Thursday, December 30, 2010

faithlessness & the dumb things we say

She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, "Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, 'Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand'?" Barak said to her, "If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go."
Judges 4:6-8

The narrative of the story of Deborah is one of God moving despite the faithlessness of His people. First we need to know the characters. There were good guys and bad guys. First the bad guys... Jabin is the Canaanite king who is oppressing Israel at the time. Sisera is the general leading an elite force of 900 iron chariots. He is leading the military occupation. Israel is powerless to defeat this technology.

But there are good guys. And the leader of the good guys is a good gal: Deborah. She is called a judge, a prophetess, and a "mother in Israel". She has a "court" of sorts under a palm tree and the people travelled to the hill country of Ephraim for her assistance and leadership. When things got bad enough, she called upon Barak to lead a military campaign to overthrow Sisera and Jabin. She knows it is just a matter of force, and the right leader can motivate 10,000 men to eliminate the military advantage of 900 chariots.

But Barak is not a brave leader. He is at best just a little less than confident. He refuses to take on God's call unless Deborah joins him in the battle. She does so, but warns him that the humiliation coming to him would be that the general would fall to a woman's hand.

What really bothers me when I read this passage is that Barak made this choice readily. He was willing to modify God's call due to his own fears. Think about it: a spokesperson for God (the prophetess Deborah) approached him and told him to take on this task... that God would deliver the enemy over to him. There is an army ready to be led, just the right man to do the leading was all that was left. And God chose Barak to be the commander of that army. That should have been all the confidence that man needed. But faithlessness will lead you to say some bold and defiant things. And Barak refuses the assignment UNLESS a woman goes with him. He has more confidence in the messenger than he has in the message or the God Who spoke it to him. He is really dictating to God the terms of his obedience. But Israel needs deliverance, and God graciously allows for this in His sovereign plan. It does not make Barak's lack of confidence any less disturbing. But it makes God's victory even greater.

True to the prophecy, Israel wipes out Sisera's army. The general flees to an allied city, only to find death at the hands of a woman, Jael, who offers him refuge. He meets a gruesome end with a tent peg driven through his brain by an enterprising and scheming woman who also wanted to end his oppression. The Canaanite tyranny of Jabin is ended, and God is glorified, even in the faithlessness and dumb statements of a leader named Barak.

So the real lesson is between Deborah and Barak. God will use us sometimes, even in our faithlessness. That is the lesson of Barak. God wants us to be faithful, and will use faithful people even above what we might think, as evidenced by Deborah.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

divine testing

They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.
Judges 3:4

Sometimes bad circumstances exist in the lives of God's people as an opportunity in God's plan to test our faithfulness and commitment. Israel's disobedience had led to the Canaanite nations living among them. But the text in Judges is clear with this statement that God had a sovereign purpose even in their choice to incompletely follow His command. These nations would be used to teach warfare to new generations (Judges 3:1-3) and to test the spiritual fidelity of succeeding generations of Israelites.

I am currently reading Jerry Bridges' book "Trusting God". It is an interesting and in-depth book on the sovereignty of God. That is a subject in short supply among evangelicals, at least in the sense that the scriptures treat the subject. This verse in Judges is just one example. God will have a sovereign purpose even in negative circumstances. This runs counter-intuitive to progress oriented success minded Christians today. But sometimes the greatest spiritual success comes within situations filled with physical difficulties. I am looking forward to reading on in Bridges' analysis of scriptural sovereignty. He treats the theological subject with intense practical and personal accessibility, which is the way I think all good theology should lead us.

When trusting God in the midst of trying circumstances, we must remember that none of the difficulty catches Him off guard. He is not scrambling to catch up. He is wise. He is all-knowing. And He is totally loving. Even when the consequences of our sin bring adverse circumstances to our lives, He is gracious and merciful. We can see His sovereign hand and His love even in these times.

Israel was given a chance to continue to grow in national relationship with God through the adverse circumstances of having pagan nations living among them. They could easily have trusted God and seen God deliver them from the temptations of idolatry and spiritual infidelity. The book of Judges details the struggle they had in so doing and is witness to the sovereign plan of God.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, December 23, 2010

cycles of sin

Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.
Judges 2:18-19

This is important background to the book of Judges. It should not be overlooked. It is the precursor to the narrative accounts of individual histories of each judge. It shows us a tendency that we do well to learn from. We tend to fall in the same sins over and over. The book of Judges describes this on a national scale with Israel.

Their cycle was aggravated by several factors. One was that a new generation of Israelites had taken their circumstances of favor in the Promised Land for granted. It wasn't the Joshua generation that easily gave in to the seduction of idolatry. It was the generation that had always lived with Canaanites among them. That was the second big complication. This generation was being affected by the residual after effects of the incomplete obedience under Joshua. The Canaanites should not have been there in the first place. Now that they were, they became a source of cultural temptation for the nation. And the text makes it clear that Israel chose to give in to that temptation and suffered the consequences in divine judgment.

The third complicating factor has to do with the fact that sin tends to grow stronger in cycles, not weaker. That is something I know from my own heart. I might first struggle with an angry or bitter thought towards someone. Left unconfessed and unforgiven, it will move to a wrong statement or action. That might move into a full blown conflict or hurt relationship. The same thing happens in other areas. Sin cycles can lead people to ruin their lives morally... starting with a movie scene replayed over and over, going on to pornography, and then ending in a sexual affair that ruined an entire family. They never start with the affair. They start with the thought that they deserve to fill a sensual desire. They replay that thought over and over and it grows into full grown adultery. That is the way sin works.

So really, delving into the book of Judges will be a journey into the capacities of my own broken and sinful human heart. I am willing to admit that God wants to show me some preventative measures here, by making me witness in His word scenes of spiritual devastation. The instruction in these sin cycles can break cycles moving in my own heart. And for that reason I am glad God has included this book in the Bible.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The consequences of incomplete obedience

When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
Judges 1:28

The book of Judges opens with this description of how each individual tribe in Israel was left with challenges to complete the occupation of the Promised Land after the death of Joshua. Yet in every bit of territory, with every tribe, there was some unwillingness to complete the task. And "easier" solution was accepted, and each solution seemed to make economic sense: force the Canaanites into slavery. But this domination was not obedience.

The result was slavery, which was not God's will. God did not call Israel to be slave masters in the Promised Land. But the result of incomplete obedience was this new social system that God had not asked of them. These Canaanites grew quietly strong and resistant under a slave economy. Eventually they would rise to dominance in a generation or two, and the cycle of the book of Judges would decay Israel spiritually, socially, economically, and politically. All because they chose an expedient sinful solution that offered an easy way out.

If Israel had obeyed the military rules of engagement under Joshua (wipe out and forcefully relocate Canaanite people groups) they would not have suffered under the Judges. Incomplete obedience eventually has its painful consequences. That is a principle still bearing fruit today.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

God gets the last word

There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?
Nahum 3:19

This verse is addressed to the King of Assyria. He is the chief resident of Ninevah and as the capital of his empire fell, he witnessed the reality of the end of an era. God would bring the devastation in response to the wickedness of Ninevah. And there was no way out. God always has the last word.

When the might and the wisdom of this world confronts the finality of God's authority, deep pains will result. That is what happened in this situation. Although Nahum was written before these events took place and is hence prophetic, my perspective is that Ninevah is just a heap of ruins in modern Iraq that was only recently uncovered by archeologists within the last century. The empire fell at the crushing judgment of God. That is fact.

God decrees what will occur. That is a scriptural reality. We may feel uncomfortable with our lack of human autonomy, but nothing stops what God is doing. No force of human power on this planet will prevail against His will. God is in control. I worship the God Who always has the last word. The end of Ninevah is a stark reminder of just Who my God is, and why I ought to understand what He says.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, December 20, 2010

God against you

Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions. I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall no longer be heard.
Nahum 2:13

Grace in Christ Jesus means that God is for me (Romans 8:31). It is a good thing to be forgiven in Christ, especially when I read a passage like this one where God is setting judgment against a people who have rejected Him. In the case of the prophet Nahum, it is the pagan city of Ninevah. This is the same city that had repented under the barely perceptible ministry of the reluctant Jonah. But now they have hardened against God as a society. And God is preparing to judge them in unique and sovereign ways.

God is against Ninevah. He would burn up their war chariots. This was the battle technology that had given them the edge all though out the ancient middle east. But this was not going to be the case any more. God was destroying their military power. He went after their symbols. The lion was a motif the Assyrians used in battle and in national monuments. But their "young lions" (warriors) were about to be devoured by the avenging justice of a holy God. They would prey on other nations no more.

God was also going to cut off the Assyrian communication network. With it they managed a far-flung empire. But no longer would the messengers bring reports to Ninevah. The Assyrian empire would go the way of the dust of ruin. They would torment Israel no more. And it was because God was for Israel, even as He judged a people that had rejected Him in Ninevah.

These are terrible words to read..."I am against you". And when scripture shows us this side of God, we should learn and respect His mercy in Christ even more!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, December 16, 2010

God is good

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.
Nahum 1:7

This is an interesting statement to have in the midst of an oracle of judgment against a pagan nation. The book of Nahum opens with a clear statement of God's judgment prepared against Ninevah. Nahum is a bookend to the book of Jonah. In Jonah, God is gracious to a pagan nation and sent a prophet to preach a message that would result in repentance. In Nahum, Ninevah is no longer inclined to turn to God and God is warning them of the impending justice about to destroy them. Yet even in that warning, there is a message of grace that could remind them of previous repentance.

The focus of this grace is the goodness of God. He does nothing wrong or vindictive. He does everything out of perfect justice and goodness. It is who God is. He is good. God is a stronghold for those in trouble. We can run to Him and find in our relationship with Him all that we need to survive the worst that life can throw at us. He is our castle... our strength... our security.

God is also complete in His knowledge. When the text says that He "knows" those who take refuge in Him, it means that He is in relationship intimately with them. He loves them. He wants to cultivate true spiritual intimacy with them in the time of trouble when they find themselves hiding in Him. The stronghold is a place of care, growth, and maturity for those who find themselves there. It is a place not to survive, but to thrive.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

God's gracious love

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 Peter 3:9

It is God's desire that the world turn to Him. He gives gracious opportunity. That is His nature. He loves us... a fact forever demonstrated in the death of Christ for us. He patiently offers time for humanity to come to Him.

The image of God as a mean-spirited and capricious judge is one that comes not from the scriptures, but from those who oppose the scriptures. The fact remains that God does judge sin. In fact, the very next verse (2 Peter 3:10) informs us that a day will come swiftly when the entire universe will be remade and purged of the effects of sin. God is just patient, on our time scale, until then.

This explains why sin can seem so rampant. It is not the sin that God is allowing as much as it is the TIME to repent from that sin. He is giving this world the grace of the gospel and has commanded His church to reach it. He is sovereignly calling people and sovereignly positioning Christians to reach them because He desires that people come to Him. And He is giving us His patience, seen over time, so that people may come to Him. That is a gracious, patient, and holy love.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
2 Peter 2:1

Since sin entered the world, lies have marked the experience of the human life. It was believing a lie against the Word of God that contributed to original sin all along. And this has been humanity's spiritual struggle ever since that day. We have believed a lie, and we have perpetuated lies of our own device.

Nowhere is this more destructive than from within the church. False teaching is rampant. It has marred church history and hindered the testimony of the church throughout the ages. Part of the reason that skeptics and enemies of the faith can attack Christianity is that false teaching has led to inconsistencies and false practices in the church. It has led to greater sin. It is not just about a stack of doctrines on paper. Teaching always leads to practice. And that is what the world sees in the church.

Peter knew that false teachers would arise among the people. He warned the Christians he wrote to be seriously discerning people. Fortunately there is an accurate way to gauge the teaching of anyone who claims to be speaking for God. The words have to match the firm standard of scripture. Anything less is not the truth.

Peter warns that heresy (deviation from the scriptural standard) is destructive. He warns that it leads to a denial of Christ, and thus of the truth. He warns that it brings about the judgment of God on the false teacher and on those who will follow his instruction. The entire second chapter of 2 Peter can be outlined from this first verse. That is how serious this problem was for Peter and still is today.

Part of the reason I am committed to discipleship through the teaching of the scriptures and the training of a biblical method of interpretation of God's Word is to prevent and strengthen the church from false teaching. There is much out there today that is sloppy at best, heresy at its worst. And discernment must be taught and practices within strict biblical frameworks. We can't just believe something because we "feel" something about it. We must know it, we must understand it, and we must measure it by the clear teaching of the Word of God.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, December 13, 2010

the Word of God & moral transformation

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
2 Peter 1:3-4

I believe that this text is a key to the process of individual holiness and discipleship. It shows us just what every Christian is supposed to do. And it was penned by one of the most impetuous, and serious, followers of Jesus... the apostle Peter. In his journey from fumbling disciple to articulate preacher and church leader, Peter learned what he taught in this letter. And this is not just some theological discourse. This is the process of personal and practical spiritual maturity described from God's gracious point of view.

First, anything I can become is rooted and grounded in God's power, not my own. I lack sufficient ability to morally mature. God's power must grant me what I need. Thankfully, in Christ, God holds nothing back. The text says that He gives us "all things that pertain to life and godliness". There is sufficient information and abundant strength to become holy in Christ's power to transform my life. I have no excuse.

Secondly, there is a specific and exclusive means to this transformation. Peter does not believe nor does he teach that everything is right or that any path to God is acceptable. It only comes through "the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence". I can only be transformed by the knowledge of God in Christ. Jesus claimed to be the exclusive person through Whom the world must come to God (John 14:6). The scriptures constantly affirm this, and logically, there cannot be many ways to God when those ways contradict one another.

Thirdly, there is a clear means to know God. It comes through the Word of God, what Peter calls "his precious and very great promises". God has granted us by His grace all the instruction and examples we need to please Him in the Bible. It is a vast and complex book that I have committed my lifetime to understanding. And I am blessed by doing so. But it is the primary and exclusive way in which I can know God's thoughts, because they have been written down and preserved through the ages. This is a indeed a precious book.

Fourthly, there is a clear goal to holiness. It is nothing short of being holy as God is holy. That is what "partaking in the divine nature" is all about. Peter is not teaching some sort of "oneness" with a conglomerate God. Rather, he is teaching that God is the standard of holiness for which we must aspire, and that when we do receive that holiness in Christ and apply it in our lives, we share in his nature as we act amazingly like Him. This is transformation into the image of Christ... what a "Christian" (little Christ) is supposed to be.

Finally, there is a clear focus of this transformation into a partaker of God's nature. It is clearly a moral transformation, one that escapes "the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire". Christians are remarkably different, not so that we can play the "holier than thou" game. We are different because all people have one very deep root problem: we are sinful. And when Christians are transformed into people who truly live holy lives like God lives in the world, it will stand out in a society of sin. We swim in a less polluted stream by the grace of God. And that is a joyful gift of the transformation the Son of God and the Word of God have brought to us.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Friday, December 10, 2010

discerning innocence

For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.
Romans 16:19

Paul concludes the epistle to the Roman church with some simple final instructions that affirm the gospel he has just presented and defended. He warns against those who would distort the gospel and cause divisions in the church (Romans 16:17-20). He reminds them of the beautiful power of the gospel in a magnificent doxology that fittingly sums up the entire book (Romans 16:25-27). This charge in verse 19 carries with it Paul's ongoing prayer for these believers.

The Roman church had a stellar reputation as a solid church (Romans 1:8) and Paul reminds them of this at the end of the book. It is a cause for his personal rejoicing. But Paul also knows that the enemy would love to subvert this testimony to his purposes. And the quickest means to do so would be through heresy and false practice to creep into the church. That is why this prayer request is so important. Discernment and wisdom to "what is good" would help them weather doctrinal controversies. And Paul's words in this book have been used by the broader church now for millennia to settle the important doctrinal issues concerning the gospel. Paul had given them a handbook on doctrinal discernment and the core of the Christian faith essentials. The book of Romans continues in that vital role even now.

The second half of this prayer request is also important. He wanted them to be innocent (not naive) about what is evil. This innocence meant that a charge of sin could not be laid against them. Again, the book of Romans serves as a great means of understanding how to live this way. The salient chapters of Romans 6-8 and Romans 12 are high points in the Christian experience. Even as they detail the struggle with sin that still continues in the life of a forgiven believer committed to the gospel.

I believe that this prayer request at the end of the book of Romans serves as the heart of any true believer for the church. It defines what I should want from myself in my walk with God. It defines what I should want from my church. It defines what others will hopefully see in me. And it is what the gospel produces in us: discerning faith that makes us wise to what is good, and innocent of what is evil.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, December 9, 2010

a personal reflection: through endurance & scriptural encouragement

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

This was Paul's attitude toward the Old Testament. The scriptures existed as the source for instruction for Christians. The goal of the instruction of the scriptures was to have a real and firm hope. This was not hope in the sense we generally think of it, like "I hope I get what I want for Christmas". This was hope like a firm and unshakeable confidence. It was based on the knowledge of God in His holy Word. It is an indescribably real and sure thing, even though it is in the future and requires waiting and faith to receive.

The goal was hope, but the process was to understand and draw that hope from the things written in the scriptures. That is why I see as absolutely vital the process of doing what I do right now, and virtually every morning: I must be reading, studying, and filling my thoughts with the truth of God's Word. For me, the best time that I can achieve this is when I rise up early in the morning before the rest of my family. It would be easy to let that hour be filled with sleep. But it is best that it be filled with God's thoughts, which I can only find in an understandable form in the Bible.

I find that this practice creates regular and daily encouragement for me. There are times where I need constant encouragement. There are other times where the immediate effect is to help me encourage someone else. And there are times where sin in me keeps me from really applying the truth until I give in to the conviction of sin that the Word and God's Spirit bring, then confess and forsake it, and thus find the encouraging relief of forgiving mercy in God and sustaining grace.

All of those are experiences of encouragement and hope. And God's Word has never failed me in either category. I cannot say that about anything else in my life.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

when Christians disagree

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Romans 14:19

It is bound to happen. Christians are going to have disagreements and differences of opinion. And we are not left to our own devices when it comes to dealing with them. The God Who brought us together in the church will help us get along despite these differences. But that does not mean that the church has always done so.

One of the inevitabilities of two millennia of history as that a lot of people have done a lot of things. In the case of church history there is a lot that we have done right. But there is a lot that we have done wrong. Many of the problems the church has encountered through the centuries have been the result of not obeying the scriptures when it comes to settling disputes among ourselves. That is why Romans 14 is such a vital chapter. It helps us understand that not every Christian is at the same personal place. And some believers are weaker or stronger than others. Grace should lead us to defer to one another.

The overarching principle from this powerful yet small verse is that a driving motivation should direct the way Christians interact with one another. We should pursue peace by words and actions that encourage and build up one another. Sadly, that is not the first response we are inclined to have. There are clear cases where doctrinal heresy cannot be tolerate. And deliberate immorality is also to be clearly dealt with. But in all other situations (which is most of what we encounter in learning to get along in the Body of Christ) we are called to pursue peace. It is the defining characteristic that God wants for His church.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

...when in Rome?

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:14

This verse makes a natural transition in the book of Romans. Paul has gone from a section detailing the practical results of personal sanctification (Romans 12) to a section describing the social impact by believers who do so (proper submission to secular authorities: Romans 13:1-7). From there he talks about how proper Christian practice ought to lead to behavior that is ultimately law-abiding and respected by the governing authority of the state (Romans 13:8-10). The chapter concludes with this verse in a context of contrasting sinful practice of the pagans with the holy lifestyles of believers (Romans 13:11-14).

It is this practical contrast that is worth thinking about. It is about replacement. The Roman believers were situated in a difficult climate for holiness. Really, any large city in the Roman empire was beset with immorality and idolatry. You can see the negative effects of this in the book of 1 Corinthians where Paul has to reprimand a church that has caved to the pressures. He has already noted that the Roman church has a stellar reputation known to Christians throughout the world. He aims to keep it that way by reminding them of the need to replace sinful behaviors with sanctified living. And that comes through their relationship with Christ. They were called to be Romans who lived like Jesus in Rome. And that meant that sinful desires could not be provided for, indulged, or exalted.

If you want to know exactly where the contrast was most apparent, just read Romans 13:13. Six distinct problems sins were to be replaced by life in Christ. And they sound like the Roman empire at the depths of its depravity: "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." Rome allowed for every kind of personal indulgence, particularly among the decadently wealthy. And it would easy to follow the adage: "when in Rome". But Christianity defines behavior by being "in Christ" and not "in Rome".

That principle is vital today. Every form of personal and sensual indulgence is available in our culture. How else can we explain that pornography is a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry larger than the Hollywood movie-making monolith? And sadly, Christians are being trapped by it. We have often lowered our standards at the cost of Christlike compassion and service to the world. It is time to make Romans 13:14 a meaningful commitment once again. I know it challenges me, because the lifestyle challenges of living in Rome are always present in my world. In fact they are less than a mouse click away in this digital age...

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, December 6, 2010

by testing you may discern

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

I often see the main principle of this verse as a key component of my ministry of discipleship and counseling. I am called to work with the Word of God and the Spirit of God to help mature the church of God. This means that individuals have to be taught that their natural difficulty is conformation to the world around them. God wants to change them by transformation. And the primary agent of change for this transformation is the renewing of the mind.

This makes it sound like it is just a mental process, but it is not at all. In fact if the verse ended there, I suppose we could say that. But it does not. It goes on to explain that renewing of the mind results in certain actions. The first one is to "test in order to discern the will of God". We live out what we learn. It is not just mental assent or simple Sunday School quiz facts. Paul says that if it does not pass the test of being lived out as the will of God in our lives, it is not really transforming truth.

The idea of "testing that you may discern" comes as a translation of one Greek word in the text. It is a critical word. It translates dokimazo which is a word that means to find the worth of something by putting it to use or testing it. So this is a very accurate translation in the ESV. It means that biblical truth is transforming as I accept the challenge to my thinking scripture creates and then act on it in my life to see the difference. It is a critical kind of living, not just a wishful kind of mental exercise. It is the end result of scripture creating in me a biblical worldview. I must now live it.

So in the end, good disciples are critical thinkers who take God's truth seriously enough to make real lifestyle choices and changes based upon the challenge to our thinking that is in scripture. We know its value by living it out. We discern the truth by also living through the implications of believing it. Discerning disciples test the truth and are changed by it.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Friday, December 3, 2010

where the glory goes

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Romans 11:36

You are where the glory goes
when things go well
when life seems sweet
happiness is all I meet

You are where the glory goes
when more like hell
is what I greet
pain and trouble trip my feet

You are where the glory goes
in good or bad
in joy or tears
in confidence or trembling fears

You are where the glory goes
when I achieve
more than I should
only because God is good

You are where the glory goes
when I fail
and need relief
grace, confession renew peace

You are where the glory goes
when morning's light
shines a new day
promising to guide my way

You are where the glory goes
when weary night
takes me to bed
with You I rest my head

You are where the glory goes
loving the story
saving faith in the WORD
saving life in my Lord.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, December 2, 2010

the heart of belief

...because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Romans 10:9-10

This is one of the most encouraging and motivating of all the scriptures for me. This is not because I consider myself any kind of stellar evangelist. I find it to be core for my experience of commitment as a follower of Jesus. It begins at the very core of who I am as a person. I am first and foremost a sinner who needs to confess surrender to the Lord God my Creator and Savior. Without that kind of simple start, all my priorities are out of whack. With that confession, life starts to get into proper perspective.

The scary part of confession is that there is a public element to that to one degree or another. While it is true that I may make that confession in private before God, ultimately, it will show. Others will know by what I say and what I do that I confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Master of my life. And that will put me under scrutiny by those who aren't serious in that matter before God, at least not serious enough to let it reorder their relationships, commitments, priorities, and lifestyle. But confession of a Savior is supposed to be the start of that new life. And it has to be known to some degree to truly be a confession "with the mouth".

The second personal element in this passage is the heart. It is the center of personal belief. I believe that something fundamentally and monumentally important happened with Jesus' death on the cross. This is evidenced by the resurrection. Paul makes it clear that it is the resurrection that is the centerpiece of faith. If I believe God has raised Jesus from the dead, then I accept that as validation of everything He said and did, taught and modeled, including His claim that His death would accomplish an eternal atonement and solution for the sin problem for humanity at an individual level. That is why atheists and skeptics want to attack the resurrection, even more than any other Christian doctrine. It is the blood and marrow of our faith. Remove it and we are just dry, stale, and lifeless.

A final point of observation from this passage: We act in confession and faith, but then God acts upon that. We actively believe and confess, but then we receive salvation. And that is the greater work. We still depend upon God for our salvation even when we take those steps of faith and confession. Paul does not try to settle the tension of that truth. He simply states it as fact. None of us could be saved from death and hell by our own belief alone. But God will not save someone who does not confess and believe either. Both are what is necessary for the gospel to impact us for salvation.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

the ultimate determiner: a merciful God

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Romans 9:16

Human will, though powerful, is not the final master of our destiny. Where we are, who we are, what we are and how we are... belong to God's grace and mercy. We cannot save ourselves. We are limited. God is not. And it is His mercies that give us the lives we have.

Paul is talking about the really big picture when he says this. Romans nine through eleven deal with God's overarching purposes for the nation of Israel. Paul chose to talk about this to Rome, the center of the Gentile world, because he wanted them to understand that God moved on cosmic and grand scales, not just on the personal level. And Rome represented the grandeur of imperial power. It was the center of the political and military world of its day. And God was bigger, as evidenced with what He was doing with His people Israel. The only reason anyone receives any chance at life that pleases God is because God is first merciful. That is the initial understanding of His sovereignty that all of us need to know.

Paul does not negate human will by this teaching. He just sets it in its place. The main problem with human beings is that we tend toward a pride that makes us think we are the penultimate deciders of our own fate. But being mortal, that cannot be. Being moral creatures, that cannot be. We must answer to our Creator.

I do not believe that God's mercy or His will prevent us from exercising and knowing true free will choices. But I also do not believe that any human choice or set of choices ever catches God by surprise or is beyond His power. He is merciful to us, allowing us much freedom in our lives, even to the point of having a will that can choose to disbelieve Him. But He is still sovereign over even human sin and disbelief... which is why Hell is a real place. Christ in His mercy died to take the keys of death and Hell in grasp for us. But our hope and faith and future depend on God's mercy ultimately, and not our own efforts to correct sin in us. And I am thankful for that, because I know my efforts in that regard are weakened by a sinful flesh to the extent that without God's mercies, I would never stand a chance of living the life I have in Christ. Thank God He is merciful. The gospel abounds with it!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

waiting & hoping

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Romans 8:23-25

Many good things in life require a degree of patient hope. We wait for them. It might be that long line at the DMV to get that first of teenage dreams, the driver's license. It might be the young man waiting downstairs for that special young lady to be ready for a first date. It might be the entire endless month of December, when as children we wait, knowing that Christmas morning with all its promises is coming. Good things are worth waiting for in life.

And Paul's point for Christians is that the real outcome of our salvation is known by waiting through life for that final big finish. Until the day when we are with Jesus face to face, we will groan in these bodies, waiting eagerly for the joy that is ours forever. It is in this hope that we are saved. We are saved to live beyond ourselves. And we must wait for that day.

Critics of Christianity accuse us of just living for a heavenly delusion. But that is not what we are doing. In fact, it is much bigger than the traditional picture. It is not about a white robe, wings in the clouds, strumming a harp. It is about real life with Christ, free from the ravages of sin and entropy on a mortal body. It is about true life... a passionate way of living free from all that restrains me and weighs me down. It is a hope that right now I do not see fully, yet experience in rapturous glimpses. Still in patient faith I know it is coming as surely as the Christmas presents under the tree let me know that the joy of Christmas morning is worth waiting for, no matter the cost in personal patience.

So the encouragement for the Christian is to be a person of hope. This is not a "cross your fingers" and "wish real hard" kind of thing. It is a patient belief in what God has promised. And every time I attend the funeral service of a Christian, I know what that hope is about, for that person is no longer done with waiting. They know God's true gift of eternal life in His Son. They live in hope, for hope, and eventually wildly beyond all idea of what to expect, and so will I. Wait for it... Wait for it...

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, November 29, 2010

inner conflict

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Romans 7:18-19

What I know about my real inner self comes from Paul's descriptions about the inner battle to do right. I am not naturally equipped to do what is right. I am born a depraved sinner and very quickly depravity will assert itself in me. There is nothing good dwelling within me. Because of this natural bent toward sin, I am incapable of pleasing a holy God. There is no way I can do it on my own.

But as a Christian, I have the desire to do right. And even those who are drawn to Christ will find themselves drawn by the guilt of sin and the overwhelming holiness of God to want to be right. The problem is that depravity makes us totally incapable of carrying out what the mind may truly desire. Our best efforts while depraved are still marred horribly by sin. We lack the ability to be holy outside of any action on God's part in our behalf. That is what Paul is saying here. He personally could not do anything truly good because he was born a helplessly rotten sinner.

Reality check: Sinners will do sin, even if they want to do something good. That is the final conclusion on the matter. Sin is at work in sinners. We live in it, we die because of it. We swim in an ocean of iniquity every day, sometimes without even realizing the pollution we are constantly at home with!

The result is that we often have to wrestle with an inner conflict. Now Paul has said all of this to lead to a marvelous solution yet to be unfolded in chapter eight of Romans. But for now, the reality is that sinners need Someone greater than themselves to rescue them. And Jesus has the solution for this inner conflict. Thank God, it does not depend upon me!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

death and life as daily metaphors

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6:11-14

This is a personally significant area of the Book of Romans. Paul has argued in Romans six that the death of Christ has brought about a positional change for the believer. Our old sinful self was crucified with Christ so that we no longer are enslaved by sin (Romans 6:6). The result of this is that the physical death of our bodies is no longer something to be feared for its eternal consequence. Death is no longer the problem it once was (Romans 6:8-9) because we will live with Christ after the death of our bodies. In the final sense, death loses because of Jesus.

But then there is this significant continuance of our lives until that time when we are with Christ. There is a daily effort on our part to deal with the residual effects of our fallen natures... the part that is personally still here until we enter eternity. The Christian must daily make some considerate effort to fight this. We must consider ourselves daily with the final outcome: dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul says we can choose to let sin reign or we can choose to let Christ reign. It is that simple. If we choose sin, we will obey personal sinful passions to our detriment. And I know what lurks in my heart when I do not focus on my Lord. It ain't pretty! I have to fight it daily by surrendering to the Lordship of Christ. Sometimes I don't do so, and sin leaves a damaging mark on my life or my relationships. Paul taught that the believer must regularly present the very limbs of his body as God's instruments. That conscious effort helps keep sin from having dominion over the day.

Take these hands and feet today. Use them for Your service. Take this tongue and speak in and through it. Take this mind and fill it with Your thoughts.

"Take these hands and let them move, at the impulse of Your love"
"Take my feet and let them be, swift and beautiful for Thee"
"Take these lips and let them be, filled with messages from Thee"
"Take my heart, my God, I pour, at my feet its treasure store"
"Take my will and make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine"

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the purity & simplicity of justification by faith

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:1

The truth of this verse, if it was the only fact I ever knew from God, would be enough to keep me trusting Christ in this life and for eternity. This powerful concept is what kept Christians passionate in their pursuit of Christ at the threat of death. It led Paul to take this message to every place that God led him. It is how in one century Christianity went from being the message of a dozen Palestinian Jews to a passionate religion that caused the most powerful government in the world at the time to feel threatened.

And when the organized church went stagnant and heretical and worldly in her focus, it is the doctrine of this verse that fueled men like Luther, Calvin, Knox and Zwingli to preach once again a pure gospel. As reformation fires burned, the liberating gospel of justification by faith melted away the bonds of legalism, heresy, false authority, and money-hungry religion. Justification by faith is a doctrine with a fascinating history. And I believe there is more that God will write in and with it.

A pure gospel is preached by Paul in the Book of Romans. It is one reason why I find myself drawn to it. In my younger days, I found myself slightly intimidated by the deep doctrines of Romans. But today, I see their purity, their beauty, and even in their depths I find a simplicity that is frankly lacking in much of the contemporary church. I find most pastors and leaders caught up in methodology. The contemporary church is most interested in one leader aping another leader's ideas, particularly if it is packaged and marketed well! And the older I get, the more drawn I am to just wanting to be a simple preacher of the gospel... someone who is a man of one message and one method: justification by faith resulting in peace with God through Jesus Christ.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, November 22, 2010

faith: defined by experience

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Romans 4:20-21

I love how Paul defines faith in the life of Abraham in this vital chapter of the book of Romans. Paul's point is that Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, was justified before God centuries before the Mosaic Law was in effect. And the basis for his right standing before God was his remarkable faith in what God had promised. It was in that faith that God counted him righteous. Paul concludes the point by insisting that God still operates with faith that way today. We are "counted" righteous in Christ through our faith in Jesus and His saving work on the cross (Romans 4:22-25).

Abraham's faith was shown in the life of a desert nomad. He wandered a land of promise, a wealthy homeless man, trusting in a God Who called him to abandon a comfortable life in a prosperous city. God promised him an heir. And for decades Abraham lingered on in that promise. It was not until he and Sarah were both so physically aged that conception was impossible that God honored the promise. It was clear faith was in operation, literally born out of experience!

My faith is refined and to a degree defined by my experience with God. In that sense it is very personal, individually known by me alone. Where I have had to trust Christ is not always where you or another person may be called to trust Christ. I am saved by faith in the gospel, but my faith is proven in a walk with God that is personal and unique. There are many shared experiences within the church with other believers... but even then they are most valuable as we share personal experience with one another. I am glad that God did not enroll us by Christ into a spiritual factory that produced identical Christian puppets. Instead, God delights in our individuality. He redeems us in Christ as the unique persons we all were created by God to be. And like Abraham, our faith is lived out in personal circumstances distinct to each of us, yet linked powerfully to one God Who loves us all.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

the gospel is my only hope

...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...
Romans 3:22-24

There is only one solution for the problem of sin. It is not to be found in a just human government or any form of racial, social, personal, or gender equality. It is not going to be found through legal means. It is not going to be dealt with by education or science. There is no pill or psychological therapy that can eliminate our sinful tendencies. The only hope for us is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Jesus, by putting my faith and trust in His sacrifice for my sin, I receive a righteous standing before God. It matters not what good I might think I might do. I am part of a vast group of sinful conspirators from my very birth. Paul has already elaborated on the universal aspect of sin as the defining human condition for everyone on the planet (see Romans 3:9-18). I cannot save myself. No human can do so. Only Jesus saves us.

Nobody gets a pass on needing the saving work of Christ. As Paul said, "there is no distinction". Every person, Jew or Gentile, has fallen short of the glory of God. Sin is endemic to being human. But thankfully the story does not stop there. Jesus came to make the difference for all this.

Paul goes on to explain that through faith in Christ, that condition can be turned around. We can be justified by His grace freely. Salvation is offered to us as God's free gift when we turn from sin, confess ourselves as sinners in need of forgiveness from a holy God, and receive by faith the salvation only Jesus offers us, committing ourselves to His Lordship and worshipping His as God and Savior. We are then declared righteous, like a judge dismissing the charges against us, and are redeemed from the slavish and hellish consequences of being under judgment as a sinner. That is really, really, really good news. It is the solution for all that is wrong in the world.

That sounds trite. It is not. Our spiritual need is our deepest one. Yes, access to healthcare, clean water, adequate nutrition, shelter, etc are all important needs, particularly in the most impoverished parts of the world. But they do not overshadow the gospel. Christians ought to be preaching the gospel WHILE caring for those other needs. We should never think that those needs alone are what doing the work of the gospel is all about. To fall into the trap of materialistic thinking as children of God is deceptive, disobedient, and ultimately disrespectful of the Savior Who came first and foremost to give His life a ransom for many.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

mankind's moral insufficiency

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
Romans 2:1

Paul's warning in this passage is one against self-based moral judgment. Only God can truly stand in judgment over sin because He alone is holy. When human beings pass judgment on other human beings it is is just one sinner sinfully discriminating against another sinner. We need an outside standard.

And what Paul meant by practicing "the very same things" is absolutely clear in the context. It is spelled out in an excruciating list of sins in the last part of Romans chapter one:

"And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."

The one who tries to pass judgment on sin while living outside of the clear standards that God has revealed in God's Word is just a wicked person evaluating another wicked person's wickedness. Men have insufficient moral gauges by which to evaluate holiness. We condemn ourselves when we judge others.

The only standard for holiness is God. Even in a civil society with a solid representative republic and democratically elected officials, sin will reign! People cannot collectively create a perfect standard of right and wrong. We need God's input for that to stand a chance of being true. That is why the Judeo-Christian basis for law and government should not be tossed out by postmodern deconstructionists of culture. It served a purpose of at least being a solid basis from which to build something. When it is replaced by the vote of the masses or the legal musings of educated sinners in the political, legal, or judicial systems, we are ignoring the warning Paul gave us all of our inability to judge right from wrong outside of God's holy standards.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, November 15, 2010

faith that is fame

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
Romans 1:8

Paul wrote these words of encouragement to the Christian church in Rome. Situated in the heart of the empire, these believers faced a decadent culture with a strong faith. The result was that they were famous among all the Christian churches for their testimony as a church. And Paul wastes no time commending them for this kind of vivid and vital commitment to Christ.

He lets them know that they are living in a world that desperately needs the gospel. And he longed to preach it in Rome. He knew that the imperial center was rife with sin, but that made it ripe for the gospel! He knew that the truth was being suppressed by unrighteous men and that God's wrath was revealed against the ungodliness so prevalent among the Roman elite (Romans 1:16-18).

He knew there was enough natural knowledge of God's divine attributes from the natural world to lead even the most debauched person to struggle through a rudimentary awareness of God (Romans 1:19-20). They may have chosen to not honor what they knew about God as they turned to idolatry (Romans 1:21-23), but there was still hope for the gospel. They may have spiraled down from paganism to unmitigated passion (Romans 1:24-25), but God was still their creator. Their rebellion was expressed in sexual deviancy (Romans 1:26-27), in a debased way of thinking about everything (Romans 1:28), and in a laundry list of sinful characteristics (Romans 1:29-32). Yet it was here that Paul was eager to preach (Romans 1:15) because He knew that Jesus could change all this as lives were surrendered to Him... the truth and the experience that Roman unbelievers had always been searching for.

The fact that Roman Christians emerged from this kind of culture is an amazing testament to the saving power of the gospel. When people whine about how bad current cultures are, we only need to turn to Paul's fantastic treatise on the gospel here to be encouraged to keep preaching it! The gospel was designed to save the worst of us because it is meant to be proclaimed to all of us. And it can turn infamous sinners into saints with a famous faith!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."
Joshua 24:16-18

This serves as a fitting end to the book of Joshua. The book begins with Israel's commitment to God and to Joshua's leadership (Joshua 1:16-18). And it ends with a strong commitment to obedience to God as Joshua prepares for the inevitable end of his long and blessed life. The main concern that Joshua had was with the spiritual relationship Israel had under the covenant. And this reaffirmation at Shechem was meant to keep Israel's priorities laser-focused on God.

Despite some failures, this generation under Joshua was remarkable for its faith and commitment. These people were prospering under obedience to the covenant, and they knew it. They knew that God had brought the nation out of Egyptian slavery. They knew that God had supernaturally led them through the wilderness. They knew that God had made the military of conquest of Canaan possible by driving out peoples before them. They were committed to serving the Lord.

The thing that made this obedience easy to affirm was that they saw God at work. They were quick to testify to God's goodness. It was not so much about Joshua's tremendous leadership as it was God's grace and provision. Joshua wanted to see this, and it had to please him to see God so enthusiastically worshiped in such a spontaneous way with the nation. His servant leadership was affirmed by Israel's undivided loyalty to God.

In a sense, I don't want to be known for my leadership. I don't want to become indispensable in any work God has called me to do. Instead, I want God to be made known and affirmed. He does not need me, and people should not "need" me in order to know Him! Instead, the mark of real ministry and real leadership is that God is clearly in the foreground and the leader does not need the attention. That is where I always want to be found... just another follower of my Lord!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

careful to love God

One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God.
Joshua 23:10-11

This chapter is a short but powerful sermon that is one of the last things that Joshua said to the entire nation of Israel. He reminds the nation of the good things God has given them in the Promised Land. He reminds them of the fact that God has led them to victory and given them the lives that they now enjoy. He has really emphasized God's faithfulness to the covenant and to the conquest of Canaan for His people.

Along with this reminder of what God has done in tribute to His faithfulness, Joshua issues several calls to faithfulness for Israel. He has urged them to be strong in their faithfulness to keeping the Law of God (Joshua 23:6). He has told them to "cling" to the Lord their God (Joshua 23:8). He emphasizes that God has not forgotten even one of His promises to His people (Joshua 23:14). And then Joshua warns them that negligence to do cling to God and keep His Law and giving in to the temptation to turn aside to the lifestyle and worship of the Canaanites would bring judgment from God (Joshua 23:12-13; 15-16).

The Israelites were to be marked by an an attitude of carefulness to faithfulness. Implied in this warning and encouragement is that effort was involved. They had to be spiritually vigilant. They had to be strong and true. They had to trust in the God Who fought for them. They needed to be sure that their lives were committed to worship. Joshua as a leader kept the focus on the important priorities, and Israel under his guidance would be reminded to do the same. Loving God is a discipline, but it one that brings good life to all who are careful to love and obey the Lord their God!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

presuming motives is a bad idea

And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, "For," they said, "it is a witness between us that the LORD is God."
Joshua 22:33-34

This is the conclusion to a potentially divisive moment in Israel's early history. The tribes of Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh had helped their brothers conquer the territory west of the Jordan river. Once this task was done, they returned home, east of Jordan to settle into their allotted territories. But they chose to make a statement on the west bank of the Jordan. There they build a monumental symbolic altar to the Lord, not for sacrifice, but to witness to the true altar that resided with the ark at the tabernacle.

This action was misunderstood by the western tribes. The thing is described as "imposing" (Joshua 22:10). It was large enough to be seen from both sides of the river. The western tribes thought this might be indicative of idolatry, or of at least setting up a rival site for the worship of God, which was contrary to the Law. There was talk of war between the tribes.

But a delegation met with the Reubenites and Gadites, and at that mediation, they quickly realized their mistaken assumptions. The symbolic nature of the altar was quickly understood, and doubts and fears settled, they agreed that the altar thus served a good and important function. It was left standing as a witness to the entire nation of its commitment to the worship of Yahweh.

How much better our lives would be if we would not make rash decisions based on presuming the motives of others! That is the lesson from this story. Had the leaders of the western tribes acted on their presumptions, who knows what that civil war would have done to the nation so early in its history? But God graciously granted peace through the process of just finding out the facts and honoring both parties in deference to the Lord. May God's people learn the same thing from this episode!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, November 8, 2010

faithful God

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.
Joshua 21:45

This is the summary of Israel's position as the land has been allotted to tribe and then by family clan. Everything that God promised the Israelites under Moses came to pass under Joshua. And entire new generation had grown up with nothing but the promise in their memory and they now possessed all that they needed and could ever desire through the provision of God in their new home.

At stake in the entire conquest of Canaan is the reputation of God and his faithfulness to keep His promises to His people. And no failings were at God's hands. Israel made its share of mistakes and compromises. God lived up to all of His promises. That is the point of this passage. There was work left to do in places, there were mistakes made by Israel in sparing some Canaanites as slaves. God did not tell them to do this. And they would later be hurt by these incomplete obediences in future generations. God still had done all He said He would do for them.

I am encouraged by the faithfulness of God. Faith is no easier today than it was back then, with the possible exception that we have a long record of God's faithfulness in the Bible. But it still takes faith to believe and trust what I cannot see either in the past, or for the future. One thing is certain, God is faithful to His good promises. I know that from my past, I believe that for my present, and I will stride into my future and eternity on that hope!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, November 4, 2010

cities of refuge

These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation.
Joshua 20:9

God cares about the most extreme human situations. In the case of accidental manslaughter, He designed specific places where the accused party could find a "neutral corner" to settle out the specifics of the case. This is somewhat similar to our concept of "change of venue", except that under the OT Law, the family who lost the family member had a duty to track down the killer and avenge the murder. So it would be easy for emotion to overcome the facts. The cities of refuge were a place to sort out the case. The ESV Study Bible gives a great summary of the concept as it was initiated under Moses and brought into practice by Joshua:

Josh. 20:1–2. The fullest description of how the cities of refuge are to function appears in Num. 35:6–34, where the Lord expands on his initial instructions to Moses in Ex. 21:12–14. They are to be six in number, chosen among the Levitical cities, with three on each side of the Jordan (Num. 35:13–14). They are to guarantee judicial due process for anyone in Israel, including “the stranger” and “the sojourner” (Num. 35:15). In Deut. 4:41–43 Moses designates by name the three cities of refuge in the newly conquered territory east of the Jordan, one each in the territories of Reuben, Gad, and eastern Manasseh. Later, in Deut. 19:1–10, he charges Israel regarding the cities to be designated west of the Jordan, though he does not name them, as the land is yet to be conquered. They are to be appropriately spaced, so that the fugitive can reach the nearest one before being overtaken by the avenger (Deut. 19:3; and see note on Josh. 20:3). Should God enlarge Israel's territory, an additional three cities can be designated (Deut. 19:8–9). That the additional three are not mentioned in Joshua may hint at the fact that Israel was not entirely successful in taking over all the land. The three cities west of the Jordan are finally named in Josh. 20:7. This overall progression is in keeping with the geographical movements of Israel and the extent of the conquest at each stage.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

reward for servant leadership

When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun.
Joshua 19:49

Only after all of Israel had been given allotment of the promised land did Joshua receive his inheritance. The leader did not demand, he served. That is a secret of Joshua's success as a leader. He simply waited for God's timing and direction on matters of leadership. He was more concerned about serving his God and his people than he was about his own personal desires.

Joshua could have demanded the best and most influential territory for himself. After all, he was the leader. They needed to impress their conquered foes! It would have been entirely in keeping with kings of the Canaanites for Joshua to have built a stately walled fortress and to have demanded tribute. Instead, he simply keeps serving his people, patiently waiting until they have all been given their needs before making his request before God.

And Joshua chose to fade into semi-retirement. (Joshua 19:50) His cozy little city in the hill country of Ephraim (Timnath-serah) was out of the way of all the main power centers. I imagine him enjoying the last remaining years of his service building a home and farm. He is living out the dream he knew Israel could have when he first spied out the land under Moses' leadership.

Joshua experienced the reality the servant leadership is its own reward. I once heard another well-seasoned saint say this: "You will never regret truly serving someone for the sake of Jesus" (Howard Hendricks). I wholeheartedly agree. And Joshua is an Old Testament character who proved this point.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

worship at Shiloh

Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them.
Joshua 18:1

I see just some simple surface observations about worship today. This was meant to be a moment of celebration. Israel had congregated at Shiloh with the tabernacle and its furnishings were all set up for worship. For the most part, they controlled the territory of the Promised Land. They were free to do with it as God had commanded them.

Joshua used this moment to encourage the last seven tribes that had not received their inheritance to do so. They were to walk through the remainder of the territory, furnish descriptions of the land, and then upon return to Shiloh, Joshua apportioned it to each tribe. This was the last step. Worship at the victory God gave led to possession of the land that God gave.

Worship is really worship when it leads to further obedience. That is the point that Joshua made to Israel at Shiloh. It is not enough to go through the motions of ceremony. Real worship happens with our hands and feet when we obey God's command. Real worship is beyond the assembly and into the world.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, November 1, 2010

when conviction is lost

but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.
Joshua 17:18

This portion of the book of Joshua shows Israel losing its resolve. There are times when we find it hard to obey God, and it is often really easy to result to our own strategies. In case of the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, they did not seem to want to trust God in the effort to continue driving Canaanites from the land. In Joshua 16:10 they forced them into hard labor. When they complained to Joshua that they needed more land, what they meant was they needed more open land with no Canaanites in it! Joshua's answer was to encourage them to press forward into the hill country. They balked at this, insisting that the military power there was too strong (the Canaanites had iron chariots). But Joshua encouraged them to move forward with this plan.

The first thing to do when we sense conviction to obey God is waning is to re-examine our priorities. Joshua shrewdly kept Israel on mission with his encouragement that they would succeed. He knew that God was more powerful than fortified walls or chariots of iron. He would take care of them... forever.

The second step is continued obedience to God's instructions. That is ultimately what the Israelites had to do. Every accommodation that they made with the Canaanites would later come back to hurt them. So Joshua's words were really words of warning. We might not have the Book of Judges if Israel had fully heeded them!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, October 28, 2010

living with mistakes

However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.
Joshua 16:10

The tribe of Ephraim literally had to live with their negligent mistakes. They should not have been content with letting Gezer stay a Canaanite possession. I am sure that they felt that dominating the Canaanites there was as successful as driving them from the land. They were wrong. They would live with this mistake for generations. And it would become a problem for them and for the nation.

This was continued evidence of the nation's spiritual lethargy as they settle into the Promised Land. The book of Judges clearly shows the negative and painful consequences of these early decisions to not drive out the inhabitants of the land. The ESV Study Bible has this insightful note on Joshua 15:63:
Against the backdrop of so much success, the notice that the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites from Jerusalem and that they dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day is disconcerting in at least two respects. First, it recalls Moses' repeated warnings against allowing Canaanites to survive and live among the Israelites (see notes on 6:17; 6:18). Second, it raises a theological question: how is it that the people of Judah “could not” drive out their foes? Surely the god of the Jebusites is not stronger than the God of Judah! This is not the first instance of failure to occupy (13:13), and it will not be the last. In 17:12 the Manassites are unable to occupy certain towns because “the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land.” In 17:16 the Ephraimites cite Canaanite possession of “chariots of iron” as preventing them from taking the plains. These statements seem to be in tension with the dominant theological conviction of the book of Joshua that “the hand of the Lord is mighty” (4:24) and with the divine promise to the leader Joshua that “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. … You shall cause this people to inherit the land” (1:5–6). Joshua himself seems to agree with this assessment, insisting in 17:18 that “you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.” Perhaps statements of what Israel “could not” do are to be read as early evidence of spiritual slippage—of failure to follow the Lord “wholly” (see 14:8)—which will become increasingly evident in the book of Judges.

The unfortunate disobedience by some groups of Israelites during the time of Joshua would later wreak havoc with the generations after them. There was little thought to this at the time. It makes me pause and consider that my choices today affect not only myself, but also my children. I would not want to make this kind of mistake, and then cause needless spiritual damage for someone else! That is why firm commitments to spiritual realities cannot waver.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

chasing away the giants

And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak.
Joshua 15:14

The sons of Anak (anakim in Hebrew - "the long-necked ones") were valiant leaders and giants. Archeology has unearthed Hebrew skeletons from biblical times. Reconstruction of your average bronze age Jewish male puts him at about five foot five and a hundred and sixty pounds. The Anakim would only need to be a foot taller to be a difficult foe. But the text way back in the book of Numbers says they were giants. Caleb was one of the few people who thought Israel could take care of these big boys with God's leadership. He was right. He got to chase them off!

The way the text reads is interesting. Caleb drove them off. They ran away from an 85 year old Jew! Evidently they fled to Philistia (north of Israel) because later another scrawny Jew, a mere youth named David, fights Goliath who is said to be descended from the Anakim. The conquest of Canaan could not be complete without these giants being driven away. And it is fitting that Caleb did so.

Faith chases away the giants. That is the encouragement that I receive in this story. We all have our fears and various categories where we find it difficult to trust God... those are the giants. But faith in God's promise can provide the strength and commitment necessary to drive them away and find the peace that God can bring. It still requires action. Evidently Caleb led a campaign of his own with recruited troops and incentives to capture the territory he claimed (Joshua 15:15-19). But it was faith that gave him the courage to obey God's promise in the fight. That is how the Lord helps us fight giants.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

spiritual stamina

Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel.
Joshua 14:14

Caleb makes me think of Popeye the Sailor. I can't say just why, but I think the old dude was pretty scrappy. Caleb was eighty five years old when he approached Joshua and asked to be given the region around Hebron as his family inheritance. Caleb was the only survivor besides Joshua of the generation that refused to accept the first invitation to take the Promised Land. Caleb had patiently waited for 45 years to see this day. And he asked for a tough assignment! Hebron was fortified and was known for its warrior class reputation. But Caleb at 85 was still strong for battle. And God enabled his clan to successfully gain the territory for themselves.

I would hope that should I be given the chance to live as long that I would be able to be the same way. But regardless of age, the lesson of spiritual stamina is the most important one. Caleb was able to live to see this day because he firmly believed God and exhibited strong faith in the midst of opposition. Frankly, anything he found in terms of Canaanite resistance was nothing compared to the spiritual resistance he had already witnessed and survived among his own people. His faith gave him the mountain country for his own.

And spiritual stamina does not sit back and wait. Caleb fought in the hill country against Canaan's fiercest fighters and the text describing it is short and matter of fact. He conquered the people and claimed what God had given to him. His faith was stable because God rewarded his unwavering commitment to His promises. And Caleb just kept believing God! That is the secret... just keep believing God.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Monday, October 25, 2010

a push & a promise

I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you.
Joshua 13:6b

Chapter thirteen of Joshua begins with God reminding Joshua that there was still work to be done in the allotment and securing of the promised land. They had won all the major military victories against the strongest cities of the Canaanites. But they were still moving toward the final claiming of all God's promise. There was this last final push of the last half of the book of Joshua. Israel is encouraged by God to make the last efforts and promises them that the Canaanites left in the land will be driven out by a sovereign God.

The military subjugation of the land had been done for the most part. What was left was the settling of Israel into this land. That was going to take time... generations really. In fact, there was not really a full realization of all of this until David and Solomon reigned in Israel as kings. Until then, the nation claimed the promise of God and pushed forward.

From this point on in Joshua, Israel seems all too content to settle into farming and living. They have to be prodded to move forward, and even then, there are signs of incomplete obedience. They leave Canaanite clans in the land (Joshua 11:22; 13:13), which later prove to be a big problem for the nation spiritually and culturally (see the Book of Judges).

God never asks us to do a thing that He is not in for us. When He asks us to obey, He has provided the means to do so in Himself. When we must move forward, He will sovereignly drive away what is opposed to Him, even if we do not see it all at once ourselves. God does not rely on us to do anything, yet He does ask for our obedience. Obedience is about the relationship and not the power of God. We are the ones who grow in our faith and knowledge of God by obeying Him.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Thursday, October 21, 2010

a summary of victory

And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan...
Joshua 12:7a

This chapter is a summary of all the cities and kings that Israel defeated on both the east and west sides of the Jordan river. As such it represents a roll call of victory given to them by God. The conquest is not complete (there are still some cities remaining) but the territory conquered thus far does fit the boundaries of the Promise Land map that God had repeatedly revealed would be given over to Israel.

The power of every one of the cities was symbolized in the Canaanite kings. That is why the text lists the victories in the name of the defeated leader. This is a textual monument to victory given by God. It is a witness to the superiority of Israel's King, Yahweh, and His remarkable leadership in defeating these cities and obtaining the lands for His people.

A quick principle emerges from this chapter for me. It is the principle of review. It is good to have some way of regularly reviewing what God has done. In the case of Israel during the conquest, this list of kings became a way to regularly rattle off the extent of victory God had given the sons of daughters of nomadic former slaves. Just as Passover was a reminder of deliverance from Egyptian power, this list was a reminder of God's strength given to them to fight and claim what God had given. This summary and review is important. We must remember God's work for us because we tend to take credit for it ourselves! That is why the discipline of scriptural journaling is important for me. I am a proud man who wants to make my life my own achievement. But when I take the time to record what God has done and shown in me, I am giving the glory to God. And reviewing that regularly also keeps my proud spirit in check!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

rest, but not finished

So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.
Joshua 11:23

Israel is now in possession of the territory promised to them. From the physical description, north to south, of the Promised Land, they have covered the map and God has given them victory. Enough land has been taken by conquest to settle the tribes. This is the moment that this generation has been hoping for and trusting God to bring to them as they have fought to gain His promise. And now there is a chance to rest.

This moment comes not even at the halfway point of the book. So it is clear that there is still work to do. Joshua 13:1 makes it clear that there was still land to conquer and battles to be waged. But the difference was that now they could do so from settled positions in homes of their own. They could rest, but they were not finished.

God does provide that same sort of rest today. We are not finished until are work on earth is done. But we can rest in God's provision. I find that encouraging, because my experience is that ministry work never feels fully accomplished. There is always more to do. There are always hurting people. There are always complaints to hear and respond to in love. There are always difficulties and suffering to care for and places to discover God's purposes. There are always plans to be made, things to do, and people to see. So even though the work is not finished, God can bring rest. I may take that rest, but it does not mean the job is finished!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

the battle on the longest day

The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.
Joshua 10:13b-14

This was a unique and unparalleled event in world history. As Joshua rushes to the defense of the new Gibeonite allies in Canaan, God intervenes by answering the prayer of the general. The sun slows to a crawl at noon, and the daylight hours increase to twice their normal length. This is more than the summer solstice. This is divine intervention in the order of the universe. Somehow, God is able to slow the rotation and orbit of the earth enough to effect an outcome for His people Israel that He has decreed. The result is that the additional daylight hours give Israel enough time to route the armies of five cities.

Those opposed to any biblical faith attack this account as a heroic, fictional tale. They argue that there is no physical way that the events described could take place without the destruction of the earth. And from a purely naturalistic viewpoint that is true. But the viewpoint that the text takes is not naturalistic. It is supernatural. It says that the God Who rules and made the universe did this. From that point of view it is entirely possible. And the text goes out of its way to talk about the uniqueness of this event. No day has existed like that day since and no day was like it before. It was made by God for a specific purpose to answer the prayer of His servant. So naturalists may scoff. They always refuse to accept anything miraculous. But the point of a miracle is that it is an impossible violation of the laws of nature. That should be enough for those who know their God to accept.

God will stop the universe for His people, if that is what they need. He will bring glory to Himself in the vastness of this universe and in His exceptional control of it for His glory. The biblical text is full of these sorts of exceptional truths, and they always point to the God Who made us all. Miracles are meant to get us thinking about the greatness of God. They may come as answers to prayer. They are clearly seen in scripture, without any other explanation possible. And that is the glory of God at work.

There was another unusual day on planet earth. It was the day in which Jesus hung on a cross between heaven and earth. That day saw supernatural darkness descend upon the earth at the locus of a hill outside Jerusalem. There is a greater miracle than anything Joshua knew. It secured forgiveness. It brought the new life that comes to a person who has found forgiveness and becomes a new creation in Christ. It is secured by the resurrection from the dead of Jesus. And it rests on the most miraculous intervention that God ever made in human history: He became a man, yet without sin, to become our Savior, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ. By all measures, the universe stands still at that event as well!

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13