God Over History

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God is over history. The biblical record over thousands of years proves it. The story of twenty centuries of Christianity bears it out. Our faith affirms it. God is sovereign over the affairs of this world, he is in control of all things, and he is in charge of you. So go with God and you will be on the right side of history.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 24:2-5, 14

Joshua said to the Israelites, “the Lord your God says to you…‘you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’ Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”

These are the final words of General Joshua to the people of Israel, He is passing the baton after four decades of extraordinary leadership and victory after victory—a conquest for the ages. And he is recounting the activity of God for the people, reminding them of the sovereign hand of God in the entire history of Israel. God is over history.

It was God who selected their idol-worshipping ancestors out of a pagan culture and made them his own. It was God who sent Abraham and Jacob into Egypt. It was God who brought the nation back out of Egyptian slavery with great signs and wonders. It was God who fought for Israel during their wilderness journey, destroying each enemy nation that stood in their way. He provided food and water for them in the desert; he formed them from a collection of slaves into a mighty nation. It was God who drove out the inhabitants of Canaan and brought them into the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey. God did it for them. God is over history.

Let us never forget what Joshua was so clear about: God is over history. That was true for the Israelites—proven over the several hundred years between Abraham’s call and Israel’s conquest of Canaan; that has been true over the two thousand years between Christ’s ascension and the present moment; that will be true between now and the Second Coming. God is over history.

We may not see the hand of God in the everyday details of our world, or of our lives, but history proves that God is over history. That is why Joshua’s charge to the Israelites is a charge that is valid for God’s people today—including you and me:

Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.

If God is over history, why would we not serve him in faithfulness? Why would we depend on any other source for provision and protection? Why would we worship the other gods of our culture—fame and fortune, power and pleasure? Why would we not wholeheartedly follow the one and only God over history? When you stop and think about it, any other choice but loving obedience to the Lord our God just doesn’t make any sense at all.

God is over history. So go with God. Get on the right side of history!

Going Deeper With God: Are you leaning on any source other than God for security, success or significance? Put God first! Repent where you have allowed allegiance to other gods to creep in and declare your undying loyalty to the God who is over history.

Promises Made – Promises Kept

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When you are fully devoted to the Lord your God, you will not be able to contain the favor that God pours out upon your life. And along the journey, at each step you take, you will enjoy God’s protection, power, provision and presence. You will have to accept that by faith now, but over time, that will be the testimony of your life as well. With God, a promise made is a promise kept.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 23:2-5, 14

Joshua said to the Israelites, “I am now a very old man. You have seen everything the Lord your God has done for you during my lifetime. The Lord has fought for you against your enemies. I have allotted to you as your homeland all the land of the nations yet unconquered, as well as the land of those we have already conquered—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. This land will be yours, for the Lord your God will himself drive out all the people living there now. You will take possession of their land, just as the Lord promised you….Soon I will die, going the way of everything on earth. Deep in your hearts you know that every promise of the Lord your God has come true. Not a single one has failed!”

The book of Joshua is bookended by promises made and promises kept. Which, by the way, is the story of God. He is a promise making and promise keeping God. Of course, his promises are conditioned upon our obedience. For every promise made, God gives a corresponding warning, which is the case here as well:

But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you. (Joshua 23:15-16)

While some may see these warnings in scripture as dark and threatening, I see them as God’s unrelenting desire to bless his people. He so longs to fulfill his promises to Israel, and to us—“Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” (Joshua 23:14)—that he is continually clear about what will hinder his abundant goodness in our lives.

In Joshua 1, God generously makes Israel’s new leader, General Joshua, promise after promise: military victory, success as a leader, divine abundance—if he will carefully follow the law of God and step out with bold, courageous leadership. And if that weren’t enough, God adds a few more promises: his protection, power, provision and presence. The first chapter in this journal of Israel’s conquest is full of the promises of God. God is a promise maker.

And God is a promise keeper. Joshua 23 is this old leader’s testimony that God has been faithful to his covenant. Over the thirty-five years since the Lord commissioned Joshua, he has been true to his word at every turn. He has driven out all of Israel’s enemies, given them victory at every turn, and brought them into a land where the fields have already been plowed, the orchards have already been planted, the roads have already been laid, and the houses have already been built. (Joshua 24:13) Even when the challenges were great and the enemies were overwhelming, God has been with them. And now, God has indeed given them their Promised Land. He has fulfilled every one of his promises. The Lord is a covenantly faithful, promise keeping, very good God

Personally, Joshua had known God’s protection, power, provision and presence. While Joshua had accepted that by faith in chapter 1, over three decades later he could now stand before Israel and in reality say to them, “not a single promise has failed.

What was true for Joshua and the Israelites is true for you as well. When you are fully devoted to the Lord your God, you will not be able to contain the favor that God pours out upon your life. And along the journey, at each step you take, you, too, will enjoy God’s protection, power, provision and presence. You will have to accept that by faith now, but over time, that will be the testimony of your life as well.

As I think about these two bookend chapters, I realize that I have been in ministry about the same length of time that Joshua led Israel. There had been times where the challenges were so great and I felt overwhelmed, out-gunned and on the brink. There were moment when I didn’t know if I could stand up under the pressure. But guess what? I’m still standing. Why, because I’m so great? Not at all! It is all because God made some promises—and then kept each one of them.

With God, a promise made is a promise kept.

Going Deeper With God: Someone has counted all the divine promises in the Bible and apparently came up with around 6,000. Read a couple of them today. Those are for you. So just rejoice ahead of time that God will fulfill every single promise on your behalf.

Pay Attention To The Benediction

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

A good pastoral benediction is a reminder, a command, a promise of blessing all wrapped into one. It reminds us of who God is—the One who is great and awesome and rightly deserving of our loyal worship; of what we are called to do—to walk humbly, dependently and dutifully before him; and what he will do as a result—bless our socks off. It is powerful and meaningful, and it bears repeating week after week as we leave the gathering of saints to go back into our respective worlds.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 22:5-6

Be very careful to obey all the commands and the instructions that Moses gave to you. Love the Lord your God, walk in all his ways, obey his commands, hold firmly to him, and serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went home.

I am not sure how you feel about your pastor’s benediction. Maybe you zone out when he or she gives the final blessing. Perhaps you treat it like the flight attendant giving you the safety speech before takeoff. Or maybe the blessing is code for “I better pick my lane now so I can beat the crowd out of the parking lot—don’t want to get stuck in the back of the buffet line!” It could be that your church tradition has no tradition of benediction—I have been in churches where the final word from the pastor is something akin to “well, see ya later!”

Or it could be that the blessing at the end of your worship experience is a very big deal to you. I hope it is. And if it isn’t, I hope from this point on you will stop, listen closely, and absorb those words as not just from your pastor, but as words of blessing from God himself. That is the intention of the biblical benediction. And if your church doesn’t have that experience, encourage your spiritual leader to offer the blessing you so crave from God through his or her formal blessing.

In a sense, Joshua was the proto-pastor. He was leading his people into battle, settling them into their new life in Canaan, establishing worship practices of the spiritual community, and getting them ready for a transition of leadership as he came to the end of his assignment. He had done his duty, and he had done it well. There was victory on every side and it was now time for Israel to settle into a season of peace. After he had finished dividing up the land, he now spoke to the tribes who had decided to take land on the east side of the church. They had faithfully done their part in helping their brother tribes conquer the west side of the river. Now Joshua was ready to dismiss them, and he did with this benediction—and it pretty well covered all the bases:

As you go, obey. Do what God has commanded. Love him with all your heart. Walk the walk of your faith. Trust the Lord completely. Serve him with joy and gladness. Do that and God will multiply his manifold blessings in your lives beyond your wildest belief.

Those words were a reminder, a command, a promise of blessing all wrapped into one. And that is always the case with a good benediction. It reminds us of who God is—the One who is great and awesome and rightly deserving of our loyal worship, of what we are called to do—to walk humbly, dependently and dutifully before him, and what he will do as a result—bless our socks off.

That is the pastoral blessing. It is powerful and meaningful, and it bears repeating week after week as we leave the gathering of saints to go back into our respective worlds. Not just as empty liturgy, it is to invoke the blessings of Almighty God for this particular week. Just like saying grace before a meal is recognizing our constant dependence on God for daily bread, so in the benediction, the pastor says, “God I commit this people to you again today. Bless with safety and provision as they go their way, and bring them back as the community of faith the next time we gather. Amen.”

And as I close this devotional blog, as you go your way, let me offer this benediction over your life today:

May the Lord bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.

By the way, when that benediction was originally delivered in Numbers 6, we are told that it was literally God himself who was pronouncing it upon the people through the spiritual leader who delivered it. That is still the case when you receive the pastoral blessing.

May God bless you!

Going Deeper With God: Take a moment to receive the blessing pronounced above as from God himself.

Game. Set. Match.

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Total victory! It might take a while. It will involve hard work, sacrifice and a no-giving-up spirit. But when we are on God’s side and God is on ours, there will come a day when the Lord will give all our enemies into our hands and every single one of his good promises to us will be fulfilled. Game. Set. Match. And God will smile, for the truest and best victory is his approval.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 21:43-45

So the Lord gave to Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could stand against them, for the Lord helped them conquer all their enemies. Not a single one of all the good promises the Lord had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true.

Total victory! It might take a while to get there, and it will involve hard work, sacrifice along with a no-giving-up spirit, but when we are on God’s side and God is on ours, like Joshua and the Israelites, there will come a day when the Lord will give all our enemies into our hands and every single one of his good promises will be fulfilled to us. Game. Set. Match. And God will smile, for the truest and best victory is the smile of God.

For Israel, that took a very long time. Some of that extended time was the result of their stubbornness and rebellion—they had to repeat first grade: some of it was simply the nature of conquest—remember, this wasn’t a field trip, this was warfare, and warfare requires grit and determination; some of it gets chalked up to the sovereign ways of God—he lives outside of human time, so he is not a clock-watcher like we are as he develops his people into champions for life.

Not only did Israel’s journey take a long time, but it was full of hardship, battle and testing. Again, chalk that up to the sovereign ways of God—he was preparing his people for possessing his promises, and they needed to first be tempered. Yes, it took a long period of walking, then waiting, then working, followed by a long period of working, then waiting, then walking some more, but none of the time was wasted.

Finally, the day came when Joshua declared, at least for this stage of Israel’s journey with God, “mission accomplished!” Game. Set. Match. God had given all their enemies into their hands and fulfilled all of his good promises to them.

That is a true picture of the believer’s journey with God—periods of walking, waiting and working, but never any wasted timed. God is leading and guiding, strengthening, purifying and tempering us into a holy people fit to possess his promises. And at stages in the journey, he brings us to places of victory and rest. We should anticipate those places, pray for them, and cooperate with God to get there as quickly as we can—knowing that our stubbornness, rebellion and lack of trust will slow the journey down. And when we get there, we should continually remember that it was the good Lord who gave us the victory.

Game! Set! Match! That is the story the good Lord has pre-written about your life and mine. And while there will be other conquests until we reach heaven, when you reach victory in the present moment of challenge, remember who gave it to you. When you overcome a sin, receive an answer, and achieve a success, remember that it was the good Lord giving you a win over your enemies and fulfilling his good promises to you.

Likewise, remember that since God has a history of giving victory and fulfilling promises in your life, he will definitely be there for the next conquest, too. He is true to his character and faithful to his covenant with you—always. And he will never fail you—never!

So enjoy the victory of this moment and be encouraged with whatever tomorrow holds. And between now and heaven, get ready to hear it a lot:

Game. Set. Match.

Going Deeper With God: Are you in a season of victory—even just a small one? Rejoice—give God the glory!

The Accommodating God

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Nothing about our lives is too small for God’s involvement. He is a loving, caring, involved Father to his people. Back in the days of the Canaanite conquest, he held Israel’s hand and settled them into a land of their own for the first time. And what was true of God then is just as true of God today: he keeps an eye on his children, watching over even the minutiae of their lives, making accommodation for their weaknesses yet guiding them into the righteous living that is necessary for his gracious blessings upon them.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 20:1-3, 9

The Lord said to Joshua, “Now tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed Moses. Anyone who kills another person accidentally and unintentionally can run to one of these cities; they will be places of refuge from relatives seeking revenge for the person who was killed…. And he must continue to live in that city until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the accident. After that, he is free to return to his own home in the town from which he fled.

The more I study scripture, the more impressed I am with God. I mean, I already love him, serve him, and worship him wholeheartedly, but as I get to know him more and more over the years, the more amazed I am at who he is—his character, his benevolence, his love for his people. And here in Joshua 20 as we learn of the cities of refuge he commanded of Joshua, I am struck with how accommodating toward his people he is.

We develop some very interesting ideas about God along the way; some of them entirely wrong and inaccurate, some of them flat-out heretical, some of them misguided and some of them incomplete. Mostly our tainted views of God come from second-hand information—learning about him from extra-biblical sources, like parents, Sunday School teachers, club leaders, etc. Now there is nothing wrong with learning from the people who disciple us; that is actually the way of God. And we depend upon others to help form our understanding of God when we are children or new believers. So I am in favor of human teachers and deeply appreciative of what they do for us. After all, I am one!

But sometimes we end up with a view of God that has not been informed directly by the Word of God. That is why we can develop a view of God that sees him as detached from our daily lives and common concerns, or that sees him as angry and spoiling to judge us, or as a grandfatherly type deity in the cosmos who winks at sin and is at our beck and call to give us our every wish. If you hold that view of the Almighty, it didn’t come from scripture, it came from people.

But at some point, we need to know God from scripture. When we do, we quickly learn that he is not perpetually angry, or disconnected or wishy-washy about sin. In fact, we see from this chapter which details his prescription for dealing with accidental deaths in the community that he is very much concerned about both justice (the righteous punishment for sin) and the accommodation of our human frailty (his anticipation that there will be accidental deaths among the human race). Furthermore, we see in the founding of these cities of refuge that God didn’t merely give rigid, inflexible rules to govern the social and legal needs of his people, but he took into consideration that there would be some gray areas of the law as well as highly reactive human emotions to accidents and grievances. It also shows us that God went to great links to provide practical guidance for even the mundane matters of human life. Actually, it shows us that nothing about our lives is too small for his involvement.

God is a loving, caring, involved Father to his people. That was true back in the days of the conquest as he held the Israelite’s hand and settled them into a land of their own for the first time. And what was true of God back then is just as true of God today: he keeps an eye on his children, watching over the smallest of details of their lives, making accommodation for their weaknesses yet guiding them into the righteous living that is necessary for the release of his gracious blessings.

So be encouraged. God cares about your life—every last detail of it.

Going Deeper With God: Is there a minor detail that is bothering you, but perhaps you feel it is too small of an issue to involve God? Let me encourage you to lift that to your Heavenly Father in prayer today. Believe he cares about it and he cares about you!

Ask Big, Live Large

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Are you willing to ask big things of God? God loves it when his children trust him so much that they are willing to step way out in faith to possess promises that are way beyond what is humanly possible. God is honored when we pray bigly. But if you ask big things of God, get ready to be big enough for the britches God gives you. God wants to give in abundance, but he will never wastes kingdom resources. When he gives you something, he expects you to fill it out. So be willing to ask big and live large.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 19:1, 9

The tribe of Simeon’s homeland was surrounded by Judah’s territory…. Their allocation of land came from part of what had been given to Judah because Judah’s territory was too large for them. So the tribe of Simeon received an allocation within the territory of Judah.

Are you willing to ask big things of God? I hope so! God loves it when his children trust him so much that they are willing to step way out in faith to possess promises that are way beyond what is humanly possible to attain. God is honored when we pray bigly.

So are you ready to live large! If you ask big things of God, get ready to be big enough for the britches God gives you. You see, God is a God of abundance, and he gives in abundance, that is, he gives us more than enough. But while he gives abundantly, he never wastes kingdom resources. When he gives you something, he expects you to fill it out. In other words, he wants you to leverage every ounce of his provision to the maximum so that he can give you more. If you waste it, settle for less than maximum use, or misuse what he provides, he will not release more to you. In fact, there is indication in scripture (see Matthew 25:24-30) that if we don’t steward his gifts wisely and industriously, he will even take away what he has given and give it to someone who will develop it in faith.

In the case of the land allotment to the tribes of Judah and Simeon, the visionary folks of Judah had an industrious spirit about them. So God gave them much more land than they needed at the time. Yet because they had not taken full advantage of it, God took a portion of it and assigned it to the Simeonites. Judah, however, was not content to shrink into their land. They got fired up and later on asked the warriors of Simeon to join forces with them to take the land that was not yet under their occupation:

The men of Judah said to their relatives from the tribe of Simeon, “Join with us to fight against the Canaanites living in the territory allotted to us. Then we will help you conquer your territory.” So the men of Simeon went with Judah…. Then Judah joined with Simeon to fight against the Canaanites living in Zephath, and they completely destroyed the town. So the town was named Hormah. In addition, Judah captured the towns of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron, along with their surrounding territories. (Judges 1:3,17)

I like that about these two tribes. God’s blessing was more than they could handle, but they were unwilling to shrink into what they could handle. That is not the case with many believers: they get overwhelmed by abundance, as unbelievable as that sounds, and for a variety of reasons, fritter away their opportunity to fully occupy their blessings. They are like the intimidated steward in Matthew 25. But in the case of Judah and Simeon, they got smart: they joined forces and helped each other take the land. By faith and hard work, the expanded into their blessings.

That is the kind of believer I want to be. I want to be someone who is not afraid to ask bigly of my Father. And I want to be someone who is not afraid to leverage the large opportunity he gives in response to my asking, and maximize what he has placed in my hands. I want to do that to show him how much I trust him. I want to do that so that he can trust me with more. I want to do that so that others will be provoked to godly discontent in settling for anything less than God’s generous abundance.

Among the many things I want people who know me to say in reflection of my life, I hope they will say, “He asked big, but he lived large for God.” I want to leave nothing on the table when my life is over. I want none of heaven’s treasures appointed for me while I am on earth to remain in heaven. I want it all for the glory of God alone.

How about you? Let’s make a commitment from this day forward to be people of ask big and live large.

Going Deeper With God: Ask your Heavenly Father for some big, hairy audacious provisions today. Choose to ask big, then live large.

Waiting On The God Who Waits On Me

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The Christian life is a balance between what God does and what we do. Of course, our work is in response to his work—we don’t work to get God to do anything; he has already done everything, and our effort is always what is right and fitting because of his gracious acting on our behalf. We have a covenantal partnership with God, and each plays a role in order to live out the covenant. God has worked in what we must work out.

Going Deep // Focus: Joshua 16:5-6,10

Now that the land was under Israelite control, the entire community of Israel gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tabernacle. But there remained seven tribes who had not yet been allotted their grants of land. Then Joshua asked them, “How long are you going to wait before taking possession of the remaining land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given to you?

Perhaps what you are waiting on from God is waiting for you to do what God is waiting for from you. Wait! What? Wait? I know, it sounds a bit convoluted, but simply put, sometimes we are waiting when we should be working. God has done his part, but we haven’t done ours, and so the answers to our prayers are delayed.

The Christian life is a balance between what God does and what we do. Of course, our work is in response to his work—we don’t work to get God to do anything; he has already done everything, and our effort is always what is right and fitting because of his gracious acting on our behalf. We have a covenantal partnership with God, and each plays a role in order to live out the covenant. Or as Paul puts it in Philippians 2:12-13,

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

We must work out what God has worked. But so often we wait for God to do what he has already done. We misunderstand our responsibility in the partnership, or we avoid it because of spiritual laziness, or we are irresponsible, or frankly, maybe we are in rebellion against God, and we are simply not carrying our weight in the deal. Whatever the case may be, God will not do what we are to do. God will do what we can’t, but he will never do what we won’t.

Now in Israel’s case, God had promised them the land of Canaan as their home. He had brought them through 400 years of slavery in Egypt and through forty years of wandering in the desert to the edge of their new homeland. He had gone before them and had driven out their enemies. He had guaranteed their victory. But he had also called them to cross the Jordan into the land. He expected them to fight their enemies, drive them out and take possession of the cities and farmland the Canaanites left behind. He had been clear that they were to stay at it until the task was complete. Yet after more years than they needed, the work was incomplete. They had not done what they were supposed to do in response to what God had already done. So Joshua called them out on it.

I suppose all of this makes sense to you, and that you agree with it in principle—that God plays a part and we play a part. But I also suspect this is a bit vague as it relates to your life specifically. So the challenge I have for you in response to this chapter is to do some hard thinking about where you may be waiting on the God who is waiting on you to do your part. What does that look like for you? Where do you need to step up and get after it? What promises are unclaimed in your life, and the constraint is not God, it is you?

Tough questions, but let me encourage you to get after it. The effort will be well worth it, and besides, God has already done his part. The victory is already yours. So why wait any longer? Let me give you a verse from another section of scripture that applies to what I am asking you to do:

Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don’t be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord is with you; he will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly.” (1 Chronicles 28:20, LB)

Be bold and get after it—God is waiting on you!

Going Deeper With God: Where are you waiting on the God who is waiting on you to act? That is the most important question you will be ask today. I hope you can answer it, then do something about it.