Remember

God Will Never Fail You

SYNOPSIS: If you are going to walk faithfully with God over the course of your life, you will have to get good at remembering. In fact, God himself calls you to practice remembering: Remember the trustworthiness of his character, the certainty of his promises and the track record of his faithful activity in your life. Failure to remember God’s unimpeachable ways in the past will lead to fear and faithlessness when you hit rough roads in the journey ahead. That is why he wants you to practice remembering that he will never fail you, that you will never be alone, that he will always keep his promises and he will always reward your faithfulness!

Project 52 – Weekly Scripture Memory // Hebrews 13:62

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? … Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

If you are going to walk faithfully with God over the course of your life, you will have to get good at remembering. In fact, God himself calls you to practice remembering: Remember the trustworthiness of his character, the certainty of his promises and the track record of his faithful activity in your life. Failure to remember God’s unimpeachable ways in the past will lead to fear and faithlessness when you hit rough roads in the journey ahead.

God calls us to remember so that we don’t forget. That is why he has gone on record time and again in his Word that he will indeed keep his commitments—all of them. God wants us to know that it is his nature to be faithful. God keeps every one of his promises!  He just can’t help himself. That is why Hebrews 10:23 urges us to,

“Hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful!”

Not only does God want us not to forget him, he wants us to know he will never forget us. God knows who we are, where we are and what we need.  He remembers us, he remembers his promises to us and he graciously acts on our behalf at the proper time. And just about the time we think he has forgotten, he invades our dark days and interrupts our desperate realities with the light of his loving plan—because God remembers!  Isaiah 49:15-16 beautifully reminds us,

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”

Furthermore, God wants us to know that he will never forget our tenacious faithfulness to him. When it looks like God is absent, or that he doesn’t care, and we ruthlessly cling to our trust in the goodness of his character and fidelity of his promise, God’s heart is moved—and he rewards. Isaiah 40:31 says,

“They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

God wants you to practice remembering that he will never fail you, that you will never be alone, that he will always keep his promises and he will always reward your faithfulness! God’s promise to you is that you will never be forgotten, no matter what!

In the 1980’s, Tom Sutherland was taken hostage by radicals in Lebanon and held in captivity for 4 years, mostly in solitary confinement. He existed in deep darkness during that long ordeal. Sometimes he could hear is captor’s radio when they tuned it to the BBC, and Tom would listen intently hoping and praying to hear his name mentioned on a newscast. But he never heard it, so he figured that people at home didn’t even know he was alive, much less imprisoned.

Finally, Tom was released.  He flew back to the US and landed in San Francisco, and he was amazed as he got off the plane to see a huge crowd, people waving signs, cameras, reporters, and TV lights. He turned to his wife and said, “There must have been a famous person on this plane with us.  See if you can spot him.”  And she said, “Tom, they’re all here for you!”  Tom broke down and cried like a baby. And he finally said, “I thought everybody had forgotten me…I felt abandoned…I didn’t think anybody cared.  Thank God I was wrong.”

If you’re feeling forgotten at this moment, thank God you’re wrong!  God remembers you and will fulfill every single one of his promises at the proper time.

So remember not to forget that!

I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain ~John Henry Newman

Reflect & Apply: Use your Bible concordance to search God’s promises to remember his people. Find seven verses, one for each day this week, and reflect on them. That is what one of the ways you can practice remembering.

Way Out In Front Of You

Let Go of What You Know and Follow God

SYNOPSIS: Faith never plays it safe, never settles for the comfort zone, and never rejects the unknown. 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.

The Journey // 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: 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.

Behold the Kindness and Severity of God

God of Justice - God of Mercy

SYNOPSIS: 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.”

The Journey // 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: 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.

Help Wanted—Help Received

The Throne of Grace

SYNOPSIS: What a difference in life it makes just knowing you have someone in high authority who has your back! You live more confidently, act more courageously, risk faith more often, let go of your failures more easily, seek forgiveness more readily, sleep more peacefully, worry a whole lot less and wake up ready to face the day with more energy than you’ve ever known before. That’s the privilege Christ-followers enjoy—or should—and that includes you!

Project 52 – Weekly Scripture Memory // Hebrews 10:15-16

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

What a difference it makes just knowing you have someone in high authority who has your back! You live more confidently, act more courageously, risk faith more often, let go of your failures more easily, seek forgiveness more readily, sleep more peacefully, worry a whole lot less and wake up ready to face the day with more energy than you’ve ever known before.

That’s the privilege Christ-followers enjoy—or should—and that includes you! After paying the price for your sins by dying on the cross, Jesus entered eternity to begin his heavenly ministry as your very own personal high priest. Now, he stands before the Father night and day to represent you. He intercedes on your behalf. He is praying for you. He is rooting you on. He is ready to help!

He understands your fears—he faced some pretty overwhelming stuff when he was here. He understands your temptations—all of them. He faced them, too. He knows your weaknesses—he had to overcome them one by one. He knows what it is like to be rejected, disappointed, persecuted, to go without, to have no place to call home and to be misunderstood. He even knows the heaviest weight a human being carries—the reality of one’s own death. Jesus has been there, done that.

But he did all that for you! That’s why he is a faithful, empathetic high priest. And that is why you can come into the very throne room of Father God with complete confidence, walk right up to that throne and ask him for what you need: Help, provision, healing, forgiveness—whatever.

You can do that because of what Jesus has already done—he paid the price for you to do that. That is now your right, your privilege, and your responsibility. You can also do that because of what Jesus is doing right now—he is standing alongside you with his arm around your shoulder before the Father bringing your case before the only One who has the power and authority to do anything about it.

With Jesus standing by your side, you will be glad to know that help wanted means help received. Now that ought to make a difference in how you approach life today.

If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who ever livedall the goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength and loveand united all those virtues in one person, that person would only be a faint shadow of the love and mercy in the heart of God for you and me. ~Brennan Manning

Reflect & Apply: Try offering this prayer: Father, I stand before you in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and ask you to meet all of my needs today.  I pray that you would keep me pure, give me power, ensure my success, and make me useful to your kingdom. Work in me and through me today, and when I lay my head down on the pillow tonight, may I know the joy of having been totally pleasing to you.”

Resurrection Monday

If Christ Is Risen, Nothing Else Matters

SYNOPSIS: Jaroslav Pelikan put it profoundly, “If Christ is risen—nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen—nothing else matters.” What difference does resurrection make? When you take resurrection reality and power out of the church on Sunday and into your world on Monday, transforming faith, unshakeable hope and radical love will be released into your life. Count Bismarck said, “Without the hope of eternal life, this life is not worth the effort of getting dressed in the morning.” But the Bible promises that Jesus’ resurrection is God’s guarantee of your resurrection one day, and that’s something worth celebrating today—even on a proverbial Monday morning!

Project 52 – Weekly Scripture Memory // John 11:25-26

“Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’”

The story is told of Martin Luther, who once spent three days in a deep depression over something that had gone wrong.  On the third day his wife, Katie, came downstairs dressed in mourning clothes. Luther asked, “Who’s dead?”

She replied, “God!”

Luther was offended, “What do you mean, God is dead? God cannot die.”

Kate replied, “Well, the way you’ve been acting I was sure He had!”

That was a wake-up call to the great reformer. Luther snapped out of his funk. And Jesus’ claim to being the resurrection and the life ought to snap us out of our funk, too. Jesus is alive, and because he lives, we will live—forever.  This business of resurrection isn’t just for Easter Sunday, it is for Easter Monday and every other day of the week as well. The resurrection is our living hope (I Peter 1:3)—Sunday through Saturday—and that’s all that matters. I love how historian Jaroslav Pelikan put it,

“If Christ is risen—nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen—nothing else matters.”

What difference does resurrection make? When you take resurrection reality and power out of the church on Sunday and into your world on Monday, transforming faith, unshakeable hope and radical love will be released into your life. Count Bismarck said, “Without the hope of eternal life, this life is not worth the effort of getting dressed in the morning.” But the Bible promises that Jesus’ resurrection is God’s guarantee of your resurrection one day, and that’s something worth celebrating today—even on a proverbial Monday morning!

Apparently in the Greek Orthodox tradition, the day after Easter is devoted to telling jokes. Why? They believe they’re imitating the cosmic joke God pulled on Satan in the resurrection. Satan thought he’d won, that he’d gotten the last word, or so he thought. But God raised Jesus from the dead, and salvation and eternal life became the last word.

When you make the resurrection the foundation of your faith, claim the Risen Savior as the basis of your hope, and invite the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead to be your overflowing source of radical love, come Monday you can laugh in Satan’s face when he throws all kinds of garbage at you. You see, no matter what he does, you win! That is the last word. You are living in the power of the resurrection and the hope of eternity!

Even on Monday morning!

Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, “Christ is risen,” but “I shall rise.” ~Phillips Brooks

Reflect & Apply: Charles Wesley wrote what is arguable the greatest resurrection hymn of all, Christ The Lord Is Risen Today.  If you know it, sing it every morning this week before you head out for the day. If you don’t know it, it would be a great one to memorize (look it up on your Internet search engine) along with the memory verse.

A Need To Know Basis

The Secret Things Belong to the Lord Our God

SYNOPSIS: 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.

The Journey // 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: 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.

When Much Is Given, Much Is Required

At The Very Least, Serving Him With Love And Enthusiasm

SYNOPSIS: Why would God threaten Israel with such immense and unspeakable suffering in the Law of Moses for their disobedience? The answer lies in God’s sovereign call upon them and the price he paid to redeem them out of Egypt to be his own people. They had received much, now much was required of them. Similarly, 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!

The Journey // 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 pain 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: 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.