The Ugliness of Ingratitude

The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Today we meet two ungrateful men. If we have softened hearts, we can learn a lesson from them about being thankful for God’s mercy.

Today’s Reading

I Samuel 19-21; Luke 15:11-32

Selected Verses

And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you.”  I Samuel 19:4

And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”  Luke 15:31,32

Reflections

Ingratitude brings irrational behavior and hatefulness toward others.

Saul was so blinded by jealousy and fear of David that he could not see that the man he wanted to kill was his most loyal and beneficial ally.  Saul was king of Israel, but the history of his reign is overshadowed by his senseless rivalry with a man who (as we shall see in subsequent readings) would not hurt him even when he could have easily assassinated him.  Jonathan attempted to reason with his father and to point out how David had brought success to Saul but he could not keep this perspective clearly in mind.  Saul would momentarily relent but then renew his pursuit of the man he feared. Instead of thanking God for David, Saul spent most of his energy trying to destroy David.

A similar attitude can be seen in the parable of the prodigal son whose older brother resisted attending the welcome home party.  The father begged him to join in the feast, but he was offended by the graciousness and mercy of his father toward his returned son.  He complained about not getting such glorious treatment himself. He resented the father’s generosity because he felt entitled to more than his brother.

Think about it

Jesus does not tell us how the story ends.  We leave them with the party going on. The father and older brother are standing outside discussing whether or not he will join the celebration.  Does the brother continue to mope and pout, or does he enter into the food and festivities?  We aren’t told.

How would you respond?  Would you rejoice in the goodness and grace of the father or would you feel short-changed, deserving of much more?  Are you grateful for God’s mercy or resentful that others who have sinned greatly have been blessed with forgiveness?  Ingratitude is ugly, but, worse than that, it reveals a hardened, lost heart.  If you are standing outside of the celebration, pray for a humble and grateful heart to enter in.

God Created Man

Today’s reading: Genesis 1-3

As I think about God’s grace and power to mankind in creation, I am convicted by my lack of thankfulness and praise to Him. As I suggested in Cover to Cover, we can gain insight into the source of many problems of society by looking at how we have deviated from God’s original design for us and for creation.

But on the other hand, I would not want to dwell exclusively on all the things wrong with the world. We can miss the praise that is due God who has been so good to us. We must not become a bunch of sourpusses.

What is the cure for such a pessimistic outlook?

Is it not to praise Him more? To thank Him for big and little things that He has given us so that we may exist, flourish, and expect God’s final triumph over the serpent? Even in these opening chapters of the Bible, where the stage is set for human history, we have the certain glimmer of a final, definitive victory over the serpent.

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15

The fact that God said he would put enmity between the woman and the serpent and between her seed and his seed is a tip-off to how human history will unfold. If we see the battle raging, it should not surprise us. It should not even discourage us. For the offspring of the woman, we will learn, is Jesus Christ[1]. He has bruised the serpent’s head.

Let us begin this year with praise and thanksgiving. May it flow from our hearts, minds, and lips throughout the year ahead.

 

[1] See Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:34-35; Galatians 4:4

God’s Love

Two things are true of those who find God’s forgiveness and restoration, they recognize their sinful unworthiness, and they recognize God’s goodness and loving kindness.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 33-35; Titus 3

“‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,
for the Lord is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!’ Jeremiah 33:11b

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us… Titus 3:3-5a

Jeremiah’s prophecy is peppered with indictments for Judah’s persistent rebellion against God, His Law, and His prophets. But these lists of failures are also accompanied by reassurances that God will ultimately restore the people He has chosen for Himself. They will be blessed and they will be filled with praise and thanks to the Lord.

Paul wrote to Titus who had the unenviable task of organizing and teaching the congregation in Crete, a society known for being “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Indeed, Paul identifies himself with a list of vices and character flaws that rivals that of the infamous Cretans. He says he and others who have now been saved could be described as “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” It is not a flattering resume, to say the least.

Then God intervened. Everything changed. God the Savior came with His goodness and loving kindness and saved Paul and all upon whom He set His love.

Many, like me, will agree that the more we know of God and of ourselves the more amazed we are of the goodness and loving kindness of the Lord. Words cannot describe the relief of sins forgiven, of salvation assured, of adoption as God’s son, and of purpose and calling to serve God. Days spent in malice and envy are now filled with gratefulness and service. No, none who know Him would claim to be sinless or perfect, far from it. But it is all of God’s grace and He will complete what He has begun.

Be sure you know the goodness and loving kindness of God who saves. If you do, lift up His praises today in all you do.

Unquenchable Joy

Joy springs up in the life of those who have God’s Spirit in them.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 10-12; Galatians 5

1 You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah 12:1-3

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Judah and Israel were concerned about national security and relief from the oppressing nations. Isaiah came to them to speak of a Holy God whom they had offended. He was justly angry with them. Israel would be defeated by Assyria. Judah was on probation. But Isaiah also gave them hope of a future in which they would know God’s salvation. They would be comforted in the knowledge that His just anger was turned away.

The sweet promise “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation,” brings to mind Jesus’ words in John 7:38,  “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus was describing the Spirit that all who believed in Him would receive.

Paul tells the Galatians that in Christ they have freedom: freedom from their sin, guilt, and condemnation under the law. They have the Spirit of God and He bears fruit in their lives: love, joy, peace, etc.

There can be nothing to compare with the comfort which comes from being totally forgiven by God. No more just anger against us. If the Spirit of God lives in us, how can we not have a deep joy that springs up like water from a well? Let the joy of your salvation fill you today.

Why Life is Not Vain

The gospel of Jesus Christ shows us why the earthly life of believers, while far from as complete as it will be in glory, is also not vain as Solomon thought.

Today’s reading: Ecclesiastes 1-3; 2 Corinthians 9

20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?                    Ecclesiastes 3:20-22

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.                                  2 Corinthians 9:10-12

Solomon, who, I believe, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, had the time, money, and motivation to invest in the pursuit of the meaning of life. But he came up with a rather bleak picture. His conclusion, after all that study and experimentation, was that “All is vanity.” The best humans can hope for, he concluded, is   “…to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (3:12b-13).  Somehow it feels like something is missing, something that transcends this world. Certainly, Solomon grasps this too, as he says, “…[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (3:11)

But God’s self-revelation continued with the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the announcement of the Kingdom of God. Paul writes to those in Corinth who have heard this message and who are trusting in God’s Son for salvation. He tells them that their faith expressed in generosity for the poor is actually sowing a harvest of righteousness that results in praise and thanksgiving to God.

When God’s people use the resources He supplies to serve others, this action produces win-win results for all. Genuine needs are met. Those who give are blessed. God is glorified. Far from being a vain, useless enterprise, generosity and good works produces lasting fruit. Take opportunities to give today. May the eternal, triune God be glorified and may you be blessed!

Poverty, Joy, and Generosity

God’s grace brings joy and generosity among those who have little.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 30-31; 2 Corinthians 8

20 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.                                  Proverbs 31:20

1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.                                                                                             2 Corinthians 8:1-2

Paul was concerned for the poor in Jerusalem. In an orderly way, he went about Macedonia and Achaia asking the churches to contribute to these needy brothers and sisters whom they had never met. [See The Importance of Giving to the Poor]. The Macedonian churches, those in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were themselves suffering from affliction and extreme poverty.

There were two surprises here. One, Paul told them about the collection even though they were in need themselves. He did not want to rob them of the joy of doing what they could. Second, they gave far more than Paul expected. How were they able to do this? It was a result of the grace of God in their lives. Surely, they grasped “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (vs. 9).

Proverbs concludes with a picture of the godly woman, wife, and mother. We have met Lady Wisdom and her counterpart Ms. Folly in chapter 9. Now only the wise woman appears. One of her qualities is concern for the poor and needy. She gives to them. She reaches out to them. She gives them resources and assists them in practical ways. Diligence, as exemplified by this woman, generally results in abundance. Abundance should result in generosity. Sadly, this is often not the case (Luke 12:13-21). One might think that poverty would squelch joy and generosity. In the Macedonian churches, the opposite was true. God’s grace makes the difference.

There is no greater evidence of the presence of God’s grace than to have joy and generosity whether in need or in abundance. What glory that manifestation of grace brings to God! Look at Jesus, today, and learn joy and generosity whether you have much or little.

The Best Is Yet to Be

The best of this world pales in comparison to the glory awaiting those who know God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Today’s reading: Proverbs 21-22; 2 Corinthians 4

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
is riches and honor and life.                                                                  Proverbs 22:4

14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.    2 Corinthians 4:14-15

In Old Testament times, much of the focus of God’s commands and promises was on the way of wisdom and blessing in this life. Proverbs holds out much hope for reward for those who are humble and reverent before God. He has made a covenant with Israel to be their God, to keep them as His special people, to forgive their sins as they repent before Him and keep His law.

But behind these great covenant promises was an even greater ultimate end. God would send the Messiah. He would be the King in the lineage of David. He would also be the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God, who would be pierced and crushed so that we might be healed and have peace (Isaiah 53).

All this was still in the future at the time of Proverbs. Meanwhile, the faithful would heed the call to humility and the fear of the Lord. Many would see a reward in this life, but not all.

Then, came the Lord Jesus Christ proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).  The old covenant kingdom of Israel was a mere shadow of the Kingdom of God.

Paul resisted it until he could resist no more, confronted as he was on the road to Damascus by Christ Himself (Acts 9:1-31). Now Paul tells the good news of the resurrection. God’s grace was going out to more and more people. Thanksgiving shouts went up everywhere that grace went and God was being glorified in places like Corinth, where darkness had ruled with an iron hand.

Down through the centuries the gospel that promises life through the resurrected Christ has been proclaimed to the ends of the earth. Do not lose heart! Jesus told us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10). He is answering that prayer as the gospel goes forth and grace is received by millions in the most unlikely places. Most of all, God is glorified. If you are blessed with riches and honor and life in this world, rejoice! But remember, the best is yet to be when we enter into His kingdom and glory forever.

Being and Doing the Lord’s Work

Today’s reading: Psalms 136-138; I Corinthians 9

     The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;

your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.

Do not forsake the work of your hands.                                                Psalm 138:8

Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?                                     1 Corinthians 9:1b

God’s people are both the object of His Providences and the means to accomplishing them. God’s people are used by Him in ministry and are changed by Him for His purposes.

David in Psalm 138 rejoices in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. He praises God for answered prayer, for strength in time of need. Now he experiences trouble, but his confidence is unwavering. God is firmly in control and will complete what He has begun. David knows he is God’s workmanship. “Please,” he prays, “don’t stop working in and on me!”

Paul, too, understood how God works in and through people that He has saved by grace through faith. He wrote to the church in Ephesus, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul adds another layer to this concept. God uses people to work for Him in the lives of others. Paul saw himself as a workman, a gardener, in the Lord’s work. The believers in Corinth were his workmanship. He had “sown spiritual things” among them (vs. 11).   He had proclaimed the gospel to them (vs. 14). Wherever he went he made himself a servant to all, adapting as much as possible to those he was seeking to win (vs. 19-23). He exercised self-control and disciplined his body in order to do what he was called to do, to complete the work assigned to him by the Lord.

You are probably a product of someone else’s work or ministry in you. Maybe you still are being discipled,  mentored, and shepherded. Be sure you are an eager, appreciative learner. If you are serving others in the gospel, be careful to run so as to win the prize. After all, you are the work of the Lord’s hands, and He also uses your hands to do His work. We are the Lord’s work, and we do the Lord’s work. May God be glorified in us and through us.

 

 

More than Forgiven

Today’s reading: Psalm 79-81; Romans 8:1-18

 8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!                                                                           Psalm 79:8-9

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.                                                           Romans 8:3-4

The agony of sin, guilt, and death is more than offset by the ecstasy of freedom from all condemnation through Christ Jesus and adoption as His children who have His own Spirit.

The Psalmist cries out for forgiveness for the sins of the nation that led to the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. He laments their suffering but, even more, the disgrace brought on the name of God. He does not look for excuses. He does not make promises to do better. He pleads for God Himself to atone for their sins. Truly, he grasps the seriousness of sin. No one is able to justify himself by turning over a new leaf. No one is qualified to repay the debt of offending our holy Creator and Lord.

Paul explains to the Romans and us just how God has answered this prayer of the Psalmist from so many centuries earlier. The law could only show us our sin, never save us. The law was weakened by the flesh, because our flesh is inclined to use the law as a springboard to rebellion. We do what the law says not to do (Romans 7:13ff). In Christ, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” Namely, He has freed us from the law of sin and death, that is, the law that says “you sin, you die.”

As usual, God’s answer goes far above what the Psalmist (or we) could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21). He has given His Spirit to those who are in Christ. Through Him we have life, peace, and guidance. Through Him we are adopted as God’s children and, so, we call Him, “Abba! Father!” Sure, we suffer with Christ in this world, but we know that the glory to come far exceeds these present afflictions.

Does your sin and guilt weigh you down? Trust in Christ for the atonement of your sins. Rejoice that the law of sin and death is overcome, but more than that, in Him you have His Spirit and are adopted as His own child.

Stop and Consider

Today’s reading: Job 35-37; Acts 14

14 “Hear this, O Job;
stop and consider the wondrous works of God.                                  Job 37:14

16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”                    Acts 14:16-17

God’s glory is set forth in splendor in His creation. The Psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). This is a truth as old as time and hard to be ignored. Yet Paul wrote that the unrighteous suppress the obvious truth of God and exchange the truth for the lie (Romans 1:18-25).

Elihu, in his monologue with Job, calls on him to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” Elihu spoke truth in one of the earliest events of biblical history. He may have lacked love and compassion for his suffering friend, but we cannot accuse him of a falsehood at this point.

Paul brings up a similar declaration in his speech to the crowd at Lystra. He credits God with all the blessings that they have experienced of rains and fruitful seasons, of food and gladness which brings satisfaction to their hearts. He starts where they are human beings, just like himself, who have received far more than they deserve.

Despite the clarity of the witness to God’s power and deity in the things He has made and the blessings He sends, those who refuse to acknowledge Him as God are only angered or irritated by these reminders. If you believe, be sure your praises go to Him often. He is worthy of all our adoration, all day, every day. Stop and consider.