Archive for May, 2017

Joshua 5:2-12 (Part 1 of 3)

Israel Reestablishes Covenant Ceremonies

Back in January 1984, when I began my professional career, the business world was still very much a suit and tie world. It was the days of power ties and black or charcoal gray pin-striped suits. I had to invest heavily in suits and ties back in those days. Prior to that, I had been a college student, we wore Levis and polo shirts, Nike white leather tennis shoes. It was the uniform of informality of the age. It was the age of Reaganomics. It was the age of Alex P. Keaton on the TV show, Family Ties. It was the age of that girls wore big hair. It was the age of the yuppie. It was the age when it began to be cool to be a Republican. It was the age of mergers and acquisitions. It was the age that being a business man was cool again. So, dressing the part the mark of a businessman. Power suits and power ties. Red ties with small geometric shapes. Yellow ties. Ties. Ties. Ties. And suits.

 

For me, that first job out of college was with the School District of Greenville Country (SC). I was no longer a college kid, really no longer a kid at all. I embraced my new suit life. Before, suits gave way to full-time business casual in the early 1990s, the suit and tie was the thing. We had cooler suits than our dads’ generation. At least they were to us. In those days, suits and ties days, everything had to be perfect. The handkerchief in the breast pocket had to be just the perfect triangle poking out of your breast pocket. The white shirts had to be perfectly pressed and had to be oxford knit with button down collars. The tie had to be certain colors of red or yellow power ties. You know the ones with geometric or amoeba like designs on them. The pants were not the straight legs of our dads’ days but they were not flare legs either. They had to be just in between. Cuffed at the bottom. Just barely touching your loafers with tassels. That first day on the job after graduation from college, I was ready. By the time the 1990’s rolled in and changed office attire forever, I had ten suits. One for each day for two weeks. So, in the mid 1980s when I entered the business world, I was full-on embracing the business suit craze of the day. It was to my generation that was entering the work force, a mark of passing into adulthood. It was our time to move and shake the world. It was our time to make the deals. It was time that Donald Trump was just beginning to make a name for himself as a wheeler-dealer in New York real estate development. In those days, we admired him because the ideals of our generation was to reclaim America’s top spot in the world in everything (after our hippie dippie parents’ generation had so degraded American power by choice). We wanted America to be all about business. It was trickle down economics. It was what was good for the rich was good for the whole economy. So, being a part of that, was too cool. It was my time to begin my career. Power suits and power ties were the outward evidence that I was a professional man and that I was a young professional. It was the mark of the age. It was the sign of where I belonged. No longer a kid. An adult professional. Not some poor schlub working with his hands but a professional with a college degree. It was leather briefcases with files in them. It was leather briefcases with nothing in them but maybe your car keys and personal items and maybe even your sandwich for lunch, but it was a briefcase, part of the necessary power look of a businessman of the 1980s. We traded in our polo shirts and Levi jeans for power ties and brief cases. We had arrived. It was our time.

 

That transition from college kid to degreed professional in the workplace is what I thought of this morning when I read about the rite of circumcision that was performed on this new generation of Israelite males. Circumcision meant change to the Israelites just as power ties and power suits and briefcases meant for me and my generation as we entered the workforce in the 1980s. Let’s read the passage together for the first time this morning and then see how those thoughts tie together afterwards:

 

2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.[a]

 

4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

 

9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal[b] to this day.

 

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after[c] they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

 

The rite of circumcision marked Israel’s position as God’s covenant people. When God made the original covenant with Abraham, He required each male be circumcised as a sign of cutting off of the old life and beginning a new life with God (Genesis 17:13). Similarly, for the Christian, baptism is an outward sign of the change that has already occurred within the believer. Baptism is symbolic of shedding the old life of death and destruction in the tomb of the water and arising clean and new into a new life safely in the arms of the Savior. Circumcision is symbolic of shedding the old skin of sin and taking on a new life of dedication to the Lord.

 

It was similarly symbolic to those of us who graduated college and entered the workforce in the early 1980s. We were shedding our childhood and taking on adulthood. The power suit and power tie and briefcase were the signs of the new life we were entering and the Levis and polo shirts were the old life of childhood that we were leaving behind. We were ending lives of dependence for lives of independence. We were entering that “promised land” of adulthood that we had been yearning for. Little did we know that adulthood would bring marriages, children, mortgages, loans for cars, and so on. But those early years of the mid-1980s when power ties and power suits were in full bloom, we embraced that lifestyle. It was out with childhood and in with adulthood. And we looked gooooood doing it.

 

Is it time for you to shed your old life and begin anew? Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Is your old life not working for you anymore? Is it time to come to the Lord and say circumcise my soul and my heart? Is it time to shed your old life of blue jeans for the power suit of life in Christ. When we ask Christ to be our Lord and Savior, it means that we have given control of our lives over to Him. We have begged for forgiveness of our sins and He has granted us grace enough to cover us and make us righteous before the Lord. We shed our old lives through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls after salvation. No longer are we burden with our foreskin of sin. We are made new in Christ through His grace and through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit. We take off our old rags of sin and exchange them for the ultimate power suit, the cloaking in the royal robes of Christ. He makes us new like the best power suit of the 1980s. We were once filthy rags and now we are clothed in majesty with everything just perfect. We forge forward into the new world that we have become part of through Christ. He changes us. No longer do we view the world the same. It is a different world to us. It is a world where we want to bring glory to the name of Jesus Christ and to make Him smile as we grow into His likeness.

 

Amen and Amen.

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Joshua 4:1-5:1 (Part 3 of 3)

Memorials to the Jordan Crossing

There are those watershed moments in our lives. Those moments that change everything that comes after. Sometimes, those moments seem insignificant at the time, barely worth notice. Later, though, when you reflect on those moments, you see that they changed everything. We have certain moments in life that changed the direction of our lives – sometimes on a dime, sometimes it was a gradual nudge in a direction slightly different. Do you have moments such as these in your lives? There are always places that these things occurred. When you return to these places later, there is something stirring about standing on that same ground. There seems something emotionally profound standing there on that same ground. That ground seems almost hallowed ground.

 

For me that moment was June 2007. For me that place was the laundromat at Pace’s Landing. It seemed insignificant at the time. But that laundromat and that apartment complex will hold a special place in my heart as that moment/place that I have to admit that it was a God thing. How else do you explain the laundromat at Pace Landing Apartments in Rock Hill, SC in June 2007?

 

Back in those days, now a decade and more ago, I was about 35 pounds lighter, less weathered looking, and much more of a wild child than I am now. Having been separated and divorced from my second wife for over three years by the Summer 2007, I had learned that the world did not implode because of my marriage to the idol that I worshiped, my second wife. I had learned that it was both alternately fun and scary to be single in my mid-forties. I was the first period in my life that I was not in a long-term relationship. I started dating my first wife when I was 14 years old and married her when I was six weeks shy of being 18 years old. I was in that relationship until I was 31 years old. My second long-term relationship began prior to the end of the first and through dating and marriage, I was in that relationship until I was 42 years old. It was not until that period from 2004-2007 that I was truly on my own. I was lucky enough to learn during that time period that I did not have to be in a long-term relationship to be happy. It was not necessarily something I learned by choice but rather by circumstances. I tried to have long-term relationships but I guess God was looking out for me. God taught me through circumstances that as a single person you don’t just have to accept stuff just to be in a relationship. Being in a relationship does not define us.

 

During those three years after the end of the second marriage, I had become pretty self-confident in my abilities to attract the ladies that I came across that I was interested in. I had become pretty good about striking up conversations with the ladies with a confidence that I never had before. My single life those years was both the most scary, lonely time of life but yet at the same it had great moments of fun, great moments of clarity, and of freedom that I had not known in my life up to that point. By January 2006, I moved to Rock Hill, SC to take a job in Charlotte. That was a momentous moment after living in Greenville, SC for 28 years. If I had been married to either of my first two wives, that would have never happened. That was a big deal by itself. Although I had dated around in Greenville between 2004-2006, there were no successful relationships and so why not? Move to the Charlotte area, it would be a change. It would be like when I was preacher’s kid growing up…a new town, a new adventure.

 

I had dated several women while living in Rock Hill so I was pretty confident dude at that point. It was that second summer there, the Summer of 2007, that I began to notice that new girl that I would see around my building or at near the community center for the upper complex in which we lived – the pool, the postal boxes, the pool house and the laundromat. Being a gregarious guy, I would wave at as we would pass. She was cute, seemed reasonably young, so I resolved that I would talk to her whenever there was more than just a passing in the parking lot or on the sidewalk.

 

That moment came in June 2007. I was checking my mail at the mailboxes, and I saw her in the laundromat. She was sitting atop one of the laundry tables in the laundromat room. You know those tables that are slightly above waist high where you can fold your laundry witout having to been down to do it. She was sitting on that table with her back against the wall. Legs crossed in front of her. Reading a book. So here’s my chance. She couldn’t slip away. There was only one way in and one way out of the laundromat. She couldn’t leave her laundry. I could talk to her and she would have to engage in conversation.

 

I introduced myself and probably said something suave and debonair. I told her who I was, “My name is Mark Bowling. You know Bowling like the game.” And of course being that I have had this name since birth, how you often explain the spelling of our last name is that you use the hand motion of launching a bowling ball down a bowling lane. Bowling like the game! But for all my suaveness and debonairness, she shot me down. She was less than impressed, it seemed. She was not melted by my boyish charm. Wow! Shot down. By three years into this single life, I had found that if I at least got a chance to have a conversation with a woman I could turn on the charm and at least make an acquaintance if not a chance at a date. But she just shut me down. Dead silence after she gave me an not much more than obligatory response to my presence. Awkward. Must retreat. Turn around and leave. Thinking to yourself. What a stuck up gal she is!

 

Looking back. Having the God-guided urge to go talk to that woman in the laundromat at Pace’s Landing upper complex that summer day after work was the start of something that changed my life’s direction and hasn’t stopped changing it to this day. I need to go back to that spot. To that laundry table and erect a moment of some sort. Just going to that laundromat now a decade later would bring back memories of that moment. Walking around that apartment complex would flood the mind and soul with memories. It is a mental marker of God’s hand in my life if I have not gone back and placed twelve stones, or any kind of monument there.

 

The idea of marking the momentous moments of God in our lives was what came to mind as I read through Joshua 4:1-5:1 for the third of the three times that we will look at it. Let’s read the passage this morning together:

 

4 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

 

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

 

8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been[a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

 

10 Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, 11 and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. 12 The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. 13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.

 

14 That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses.

 

15 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.”

 

17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”

 

18 And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.

 

19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[b] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

 

5 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they[c] had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

 

In this passage, we see that the memorial of 12 stones was be a constant reminder of the day that Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. Their children would see the stones, hear the story, and learn about God. Do you special dates or special places that mark God’s momentous moments in your life, those moments that changed everything? Do you take the time to share those momentous moments with your children (and grandchildren, if you are lucky enough to have them yet) about what God did for you in that time and in that place? These momentous moments and places can be opportunities for you to share God’s providence in your life – such as the moment/place of salvation, a moment/place where He answered your deepest prayer, a moment/place where He supplied what you needed. Retelling your story will help keep memories of God’s faithfulness alive in your family.

 

Getting back to that laundromat moment now after having read the passage and having gotten the meaning of it. You may wonder why the laundromat at Pace’s River Apartment Community’s upper community is such a momentous place for me. It was, yes, indeed, the place I met Elena. My gal for a decade now. My wife for the last seven of those years. She shot me down that day. Not impressed by the Bowling like the game introduction. Not impressed by how suave I was. Not impressed by how debonair I was. Shot down.

 

Most of the time during my single days when a woman would not give me the time of day, I would walk away and say some expletives about the women’s heritage and forget about it. However, with this girl. I knew where she lived. She lived not only the same building I did but on the same common stairwell. She lived two stories below me. Thank God I did not take no for answer this time. I preceded a couple days later to bring a bottle of wine and knocked on her door. Even though she did not initially want to let me in, I was able to convince to let me in (a miracle considering she did not know me from Adam’s house cat). We had a couple of glasses of wine and she proceeded to tell me why I should not date her (one divorced, remarried, and now separated on the way to a second divorce). So what, girl! That’s my story too. Normally, I would have given up and moved on and just spoke nicely in passing after that, but it was a God thing.

 

I was like CHALLENGE ACCEPTED at this point. After a month or so, we started hanging out regularly and just getting to know each other. We became best friends first. We became lovers later. We became boyfriend-girlfriend later. We became cross-country – me in California, her back in South Carolina. She moved to California. We married in 2010. All because I did not give up and move on. It was a God thing. These blogs if you have been following me any length of time are filled with evidence of how Elena has been a profound impact on my life for the good. She has been so good for me. Ain’t no telling where I would be right now without her. I am thankful that God guided her into my life. And I know it was a God thing. How he orchestrated me to Rock Hill to meet her after 28 years in Greenville. How he orchestrated her after the breakup of her second marriage to that same apartment complex. How He made me notice her after she moved in. How he gave me my laundromat moment. How He made her a challenge to me rather than just throwing up my hands at the pitch and miss and a reduction in my batting average. How me made me persistent. It was a God moment that day in the laundromat where I introduced myself as Mark Bowling. Bowling like the game. The ice was broken that day – albeit very slightly. It was a God moment. There in the laundromat. We must go back one day and mark the moment and mark the ground.

 

The rest is history that can be traced back to this moment.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 4:1-5:1 (Part 2 of 3)

Memorials to the Jordan Crossing

Note: Sorry for the lack of posts the last few days. We were at a beach condo that had a horribly unreliable internet connection. Back to Joshua, here we go….

It was the first week of August 2009. I had been living in corporate apartments in various locations since I moved out to California in May 2008. But now, Elena had made the choice to move out to California to be with me instead of us flying back and forth across the country from the Bay Area to the Charlotte area and vice versa. South Carolina was home to me but California is where my job was. Elena had to make a choice. Either continue living in a bi-coastal love affair (long distance relationships are tough emotionally) or move out to be with her man (a move that many would tell her that she was crazy to do). Finally, by early August 2009, she had made arrangements within her company, MPI Labels, to transfer her from MPI Charlotte, NC to MPI Stockton, CA. Then, after a year and a half of flying back and forth across the country to be with one another, we found a town, Livermore, CA, that was halfway in between her job and mine. We finally moved in together in August 2009. We had lived upstairs/downstairs from each other in Rock Hill while we were dating from October 2007 until I moved out to California in May 2008. Then were like rock stars flying back and forth across the country from May 2008 til now, August 2009. Meanwhile, during that cross-country love affair, in February 2009, Valentine’s Day, in fact, I asked her to marry me and she said yes. But we still had not set a date for wedding. We’d worry about that later. Heck, we both had been through two divorces each. If we married, it would be a third marriage for both of us.

 

Wow, it was great. Getting to sleep in the same apartment with my girl. In the same bed with my girl. We were such a cute couple. We much lighter in weight back then. It was great just be together. We would get out every weekend and explore something, somewhere about our new home – the San Francisco Bay Area. Everything was great. We even found a church that we loved. We had become best friend/couple with the pastor and his wife, Luke and Felisha. We had great friends within the church, the Baers, the Hoffmeisters, the Adams. We were always doing something with one or more of the combinations of those folks. We loved downtown Livermore. It was like a miniature Main Street Greenville, SC. We would to eat the little restaurants and pubs there and just walk around in the cool summer evenings. Elena accepted Christ as her Savior and Lord in October 2009 while we were there. After being a baby Christian not wishing to mature far beyond where I was since I accepted Christ as my Savior in December 2001, I began to mature as a Christ follower there. Luke pushed us to be more than just armchair Christians who just sat in the pews and did nothing else. We became tithers while we were there. We got involved in every way in the church. We got so involved that when it was time for this new little church to select its elder council that was to be an advisory council to Luke. I wholeheartedly sent my application into Luke.

 

Then it came. The meeting. It was at Luke & Felisha’s house. Felisha was gone. It was just me and Luke. Luke first talked about how good he felt about me being one of the elders. He admired my passion for the Lord. He admired how perceptive I was about Scripture. Then, he dropped a bomb on me. He said that even though he saw all those good things about me, I could never be an elder in the church. I was shocked. I wanted to know why! He laid it out straight to me. He said, “You can never be an elder in our church because you are living with a woman to whom you are not married. Plain and simple. That’s it. You’re disqualified on that point alone. No matter what else about you is great and makes you qualified to be an elder. This one thing disqualifies you.” He asked me what the Bible said about fornication, because that was what I was doing. He said that sex is reserved for the marriage covenant between a man and a woman and anything else is sin. When you glorify it as you are now, you are not repentant. You are actively sinning and calling what is sin as not sin. You are ignoring whole parts of the Bible so that you can do things your way. I told him that I had already been married twice and was scared to jump into it again. I didn’t want to have another divorce. He said sometimes you have to trust God and do things His way.

 

The idea of doing things God’s way was what came to mind as I read through Joshua 4:1-5:1 for the second time of the three times that we will look at it. Let’s read the passage this morning together:

 

4 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

 

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

 

8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been[a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

 

10 Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, 11 and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. 12 The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. 13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.

 

14 That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses.

 

15 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.”

 

17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”

 

18 And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.

 

19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[b] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

 

5 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they[c] had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

 

In this passage, we see that the Israelites revered Joshua for his role in leading them across the Jordan River. He, like Moses, would receive Israel’s praise from generation to generation. Although Israel was not a world power at that time (it’s place on the world stage would only come during the reigns of David and Solomon), Joshua’s reputation for handling his responsibilities God’s way brought him greater glory than if he had been a hero in an already established world superpower nation. Doing things the right way, God’s Way, is more important than doing well.

 

The night of that bombshell meeting with Luke was a watershed moment for me. If I was going to grow as a Christ follower, I could not pick and choose what parts of the Bible I was going to obey. I could not say I am going to obey everything else but this area of life right here. It’s my favorite sin. I don’t want to give that up. If we are going to be maturing Christ followers, He is going to point out to us through the Holy Spirit and through the counsel of more mature Christ followers where we need to examine our lives. Where we are doing it our way and not God’s way. We need to examine our lives for our pet sins that we are justifying as OK. We need to examine our lives where we are bending God’s truth to meet our own desires. We need to examine our lives and see where we have made the truth a moving target so as to accommodate the sins that we want to continue participating in. We need to examine our lives for the way we have perverted God’s truth to make our sins OK. We need to examine our lives for the parts of the Bible that we have ripped the pages out just so we do not have to deal with our pet sins for what they are – SINS.

 

If it were not for that bombshell meeting with Luke, Elena and I may have never married. We may have lived in sin for years to come. Because we did not want to make that final commitment to one another. In sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, for when you just don’t feel like loving another person, for those times when you want to give up and walk out the door, for those times when the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence. We are talking commitment to love someone. We are talking about a commitment to do what it takes to meet the needs of another and not just ourselves. We are talking about being fully committed before God to live out the marriage covenant that is a reflection of God’s love for us. He does not throw us away just because we are not as pretty as we once were. He does not throw us a way just because we leave our underwear beside the hamper instead of in it. He loves us always and marriage is a reflection of that.

 

Elena and I married on March 21, 2010 right in the middle of the church service where Luke was preaching about sex and doing it God’s way. It was a beautiful ending to a sermon about doing sex God’s way, about loving your spouse God’s way, about risking our own desires to do things God’s way. About living in God’s way. Elena and have been together almost a decade now and have been married now for 7 years of that. We have been through a lot of stuff together. We will go through a lot of stuff together. But because of some hard words from a friend, we had to examine our lives and decide to do things God’s way. We had to decide to always do things God’s way – not just in the areas that are convenient but in all areas of life. Even the parts where we were scared to do it God’s way.

 

We want to be like Joshua here in this passage. We want to do things God’s way. We want to put Him first in our individual lives and right dead in the center of our marriage. We will face temptations for sure. No matter how old you are there will be temptations that strike at the heart of our marriages. We will face temptations that will strike at the heart of who we are as Christ followers. However, we must be intentional about doing things God’s way. Never forgetting to put Him first in our lives. Never forgetting to examine where Satan will attack us and attack our marriages. We must be willing to repent from those sins that we think nobody notices. We must be willing to repent of those sins that we are not calling sins. Those are the areas that Satan will attack. He will attack where we have twisted the truth to make it OK for us to participate in our pet sins.

 

Are you living life God’s way? Are you living in a sinful way in some part of your life and ignoring God’s Word on that subject? Are you not doing it God’s way? What is your pet sin that you are not calling sin? That is where Satan is reveling in your ignorance of the truth! May we examine ourselves for that which is not of His Word. Let us compare our lives to God’s Word and change and repent and do things God’s way. Let’s be Joshua kind of people!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 4:1-5:1 (Part 1 of 3)

Memorials to the Jordan Crossing

I remember when I was in my second marriage. When we began the marriage, we had 5 children altogether between the ages of 3 and 10. She had three boys and I had two girls. So, when we had all the kids together, it was indeed a three ring circus. Just the sheer volume of children under one roof was a daunting task when you did anything. Dinners were like feeding armies. Bath times took hours to complete. Getting ready to go anywhere required calculated logistics. Riding in a car to anywhere involved a lot of yelling and screaming as the children descended into the anarchy of “he’s touching me”, “she won’t share”. God, I am thankful those days are gone. It makes me cringe when I think about just managing the logistics of five kids when all five were in my house. One of those logistical nightmares was the Christmas Eve thing. I can remember us trying to get the kids to bed after returning from my second wife’s family Christmas Eve get-together. The kids were all hyped up from the evening’s activities so getting all the kids in bed was difficult to begin with.

 

Then, when we finally would get the kids to bed, then began the mad frenzy of Christmas present placement and assembly. Why is that what kids want for Christmas when they are between ages 3 and 10 require so much assembly. It’s not “some assembly required”. It’s “a lot of assembly required”. Even the girls things needed assembly. Boys stuff always requires assembly. So, you begin this process, at about 10pm each Christmas Eve and complete it about 4am. Luckily, as they got older they wanted things that were not so heavy on assembly. But those early years! Geez! I was the typical male at first. I would dive into the first toy and try to put it together without the assembly instructions. Inevitably, that proved to be a fool’s game. I quickly learned that if you are going to get this done before the kids start waking up on Christmas morning at like 5am (why is it that you have to use a bullhorn to get them out of bed any weekday morning but on Saturday morning or Christmas morning…), I quickly learned that you must use the instructions. You must lay out all the parts in front of you. You must read the instructions. You must visualize the parts in front of you going together as you assembly them step by step. Then you begin. Multiple times per child. Without taking time to take stock of the project ahead of you and reading the instructions, you can end up getting in bed like at 4:45am in the morning and then the kids waking up begging for Christmas 15 minutes later. I have had that happen.

 

I used to be a read the instructions later kind of guy. All those years when the kids were little forced me to be a visualization and read the instructions guy. When I just sit and look at the instructions and then look at the parts that I have grouped together by kind. Even then you still make mistakes but the re-do’s are far less then you read the instructions and have the parts laid out by kind. All those years of assembly kids’ toys taught me a lot over the years. Most recently, when my wife of the last 7 years, Elena, and I moved into our new home, we had to buy an entertainment center in which to place our television. I had flashbacks to some of my adventures with the complex toys that I had to put together for my stepsons in my previous marriage. It was those assembly project ON STEROIDS! This entertainment center had so many parts. I was freaking overwhelmed at first. Just grouping the parts together took up two rooms in the house (so that would I have room to do the assembly plus have all the parts nearby). I seriously had to sit and examine the instructions from front to back (a 10-page booklet) before I could begin. Then as I put the pieces together. I would have to read through that step over and over again just so I could get it right. You would have to take stock of what the end game of the step was. You didn’t want to screw up and figure out at Step 10 that what you did in Step 3 was backwards and have to disassemble everything and start over again.

 

From having to put things together over the past 54 years, I have learned that plunging into anything without understanding what you are doing always results in disaster. That was the kind of idea that I got this morning as I read through Joshua 4:1-5:1 for the first time of three times that we will look at it. Let’s read the passage this morning together:

 

4 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

 

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

 

8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been[a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

 

10 Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, 11 and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. 12 The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. 13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.

 

14 That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses.

 

15 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.”

 

17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”

 

18 And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.

 

19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[b] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

 

5 Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they[c] had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

 

In this passage, we see that after the people had safely crossed the river, what would be next? Conquering the land? Not yet. First, God directed them to build a memorial from 12 stones drawn from the river by 12 men, one from each tribe. This might seem like an insignificant step in the mission of conquering the land, but God did not want them to plunge into their task unprepared. They were to focus on Him and remember who was guiding them. Do you often not take time to focus on God and remember that God is in control?

 

I learned in kid toy assembly that if you skip a step it can be disastrous to your project. We may think that if we don’t read the Bible this morning it will be no big deal. If we think that prayer is no big deal, we skip over that step. However, when we skip Bible reading and we skip prayer and we skip steps in the disciplines of our faith, we are headed for a re-do, a disassemble and a re-do. We may think that we have matured to the point that we do not have to do things that those who are younger in the faith have to do. We may think that we have risen to a stage where we don’t need to read the Bible every day. We may think that we don’t need to take a class on the basics for believers just so we all can get on the same page at church. We may think we know it all have don’t have to do this or that because we have been Christians for 20 years.

 

Regardless though of how mature we may be in Christ, we are still learning, we are still growing, and we still need instruction. Bible meditation – the reading of the instruction book and understanding of what it telling us and then visualization of how that is going to looking our lives – is a necessary part of life no matter how good we think we have become. We must have that time to reflect on His Instruction Book. We are never too mature to read His Word and to learn more about His instructions. We are never too old to be needy of His guidance. We are never too old to pray and ask Him what to do. We are never so confident in who we are as Christ followers that we cannot learn something new when we sit down, stop, take stock, and listen for what God wants to tell us in this moment at this time.

 

We need always to sit down, stop, read, meditate on what we have read, visualize when it means to our lives, and THEN plunge in.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 3:1-17 (Part 4 of 4)

The Israelites Cross the Jordan

 

Why is it that people who do not believe in God either miss His miracles or try to explain them away as random events. They do not believe that there is a God who is interactive with the world in which we live. Everything is unrelated to them. Everything is random. How sad of an existence must it be for those who do not believe in God! To them, everything is just capricious randomness with no direction, no point, and no connection between events that are leading us somewhere under the guidance of a higher power. There are events in my life that are not parting the Red Sea or parting the Jordan River miracles but miracles nonetheless. For me, these events are part of God’s orchestration of events and people and timing. These are not random events. These are God’s little miracles that are huge in my life.

 

The first miracle is what I call the California miracle. In the beginning of the Great Recession that began in 2007 and lasted to 2010, the company that I was working for at the time in Charlotte, NC was bought out by a European communications investment company. Since they managed their investments from a corporate office in London and all of our company’s communications holdings were in Europe, it just made no sense for this company to keep a corporate office in Charlotte. They closed us down. They gave us all varying degrees of severance packages. So, there I was, at the beginning of our economy’s deep slide into the biggest economic downturn since the 1930s, without a job. By God’s providence, I had a nice severance package and then I was only without a job for 26 days. I was able to land a consulting gig in Duncan, SC working as a JSOX contractor. JSOX was the Japanese government reaction to the financial scandals that the nation had suffered through just a few years prior. It was similar to the financial revelations here in the US that led our country to pass the Sarbanes-Oxley bill into law. It was known affectionately (not so much) as the SOX law. Both SOX and JSOX require companies to prove that they have internal controls to prevent financial reporting fraud and prove that they have tested them and that they are working.

 

Because of this Japanese law being implemented at the Japanese-owned companies around the world, I was hired to help America Fujikura, Ltd. (AFL) and its legal subsidiaries here in the US to implement its JSOX program. It involved identifying every business process of the company and documenting process walkthroughs so that we could identify all the company’s internal controls. It involved seven months of consulting work here in Duncan, SC. It was during that time that I was assigned to work on the internal controls of one of AFL’s legal subsidiaries, Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI) This company’s financial reporting controls were in shambles. AFL could not trust the financial information coming out of FAI. Long story short. I was sent out to California to fix the problems. That I moved out to California was a miracle to begin with. Nonbelievers would call this pure economic hardship. I would call it a miracle. I had never lived outside of South Carolina – ever. Sure, I had traveled the world in my various jobs but never had I lived anywhere other than South Carolina.

 

If I had not moved out to California, I would have had to find other employment. Something told me to make the move. It was God’s guiding hand. I moved out to California in May 2008. It was that move that caused my then-girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I to have a bi-coastal relationship – seeing each other about every three to four weeks. Eventually the strain of a bi-coastal relationship caused her to seek a transfer to her company’s California location so that she could move out there to be with me. Her job was in Stockton. Mine was in Santa Clara. We decided to (think God’s miracles) locate in a town halfway in between our two jobs – Livermore, CA.

 

Then one night there was this couple Steven and Sophia from this little start up church in town that was having a concert from a local Christian band to celebrate the church’s new home – the gymnasium of a former elementary school turned community center. Steven and Sophia were at our apartment complex putting out door hangers advertising the event as much as they could throughout our complex. However, toward the end of this project they had realized they had not gotten enough door hangers to hang a hanger on every door. They had miscalculated by one building. All other buildings had been saturated. A door hanger for every door in each three story building. However, they only had one hanger left for one door for our entire building. Steven had the one door hanger they had left. He could have done the easy thing. Put the door hanger on the first door he came to on the first floor. But being the quirky dude Steven is, he decided not to do the easy thing. He went up three flights of stairs and placed the door hanger on our apartment on the third floor of the building. We had just moved there a few weeks before. The Holy Spirit moved me to talk Elena not so much going to the concert but going to church at this little church the day after the concert on Sunday.

 

The rest is history. We fell in love with the church. We became best friends with the pastor and his wife. Elena accepted Christ as her Savior two months later. I started maturing from the spiritual baby that I had been for 8 years. We starting growing deeper and deeper in our relationship with Christ. Although we ended up moving back to South Carolina a year later because of my job, the time in Livermore seemed so much more than a random move for a short period of time. It was a watershed moment in both of my wife’s life and my own. Had we not been involved in Livermore Alive Community Church, we would not have been hungry for a similar kind of church back here in South Carolina when we came back. Without Livermore Alive we would not have been searching for LifeSong Church – the church we came to know and are still apart of today right here in Lyman, SC.

 

Since we have been at LifeSong, we have grown in ways that we could have never grown in Livermore. It is a bigger church and it has forced us to grow up in our faith and not depend on being patted on the back or hand picked by the pastor. We have learned so much here. It is because of the idea that we are responsible for our own relationship with Jesus Christ and not to be coddled at the breast of our pastor that we have grown into leaders in the church and I have grown to hear the call to ministry. We both would not have been here for these things to happen in our walks with Jesus Christ if it were not for Livermore Alive. If it were not for the decision of Steve to run up three flights of stairs. Were it not for one last door hanger hung on one door in the last apartment building. Were it not for what seemed like a random event but rather a miracle of God. That miracle would not have happened if it were not for losing my job in Charlotte, accepting a consulting job that brought me to Duncan, SC. Without that miracle in the middle of a recession, there would not have been what seemed a random event of me focusing my work while in Duncan on the company’s California subsidiary. I call that a miracle. Without that miracle. I would not have moved to California. Without moving to California, my girlfriend (now my wife) would not have asked for a transfer to her company’s location in California. Without that miracle, we would not have located in Livermore. Without locating in Livermore, we would not having been living in Mill Springs Commons apartments. Without living at Mills Springs Common, we would not have been the only recipient in our building of a door hanger. Without receiving that door hanger on our door, we would not have come to Livermore Alive Community Church. Without coming to Livermore Alive Community Church, we would not have been disciple by Pastor Luke Brower and his wife, Felicia. Without Livermore Alive, we would not have been ready for our church now, LifeSong Church. Without LifeSong Church, we would not be anywhere near as grown up in our faith as we are now. These are the unseen miracles of God. This is the California miracle.

 

Add to that, everyone one of the people that turned out to be the key members of Livermore Alive Community Church are now gone and the church has since folded. However, there was that one great year that meant so much to all of us that were there. It was that bright shining moment that we were brought together by God so that He could do great things in our lives and the lives of others. Robert & Carol Baer, Dan & Leslie Hoffmeister, Steve & Sophia Adams, Luke & Felisha Brower (pastor and his wife), Mark & Elena Bowling, all were some of the key members of that church. All moved away within 2 years of the first couple moving. The Baers moved to Oregon. The Hoffmeisters moved to Pennsylvania. The Adams to Tracy, CA (and then to Littleton, CO). The Browers moved to Greeley, CO. The Bowling moved to Duncan, SC. All moved. The church didn’t necessarily fold because we all left but it did not help. We were all brought together for an intense year together that readied us to be dispersed around the country. You might call that one year a random bringing together of people simply by chance or by reason of jobs and or whatever. I call it a miracle. That year was so crucial in all our lives. When the first of us started moving away. It was not the same anymore. But when we were all together it was amazing. It was a miracle of God’s plan. Without that one intense year, we would not have been ready for LifeSong. I know this. That’s the amazing miracle of it all. All because of a door hanger.

 

The idea of God’s timeliness of His miracles is what struck me this morning as I read through this 3rd chapter of Joshua for one last time before we move on to the next passage. Let us read it together once more this morning:

 

3 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

 

5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

 

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

 

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

 

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

 

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

 

In this passage, we see that the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, according to biblical scholars, in the spring when it was overflowing its banks. God chose the time when the river was at its highest depth and its most dangerous current to demonstrate His power – parting the waters so that the entire nation could cross on dry ground. Those who do not believe in God or question His existence often say that there was just some natural occurrence that happened to allow them to cross on dry land such as a landslide. Believers feel that this was a direct act by God. In either case, God showed His great power by working a miracle of timing and location to allow the people to cross over the Jordan on dry ground. This testimony of God’s supernatural power served to build the Israelites’ hope in God and to give them a great reputation among their enemies, who happened to outnumber them greatly.

 

We may can give physical explanations of God’s miracles that discounts them or does away with them. But you have to do some explaining to do so. You have to discount so many things that come together at certain times. If you don’t want to see God’s miracles you can explain them away all you want to. However, for the believer, we see God’s miracles all around us. We see the succession of miracles in our lives, one right after another.

 

When I take time to reflect on how God has orchestrated the last decade of my life, I am in freaking awe! You may think that my trek from 28 years living in Greenville, SC from age 14 to age 42 to the Charlotte, NC area to the San Francisco Bay Area, CA as all unconnected, random employment decisions but each one is a miracle of God. If I had not moved to Rock Hill, SC to a specific apartment complex there, I would not have met Elena. If I had not lost my job in CharlotteIf I had not moved to California, she would not have moved. If she had not moved out there, we would not have settled on Livermore, CA as the place that we were going to live. If we had not chose Livermore, CA, we would not have received the door hanger. If it were not for the door hanger, we would not have reached Livermore Alive Community Church. If it were not for Livermore Alive Community Church, we would not have been ready for LifeSong. If it were not for my company relocating us back to South Carolina, we would not be at LifeSong. It’s all connected.

 

It’s all God’s miracles. The miracle of a door hanger and what led up to it and what came after. Miracles. God showing His power.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 3:1-17 (Part 3 of 4)

The Israelites Cross the Jordan

It does not make any sense to me at times! Here I am at 54 years old. I am pursuing my doctor of ministry degree. I just finished my first semester in the program. I am not in full-time ministry. I am barely in part-time ministry.

 

I have two secular-minded degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Furman University (June 1983) and a Master of Science in Business Management from Southern Wesleyan University (December 2000) to go with the one spiritually-minded degree that I already have, a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry from North Greenville University (May 2014). The business-related degrees have served me well. I have a great career in the business world. I am no great business leader on the world stage, mind you, but I have had a good career. It has been a progression of increased responsibility throughout the past 32 years of my career. There have been a few minor setbacks here and there but generally the progression has been upward in responsibility and, especially, in salary. I make good money. I am no millionaire or anything close to it, but where I am at right now, my earning ability has allowed me to take care of myself, my wife and my kids and to be a generous person to my church and to people that we see in need that we want to invest in. God has blessed Elena and I immeasurably over the past decade that we have been together (seven of which we have been husband and wife).

 

Then, why is that I am pursuing a calling into ministry when there is no evidence that it will ever come to fruition? God has not really made it abundantly clear what that call to ministry is going to look like in reality. Right now, all he has said is to get prepared. First, as part of that call, Elena and I have been working the past 8 years or so in cleaning up old debts, then, paying off current ones, and, most recently downsizing our mortgage. Both of our cars are paid for and our house payment is now about two-thirds of what it was at our previous home. We have done the background work that will allow us to deal with a reduced salary in whatever God leads us to do. God has said to pursue my master’s degree in Christian ministry and I did that and it was one of the most energized times of my relationship with Jesus Christ that I have ever experienced. It was an awesome time of learning. He has led me to pursue my D.Min. degree and I am doing that. I am not that big on recreational reading (reading for the fun of it) so all the reading that I have had to do in this doctoral program just in the first semester has been fun. This semester has been about Christian leadership principles and I have read over 2,000 pages in completing 7 different books. That’s the most I have read in one short period of time – ever! There are concepts about Christian leadership that I have learned that will help me not only in my ministerial pursuits but also in my business career.

 

But why am I doing this? It is probably foolish to some who observe my life. They may chuckle behind my back as to why would I want to pursue my doctorate when there is absolutely no evidence at the present time that I will ever have a full-time ministerial position. They might be saying that you have a good life so just enjoy that. Instead of occupying your time with what seems like a fool’s pursuit, just enjoy the last full decade of your secular career before you retire. I think for my birth year bracket that I have 13 years left in my secular career before I can retire with full social security benefits in addition to what retirement I have been able to put away in the last decade. Why not just enjoy these years of the final stretch run of my career? Why pursue a fool’s dream? Nobody is going to take you seriously in the ministry anyway, Mark!

 

Outside the ministry, people may say that I am a fool for pursuing a D.Min. degree because there is really no reason for it. Inside the ministry world, the movers and shakers and decision makers may see me as a guy that is just on some spiritual quest but one who is not truly qualified to shepherd people in full-time ministry. To them, I may be a guy that doesn’t know the secret handshakes and the inner workings on the profession that they have been in since college. They have dedicated their whole lives to it and I am just a guy that may be on a spiritual high for a couple of years (in pursuing the things that I am pursuing) that will burn out and fade away. I don’t know that my call is to be one of these radical guys who can plant churches. But I do know that I am called. God has not yet made what is behind the next door yet.

 

All He has said at this point is get prepared. It is not necessary to go to seminary or to pursue your doctoral degree to be a good preacher or teaching pastor. I know this. Just look at some of the best church planters out there. Some have formal degrees. Some do not. However, for me, God has led me to higher levels of education. I don’t know how He is going to use it yet, but that’s what He has led me to do. Part of executing God’s call on our lives is taking that first step.

 

The idea that we must sometimes step out in faith and do what God has called us to do is what struck me this morning as I read through Joshua 3 for the third time this morning. Let us read through it together once again this morning:

 

3 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

 

5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

 

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

 

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

 

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

 

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

 

In this passage, we see that the Israelites were eager to enter the Promised Land, conquer nations, and live peacefully thereafter. But, first, they had to cross the Jordan River when it was at its fullest peak during the spring season. God gave them specific instructions. In order for them to cross the river, the priests had to step into the water first. What if these priests had been afraid to take that first step. Often, God provides no solutions to our problems until we fully trust Him, move ahead in faith, and do what He has called us to do. What are your rivers in your life that God has called you to cross?

 

Has God called you to do something that just seems insurmountable or maybe it is something that just seems foolish. Has God called you to do something that you might not see immediate results from it but you have taken the first step? I know that feeling.

 

Right now, I am questioning what the whole point of my pursuit of the ministry at this point. I have pursued the things that I believe God has called me toward so that I will be prepared for what He has for me. However, right now, there is just no clear evidence of what’s next. We are ready both financially and spiritually. We are eager to rush into what’s next. But God is not revealing it. He is just saying right now to step into the river. Take those steps of faith. Walk into the Jordan River right now when it is over its riverbanks and is at its most dangerous time of year. Take the steps into the river. I cannot reveal my power to you until you step into the river. That may seem foolish. That may seem contrary to all that is normal in your mind. People may call you foolish for stepping into the river with no lifeline or guarantees of what will happen next.

 

God is saying “Step into the river. Have faith. I don’t have to show you what’s next until I am ready to reveal it to you. I am asking your as your Father in Heaven to trust me enough to step into wild river because I have asked you to do so. Step out in faith. Even when it makes no sense to anyone else but you and Me. I am your God. Trust me. Just step into the river. It’s all that I am asking you to do right now. Trust me.”

 

What is God calling you to do? Does it seem too silly to consider? How can we experience what God has next for us if we do not take that first step in the journey in faith. We cannot experience that miracles that come after we step into the river…until we step into the river.

 

What’s God calling you to do? You must first step into the river in faith. It may seem like the dumbest thing you have ever done, but there’s faith that comes from not knowing what’s next. Trust God. Step into the river.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 3:1-17 (Part 2 of 4)

The Israelites Cross the Jordan

As you may have noticed from my blogs over these past few years that I have a weight problem. I am 54 years old as of this writing (and getting older by the second) and I am about 30 pounds above my ideal weight for my height and body type. I live a fairly sedentary lifestyle because I work in an office. I work long hours at my job. I am in the process of pursuing my doctoral degree so that adds additional sedentary time to my lifestyle. And, I love food. Food. Glorious food! I have learned over the past few years since I recognized that I need to lose weight that any food that tastes good must be bad for you. I hate for salads to be the centerpiece of my meals. I don’t know what kale is and don’t want to eat it or drink it. I love French fries. I love burgers. I love ham. I love eggs. I love pizza. I love my favorite beer. I love Dr. Pepper. I love barbequed smothered chicken. I love gummy bears. I love Reese’s cups. I love Kit-Kat bars. I love Hershey’s Kisses. I love steak. I love shrimp. I love food that tastes good.

 

Over the past few years though I have recognized that my weight keeps drifting by markers that I thought I would never pass. Strangely enough, my excess weight is not an all over the body kind of thing. My arms and legs are in good shape. Strong and good shaped are arms and legs. It’s all concentrated in my torso. There are people that know me now (since we moved back to South Carolina 7 years ago) that only know me with a big belly. They just assume that this has always been the way that I am but they couldn’t be worse wrong. Just a decade ago I was a pretty thin dude. In my second marriage, I weighed only about 180 at a maximum. In the aftermath of that marriage ending, my weight dropped as low as 168 at one point. That was just 12-13 years ago. Just in the past 7 years I have put on 35 pounds. I guess that is what happens to you when you marry a girl that is actually good for your soul who happens to be a great cook. Living a settled life for once in my life and then having a wife who cooks the way Elena does. Add to that when you get into your mid-forties, your metabolism slows down drastically. When that happens, one should stop eating the way you did in your twenties. Back then, you could eat as much as you wanted of the favorite things you love to eat and not a thing would happen to your weight. Not so when you reach into your forties and fifties. The metabolism slows weigh down. Your lifestyle of office worker and little to no formal exercise regimens will catch up with you.

 

Now, I am fighting an uphill battle with my weight. Several problems are working against me. First, I love food. There is almost nothing better than a good meal. Second, the Christian faith is about meals when you think about it – developing relationships with people and telling them about Jesus…and it always most often happens over a meal. But the biggest reason that I have a problem losing weight is consistency of exercise. I go through phases with it. I will be consistent with an exercise routine for weeks at a time. But something will come up – a busy time at work where it requires more than my normal 50-60 hours per week, a busy time in my academic studies with deadlines, research, and papers, a busy time at church with responsibilities there, a busy time in my personal life with commitments and dinners and seeing my granddaughter. It is hard to be consistent about it. I also can find excuses for not exercising. There are some good ones. It’s cold outside. I will get back at it when spring gets here. It’s too hot outside. I will start getting up early and exercising. Man, I really want to sleep. Sleep is right up there with food for this 54 year old guy. So, early morning exercising is really not an option. I have done that before but man is it hard for me to get up at 4:15 or 4:30 in the morning. Lately, I have been exercising in the evenings right after I get home from work. It’s worked pretty good but only when we do not have commitments in our weeknight schedule. Lifting weights and stretching exercises some nights. Stair climbs on the steep steps to our front porch of our old mill house that we live in (that will kick your butt!). Walking around our neighborhood until my bad back seizes up on me (a bad back that I am sure is caused by my big ol’ front-loader that I call my belly). Even when I do exercise, all I do is maintain the weight that I am at and I do not see any progress and then add to it that exercising in the evenings can often cut me out of wanting to do things after my exercise. I have always been a sweater. No not the clothing type. I have always been a person that can soak a t-shirt with sweat doing any type of extended physical activity – even as teenager. I can sweat buckets easily. I am a sweater. So, when I work out, it’s a sweat orgy. I have to take a shower after exercising for an hour. So, there is no such thing as a quick workout. It’s workout and a shower. It’s a time commitment. Do I really want to get all nasty, sweaty tonight? Wouldn’t ya rather have some friends over to hang out?

 

I know that it is a combination of portion control at meals and being consistent in my exercise. You gotta have both. Food consumption control and regular exercise. Only with this combination will I get rid of this weight. It is not that being plump is a bad thing in and of itself, but I just felt better emotionally, physically, and had greater confidence when I weighed less. I just felt better about myself at 180-190 lbs. than I do now. But it is going to take a physical discipline both in food consumption and exercise that so far I have not been able to stay committed to for any length of time. I will be committed for a few weeks. I will be committed sometimes for a few months. But it always comes to an end. They say (those experts that “they” are) we prioritize what we are committed to. What we place our highest importance on, we will find time to indulge that which is important us. We make time for what we want to do. We make time for what we love.

 

That was the thing that came to mind this morning was the dedication to God’s Word here by Joshua. Sure, they could have rushed into battle but they prepared by hearing God’s Word. Joshua made time for God’s Word:

 

3 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

 

5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

 

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

 

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

 

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

 

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

 

In this passage, we see that just before crossing over into the Promised Land, Joshua gathered the people together to hear the words of the Lord. Their excitement undoubtedly was high. There was no doubt that they wanted to rush on, but Joshua made them stop and listen. We lived in a fast-paced age where we rush just to keep up. It is easy to get caught up in our daily tasks, becoming too busy for what God says is most important – listening to His words. Before making our schedules, we should make time to focus on what God wants from all your daily activities. Knowing what God has said before we rush into our day can help avoid foolish mistakes.

 

What does all this have to do with my opening illustration about my weight problem, my big belly problem? I think the illustration and the point of the blog this morning is this? We make time for what’s important to us.

 

I know that if it was really important to me to exercise I would make it a top priority to which everything, every other choice of evening activities would take a back seat to it. How committed am I really to losing weight? Am I really willing to count calories. Eat low cal foods. Avoid sugars. And and and work out my body through exercise! How committed am I about that? Or would I rather just complain and then do nothing about it. It took me 7 years to a decade to gain these extra 35 pounds. It is going to be a long-haul that will take a while to see results. It requires commitment not just desire.

 

What again does my weight loss problem have to do with Joshua 3? And how that translates into some biblical truth you can use? Well, it’s this. We can all sit around and complain about the lack of depth to our spiritual lives. We can wonder why our neighbor from church has a deeper relationship with God than we do. It comes down to commitment and discipline just like anything else. Those who have spiritual depth to them are the ones who prioritize God’s Word and make it a daily discipline to be in God’s Word. Those who are spiritually lean and fit are the ones that make Bible study a daily priority. Nothing will stop them from being in God’s Word regularly. They may miss a day or two here and there but 99% of their days have a daily Bible study in them – not just Bible reading but Bible study. Bible reading is easy but Bible study means that you meditate on God’s Word, you mull it over, you chew on it all day, you pray about it and ask God to reveal His truth to your daily life. That takes commitment.

 

I know parents who sacrifice everything to help their kids pursue their athletic dreams (or the parents athletic dreams through their kids) but their Bible is gathering dust on the bookshelf or on the coffee table. I know people who make a priority of reading the latest series of the fad book series that come around and go around, but there Bible is somewhere in the house – not sure where it really is. Can’t go to church today because it would make us late getting to the lake today. Can’t read my Bible because I need to binge watch the second half of the season of my favorite show. There are always excuses for deprioritizing what’s NOT important to us. But for us to have any spiritual depth to us, for us to have good spiritual health, for us to know Jesus more deeply, for us to know the character and power of God more intimately, for us to not being taken in by feel-good theology, we must exercise our Bibles. We must take time for God’s Word. We must work out our Bibles. We must have frayed edges or our Bible pages. We must have Bibles where the bindings are coming apart. We must make time for God’s Word.

 

Is there anything more important than deepening your relationship with God? It requires commitment. It requires dedication. It requires make it a priority above all others. Want to get spiritually fit? Make time for God’s Word, like Joshua. Make time for Bible study not just Bible reading. Make the Bible a priority above all other priorities.

 

Amen and Amen.