pitiful prophet, who’s toying with stuff he would be better off leaving alone, isn’t going to do a very good job of cursing God’s people. Instead, Balaam hears himself blessing them. This whole blessing and cursing stuff is off the mark anyway. God’s people don’t believe in spells and magic. Rather, we believe in God. In this case the Lord used Balaam’s hocus pocus for his own purposes, but remember this: God already intends to bless Israel. That’s what he’s been saying all along. Even if Balak’s plan had worked and Balaam managed to state a mysterious, mystic curse on Israel it would have just been a lot of hot air. Beyond that, Balaam’s blessing doesn’t actually mean anything either. God didn’t hear this silly prophet state a blessing and think he had to obey. The Lord continued to do what he intended to do all along.
Take Away: The Lord is sovereign and all the hocus pocus in the world isn’t going to force him to do anything.