Joshua 13:1-7 (Part 1 of 2)

The Land Yet to Be Conquered

Have you ever noticed that modern churches, usually non-denominational, are never pastored by men over the age of 45? Is it a rule? Modern churches are pastored by skinny jeans wearing, shirt hanging out, Sperry wearing youthful pastors. We have our stereotypes in modern church now. So much so that there is a parody of modern worship on youtube.com. See the link below:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfTjcz7ys7I

 

Add to that, you will find that leadership positions underneath them are often filled with 20-40 year olds with beards and cool Christian t-shirts. There is definitely an emphasis on youth in the modern church world. Why is that? Have we caught the disease of youth worship that our culture has? Are we subconsciously reacting against the image of old men with canes and blue haired grannies ambling there way into the old church buildings that dot the landscape of America? Is this a reaction against the perception of death that is associated by man with traditional churches, in general? Is it a reaction against the clique-ish nature of so many old-line churches? Is it a reaction against the fact that older folks are associated with clinging to their traditions to the point that they would rather let their church die than change?

 

Sure, all of these things are true about mainline, traditional churches. It is the very thing that gave birth to the pastor-centered, non-denominational, new wave church movement featuring megachurches. We who are members of a “new wave church” such as myself rebel against the stodgy traditionalism of denominational churches. We rebel against their hierarchies both at the local church level and the state and national levels that make their denominations slow to change just as the Titanic was too big a monolith to make a quick change to get around the iceberg. We rebel against the elitist nature of those churches (it’s us in here and it’s they out there). We rebel against the standard same ol’, same ol’ every Sunday. We rebel against the symbolism and the fancy trappings and stained glass windows. We just want church to be about worshiping God.

 

However, in our frenzied pace of running away from the traditions of old church have we have (maybe, unknowingly or, is it purposeful) made youth a priority in our churches. There are no policies against it to be sure but, by the culture, we have created in new wave churches, youth is a defacto priority. Does your new wave church have any pastor who is over the age 50? Does your new wave church have anyone in a position of influence of any kind (staff or volunteer) that is over the age of 50? Does you church relegate its over 50 crowd to the sidelines and force them to create their own little ministry that caters to the few over 50 folks that your church has drawn from the world out there? What percentage of your church’s general population is over 50 in your new wave church? Do you overlook potential leaders who are over 50 just to go with someone who is younger so as to fit the culture of the church? Does your church only hire people over 50 as long as they are in back-office roles? Think about it? Whether your new wave church has intentionally, consciously done this or it was just an unspoken cultural phenomenon within the church, the result brings us to the same place. Is there a place for people over the age of 50 in the modern new church movement?

 

That question was the question that God placed on my heart as I read through this passage this today for the first of two times that we will visit it. Here is what the passage, Joshua 13:1-7, says:

 

13 When Joshua had grown old, the Lord said to him, “You are now very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.

 

2 “This is the land that remains: all the regions of the Philistines and Geshurites, 3 from the Shihor River on the east of Egypt to the territory of Ekron on the north, all of it counted as Canaanite though held by the five Philistine rulers in Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron; the territory of the Avvites 4 on the south; all the land of the Canaanites, from Arah of the Sidonians as far as Aphek and the border of the Amorites; 5 the area of Byblos; and all Lebanon to the east, from Baal Gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo Hamath.

 

6 “As for all the inhabitants of the mountain regions from Lebanon to Misrephoth Maim, that is, all the Sidonians, I myself will drive them out before the Israelites. Be sure to allocate this land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have instructed you, 7 and divide it as an inheritance among the nine tribes and half of the tribe of Manasseh.”

 

Here in this passage, we see that Joshua is getting older. In fact, based on the chronologies developed by scholars, they estimate that at the time of Jewish history that this passage represent, Joshua is anywhere from 85-100 years old. God, however, still had work for him to do. Our culture often glorifies youth and sets aside those you are getting older. Yet, older people are filled with wisdom that comes from the school of hard knocks, as the saying goes. They are very capable of serving if given the chance and should be encouraged to do so. Also, for those that are getting older out there, your getting older is no excuse for resigning from God’s service. There is no retirement age in God’s economy. We should not assume as church leadership or as the aging segment of your church that folks over 50 are not capable of or desirous of serving in real, meaningful leadership positions within the church. Maybe, give ‘em some skinny jeans and a new haircut and let’s go! LOL!

 

Think about it. Although we do not live as long as Old Testament figures did, we can by relative comparison look at this. Moses was 80 when he began his most important leadership role ever. By comparison to you and me and our society of today, that would be comparable to say around age 55-56. The most important thing that Moses ever did in his life was his last 40 years – from age 80 to 120. Let us begin to change the culture in new church, whether it has been purposeful or simply something unspoken, of glorifying youth or the image of it. Sure, we don’t want to revert to traditionalism of mainline churches, but we should not marginalize our churches’ over 50 crowd either. They should be encouraged to be leaders and not use the excuse that they have done their time. Let’s go pull them off the sidelines and encourage them to get in the game. Let’s develop them as leaders. Although my church is far from perfect (as there is no perfect church) and we do have a ways to go to develop the over 50 crowd in our church, we do encourage everyone regardless of age to go deeper in service to the Lord whether you are 50 or 15. We certainly have improvements we can make and certainly self-analysis is always good, but I do not think it is a conscious part of our culture to exclude those over fifty. I know that one of the matriarchs of the founding of our church, Mrs. Eulala Pace, is 80-something years old, but she gets loved on every Sunday by everyone because everyone knows that she was instrumental in LifeSong coming into existence.

 

So, let us examine ourselves as new wave churches, modern churches, non-traditional churches (whatever you want to call us) and see whether our culture is to focus only on developing youthful members with potential or hiring only people of a certain age range. Let us examine whether we are consciously or unconsciously excluding our 50 plus, baby boomers from real meaningful leadership within our churches. Let us remember that Joshua still had much to give at 85 as he did when he was 45. Let us remember Moses gave his best to God and did his most important work in the last third of his life. Let us not miss out because we are trying to have a certain look!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 11:16-12:24

Summary of Conquests

 

Last night, I watched a movie that I had last seen in the movie theatre. Now, last night it was on TBS. It was the movie, Interstellar, starring Matthew McConoughey and Anne Hathaway. It is one of those movies that messes with your head. It is well-written but it deals with some heady scientific concepts. The theory of relativity plays a front and center role in the movie. That is a pretty high-brow concept to be the star concept of a movie. The movie does not dumb down the science and the theory and it challenges you to consider the concepts of their being different dimensions of life that we are not aware of outside of time, spatial relationships, and motion.

 

The story centers on Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned farmer, who discovers mysterious coordinates to a top-secret government project. He is recruited by his old colleague Professor Brand (Michael Caine) to lead a journey into the nether regions of space to, essentially, find a new home for humanity. While it’s somewhat glossed over in the film, the reason for this mission is because the Earth’s resources are dwindling rapidly, with the “blight” rendering the planet incapable of yielding any crops except for corn, although that will be over soon as well.

 

At any rate, despite the protests of his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), Cooper joins this all-important mission aboard the Endurance spacecraft alongside Brand’s daughter and biologist Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romily (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) and two androids known as TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart). Their mission is to enter a wormhole and explore the three planets orbiting the black hole Gargantua, which are named Miller, Mann and Edmunds, after the astronauts who explored them in the previous Lazarus missions. In Interstellar, Cooper wrestles with the decision to join the Endurance, since he knows he will be separated from his young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) and son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) for an unknown amount of time. He doesn’t know then that years upon years will pass, with Murph (Jessica Chastain) and Tom (Casey Affleck) growing up never knowing if and/or when their father will come back. It’s Murph’s undying faith that Coop will return that provides a heart-wrenching payoff.

 

What a quandry this film proposes, saving humanity (where through the vagaries of the relativity you only age a few years) at the expense of spending time with your family over a period of sixty or so years on earth. Which would you do? Do something that no one on earth will possibly remember that will save their lives or stay on earth, not take the risk and suffer and die with your family as the planet wastes away. Would you rather take the risk of failing in an effort to save humanity for which you may never get credit for and risk alienating and destroying family relationships to save something greater, humanity?

 

Sometimes, we have choices like that to make. We can take the easy way out or we can do the hard work whose fruit might not been seen in this lifetime or, at least, not for many years. We may choose comfort over doing hard work that may take many years to realize. We see this in this passage. Remember, back in the first approach to the Promised Land, the Israelites did not want to do the hard work of conquering the Promised Land. Wandering in the wilderness for 40 years was preferable to having to fight and claw and scratch out the conquest of the Promised Land. Remember, God promised them the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, but they did not want to do the work that was necessary to obtain it. Here in this passage, we see just how hard that work was. Let’s read it together now:

 

 

 

16 So Joshua took this entire land: the hill country, all the Negev, the whole region of Goshen, the western foothills, the Arabah and the mountains of Israel with their foothills, 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, to Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He captured all their kings and put them to death. 18 Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. 19 Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

 

21 At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns. 22 No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive.

 

23 So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.

List of Defeated Kings

 

12 These are the kings of the land whom the Israelites had defeated and whose territory they took over east of the Jordan, from the Arnon Gorge to Mount Hermon, including all the eastern side of the Arabah:

 

2 Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.

 

He ruled from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge—from the middle of the gorge—to the Jabbok River, which is the border of the Ammonites. This included half of Gilead. 3 He also ruled over the eastern Arabah from the Sea of Galilee[a] to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea), to Beth Jeshimoth, and then southward below the slopes of Pisgah.

 

4 And the territory of Og king of Bashan, one of the last of the Rephaites, who reigned in Ashtaroth and Edrei.

 

5 He ruled over Mount Hermon, Salekah, all of Bashan to the border of the people of Geshur and Maakah, and half of Gilead to the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.

 

6 Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the Israelites conquered them. And Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to be their possession.

 

7 Here is a list of the kings of the land that Joshua and the Israelites conquered on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir. Joshua gave their lands as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel according to their tribal divisions. 8 The lands included the hill country, the western foothills, the Arabah, the mountain slopes, the wilderness and the Negev. These were the lands of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. These were the kings:

9 the king of Jericho       one

the king of Ai (near Bethel)         one

10 the king of Jerusalem              one

the king of Hebron          one

11 the king of Jarmuth  one

the king of Lachish          one

12 the king of Eglon       one

the king of Gezer             one

13 the king of Debir        one

the king of Geder             one

14 the king of Hormah  one

the king of Arad               one

15 the king of Libnah     one

the king of Adullam       one

16 the king of Makkedah             one

the king of Bethel            one

17 the king of Tappuah one

the king of Hepher          one

18 the king of Aphek      one

the king of Lasharon      one

19 the king of Madon    one

the king of Hazor             one

20 the king of Shimron Meron   one

the king of Akshaph       one

21 the king of Taanach one

the king of Megiddo      one

22 the king of Kedesh    one

the king of Jokneam in Carmel  one

23 the king of Dor (in Naphoth Dor)        one

the king of Goyim in Gilgal         one

24 the king of Tirzah      one

thirty-one kings in all.

 

In this passage, we see that much of the conquest of the land of Canaan seems to have happened quickly (we can read about it in just a few pages), but it actually took seven (7) years. We often expect quick changes in our lives and quick victories over sin, over circumstances that oppress us, over obstacles to our successful enjoyment of life. However, our journey with God is a lifelong process and any changes in our lives or victories over that which we want to conquer may take time. It is easy to grow impatient with God and feel like giving up hope because things are moving too slowly, according to our standards. When we are too close to a situation, it is difficult to see progress. But when we get a chance to reflect, we can see that God never stopped working. In this passage, we see that this information is a summary of the first half of the book of Joshua. It lists kings and nations conquered by Joshua both east and west of the Jordan River. The accumulation of evidence here suggests that, even though it takes time sometimes, obedience to the Lord will result in victory and not just some quick fix.

 

That’s the thing that we must grapple with in our relationship with the Lord. If we are to grow in our relationship with Him sometimes we have to put in the work that we may not see immediate results from it. We want quick answers to our prayers. We want a “if I do this Lord, you will do that immediately” relationship with the Lord. Just think of how long Moses had to work in Midian before God called him to lead His people. Just think of Moses leading Israel in the desert for 40 years and not getting to even go into the Promised Land. He never got to see the fruition of the conquest, but without Moses’ efforts Israel would have never made it back to the Promised Land. Just think of Joseph toiling away in prison, falsely convicted of a crime he did not commit, mind you, for 12 years. Twelve years in prison for a crime he did not commit, but he continued being faithful to God (even when there was not immediate results). Jesus lived for 30 years in the flesh before He began His ministry. Was it wasted time? No. It was necessary for Jesus, the God in the flesh component of the Trinity, to know the feel, the touch, the everything of our merely mortal existence. He knows what it is like to cry over loved ones who have passed. He knows the joy of life’s great events in our lives. He knows pain of hitting his thumb with a hammer. He knows the pain of being beaten within an inch of His mortal existence. He knows it all from the human point of view. It took thirty years. Also, think of Jesus from His humanity’s perspective knowing that His death on the cross would give us a way to be reconciled forever with God but He had to endure real human suffering and a gruesome death for that to happen. He even asked the Father to take that cup from Him. What a choice that would be do something that will matter for eternity but you gotta put in the work on the cross that nobody will notice until they understand that you were not just human but you were the fully divine presence of God. Millions of people will ignore what you did. Millions more won’t even recognize that you even existed. But in order for everyone to have access to the Father through your payment on the cross, you must do this.

 

Sometimes, we must do the hard things to grow in Christ. We must do more than just what’s easy. We may suffer hardships as a result of our faith but the rewards go far beyond the here and now. Is God asking you to do something hard that will take a long time to see any benefits of. Sometimes being a Christ follower involves obedience without any tangible earthly results. But we must do them any way because God has directed us to do it. We may have a cushy life and a comfortable life now but God may be calling us to do something that is really hard? Are you willing to trade the here and now benefits of this life but miss out on God’s eternal blessings? What is God calling you to do that is hard and you are shying away from it? What if you miss the real eternal blessing that God has in store because what lies ahead seems to hard? The safety of here and now pales in comparison to the blessings that come from obedience.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 11:1-15 (Part 2 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Northern Armies

“As the Lord had commanded His servant, Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua…” This is the essence of leadership. One of the challenges of the new wave of modern, typically non-denominational, churches is that they do not have the structure and hierarchy of their denomination behind them. It’s live and die on their own. Some are only loosely affiliated with a denomination (and those denominational churches often consider the newfangled churches like that cousin that nobody in the family wants to claim – except in the denominational reports on church growth). Some are outright unaffiliated with any traditional denomination. In denominational churches, you can often rely on the denominational hierarchy to support the church when there is a ministerial crisis and a change in leadership is needed. However, the new wave of modern churches out there have shunned the traditions and hierarchies of traditional denominations. The risk is that what if these churches that are often centered around a founding pastor have a ministerial crisis. Will they survive?

 

There are recent examples of both answers to that question. Mars Hill Church in the Seattle, WA area was one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing churches under the leadership of Mark Driscoll. He became one of the first celebrity preachers to come out of the new church movement. He was a noted author. He gave leadership talks everywhere. But when it came down to it, Mark succumbed to his own celebrity and tried to control every aspect of his organization and ruled with a dictatorial flair. Because the leadership structure was so centered around him and he never allowed his people to develop into true leaders, he got out of control as a leader and ultimately he was forced out as the head pastor of the church that he founded. Because of the vacuum of true leaders within that multi-site, multi-state church, the leaders that did come up after Mark were not prepared for the enterprise of which they had to assume control. Leadership faltered. Each of the satellite campuses were first released to be their own churches because of the strain on short-sighted, ill trained leaders of the central organization could not manage the far flung enterprise. Following that, the wheels started coming off and within one year what was once one of the largest, fastest growing churches in America, no longer existed. Mars Hill Church imploded and no longer a trace of it exists. Lack of a leadership pipeline caused the church to fail and that is truly one of the major risks of the new, non-denominational, preacher-centric churches that have begun dotting the American Christian landscape from coast to coast.

 

NewSpring Church, headquartered nearby here in its place of founding in Anderson, SC, is one of the top 5 fastest growing churches in America. It has 23 campuses dotting the landscape of Upstate South Carolina. Each campus looks pretty much alike. They have the same formula at each location. It is a modern look and feel. Traditional churches don’t care much for NewSpring as many have lost members to the megachurch. Many claim that NewSpring is a “gospel-lite” church that teaches that Jesus is your friend not your king. That teaches of only God’s love but not His judgement. Some say that NewSpring is a nice church to go to but if you want to grow up, you have to leave. They say NewSpring makes converts not disciples. All of these things may or may not be true. Anything that gets that big that fast will always have critics who don’t think the church is anything but a fad or that the church really hasn’t paid its dues of being a church for a hundred years. And many of its detractors cheered wildly when its founding pastor, Perry Noble, was forced out by the governing board of the multi-site megachurch. Revelations of infidelity and alcoholism were rumored to be the cause. Perry Noble was a bright star in the megachurch movement. He, too, like many of these founding pastors of megachurches was an author and a celebrity of sorts. Speaking engagements around the country and the world were at his feet. He had the adulation of many and he let it all go to his head just like virtually every pastor of these large, quickly growing churches have. And he fell.

 

However, say what you will about the founding pastor, Perry Noble, of NewSpring Church, his church is surviving and even growing and opening more new campuses without its founding pastor as part of the organization in any way. Perry has nothing to do with NewSpring now but the church is still there. Many felt and some hoped that the church would implode without him just like Mars Hill did without Mark Driscoll. As the soldier say in the movie, Armageddon, after they had attempted to nuke one of the city sized spaceships hovering over what was left of Houston, TX, “the target remains, sir. I repeat. The target remains.” The monolith that is NewSpring remains. Why? Perry Noble did one thing right, for all his evident faults. He surrounded himself with good leaders that could take his place if needed. He groomed his successor to take over as senior pastor. He developed an organization at the “corporate headquarters” in Anderson that could handle the rapid growth of the church. He developed an organization that was ready for 20 sites when it was only 10 sites. It is ready for 40 sites now organizationally speaking when it is only 23 sites. This central core organization knows its mission and replicates it with each campus. They then plant the same leadership structure at each location. They have systems and processes that are replicated with each campus. And each location has a campus pastor that can be a pastor on their own. One thing Perry was never afraid of was hiring the best and the brightest. However, all of this successful organizational intelligence would be meaningless if he had not been all the while grooming Clayton King to take his place as the head of this mammoth organization. Clayton is now the face of the franchise and the church survived the crisis of losing its founding pastor to his own mistakes of self-centeredness. That’s the difference between NewSpring and Mars Hill.

 

That’s the thing that our church, LifeSong Church, must consider in the next month as our pastor goes on sabbatical and our church enters an intense month of prayer and soul searching. We have all been asked by our founding pastor, Jeff Hickman, to consider what our ministries will look like five years from now. We must consider where we want to be. We must start with where we want to be. Because if we know where we want to be in five years then we can start now working toward that goal. If we just exist with no five year goals or plans we are not going to get anywhere and we will flounder. As the old saying goes, you can’t get to your destination without first figuring out what roads to take and which not to take. One of the things too that we must consider is that there will come a day when Jeff retires at the latest or Jeff gets called to do something else. Will our church survive Jeff not being there? Do we have the leaders in place that can have the leadership wherewithal that Jeff has? Sure we have elders/pastors that could take his place in Mike Blackwood and Tim Lyda. Are they ready? Are they willing? Are they capable of being the new top guy in our organization? Has Jeff been making them ready to take on “the face of the franchise” role that he now holds. Being senior pastor, the face of the church, is something different from being the executive pastor/worship pastor or the pastor of discipleship. If they are ready for this role, have they been grooming up leaders below them to step into their roles once they have stepped up. Developing the “next man up” mentality within our organization, developing lay people into full-time ministers, developing full-time support ministers into being ready for the senior pastor role must be a part of the plan for our next five years. We want to be a target that remains. We want to know where we are going and how to get there and who we are going to have to take us there. Next man up is an important part of getting to where you want your organization to be. We must be able to plug in the next man up and not miss a beat as we head toward our goals of making the greatest kingdom impact that we can within the job that God has assigned to our church.

 

That is what came to mind this morning as I read through this passage today for a second time. It struck me that one of the subtle emphases of the this passage is that Joshua was the next man up. He was carrying out the plan that Moses had trained him up for. Quietly all those forty years, Moses was training up Joshua to take over the organization that was Israel and Joshua was plugged in and carried out the vision even with Moses no longer in the picture. Let’s read it now together:

 

11 When Jabin king of Hazor heard of this, he sent word to Jobab king of Madon, to the kings of Shimron and Akshaph, 2 and to the northern kings who were in the mountains, in the Arabah south of Kinnereth, in the western foothills and in Naphoth Dor on the west; 3 to the Canaanites in the east and west; to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites in the hill country; and to the Hivites below Hermon in the region of Mizpah. 4 They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. 5 All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the Waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

 

6 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them, slain, over to Israel. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.”

 

7 So Joshua and his whole army came against them suddenly at the Waters of Merom and attacked them, 8 and the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel. They defeated them and pursued them all the way to Greater Sidon, to Misrephoth Maim, and to the Valley of Mizpah on the east, until no survivors were left. 9 Joshua did to them as the Lord had directed: He hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots.

 

10 At that time Joshua turned back and captured Hazor and put its king to the sword. (Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms.) 11 Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed[a] them, not sparing anyone that breathed, and he burned Hazor itself.

 

12 Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 Yet Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds—except Hazor, which Joshua burned. 14 The Israelites carried off for themselves all the plunder and livestock of these cities, but all the people they put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed. 15 As the Lord commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.

 

Here, in this passage, as we read it for today, we see that Joshua followed every detail of God’s commands to Moses. It is usually difficult to complete someone else’s project, but Joshua stepped into Moses’ job and brought it to completion, building upon what Moses had started. A new person taking over for another in a new job will bring his own style and personality to that job, but the church or any other organization cannot work effectively if there is no one to step up and take that person’s place or if every change in personnel means starting over from scratch.

 

That’s what we at LifeSong must do as part of our 30 day challenge while Jeff is on sabbatical. We must dream the big dreams that God lays on our hearts. If you don’t dream big, you won’t win big. We must seek what the impossible dream God wants us to dream and say why not? We must then develop the road map on how to get there. Start with where you want to finish and then work your way back to the starting line (where we are now). Great running backs in football are already thinking two moves ahead when they are running down the field. We need vision. Without it we flounder and perish. When we have a common vision, everyone knows what that is. Then we can train with the next man up mentality. When we already know what the plan is, we can groom up others to take us there. The mission then becomes the most important thing. Just as Jesus trained up his disciples and gave them a vision, we must do the same. The church survived Jesus’ death because he was the originator of the next man up mentality in church. He invested heavily in his disciples such that the church grew exponentially after He was gone. Common vision. Training new leaders to step up. That’s the secret sauce. We see it in Moses to Joshua. We see it in Jesus to the disciples. We see it in the survival of NewSpring Church. Will that be said of us at LifeSong Church five years from now. Will it be said of your church?

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 11:1-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Northern Armies

Here in this passage, we see that God has instructed Joshua to do certain things and Joshua carries these instructions out completely without question. I think that Joshua learned his lesson about either not consulting God and as a result not carrying out God’s instructions from his experiences with the Gibeonites and with the defeat at Ai.

 

This morning, all I can think of at the moment is that song by Bethel Music (featuring Kathleen DeMarco) entitled “It is Well (With My Soul)”. It is a modernization and remake of a remake of a remake of the original hymn penned by Horatio Spafford and the music was composed by Philip Bliss. The story behind the words of the song is as a remarkable story as is the song itself.

 

This hymn was written after traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his son at the age of 2 and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago that was extensively damaged by the great fire). His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873, at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …”. Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.

 

Now let us read the words of the remake by Bethel Music:

 

Grander earth has quaked before

Moved by the sound of His voice

Seas that are shaken and stirred

Can be calmed and broken for my regard

 

Through it all, through it all

My eyes are on You

Through it all, through it all

It is well

 

Through it all, through it all

My eyes are on You

It is well with me

 

Far be it from me to not believe

Even when my eyes can’t see

 

And this mountain that’s in front of me

Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

 

Through it all, through it all

My eyes are on You

Through it all, through it all

It is well

 

So let go my soul and trust in Him

The waves and wind still know His name [repeat last line during 3rd run]

[x3]

 

It is well with my soul

It is well with my soul

It is well with my soul

It is well with my soul

[repeat 3x]

 

It is well it is well with my soul [x3]

ahhhhhhh (softly)

 

Through it all, through it all

My eyes are on You Lord

Through it all, through it all

It is well with me.

[x2]

 

Horatio could not understand why his family had been devastated in the way that it was. We still do not know, but his faith in God gave us so much out of that tragedy. This beautiful song that has given so many so much hope over the past 150 years. This latest rendition of the song would have made Horatio proud. I think he wanted people to feel the strength of his heart and his faith in God through his tragedy. Spafford, his wife, and the two children they had eventually settled in Jerusalem and ran a help agency there that helped people regardless of religious affiliation, be they Christian, Jew or Muslim. Thousands of locals were helped by Horatio and his family. This may have not occurred had the tragedy not happened. Horatio may have continued working as a businessmen and real estate developer in Chicago. He was saved by his business interests in Chicago while his family went ahead of him. His family died but he didn’t. He was devastated and it took years to recover but had the tragedy not happened he may not have become the inspirational figure that he became.

 

Sometimes we don’t understand why things happen the way they do or why God asks us to obey him when it really doesn’t make sense to us. Like here in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area, we had the fifth teenager at Byrnes High School to die accidently within the last 15 months, the second one to drown in that time span. Why did this happen? What good can come from it? We question God at these times. But we must come back to the trust in God that He sees things that we cannot and sometimes we have no other thing to do but to trust that He knows what He is doing.

 

That is what came to mind this morning as I read through this passage. What came to mind was how Joshua just simply obey. Just simply trusted. And followed God’s instructions to the letter. Let’s read it now together:

 

11 When Jabin king of Hazor heard of this, he sent word to Jobab king of Madon, to the kings of Shimron and Akshaph, 2 and to the northern kings who were in the mountains, in the Arabah south of Kinnereth, in the western foothills and in Naphoth Dor on the west; 3 to the Canaanites in the east and west; to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites in the hill country; and to the Hivites below Hermon in the region of Mizpah. 4 They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. 5 All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the Waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

 

6 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them, slain, over to Israel. You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots.”

 

7 So Joshua and his whole army came against them suddenly at the Waters of Merom and attacked them, 8 and the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel. They defeated them and pursued them all the way to Greater Sidon, to Misrephoth Maim, and to the Valley of Mizpah on the east, until no survivors were left. 9 Joshua did to them as the Lord had directed: He hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots.

 

10 At that time Joshua turned back and captured Hazor and put its king to the sword. (Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms.) 11 Everyone in it they put to the sword. They totally destroyed[a] them, not sparing anyone that breathed, and he burned Hazor itself.

 

12 Joshua took all these royal cities and their kings and put them to the sword. He totally destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 Yet Israel did not burn any of the cities built on their mounds—except Hazor, which Joshua burned. 14 The Israelites carried off for themselves all the plunder and livestock of these cities, but all the people they put to the sword until they completely destroyed them, not sparing anyone that breathed. 15 As the Lord commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.

 

Here, in this passage, as we read it for today, we see that Joshua carefully obeyed all the instructions given by God. This theme of obedience is repeated frequently in the book of Joshua. It is the one part of the believer’s life that the believer can control. We can’t always control our understanding because we may not always have all the facts and must simply trust God. We, also, cannot control how other people treat us or what they do. However, we can control our choice to obey God. Whatever new challenges we may face, the Bible contains relevant instructions that we can choose to ignore or choose to follow. We can choose to ignore or follow what God tells us directly through the Holy Spirit living in us as believers. We have also seen several instances in Joshua where the people did not seek the Lord for guidance and in each case they failed miserably. We may not always understand why God’s Word says what it says or why the Holy Spirit counsels us as He does but it is up to us to realize that God is God and sees more than we can see and that He has our best interest at heart. Obedience thus becomes an act of trust in our mighty omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God and an act of love toward our loving Father in heaven.

 

Sometimes God does not give us the full picture. He just gives us a glimpse (like a kid peaking through the living room door on Christmas Eve to see if Santa has come yet). We cannot see the whole picture as He can. He is God and sometimes we just have to dig down deep and trust without an answer right this very moment as to why something happened the way it did or why He is asking us to pursue something but does not show us what’s behind Door #1. Sometimes, we just gotta blindly trust God and do what He says, believe in His Fatherly wisdom. We just keep on keeping on. We just obey. We just believe. Sometimes that is what we have to have is that childlike faith sometimes. We may wait a long time, to have the answers to why certain things happen or why God pushes us in a certain direction, but there will be a day when either here on earth or maybe it’s not til we get to heaven that we can look back through God’s eyes and see what and why.

 

Joshua simply obeyed God no matter what the task given. He knew God knew better than he did. Sometimes we have to have that same faith about events that seem unfathomable to us or when God directs us to do things that seem crazy by worldly standards. Or when God makes us wait and wait and wait for Him to make our path clear. Or whatever it is that you don’t understand that God is doing in your life. Sometimes we just gotta trust the Big Guy. Sometimes we gotta trust when we don’t understand. We gotta trust when everything in us screams that it’s not right and it’s not fair.

 

God has never failed us and He never will. So we just trust and obey. So that it will be well with our soul. Sometimes the darkest hours in our lives is where we learn to let go of our desire to control the world and just simply trust in the Lord. Then it is well. It is well. It is well. With my soul!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 10:28-43

Israel Destroys the Southern Towns

One of the things that people have trouble with in Joshua is how there is this complete annihilation of the townspeople of the towns as they march through and conquer the Promised Land. How can God condone the complete slaughter of these towns? The text often straight up tells us that not only were the men killed but the women and children also. Sometimes, it just says everyone was killed and that there were no survivors. The only way that we can find justification in it is that God cannot tolerate sin and the Canaanite peoples of the Promised Land were generationally ingrained in their sinful ways. It was their nature to worship gods and perform perverse rituals. So everyone was taught these sinful ways from birth. They opposed God at every turn so that they could continue their culturally ingrained sinful ways. What God knew and what played out later in the Old Testament was that Israel did not completely wipe out other people groups and it was these people groups that so influenced the Israelites that there are periods in Old Testament history that the Israelites completely turned their backs on God themselves. It just goes to prove that when it comes to sin, it must be completely destroyed from our lives. We cannot allow it to stay there and linger.

 

We cannot be around our sin weak spots and not succumb to the siren’s call of that sin. We must wipe it and eradicate from our lives. If you are a married man and you know that you are susceptible to cheating behavior, you don’t put yourself into situations where you will be tempted to cheat on your wife. We must not allow ourselves to seek out flirtations that could lead to sexual encounters. We cannot fantasize about a woman who is not our wife. We cannot go hang out with single people at bars and similar activities where the point of it all is to hook up with someone. We may enjoy the little fantasies in our minds about what it would be like. We just cannot do it.

 

If our sin weakness is liquor (or whatever the mind altering substance of choice you have), you cannot buy it. You cannot have it in the house. You cannot rationalize that it is OK to drink it when you are at a restaurant but not at home. We cannot be part time about it. We have to get rid of liquor from our lives altogether. We just cannot take the chance. If liquor is your weakness, just getting involved with it can change the person you are and lead to stupid mistakes and acts that you regret. For you, it might be illegal drugs. Many of us can become consumed by the drug of our choice. That drug that flips all the right switches in our brain and just totally consumes us. We must have more. We can handle it. One shot of Jack Daniels. One snort of cocaine. One pill popped. We can handle it. But once you start, you can’t stop. That’s how sin is. Once you get the taste, it’s all over.

 

If you have a problem with pornography, you must eradicated it from your life. You can’t have Penthouse, Playboy, you name the magazine. You cannot have it in your life. You cannot have access to porn sites on the internet. You cannot even be subtle about it. You cannot do searches for key terms related to the female body on occasion. You may think you are being sly in this way so you can cover up and clean out your search terms from your search engine. It will still take to the same place. Sin. You must eradicate all porn from your life. Not even lingerie magazines and advertisements. If you have addictive tendencies when it comes to porn, there is no resolution other than to eradicate it from your life.

 

If you have a weakness for greed, don’t become a bank teller! If we have the inability to stop ourselves from taking money when we have the opportunity, the unchecked opportunity to do so, we must never put ourselves in a position where people would even suspect us for even thinking about mishandling money. We must make sure that there are checks and balances against us taking money if we are even going to be near it. If it is too easy to misdirect funds, we must not take such positions. If we are in such positions we must put systems in place that prevent us from having complete access to functions related to cash. If we are weak when it comes to money, we must place ourselves in positions where we have the capability to divert money.

 

If your sin weakness is…you fill in the blank. That is exactly where Satan will attack you. We must eradicate that sin from our lives. Oh Mark, you are so naïve. Just saying it won’t make it so for me. I just seem to be drawn to my favorite sin. I say that I don’t want to do it but I find myself there somehow and do it anyway. I think Paul said best in Romans 7:14-20:

 

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

 

We gravitate to our favorite sin or sins. We rationalize why its OK and we lie to ourselves about the fact that this time we can control it. We rationalize that there will be no consequences this time. Especially when it comes to our greatest sin weakness, our favorite sin that we do not want to give up, we are blinded by these lies. If it’s true that liquor has caused problems in your life before, it will be true again. If pornography has been a problem each and every time that you allowed the addiction to fester, why is it that we think under our own power that we can handle this time. If we taking things too far with a woman who is not your wife or a man who is not your husband has gotten your in trouble before and destroyed your life before, what possible reason can you think of that will make THIS TIME different. If we are addicted to money, or spending money, or having things we can’t afford, do you really think that having 5 credit cards in your wallet is going to be different this time. We fool ourselves into thinking that we can tolerate sin in our lives.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read through this passage and again read about Joshua wiping out whole populations of towns and why it was necessary. All we have to do is look at our own lives. Let’s read the passage together now:

 

28 That day Joshua took Makkedah. He put the city and its king to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it. He left no survivors. And he did to the king of Makkedah as he had done to the king of Jericho.

 

29 Then Joshua and all Israel with him moved on from Makkedah to Libnah and attacked it. 30 The Lord also gave that city and its king into Israel’s hand. The city and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. He left no survivors there. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho.

 

31 Then Joshua and all Israel with him moved on from Libnah to Lachish; he took up positions against it and attacked it. 32 The Lord gave Lachish into Israel’s hands, and Joshua took it on the second day. The city and everyone in it he put to the sword, just as he had done to Libnah. 33 Meanwhile, Horam king of Gezer had come up to help Lachish, but Joshua defeated him and his army—until no survivors were left.

 

34 Then Joshua and all Israel with him moved on from Lachish to Eglon; they took up positions against it and attacked it. 35 They captured it that same day and put it to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it, just as they had done to Lachish.

 

36 Then Joshua and all Israel with him went up from Eglon to Hebron and attacked it. 37 They took the city and put it to the sword, together with its king, its villages and everyone in it. They left no survivors. Just as at Eglon, they totally destroyed it and everyone in it.

 

38 Then Joshua and all Israel with him turned around and attacked Debir. 39 They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron.

 

40 So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded. 41 Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. 42 All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.

 

43 Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

 

In this passage, you will notice that in every Israelite victory, the text gives credit to the Lord. All of Israel’s victories came from the God. When we are successful, we may be tempted to take all the credit and glory as though we had succeeded by ourselves, in our own strength. In reality, God gives us the victories, and He alone delivers us from our enemies. In this passage, God had commanded Joshua to take the leadership in ridding the land of sinful occupants of the Promised Land so that God’s people could occupy it. Joshua did his part thoroughly. When God orders us to stop sinning, we must not pause to debate, consider options, negotiate a compromise, or rationalize our behavior. Instead, like Joshua, our response must be swift and complete. We must be ruthless in avoiding relationships and activities that can lead us into sin.

 

We all have a pet sin or multiple pet sins where we are just too easy of a pushover for Satan. We dabble in that sin and refuse to give it up. We dabble in because we think we can handle it. For some it’s sex, for some it’s alcohol, for some it’s money, for some it’s shopping or spending money, for some it’s illegal drugs, for some it’s …. You fill in the blank. We think we can tolerate it so that we can keep it near to us in our lives. We rationalize ourselves away that we can handle it being near in our lives. We must flee from it. We must eradicate it. But one thing is for sure that we cannot do it under our own power. Our sin nature makes us want our favorite sin near us. We must have God’s help to change our mind, heart and soul from worshiping access to that favorite sin. We must have His help in gaining victory. We must lay our favorite sin at the cross. We must be humble to say that we cannot handle it on our own. We’ve tried and failed miserably each and every time. We must have God’s help. We must then be obedient to Him when we see our favorite sin heading toward us. We must flee. We must eradicate the possibility. God cannot help us if we are wallowing on the shores of our favorite sin thinking this time it will be OK. Flee. Run. Get away. And pray to God that He will steel you against the temptations of your favorite sin, that one that gets you every time. Every time it will be the same result without God’s help.

 

Amen and Amen.

Posted: June 19, 2017 in Book fo Joshua
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Joshua 10:16-27

Joshua Kills the Five Southern Kings

 

Remembering God’s hand in your life and how he is in control is necessary for us when we are going through the trials and tribulations of life. We must be reminded it of sometimes, too, when we are going through the mundanity of life of working for a living, paying bills, and repeating the cycle over and over. I am reminded of God’s power in my life every time I think of the path of my life over these past 13 years. It makes me think of that song by the 80’s one-hit wonder band, Naked  Eyes, “There is Always Something There to Remind Me”.

 

The first thing is how He orchestrated my meeting my wife of the past 7 years. The odds of us ever meeting a decade ago was admittedly astronomical. I had been living in and around the Greenville, SC area from the time I was 14 years old until I was age 44. I had no plans of leaving. Greenville, SC was home. It was then and still is now my favorite town in the world. However, in order to continue expanding my career at age 44, I could no longer restrict my job searches to the Greenville area. I had to be willing to move anywhere in the country to further my career. So, at age 44, after two failed marriages, I was ready to move to a new town just to give it a shot. No longer was I having to satisfy the woman in life by remaining in the Greenville area. I was free to move anywhere I wanted to. And, although it was scary, I accepted a job offer in Charlotte, NC. Although, depending on where you go in Charlotte, it is was only an 1 ½ hours – 2 hours away from Greenville, it might as well have been a foreign country. Although I had been to uptown (in other cities this is called downtown) Charlotte a few times in my life and to Carowinds several times, I did not know Charlotte hardly at all and did not know anybody or have any friends that lived there. It was a new exciting and scary experience. What are the odds that within a year of my moving to Rock Hill, SC (a southern suburb of Charlotte), Elena, coming off the end of her own second marriage, would move into the same building in the same apartment complex with me. It took awhile for her to get her wings as a new bird in this single life. But we finally met. That was a God orchestrated thing. To think where we have been and where we are and where we are going, together, it was definitely the hand of God that orchestrated our being together as a couple. It is mind-boggling to think that just 2 ½ years before we met, we would never even thought of our meeting each other, much less living in the same apartment complex just up and downstairs from each other. Now, we have been a couple for nearly a decade and been married for almost 7 of those years. Mind-boggling. Different decisions by us about life and/or careers, and we would have never met.

 

When I think of how God arranged our lives to meet and the odds against us meeting #1, getting to know each other #2, and staying together after I accepted a job in California #3, her deciding to move to California to be with me #4, choosing Livermore to live in #5 (amazing miracle by itself), a church event door hanger “randomly” being the only door hanger placed on a door in our building at our apartment complex in Livermore inviting us to Livermore Alive Community Church #6, attending that church and meeting the pastor and his wife that became so instrumental in our walk with Christ #7, that going to that church was preparation for our return to South Carolina #8, the post office in Duncan being closed and my wife having to go to the Lyman post office instead (which is right across Greenville Highway in Lyman from LifeSong Church. I mean if our town’s post in Duncan was not closed when she arrived and then Elena opts for nearby Lyman’s post office, we would not have found LifeSong Church, the church we are so ingrained at now. That’s miracle #9. At LifeSong, we have flourished in our walk with the Lord to the point that we fully believe that we are called to ministry and we live it everyday and every way that we can and are preparing for the day when God will send us forth as a full-time ministry couple wherever that may lead – it may lead to LifeSong itself or us being sent to another location. That part has not yet been revealed. But we fully believe that He will reveal. Just look at the preponderance of evidence of His hand in our lives. The odds are astronomical for us even being together as a couple much less being a passionate Christ following couple ready to be used by Him. The odds are just freaking astounding. If you do not believe that God’s is still in the miracle business, try explaining my and Elena’s life together. It is full of the hand of God even when we weren’t looking.

 

When I get down and blue about things and wonder where God is, sometimes I just have to sit down and just think about my and Elena’s journey over this past decade. If that doesn’t bring awe to my mind about the power of God then something’s wrong with me. I am sure some atheist would discount it all as random events but, to me, there is no denying the hand of God in this brilliantly connected string of events. There are multiples of these so called “random acts” that are just simply God doing what He do! He is the grand orchestrator of His people’s lives. There’s no denying it. All these facts of our lives can be nothing less than God’s hand.

 

When I think of Joshua in this passage encouraging his troops about the hand of God on their shoulders and how they should be strong and courageous, it brought forth memories of how God has had His hand on my shoulders all this past decade. Let’s read Joshua 10:16-27 together and then I will tie all this together after we read it now:

 

16 Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. 17 When Joshua was told that the five kings had been found hiding in the cave at Makkedah, 18 he said, “Roll large rocks up to the mouth of the cave, and post some men there to guard it. 19 But don’t stop; pursue your enemies! Attack them from the rear and don’t let them reach their cities, for the Lord your God has given them into your hand.”

 

20 So Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely, but a few survivors managed to reach their fortified cities. 21 The whole army then returned safely to Joshua in the camp at Makkedah, and no one uttered a word against the Israelites.

 

22 Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” 23 So they brought the five kings out of the cave—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon. 24 When they had brought these kings to Joshua, he summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders who had come with him, “Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.” So they came forward and placed their feet on their necks.

 

25 Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the Lord will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” 26 Then Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles, and they were left hanging on the poles until evening.

 

27 At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the poles and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this day.

 

Here in this passage, we see that placing a foot on the neck of a captive was a common military practice in the ancient Middle Eastern cultures. It symbolized the victor’s domination over his captives. These proud kings had boasted of their collective power back in Joshua 10:4. But against a God who can suspend the laws of nature (sun standing still in Joshua 10:12-13) and his favor given to the Israelite armies, they were soundly slaughtered and defeated. God is superior to any earthly army. With God’s help, Israel won the battle against the armies of the 5 southern kings. Such a triumph was part of God’s daily business as He worked with His people for victory. Joshua told his men to never be discouraged or afraid but rather be strong and courageous because God would give them victories over all their enemies. The same God will help us with our present and future needs. Reminding ourselves of his help in the past will give us hope for the struggles we will encounter in the future. David says in Psalm 110:1, “The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” Be strong and courageous.

 

The thing that I have to take away from today’s passage is that God is with His people. When I get worried about what’s next or what is happening to me right now, all I have to do is remember how God has guided me, guided Elena, guided us to the shores that he wants us to land on. His hand in our lives is so super-evident to me that it gives me great confidence that God will continue to do so and all that I must do is trust in His power. Sure, it’s easy to get discouraged when we look at what’s immediately in front of us sometimes. However, we must take a step back and look at just what God has done in the totality of our time as Christ followers. He has guided us through dark times. He has set us up on the mountain tops. He has allowed challenges to chisel and form us into new creatures. He has matured us by everything that has happened to us. Each step, for Elena and me, has been preparation for what He has in store next. And just look at what He has done so far. That gives me strength and courage. That can end a day of self-pity and discouragement and give me strength and courage. He is still in the miracle business. Just look at my and Elena’s last decade. He keeps His promises. See His guiding hand in your life and take heart and take courage.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 10:1-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Israel Defeats the Southern Armies

Tomorrow, at my church, I begin teaching a thirteen (13) week series that is a walk through the New Testament in general and through each of the 27 books. Tomorrow will be an overview of what we are going to try to accomplish in the class. The overriding theme that I want to come out of tomorrow is that the New Testament and the whole entirety of the Bible is not just some fantasy made up for our benefit. It is the real deal. It is real people. It is real events. It is historical. It can be checked and verified. It is not fiction made up to support a religious movement. It is the theological history of God’s people from Abraham to the cradle, to the cross, to the church, to the world, to the end of time. What I want people to realize and, that realization giving our faith so much more power, is that we have a reasonable faith. We have faith that is based on real people, real events, that played out in the history of mankind. That’s the beauty of our Christian faith is that it is historically based on facts that can be verified. No one in Christianity is asking you to believe is some fantasy of mystical creatures and such. It is the real deal. Jesus, it is commonly accepted the world over and can be verified by extrabiblical sources that He actually existed – not just some made up dude for the Bible. He really existed. All of the facts and circumstances of the New Testament (and the Old as well) are grounded in the history of mankind, and specifically, the Middle East.

 

Like I had said to many people, the Christian faith is a reasonable one that is based on historical facts that can be verified extrabiblically. I can get you to see that our faith is so much more based on reason than any of the world’s other religions. We are not asked to believe in any fanstastical figures like in Hinduism. We are also not forced to swallow contradictions within the holy book of our religion as Muslims are with the Koran. We are not forced to remove ourselves from life to attain oneness with some blank fabric of the universe as with Buddhism. And so on and so on. I can show you how our faith is superior and most internally consistent faith on the planet. I can take you 95% of the way to faith in Jesus Christ with the historiocity of the Christian faith. But, that last 5% is where the miracles come in. The miracles in the Old Testament and the miracles of the New Testament require you to make that last 5% walk alone without any assistance from anyone. You must decide if you believe, really believe in God.

 

That is the crux of the controversies over the miracles of the Bible. It comes down to whether you believe in God and that He exists. The thing that I always have to come back to is the beginning of the universe. Atheists who believe that God does not exist and those who believe in God must start their debate there. Those who do not believe in the existence of God believe that the universe has its own laws that function consistently eternally. That, too, I accept, however, I see it as God having set those laws in motion to be eternally true from that point on. Beleiver and non-believer alike can agree on the cause and effect nature of the universe. However, atheists will suspend their own belief in that rule when it comes to the moment of the creation of the universe. They say that it spontaneously erupted from itself. What caused that? Therein lies the difference. I can still believe in God’s eternally played out cause and effect rules of the universe as it was him that caused the effect. It was Him that was the cause and the universe beginning was the effect.

 

Thus, that is what we have here in this passage. Do you believe that there is a God? If not, you can spend all day debunking this as literary device and not a reality. If you believe that there is a God, then, the one who created the laws of the universe can equally suspend those laws without there being collateral damage elsewhere in the universe that He created. So, here we find a test of faith. How much do you believe in God? Is it nice and tidy until you get to the miracles? Do you discount the miracles as a believer? Or do you plain out have faith that they happened? Here’s one of the tests of your faith here in Joshua 10:1-15, this morning. Do you believe it happened or do you try to explain it away or call it a literary device? Do you blindly accept this without thinking? Do you believe it because you believe in a God that created the universe by His hand and His mind that can suspend the laws of nature that He created at the points that He wants to so as to demonstrate His favor to His people?

 

Let’s read the passage again this morning together with an eye toward that crux of a question about whether we believe in God’s miracles or not:

 

10 Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed[a] it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. 2 He and his people were very much alarmed at this, because Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai, and all its men were good fighters. 3 So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon. 4 “Come up and help me attack Gibeon,” he said, “because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.”

 

5 Then the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

 

6 The Gibeonites then sent word to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal: “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”

 

7 So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army, including all the best fighting men. 8 The Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.”

 

9 After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. 10 The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

 

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

 

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,

    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

13

So the sun stood still,

    and the moon stopped,

    till the nation avenged itself on[b] its enemies,

 

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

 

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

 

15 Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.

 

In this passage, we see that there is a moment where the earth stopped turning giving the appearance to us earthbound inhabitants that the sun stood still in the sky. There are extra-biblical references to this event, as well, from traditions in all parts of the world. According to the research that I was able to find is that legends of a longest day are found in Egypt, Greece, and other ancient lands. And among the American Indians, South Sea islanders, and others in the Western Hemisphere are legends of a longest night—which would indeed make sense, seeing how these peoples lived in the opposite hemisphere. God performed a stupendous miracle, causing the sun to delay its “setting.” God stopped the motion of the earth. There are objections to this explanation, based on the physics of motion, but the God who created the world and established natural laws is perfectly capable of compensating for any collateral complications. We may not have a scientific explanation of how God performed this miracle, but He did. While we may not fully understand how this “long day” occurred, a miracle does not have to be scientifically proven—just accepted. Joshua prayed, and God supernaturally provided the light necessary for Joshua’s army to win its battle. The lengthened day was indeed unlike anything ever seen, but in Joshua’s mind the greater miracle may just have been that God listened to him and answered such an amazing prayer.

 

Do you believe in God responding to prayer with miracles? I think that answer comes to whether you believe in the miracles of the Old and New Testament or not. It is that simple. If we believe the miracles to be explainable, then God does not interact with His people here on earth. If we believe that the miracles are literary devices, then, the God we believe in really does not care about us at all. It comes down to faith. Do you believe in a big ol’ God that wants to have interaction with His creation? Do you believe in a God that answers prayers and responds with miracles? Do you believe that God can heal a person with cancer when all indications are that they are going to die within months? Do you believe in a God that can bring people together from far off places such as Florida and California and Georgia and North Carolina and numerous other states to a small little suburban town in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area called Lyman, SC at a church called LifeSong Church and bring them together at just the right place and at just the right time with just the right people to impact the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford suburban tri-cities for the Lord in ways that have never been seen before in this area. The way that He has orchestrated that is an amazing miracle. Every step of my journey with Jesus is not a bunch of coincidences. It is the hand of God guiding me to this place at this time with these people.

 

It comes down to how big your God is? If you don’t believe that there is God, then, this blog is meaningless to you. If you believe there is a God but don’t believe in the miracles then you don’t believe that God is mighty and that He is creator. But if you believe in a God that is Creator. If you believe in a God that created all that we see, touch, feel and smell, then you can believe that He can control the universe that He created. If you believe that then you can believe that He can make miracles in your life. He can change you through Jesus Christ. He can perform miracles in your life. Why?

 

BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN A BIG, BIG, BIG, MIGHTY, MIGHTY, MIGHTY GOD WHO CAN DO ANYTHING!

 

Amen and Amen.