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Why Be Thankful?

I’m glad today to live where I do and when I do. I’m grateful for all who have sacrificed and served to give me what I have. I am grateful for the opportunities and the freedoms that I experience. I’m grateful to have family, friends, and a church who love me. And these are not the primary reason I’m thankful today.

Why be thankful? I am created by the God who made the universe. He gave me value and a purpose. And I, like all of humanity, promptly refused to fulfill that purpose. I have failed to be perfect from conception forward. And the God who made me could very rightly have cast me into hell immediately.

I am grateful, however, because the God who made me, against whom I have rebelled, chose to rescue me. God the Father sent Jesus, God the Son, into the world as a man to accomplish some amazing things. Jesus lived a perfect human life—the life I should have lived but could not. Jesus died as a sacrifice on the cross—suffering the death I deserve to die. Jesus rose from the grave—a feat I could have never accomplished and which proves his success and his glorious identity. And Jesus brought me salvation.

God has said that all who will repent and believe, all who will genuinely come to Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation, will be saved. When God brought me to trust in Jesus, he gave me glorious gifts. God applied to my account the perfect life that Jesus lived. It is as if his perfect test score is written down on my score sheet. God also applied Jesus’ death to cover my sin—he died a death that would have cost me an eternity in hell. And God proclaims to me that Jesus’ resurrection is my own. Now, because of Jesus and Jesus alone, I know that eternity in joy with the Lord is my forever home.

Why am I grateful? It has nothing to do with politics, health, wealth, prosperity, family, food, music, or the rest. All good things are gifts that ultimately remind us of the good God who made us and who sent his Son to be our Savior. And I encourage you, be thankful like this. Be thankful for Jesus.

And if you do not have his salvation, come to Jesus for life. How? Believe that God made you. Believe that you have sinned in falling short of God’s perfection. Understand that you can do nothing on your own to bridge the gap between you and the Lord. Entrust your soul to Jesus, placing all your hope for all your eternity in Jesus and his finished work. Admit you are a sinner and ask Jesus to forgive you. Surrender your life to his lordship. By the grace of God, truly believe in Jesus, and you will be saved. And that salvation will change your life, reorient your priorities, and grant you the forgiveness and eternal hope that will give you true reasons for gratitude.

God is Still Sovereign

I thought I’d post this entry from my HEAR journal, as it gives me hope from a strange passage.

H – Highlight

1 Kings 19:35 – And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.

E – Explain

During the days of Isaiah and Hezekiah, the Assyrian army threatened Jerusalem. This force was insurmountable. There was simply no way that Judah should have been able to survive. The northern kingdom had already fallen to this empire.

But, in the verse above, we see the supernatural hand of God at work. The Lord sent an angel and wiped out a massive force outside of Jerusalem.

A – Apply

God is able to change the world by his will and for his glory. There is no army he cannot defeat. There is no force that is great enough to stop his plan. For me this morning, I find comfort and hope in the fact that God is mighty enough to defeat armies and change the course of history. Obviously we are living in a strange and frightening political time. But knowing that the Lord is almighty and glorious reminds us that he is not going to be defeated. Our election, our laws, our national strength or weakness have nothing to do with the greatness or the glory of God.

R – Respond

Lord, I see in this text that the greatest of enemy armies and the mightiest of empires do not threaten you. You are the Lord over all. No king and no army, no president and no election, can change who you are. Help me, I pray, to remember your greatness and that my purpose is to glorify you. I do pray for your mercy on our nation. But I will not, or at least I should not, allow myself to fret over the plots of men. You are God, and that is the great and final truth.

A Quick Thought on God and Politics

Let us learn a few things about our God.

Isaiah 44:24-28

24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
25 who frustrates the signs of liars
and makes fools of diviners,
who turns wise men back
and makes their knowledge foolish,
26 who confirms the word of his servant
and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
and I will raise up their ruins’;
27 who says to the deep, ‘Be dry;
I will dry up your rivers’;
28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ ”

What can we glean from this text that is over two-and-a-half millennia old?

24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

Our God is Creator. He made all things. He made you and me. And he did so by his own power. We cannot imagine this type of awesome power. You and I can create nothing. We can take existing material and fashion it, but we create nothing from nothing.

25 who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish,

God will frustrate liars. In eternity, we will not see the victory of corrupt news media, censoring social media sites, or evil politicians who would use deception to gain power. Neither will we find ourselves defeated by proponents of false religions and godless worldviews.

26 who confirms the word of his servant and fulfills the counsel of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’ and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins’; 27 who says to the deep, ‘Be dry; I will dry up your rivers’; 28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ ”

Here God speaks particularly of using Cyrus, the leader of an oppressive government, to accomplish his will. God intended that Jerusalem would be rebuilt in the late 6th century BC. God motivated a pagan politician, a man with selfish and godless motives, to send the people of Israel back into the land to accomplish exactly what God planned.

Can we see anything in the above passage to give us hope today? I pray that you do. God is mighty. God is Creator. God will not lose. Liars will not overthrow him. No politician or political party will thwart him.

Am I suggesting elections do not matter? No, that is not my point. I am suggesting that, whether the election goes the way I want or not, God is still God. He will use godly men or evil men to finally accomplish exactly what he intends. Our God will be glorified. His kingdom will come. His will is going to be done.

I would hope that you have voted in a way that best matches the truth of God and the standards of god in his holy word. But even more so, I would pray that you have surrendered in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ, God in flesh, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He reigns and will reign. And your only hope is to find his grace before facing his judgment.

My Way or God’s Way

H – Highlight

1 Samuel 28:5-7 – 5 When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. 6 And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. 7 Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”

E – Explain

On the day before the death of Saul in a battle with the Philistines, the king is afraid and seeks God’s counsel. But God will not speak to him in any form, so Saul seeks guidance through forbidden means.

A – Apply

It is a temptation for people to seek things in God’s way so long as we get what we want. But, when we do not get what we want, it is often the case that people will turn from the ways of the Lord to try to accomplish things in whatever ways we can find. This is evil.

R – Respond

Dear Lord, I acknowledge that there is a temptation to do things in my way or in ways that dishonor you when I do not get what I want from you. I confess that this is sin. You are perfect, and your ways are best. I pray that you will help me trust you and to totally find my freedom from within the bounds of your perfect commands.

A Need for Margin

H – Highlight

Leviticus 23:22 – “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”

E – Explain

In Leviticus 23, we see God give instructions for the Sabbath and for the 3 major feasts of Israel. As God gives the direction for the feast of first fruits, also called Pentecost because it was held 50 days after Passover, he reminds the people of their requirement not to fully harvest their fields. The people were to leave the corners of the fields unharvested for the good of the poor. Note that they were not merely to give the poor a handout but were to make it possible for the poor to work to get food. At the same time, the owners were not to try to squeeze every last bit of profit out of their property. They were to leave a margin to be able to care for the needy.

A —Apply

First, I apply this by recognizing that God’s system for living is the best. That makes sense. God is wiser than man. His plan to govern a nation would be the best.

Second, I see that God reminds us that those with work ought not spend to the last penny. Instead, we are to leave margin for giving and caring for others. This would be true for those who should be sure they are able to give to the church.

I also think the idea of not harvesting the whole field would bring me a principle of scheduling too. I should not fill my time to a point that I cannot take a phone call or meet a need.

Finally, I see that it is good for the poor to work for their food instead of just receiving it. It is a trap to have a person handed food without labor. Of course, there are those incapable of work, and we want to care for them. But there are also those who could work, but who, in our system, understand that doing work would actually be less productive and provide less for their families.

R – Respond

Lord, I first thank you for showing us how things should be. I know that your system is better than any other. I pray that you will help me to live with enough margin in my life that I can care for others around me. I pray that I will not spend time or money until I have nothing left.

Bloody atonement

H – Highlight

Leviticus 9:7 – Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the Lord has commanded.”

E – Explain

In Leviticus 8-9, we see the ordination of Aaron as high priest and the first offerings made for the people in this new priesthood.

A – Apply

I think what grabs my attention is not so much the verse that I have highlighted as the detail and bloodiness of the whole affair. The commands that Aaron needed to follow were meticulous. As Hebrews 9:22 reminds us, almost everything was purified with blood. This was a messy, ugly thing that had to be done so that the sins of people could be covered and so they could approach the Lord.

The application for me is one of awe and gratitude. My sin is such a thing that I should not be allowed to approach the Lord. But God has done what needed to be done. No bull, no goat, no birds can shed their blood for my sin. The spotless Son of god died to pay the price for my sin so that I can approach the Lord.

R – Respond

Lord, I thank you for the sacrifice of Jesus for my sins. I thank you for the picture, here in Leviticus, of the need for blood to cover my sin. I confess my failure and fallenness. I pray that you will help me live now to honor you, living forgiven. Help me to be changed to be more given to you in all things.

In Accord with the Design

H – Highlight

Exodus 26:30 – Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain.

E – Explain

This section includes the instructions that God gave to Moses for the construction of the tabernacle.

A – Apply

There are a couple of places in this instruction set where God reminds Moses that he will do all these things in accord with the design that God showed him on the mountain. Moses was to follow instructions. Moses was not to design a tabernacle. Moses was not to come up with a plan for how God would be worshipped. Moses certainly was not to design a plan for the people to gain forgiveness. He was to listen to and communicate God’s plan to the people.

We must not be silly enough to think that we design what the church does. We are to listen to God’s instruction and obey it. Nor do we need to defend the word of God to the world. God has told us his way. We do not owe anybody an explanation for God’s standards or his worship. God has said what we are to do. We obey.

R – Respond

Lord, I pray that you will help me to be faithful to your word. Help me not to try to make up anything you have not commanded. Help me hear your instructions and follow them. Help me trust you and rely fully on your word.

If You Will Indeed Obey

H – Highlight

Exodus 19:5-6 – 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

E – Explain

As god prepares to meet with the people at Mount Sinai and to give the Ten Commandments, making his covenant with Israel, he makes a promise. If the nation will obey him, they will be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. There is a very clear promise of ongoing blessing if Israel will obey God’s law.

A – Apply

The promise of god here reminds me of god’s relationship with Adam in the garden. Many who write about the garden suggest that Adam was part of a covenant of works with God. These suggest that, if Adam had obeyed God, he would have, at some point, been granted eternal life in paradise with no longer an opportunity to fail. In a similar way, it looks as though God is telling this nation that, if they will obey him as a nation, they will grow into the very kingdom that some Jews in the first century were expecting Jesus to bring.

I am not sure about the if side of the equation. I cannot say how long Adam would have had to obey in order to be granted eternal life. I cannot say what would have happened had Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and found a repentant nation and a proper temple. Instead, I know that neither Adam nor Israel obeyed.

What gets my attention here is not the speculative question. Instead, what gets my attention is the failure. Adam failed. Israel failed. And, if we were required to obey in order to have the favor of God, we would be fully incapable of success. This in capacity would be our own fault, not the fault of the Lord and his commands. We fail in small and we fail in large. Our sin would wreck our souls beyond repair.

This is a reason we praise Jesus with such gratitude. Jesus fulfilled perfect righteousness where we would fail. Jesus fully pleased his Father and, through his righteousness, earned eternal life for all who are his. The perfect life of Jesus is vital to our salvation as well as his sacrificial death and resurrection.

R – Respond

Lord, I understand that, were my eternal life based on my obedience, I would lose it. I am a sinner. I fail to obey. No obedience in part can ever make up for my disobedience. I thank you for your glorious plan of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. I thank you for Jesus and his perfection. I thank you for the imputation of righteousness. Please help me live in celebration of and gratitude for this salvation.

They Shall Know

H – Highlight

Exodus 14:1-4 – 1 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so.

E – Explain

Here is the account of the parting of the Red Sea and the rescue of Israel. God told Israel where to go. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he and the Egyptian army would chase the people of God. The people feared and complained against Moses and the Lord. God protected Israel with the pillar of fire until the sea was parted and the people walked through. And God got glory as he destroyed the Egyptians.

A – Apply

Many things got my attention in this chapter which apply. First is the fact that God did what he did here for the sake of his own glory. God was intent on showing that he is greater than Egypt, its military might, and its false gods. And the Lord did display his glory. I must recall that God’s glory is the most important thing in the universe.

Second, I take note of the complaint of the people. In the paragraph of verses 10-14, the Israelites gripe and complain against Moses and the Lord. They assume that they would have been better off not obeying the Lord but simply staying in Egypt. This reminds me that, even as we strive to lead people toward the things of God, there will be times when doing the right thing will be met with negativity. Moses needed to trust in the Lord. I too need to trust god rather than be discouraged by the people or discouraged by the circumstance.

Third, I note the absolute sovereignty of God. Every step in this chapter is his crafting. He told Israel where to go, hardened Pharaoh’s heart, defended the people, parted the sea, and drown the army. God is almighty. God is in control. I should not let myself forget these things in a world that looks godless and out-of-control.

R – Respond

Lord, I praise you. Your glory is to be seen and magnified in this account. Your glory is in fact the most important thing, though I do not always remember it. I pray that you will show me your glory, show me your power, and keep me focused firmly on this as most important. I pray that you will keep me from complaining about my circumstances. I pray that you will keep me confident in you even when those around me wish to complain about the situation in which we live. And I pray that you will remind me of your great and sovereign power as we walk through this difficult world.

Hardening Pharaoh’s Heart

H – Highlight

Exodus 11:10 – Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

E – Explain

As we see thee encounters between Moses and Pharaoh, we repeatedly see that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. We have to conclude from this that Moses, who wrote this text under the inspiration of the Lord, intended that we understand that the entire situation is under the sovereign will of God. The Lord acted to put Pharaoh in the place he ended up.

Because I have also worked on this text before, I believe that we can say both that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart even as Pharaoh hardened his own heart. As I have taught this text, God acted in his sovereignty to have Pharaoh behave in concert with exactly who Pharaoh was. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart did not make Pharaoh evil where he otherwise would have been good. Instead, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart made Pharaoh the most like his natural sinful self that Pharaoh could be.

A – Apply

The point for me to apply today is to remember the sovereign hand of God. Nobody acts to thwart the sovereign will of God. Even evil dictators are within the bounds of the Lord’s ultimate will. And, yes, sometimes those evil men will do evil things in accord with their evil nature. And when they do this evil, the Lord will use his mighty power to bring glory to his name even through the evil men living in accord with their hardened hearts.

R – Respond

Lord, I pray that you will help me to remember that you are sovereignly working your will in all of humanity. We are not able to thwart you. We never threaten your rule. I pray that you will help me remember that you work your will, even when you are setting up evil men for a fall as you allow them to live as they most desire. I pray that you preserve us from evil leaders. I pray that you will show your glory through moving evil men toward faith in Christ. But I also pray that you help me rest in you when your will is other than what would make my steps most peaceful.