And You Shall Rejoice

1 “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God.

“And you shall make response before the Lord your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.– Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ESV

Moses has finished reviewing all the rules and regulations intended to govern and guide the lives of the Israelites. Now, he provides them with instructions regarding the first harvest they will enjoy in the new land. Moses opens this section with the word, “when.” There was no question in his mind as to whether the Israelites would occupy the land. It was God’s will and it was going to happen. One generation had delayed the promise through their disobedience, but what God had ordained was going to happen. And Moses wanted the people to understand that God’s faithfulness was going to require an expression of gratitude on their part.

Once they settled in the land and began to cultivate it, they were to follow Moses’ instructions: “you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 26:2 ESV). Essentially, this would be the first of the firstfruits. The offering of the firstfruits was to be a regular occurrence in Israel and was intended to accompany every single harvest. But this command from Moses seems to be a unique offering that was specifically tied to the very first harvest in their new homeland. It was to be a special occasion, marking their official inheritance of the land of promise.

At this point in the their story, not only would the houses and towns be theirs, but they would reap the benefit of the fruit of the land. Back in the early chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses had told the people what God was going to do for them.

“The LORD your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT

And, because God is a promise-keeping God, the day was going to come when they would feast from the vineyards, orchards, and fields they had inherited as part of that promise. When they did, Moses told them they would need to express their gratefulness to God by offering Him the firstfruits of all they had harvested. This offering would not only be an expression of thanksgiving but a demonstration of their faithfulness. By giving God the first and the best of their harvests, they would be displaying their trust in His ongoing provision of all their future needs.

As part of the process of offering God the firstfruits of their harvest, the people of Israel were to recite the following phrase: “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5 ESV). This would be a direct reference to Jacob, who is referred to as an Aramean because he spent much of his early days in the region known as Paddan-aram. It was there that he married his wives and began his family. Eventually, Jacob would end up in Egypt, a guest of his long-lost son, Joseph, who had become the second-highest-ranking official in the land. When Jacob and his extended family arrived in Egypt, they were just over than 70 in number, but by the time they left some 400 years later, they would have numbered in the millions.

A significant part of the firstfruits offering was the importance that they recognize and remember all the suffering that had proceeded God’s deliverance. Their arrival in the land of promise had been prefaced by four-centuries-worth of trials and difficulties. But their ancestors had cried out and God had heard them and sent them a deliverer in the form of Moses. And Moses himself reminds the Israelites of what God did to free them from their bondage in Egypt.

“…the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” – Deuteronomy 26:8-9 ESV

And it was their remembrance of God’s gracious actions in the past that was to drive their display of gratitude in the future.

“‘And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.’” – Deuteronomy 26:10 ESV

Their giving of the firstfruits of their harvest would be a form of worship. It would honor God for all that He had done and prove their commitment to trust Him for all their future needs. He was and is a good God. He had kept His promise and delivered them to the land just as He had said He would. And as long as they continued to rely upon Him and reverently worship Him, He would continue to meet their needs for generations to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Never Forget

1 “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. No leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory for seven days, nor shall any of the flesh that you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain all night until morning. You may not offer the Passover sacrifice within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, but at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell in it, there you shall offer the Passover sacrifice, in the evening at sunset, at the time you came out of Egypt. And you shall cook it and eat it at the place that the Lord your God will choose. And in the morning you shall turn and go to your tents. For six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the Lord your God. You shall do no work on it. – Deuteronomy 16:1-8 ESV

Moses has been reminding the people of their obligation to offer the appropriate sacrifices at the appropriate time and place. Now, he is going to elaborate on the particular feasts and festivals at which these various offerings were to be made.

All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the Lord your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock.You shall eat it, you and your household, before the Lord your God year by year at the place that the Lord will choose. – Deuteronomy 15:19-20 NLT

The first, and most important one, was the Feast of Passover. This yearly celebration was instituted while the people of Israel were still in Egypt and was closely associated with the final plague: The death of the firstborn. On the night the very first Passover was held, God spared all those whose homes were marked by the blood of an unblemished lamb. This sign, placed on the doorposts of their homes in an act of faith, provided those inside with protection from the judgment of God. Their homes were “passed over” by the Death Angel and their firstborns were spared. And God had told the people that this momentous event was to be celebrated on an annual and perpetual basis for generations to come.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” – Exodus 12:14 ESV

Passover began with the sacrifice of the lamb and the sprinkling of its blood, followed by a meal at which the lamb was to be eaten

“They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord‘s Passover.” – Exodus 12:8-11 ESV

The consumption of the lamb was to be followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a seven-day-long period of time in which all leaven, a symbol of sin, was removed from the homes and from the diets of the Israelites.

“For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.” – Exodus 12:19-20 ESV

And Moses had instructed the people to faithfully observe this God-ordained series of celebrations and commemorations each and every year.

“You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord‘s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” – Exodus 12:24-27 ESV

Now, some 40 years later, the Israelites were preparing to enter the land and Moses reminded them once again of their obligation to keep these important feasts and festivals. But it was essential that the Israelites not allow these holy days to devolve into nothing more than glorified holidays. They were intended to be commemorations or memorials of all that God had done for them. They were meant to be links to the past, reminding the people of God’s greatness and goodness. And as each successive generation found itself further and further from the original Passover, it was going to be essential that the memory of God’s gracious deliverance be retold and their gratitude for His kindness be rekindled.

That’s why Moses was so emphatic in his reminder that they keep these feasts. He knew that, once they arrived in the land, they would be tempted to leave the past behind. As they acclimated to their new home, they would find their former condition as slaves a distant and quickly fading memory. These feasts were meant to be reminders of God’s deliverance and a constant call to remain faithful to Him alone. The removal of the leaven would provide a visual lesson of the ever-present and pervasive nature of sin. It would always be with them. And while God had delivered them from slavery and provided the land of Canaan as their inheritance, they were to keep themselves holy and totally dedicated to God.

“Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 16:3 ESV

There is a sense in which God’s people are to live with their heads on a swivel, constantly looking back in an effort to recall the past and all that God has done, but also looking forward in faith, eagerly anticipating all that God has promised to do.

The apostle Paul was constantly reminding the churches to which he wrote of their past condition, prior to their coming to faith in Christ.

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT

He told the believers in Ephesus:

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!). – Ephesians 2:1-5 NLT

Looking back is an essential part of the Christian’s growth experience. If we fail to remember our pre-salvation condition, we will end up taking our faith for granted. The miracle of our spiritual transformation will lose its impact. The sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf will tend to diminish in its value. But if we recall the helplessness and hopelessness of our former condition, the grace and mercy of God will retain its glory and wonder.

God had miraculously and graciously liberated the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. He had faithfully led them through the wilderness and placed them on the edge of the very land He had promised to give them as their inheritance. But it was going to be vital that they remember their past. These annual feasts and festivals were to be celebrations and commemorations. They were intended to be times of rejoicing and recalling, feasting and reflecting.

When it comes to the goodness and graciousness of God, forgetfulness is a dangerous tendency that is to be avoided at all costs. That’s why Moses was constantly reminding the Israelites to never forget. Because he knew that forgetfulness would ultimately lead to unfaithfulness.

When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.

“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the LORD your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 8:10-14 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson




Forgetting God

10 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15 for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.

16 “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. 17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers 19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-19 ESV

After nearly a half-century of leading the people of Israel, Moses knew them well. He was painfully familiar with all their character flaws and their predisposition toward sin. You can sense his father-like approach in preparing them for the fast-approaching day of their entrance into the land of promise. And he tried his best to help them understand just what they were about to experience.

As with any significant life event, there was much about the conquering of the land of Canaan that was unknown to the Israelites. While God had repeatedly promised them the land and had assured them that He would go before them, fighting on their behalf against their enemies, they had no idea what any of that was going to look or feel like. And, no doubt, they had all kinds of fears and apprehensions.

So, Moses tried to set their minds at rest by focusing on the good news. He told them about the positive outcome of their crossing over the Jordan and taking possession of the land. Moses fast-forwards and describes “a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant” (Deuteronomy 6:10-11 NLT).

Moses wanted them to know that God was about to bless them in ways they couldn’t even begin to understand. The picture he painted for them was designed to remind them that God was going to meet all their needs, and He was going to do it in spectacular fashion. They were going to find themselves enjoying the comfort and shelter of houses they had not built, located within the walls of cities they had not constructed. They would eat food they had not planted or harvested, from fields and orchards they had not cultivated. There would even slake their thirst by drinking water from cisterns they didn’t have to dig.

It was as if they were going to win the lottery. Almost instantaneously, they would find themselves transformed from a wandering nation of vagabonds and nomadic shepherds, living in tents, to a nation of prosperous land-owners. And it would all be the work of God Almighty. But Moses knew the danger they faced. This virtual overnight metamorphosis could prove to be dangerous if they failed to remember the one who had made it all possible. That’s why Moses warned them, “When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 6:11-12 NLT).

Moses knew that they were going to be tempted to forget God. Man’s natural tendency is to focus on the gift while neglecting to show gratitude for the one who made the gift possible. He fully realized that the people of Israel faced the very real prospect of becoming fat and happy and, at the same time, forgetful and ungrateful. Their physical prosperity would anesthetize them to the spiritual reality of God and His goodness. Their lack of need would make their dependence upon God unnecessary. When they suddenly found themselves surrounded by an abundance of material things, they would have no need for God. But Moses knew the danger they faced if they allowed God’s blessings to lull them into a sense of contentment and complacency.

So, he reminded them, “You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name” (Deuteronomy 6:13 NLT).

Their prosperousness could easily lead to forgetfulness. They could find themselves substituting the worship of God with an unhealthy obsession with the blessings of God. The gifts could take precedence over the Giver. And, when that happens, it isn’t long before the forgetfulness of God results in an allure of false gods. Which is why Moses warned them, “You must not worship any of the gods of neighboring nations, for the Lord your God, who lives among you, is a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 6:14-15 NLT).

If they allowed themselves to forget God, the next time they had a need, they would be susceptible to seeking help from any and every other god. Forgetfulness is one of the greatest enemies of faithfulness. Failing to remember all that God has done can easily result in a failure to worship Him for who He is: Our all-powerful provider, protector, and praise-worthy God.

Moses charged the people of Israel to be always mindful of God and faithfully obedient to God. They were not to allow His many blessings to lull themselves into a state of complacency. He was a holy God who demanded obedience to His laws and who would not tolerate unfaithfulness to His covenant. The people of Israel were His chosen possession, and they were to live with that reality in mind. And Moses left nothing to their imaginations, spelling out in black-and-white terms just what they would need to do if they wanted to enjoy the blessings of God and the ongoing benefits of the presence of God.

Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so all will go well with you. Then you will enter and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to give your ancestors. You will drive out all the enemies living in the land, just as the Lord said you would. – Deuteronomy 6:18-19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson




By Faith.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. – Hebrews 11:4 ESV

This chapter of Hebrews opens with the familiar words, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But as 21st-Century Christians we struggle understanding exactly what the author means. Faith is a nebulous and sometimes mysterious thing to us. We say we have it, but we’re not exactly sure what it is or what it looks like. We’re not sure if it is something we have to muster up or if it is given to us by God. When we think we have it, we wonder if we have enough of it. So while we would define ourselves as a “people of faith”, we regularly wrestle with the concept. So the author of Hebrews has given us the content of chapter 11 to help us. He starts out by telling us that “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3 ESV). We weren’t there. We didn’t see it happen. So we have to take God at His word – by faith. The book of Genesis tells us how the universe was created by God, and we must believe that it happened just as it says it did. When we do, we are exhibiting faith. We are giving evidence of a “conviction of things not seen”. Faith involves trust. It requires belief. And it is based on hope. But we tend to use the word “hope” in a purely speculative sense. We say things like, “I hope I win the lottery!” or “I hope I he asks me out!” Our hope usually lacks assurance or a sense of confidence. It tends to be little more than wishful thinking. But that is not what the author of Hebrews is talking about. So he gives us further evidence of faith from the lives of the Old Testament saints.

Nineteen different times in this chapter, the author will use the phrase, “by faith”. His point seems to be that faith was both the motivator and the power behind the actions of those individuals he lists. What they did was done because of faith. Faith in something hoped for and as yet unseen. Faith is God-focused and future-oriented. It has its roots in the faithfulness of God. It gets its strength from the promises made by God. So when Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, is said to have “offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain”, faith is central to understanding the difference between his sacrifice and that of his brothers. It has less to do with the content of their individual sacrifices than the hearts of the men who made them. The question we have to ask is why either of these two sons of Adam and Eve were making sacrifices to God at all. Where did they learn to make sacrifices. We don’t see evidence of this practice in the Garden of Eden. We see no command given by God to Adam and Eve to offer up sacrifices to Him. So why were their sons doing so? If you go back to the original story in Genesis, which the author’s Jewish audience would have known well, it tells us:

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. – Genesis 4:2-5 ESV

The phrase, “in the course of time” would seem to indicate that this was a regular occurrence, that the first family had established a habit of offering sacrifices to God. There is no indication that this was something that God required of them. It appears to be wholly voluntary. And each son brought an offering that was consistent with his area of expertise. Abel brought the firstborn of his flock and Cain brought the fruit of the ground. One brought animals while the other brought produce. The issue does not seem to be with the quality or quantity of their offerings. It does not appear to have anything to do with the content of their offerings. The issue was their faith. Cain gave an offering of the fruit of the ground. He most likely gave grain, dates, figs, or whatever else he had grown. But keep in mind, he gave “the fruit of the ground.” He did not give God the tree from which the fruit grew. So he was assured of having more fruit to replace what he had given. It also does not say that he gave God the best of his fruit. He simply gave God a portion. And yet, of Abel it is said that he gave the “firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.” In other words, Abel gave the best and he gave them God permanently. He didn’t just offer them to God, he sacrificed them. Abel would never benefit from them. They would never breed and produce more sheep. They would not grow up and produce milk. They would never serve as food on the table for Abel’s family. He had given them to God and placed his faith in God that He would provide.

We know that Cain went on to kill his brother. Why? The author of Hebrews tells us that Abel’s offering was “commended as righteous” because he made it based on faith. The apostle John provides additional insight into what is going on. “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12 ESV). If Abel’s offering or deed was commended as righteous because of his faith, then it would seem that Cain’s deeds were deemed unrighteous by God because of his lack of faith. He was not trusting God for His future provision. He wasn’t giving God his best and trusting God to provide for his future needs. He was simply going through the motions. And when God rejected his offering, Cain became angry. God asked him, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7 ESV). What did God mean by “if you do well”? It would seem that He was talking about faith. Cain hoped for more crops. He hoped for abundant fruit. He wanted success. His concern was for future provision. But rather than trust God, he chose to trust in his own effort to supply his needs. He lacked faith in God and his offering demonstrated it. His offering required no sacrifice, no dependence upon God.

By sacrificing the lives of his firstborn flocks, Abel was putting his hope of future provision in the hands of God. There is no doubt that he wanted his flocks to grow, but by offering his firstborn to God, he was having to place his assurance in God, not his flocks. He was showing that his faith was in God, the one who created the entire universe. Abel’s faith was in the God who had created his flocks. Cain’s faith was in the fruit he had grown and his own ability to grow more. His offering was more of a statement to God of “look what I have done!” Abel’s offering was an expression of thanks to God for all He had done and a statement of faith in all that God was going to do in the future.

Worthy of Praise.

Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me! – Psalm 66:20 ESV

Have you ever stopped to consider the unbelievable reality that God hears your prayers? Not only does He hear them, He answers them. Maybe not in the way you would like or were expecting, and perhaps not on the schedule you were hoping for, but He always answers. But the even more amazing fact is that God hears our prayers to begin with. Think about that. Why should He? What have we done to deserve the attention of the holy, righteous, sinless God who created the entire universe. He is the one who made us and yet we have returned the gift of His creation with sin, rejection of His authority, indifference to His Word, and a constant love for creation instead of the Creator. So why does He listen? Because for those of us who are in Christ, He sees us as righteous because of the sacrificial blood of His Son. God no longer sees us as rebellious sinners, but as saints, sons and daughters. We are His children and, as a good Father, He listens to our calls for help, our pleas for direction, and our cries for mercy. The psalmist praised God because his prayers had not been rejected. He praised the fact that God was still in love with him in spite of him. He was able to say, “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19 ESV). 

The sad fact is that we take that reality for granted. God listens to our prayers and the unbelievable nature of that thought doesn’t even seem to register with us. God chooses to hear me when I call out to Him. Not because I deserve it, but because His Son has paid the price for my sins so that I can come into the very presence of God the Father with no fear of condemnation or rejection. He hears me and He listens to me as His child. He loves me and answers me like a loving Father would one of His children. And I take it for granted. So do you. We have given God plenty of good reasons to reject our prayers and ample cause for Him to fall out of love with us. But He continues to hear and listen to us. He continues to love us unconditionally and unwaveringly. So why don’t we praise Him more? David did. He got it. He appreciated God’s love and the fact that He heard his prayers. Read the following words of David and ask yourself when was the last time you felt the same way.

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things. – Psalm 103:1-5 NLT

God hears you. He answers you. He loves you. So why doesn’t that amaze you? Why doesn’t that produce an attitude of gratitude and praise in you? If you’re anything like me, it is probably because we don’t pray and truly believe He hears us or answers us. Or it could be that we pray and then fail to recognize His answers when they come. David said, “He fills my life with good things.” We have lost the sense of God’s goodness in our lives. We no longer see all the good things that He is doing in our lives every day. Instead, we have boiled down the proof of His activity in our lives to the list of things we ask of Him and expect Him to deliver. We are like a child who wants a new bike, but fails to appreciate the bed in which he sleeps, the food he eats, the clothes he wears, and the room full of toys he already enjoys. We want and demand more from God, while failing to appreciate and show gratitude for all He has already done. God is worthy of our praise – all the time. The very fact that He hears us when we pray and loves us even when we sin, should amaze and astound us. It should produce in us an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. Our attitude should be that of David. “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’” (Psalm 66:1-3 NLT). Praise Him. Not because of what you are waiting for Him to do for you, but for the very fact that He loves you enough to hear you when you call. Praise Him for all He has already done. Praise Him because He provided His own son as a sacrifice for your sins and has made it possible for you to enjoy a relationship with Him, free from fear and condemnation. He is worthy of our praise. So let us praise Him. Shout for joy to the Lord. Sing His praises. Let Him know just how grateful you are that He hears you and loves you.

Numbers 3-4, Luke 17

Servants of God.

Numbers 3-4, Luke 17

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” – Luke 17:10 ESV

The Levites were God’s chosen servants. They were His handpicked replacements, intended to stand in for all the first-born males who were to be dedicated to God each year. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, after having received the Law from God, he discovered the people worshiping the golden calf. Moses issued a call to the people, saying, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me” (Exodus 32:26 ESV). It was the sons of Levi who came to his aid. He commanded them to strap on their swords and act as God’s hand of judgment upon the people. They obeyed and, as a result, nearly 3,000 Israelites died that day. In recognition of their obedience, Moses ordained them to the service of the Lord, “each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day” (Exodus 32:29 ESV).

These men, the Levites, would remain God’s chosen servants. They served as guards over the tabernacle and all it contained. They served as carriers of all the materials that made up the tabernacle, transporting it from one camp to another during all the days they spent wandering in the wilderness. But they also served as redeemers. Each Levite was a substitute for another Jewish first-born male. God had intended for every first-born male from every family to be dedicated to his service, but the incident with the golden calf changed all that. Instead, God would allow the Levites to redeem the lives of the firstborn, serving in their place. These men were the consummate servants. They served God and they served men. They dedicated their lives to the ministry of the tabernacle. They played an integral role in the worship of God, ensuring that the tabernacle remained pure and holy, and helping provide a constant dwelling place for God and His presence during all the days they spent in the wilderness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our knows and understands the heart of man. He is fully aware that man will always be prone to disorder and disobedience. Faithful allegiance on the part of men does not come naturally or willingly. But God is always faithful. He guaranteed His presence among His people and ensured that they would remember that He was their King and that they were dependent upon Him for everything. The Tabernacle was not just a place of worship and sacrifice, it was a constant reminder of their dependence upon God. It was not enough to simply have Him in their midst. The Tabernacle provided the means by which they could be assured of His continued presence as they faithfully atoned for their sins through obedience to His sacrificial requirements. The Tabernacle and the Levites traveled at the center of their company, and it was to be the erected at the center of their camp at the close of each day. The physical centrality of God’s presence was to be a constant reminder of their need for God to be the spiritual focus of their lives as a people.

What does this passage reveal about man?

While God had been giving His Law to Moses, the people had been busy rebelling against Him and revealing the depth of their unfaithfulness to Him. Their own sin made their first-born sons unqualified to serve Him. But the sons of Levi had remained faithful. They had willingly stepped up and done what needed to be done to cleanse the sin from the midst of the people and satisfy the just demands of a holy God. So God made these men His servants. He dedicated the sons of Levi as permanent ministers in His tabernacle and among His people. Once again, in spite of man’s sin, God provided an acceptable solution. When He could no longer accept the firstborn males because of their sinfulness, He allowed the Levites to act as substitutes, redeeming the lives of those who were unacceptable for service.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The Levites were set apart by God. They had specific responsibilities and duties that were essential to the worship of God. Their roles were vital to ensuring that God’s presence remained with the people. The tasks they had to perform were not glamorous or prone to make their fellow Israelites jealous. They were guards of the holy things of God. They were porters and packers, making sure that the tabernacle of God, which housed the presence of God, traveled along with the people of God. In the book of Luke, Jesus gives an interesting commentary on servants. He asks His disciples, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly,  and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?” (Luke 17:7-8 ESV). Jesus goes on to say, “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?” (Luke 17:9 ESV).

Within this same passage, we see Jesus telling His disciples to beware of temptation. He assures them that it will come, but to make sure that they are not the source of temptation. Instead, they are to rebuke a brother who sins. If he repents, they are to forgive him. And even if this brother sins against them seven times in a single day, and each times repents, they must forgive him. As servants of God, the disciples were being asked to do what He expected of them. Humbly and expecting no form of thanks. They were to obey, remembering that they were “unworthy servants” who served a holy and worthy God. There is to be a humility to the servant of God. There is also to be a gratefulness. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, only one returned to express praise to God. He didn’t deserve healing, but he knew enough to acknowledge the One who provided it. Humility and gratefulness are the marks of a true servant of God. The Levites served without fanfare and probably received little in the way of thanks. Their roles were difficult and they had no choice in the matter. They were expected to do what God had assigned them to do. And they had to do it well – without complaint, in humbleness, and grateful for the opportunity to serve a holy, mighty God. That is the way I should live my life as a servant and son of the Most High God.

Father, Your Son came to serve, not be served. May I live with that same attitude of sacrifice and selflessness. I want to serve You faithfully and well, humbly and gratefully. Thank You for choosing me to serve You and Your people. Continue to show me how to do it with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Day 37 – Luke 7:36-8:3

Saving Faith. Visible Faith.

Luke 7:36-8:3

“And Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” – Luke 7:50 NLT

One of the things that continually got Jesus into trouble with the religious leadership was His habit of forgiving people of their sins. It really upset their religious sensibilities because, in their minds, only God could forgive sins. Which is exactly why Jesus did it. He was God. And as such, He had the power and the authority to offer forgiveness of sin – but not in some willy-nilly manner. Faith had to be expressed, either verbally of visually, by the individual before Jesus could offer forgiveness of their sins. They had to illustrate belief in who He was and illustrate by their words or actions that they believed He had authority from God to help them. This tended to be people who were in great need and recognized their helplessness. They saw in Jesus a source of help and hope, and turned to Him in faith.

Such was the case of the woman in this story. She was a sinner. Her reputation as such preceded her. Luke describes her as an immoral woman, perhaps a local prostitute. But when she learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisees house, she showed up with a jar filled with expensive perfume and a plan of action. She poured the perfume mixed with her own tears on to the feet of Jesus, using her own hair as a cloth to clean them. She even kissed His feet repeatedly. These were NOT normal actions for anyone, even a prostitute. For her to walk into the house of a Pharisee, uninvited and unannounced was bold and brash, to say the least. She didn’t fit in. She would have been unwelcome and unwanted. Fingers would have been pointed. Shocked expressions and accusing whispers would have filled the room. Even the Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” (Luke 7:39 NLT). I love that line. “She’s a sinner!” It expresses the Pharisees repulsion and shock. But it also perfectly illustrates Jesus’ point when He said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10 NLT). Earlier in Luke’s account, he records Jesus statement, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:32 NLT). This woman was exactly the kind of person Jesus came to save. But the only difference between her and the Pharisee was that she recognized her sin and he couldn’t or wouldn’t. She believed in Jesus and he didn’t. Her faith in Jesus was expressed by her actions. Nowhere in this story does she say a word, and yet Jesus knows her heart because it shows up in her actions. Jesus makes a point of highlighting all that she had done to the Pharisee. “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil for my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume” (Luke 7:44-46 NLT). It wasn’t what she did that Jesus is emphasizing, but the heart behind her actions. This man, as the host, had neglected to do even the most rudimentary acts of kindness for Jesus. Why? Because he had no respect for Him. He did not believe in Him. But this woman, because she recognized her own unworthiness and valued who Jesus was and what He could do for her, went above and beyond normal protocol. And as a result, Jesus declared her sins forgiven. NOT because of what she had done. No, Jesus makes it clear. “I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love” (Luke 7:47 NLT). She was repentant. Otherwise she never would have come to Jesus. She believed in Him, or she never would have bothered coming to the home of the Pharisee that day. Her washing of Jesus’ feet was an act of thankfulness expressing her gratitude to Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins. This had been the message of John the Baptist and of Jesus from the very beginning. “Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven” (Luke 3:3 NLT). Repentance and turning to God for forgiveness. What Jesus saw in this woman was a repentant heart that had turned from sin and to God for forgiveness. And she expressed her gratitude to Jesus as the Son of God.

Her faith showed up in her actions. Her beliefs influenced her behavior. Her gratitude flowed out in good works. That is the way it should always be. James put it this way: “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds” (James 2:18 NLT). Saving faith is always a visible faith.

Father, how humbling it is to read this story and to realize just how grateful this woman was. Her actions were out of the ordinary and costly. She didn’t care what everyone else in the room thought or said. She didn’t care how much it cost her financially. She didn’t care about the potential damage to her reputation, because she knew the truth about herself. She had been a sinner in need of a Savior and she had met Him. She had received acceptance, hope and forgiveness from Jesus and expressed her thanks in her actions. May I learn from her example. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Psalm 103 – Day 1

Praise the Lord!

“Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.” – Psalm 103:2 NLT

Gratefulness to God begins with an awareness of all that He has done for us. Failure to recognize God’s activity in our lives makes it extremely unlikely that we will be grateful. It’s hard to praise Him for all that He has done for us if we don’t recognize it to begin with. In this Psalm, David seems to be reminding himself of God’s daily activities in his life. He even says, “May I never forget the good things he does for me” (Psalm 103:2b NLT). Then he goes on to list all those “good things:”

  • He forgives all my sins
  • He heals all my diseases
  • He redeems me from death
  • He crowns me with love and tender mercies
  • He fills my life with good things
  • He renews my youth
  • He gives righteousness and justice
  • He is compassionate and merciful
  • He is slow to get angry
  • He is filled with unfailing love
  • He will not constantly accuse us
  • He doesn’t remain angry with us forever
  • He doesn’t punish us for all our sins
  • He doesn’t deal harshly with us, as we deserve
  • He shows us unfailing love that is immeasurable and unlimited
  • He has removed our sins as for as the east is from the west
  • He treats us like a father would his children
  • He is tender and compassionate
  • He knows and understands our weaknesses
  • His love for us remains forever
  • He rules over everything

That’s a pretty extensive list, and it is not unique to David. Every single one of these “good things” are available to us as His children. They are just as true of my relationship with God as they were of David. The problem is that we don’t tend to think about them. Instead, we dwell on all those things we believe God has failed to do for us. We concentrate on what we believe to be are unanswered prayers and unmet expectations. We may have some specific need we want addressed and, in our estimation, God has failed to deal with it adequately. In the meantime, we fail to recognize and appreciate His unfailing love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace He extends to us day after day – like clockwork.

One of the most amazing realizations David expresses in this Psalm is found in verse 10. The NET Bible translates it this way: “He does not deal with us as our sins deserve;  he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve.” This is another way of looking at God’s incredible mercy and grace. You see, mercy is God not giving you what you deserve (withheld punishment), and grace is God giving you what you don’t deserve (unmerited favor). David understood that God had every right as God to deal with us harshly due to the sin in our lives, but He chose to show mercy instead. Rather than give us what we deserve, God gives us what we don’t deserve – His grace. Until we come to grips with the reality of that statement, we will never truly praise God for who He is and what He has done. Christ’s death on the cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love and grace. His death made possible our forgiveness. His sacrifice allowed God to withhold our punishment because in dying in our place, Christ paid our debt in full. The righteous wrath of God was satisfied once and for all. As a result, God has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. We no longer stand before God as guilty and condemned, but as forgiven and redeemed. He sees us as righteous and holy.

So if we think about it, we have just as much to be grateful for as David did – even more. We have enjoyed the benefit of Christ’s sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross. So, like David, we should be able to say, “Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name” (Psalm 103:1 NLT).

Father, the good things You have done for me are real and deserving of my gratitude and praise. I should be praising You for who You are and all that You have done and continue to do on a daily basis. Open my eyes and help me see Your activity in and around my life. Give me an increasing awareness of Your grace and mercy so that I will praise You more. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men