Archive for May, 2017

Joshua 2:1-24 (Part 1 of 3)

Rahab Protects the Spies

Have you ever wondered why God uses people that have a checkered past? I wonder sometimes now as I wait and am looking around for what God has in store for me next why he would choose me for anything ministerial ever how remote or insignificant it might be. Just choosing me to do anything for the Lord seems odd. There are so many things wrong with me it seems like anyone else would be a better choice even among folks like me who have a checkered past. Let’s just review some of the things about me that just seem to make me a bad choice.

 

First, I have been divorced not once but twice. Some more established churches would not give me or anyone like me a second glance. According to their interpretation of 1 Timothy 3, the fact that I have had more than one wife precludes me from being an elder in the church. When I look at many of the powerful men of God that I have known they have been married to the same woman for 10, 15, 20 years or more. The best I ever did was 12 years to the first wife (the mother of my two daughters), 9 years to the second wife, and now I am in the 7th year of marriage to my current, third, and final wife. I often joke with friends that I have been married now for 28 years (12 + 9 + 7) … just to three different women. How could God want to use me? I am deeply flawed on this point. Not divorced once but twice. Come on, Lord, why would you call me to serve you in the ministry if I have this obvious glaring flaw?

 

Second, I did not accept Christ until I was age 39. I got a late start at this game of being a Christ follower much less being a minister in His church. There are so many younger guys than me that are that have been Christ followers for longer than me even though I am older than they. At almost 55 years old in this modern church world where pastors have the skinny jeans, the modern controlled disheveled haircuts, superfit physiques, the cool clothes, the young wife, with the young kids. I am not that guy. I abused my body for much of my life to the point I am overweight. Can’t wear skinny jeans as a result. I am a child of the 80’s where every hair had to be in place. I don’t and have heartburn over disheveled hair. Just can’t do it. I try. I swear. Just can’t do it. Can’t do disheveled hair (just as much as I cannot eat any “puffy beans” – that’s a blog illustration for another day). I don’t have that look. I haven’t got that pedigree of being a Christ follower, having gone to a Christian college, where I met my Christian wife, married her and have had 3 little preacher’s kid children over the past twenty years of ministry that began write after graduating from seminary which I attended right after college.

 

Third, I do not have that spiritual depth that some pastors have or even non-pastoral Christ followers seem to have. They can quote Scripture because they have memorized it and internalized it. I have a hard time remember the Scripture that was the subject of my last four blogs that occupied 20 something pages of writing. You would think that I would remember line by line of Joshua 1:10-18. However, I seem incapable of committing Scripture to memory. Even if I remember the general tenor of a book of the Bible, the general storyline of a book, or even the general idea of a specific passage or chapter, I cannot quote you Scripture from it. I don’t retain the Bible well. I have to  read and re-read it and even then I remember general concepts and not specific verses. I know pastors who just seem to have the right thing to say and the right Bible verse on the mind when they have conversations. I am not like that. Even if not quoting the Bible, other people I know just seem so much more spiritually in tune than I am. They seem to have a depth of spirituality at a level that I cannot attain no matter how hard I try. I love the Lord don’t get me wrong. I love the Bible. I read it voraciously. I study it. I love it. But it’s like I am not living at the level that they live. My public prayers are difficult and rambling and theirs seem so fluid and on point. After I pray publicly, I wonder if I even was on point. I wonder if it even made sense. I just seem so far from what is needed in a pastor spiritually.

 

Fourth, although I fancy myself as an effective public speaker and I am pretty good in smaller, intimate settings, I am at least at this point not that good at public speaking to larger audiences (say more than 40 people or so). Maybe, it’s because I have not had many opportunities to hone the skill. At LifeSong, I have had maybe only four or five opportunities to speak to the whole church and never have had the opportunity to preach there. My only preaching opportunities have come at my dad’s churches since I became a Christ follower or at churches that allowed me to preach during my semester at seminary where I was taking Biblical Preaching. However, without the practice, I fear speaking to large audiences. I fear not remembering my script so I cling to it. I say “umm” too much. I have a hard time being a LOUD preacher. I may write with great passion but right now getting that out in a way in public that does not seem academic is difficult. I see myself delivering sermons without scripts but right now getting on stage without a script would mortify me. Maybe, it’s because I don’t have time to practice my sermons. Maybe, it’s because I am not a good public speaker and it’s not about the lack of practice. There are so many that are better speakers than me. Why in the world would anyone much less God himself choose me to be a minister?

 

When I read this chapter/passage this morning, I was thinking about how Rahab was a prostitute, not the most stellar person for God to choose, but yet He knew her heart and called her to serve Him in a specific, needed and mighty way:

 

2 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

 

2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

 

4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

 

8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea[a] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.[b] 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

 

12 “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”

 

14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”

 

15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”

 

17 Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”

 

21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.”

 

So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

 

22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. 23 Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”

 

In this passage, many questions are raised. One of which is why would the spies stop at the house of a prostitute? There are answers. First, it was a good place to gather information and have no questions asked in return. Second, Rahab’s house was in an ideal location for a quick escape because it was built into the city wall (Joshua 2:15). Third, God directed the spies to Rahab’s house because He knew her heart was open to Him and that she would be instrumental in the Israelite victory over Jericho. God often uses people with simple faith to accomplish great purposes – no matter what kind of past they have had or how insignificant they seem to be. Rahab did not allow her past to keep her from the new role that God had for her.

 

I may not be the perfect person to be a pastor. God does not check for pedigrees though. He checks for a heart that is passionate about Him. I may not be what others are. I may have checkered marks on my past history. I may have committed some serious sins over the years. I may be the least person that is qualified to serve the Lord. But I do know that He has blessed me over the years and looked out over me over the years even before I called upon Him as Savior. I do know that the past all was necessary to lead me to the life of thanksgiving that I lead now. I know that God had a purpose in it all. I know that my trials and tribulations in my life are part of my testimony to the power of God. I have made all the wrong moves in life but that too is part of my testimony and part of what makes God so great. He can redeem anything and make it part of the glory of His name. He can make the foulest clean. He can use those who submit to Him, even after lives filled with sinful acts and decisions, to glorify His Name. Reclaiming what was once lost but no is found is a testament to the glory of our Great God. Sure, He could find somebody better than me to do be His servant doing His bidding, but He looks at the heart. He knows that I love Him. I may not do it in ways that are the standard of the Christian life and I may not be the effective leader that I should be but, damn, I just love the Lord and want to do what He calls me to do. He will figure out all the details of how that happens later. I simply must trust that He will take care of the details of how all that happens. Is the story of Rahab, your story? Can you identify? I sure can!

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua1:10-18 (Part 4 of 4)

Joshua’s Charge to the Israelites

Yesterday, at our church’s staff development meeting, one of the things that we talked about how we, as the leaders of the church, are responsible for creating the culture of our organization. It is us who must promote the values and the mission and the vision of the church. God has a specific mission and vision for our church and we are the ones who must give flesh and bones to that idea and make it a part of our own mission and vision for our individual ministries within the church. What are we hoping for God to do in our midst? Do we have a glowing dream of a glorious church going forward winning battles? Or do we lack a vision for the church? Or even worse our vision is on self-fulfillment? Without a vision, we will focus on how the church is around us and what we can get from it. We will copy whatever the latest fad is from other churches and try to be like other churches. Also, we can go down the road of just accepting things the way they are. Oh we can never do that – we don’t have the resources that nearby megachurches have. How is it that we can differentiate ourselves? Is there any hope for us? What is needed to make our church a model people for the Lord?

 

We must have a clear vision of what we want to do. If we do not know and believe in where we are leading our people how can we expect them to buy in. We must create the culture that we expect our organization to have. We must define that, live that, and educate the people that God has given in what that vision and culture of our church is. We must have a clear idea of what God’s will is for our church, what His desire is for us to move forward into the next phase of our development. We can do that only through prayer. It is through prayer that we know what God’s will is for our church. Then, once we know God’s will, we must be willing live that out on a daily basis. We must also be willing to accept what God points out in each of us as those areas in our life where we are not fully surrendered to Him. Just imagine what a people we could be at LifeSong if we as the leaders were fully surrendered, fully understanding of the purpose and mission that God specifically has for our one local outcropping of Christ’s church, and be able to communicate that to the people in such a way that they too have a burning desire to buy in to that mission and vision.

 

That is the question that we must answer. What is that made Joshua’s people the most awesome generation of the Israelite people. They accomplished so much. They were Israel’s greatest generation. The generations before and after this one in Israel were often destructive to themselves and kept them from being the best that they could be. It reminds me of the generation that we as Americans have labeled our “Greatest Generation.” They were the generation that built the America that my generation and succeeding ones were handed on a silver platter. This was the generation that was born during the depression years. This was the generation that either served directly in the world war to end fascist and evil tyranny or worked in factories that supplied the war effort. They all sacrificed for the greater good. They did without so that factories could be converted to build munitions and supplies for the war. It was a total commitment both in Europe and Asia and here at home by our people. They did it willingly. We gained victory because of that total commitment. This generation submitted themselves to the cause because they believed in the cause. And it was that solidarity of purpose that lead them to willingly sacrifice so that the war effort would catchup and surpass what needed to be done. We were not ready for a World War as we are now so the entire economy had to be converted to the war effort. Now, we have whole industries devoted to the war effort but not then. There was great sacrifice required. America did it through the greatest generation. It was that solidarity, ingenuity, willingness to sacrifice that made America such a dynamo after the war was over. America exploded with new ideas, new wealth, new everything after World War II and we became the world’s preeminent power – all because of a committed generation of people that we will never duplicate again.

 

That idea of being the greatest generation is what I think of today as I read through this passage a third time with a focus on Joshua 1:16. The whole passage of Joshua 1:10-18 says this:

 

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

 

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

 

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

 

In this passage, with particular focus on v. 18, we see that, when God commissioned Joshua, he was told three (3) times to be strong and courageous (see Joshua 1:6-7, 9) Here, Joshua was given the same kind of encouragement from the people. Apparently, he took God’s message to heart and found the strength and courage he needed in his relationship with God. So it is with us, any time we are afraid to do what is right, we must remember that strength and courage is readily available through our relationship with God.

 

In this passage, we see three things that we can lead us to be a church that is strong, courageous and a massive change agent for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We see a people that are fully obedient. We see a people that are dependent on God. And, we see a people that are acceptant of discipline.

 

Verse 16 tells us that the people willingly submitted to leadership of Joshua and told him that they would do whatever he commanded and would go wherever he sent them. They would not have followed Joshua if they did not believe in his leadership. They knew that he was a faithful child of God. Because they knew of the rightness of his cause, they were willing to follow Him. As leaders, we must be willing to submit ourselves to God’s will and live lives in such a way that we are known for being obedient to the Lord. Let us live lives that are based on biblical principles such that we inspire others to follow us where we lead. Let us lead in such a way that people trust our judgment. It is only through that trust that people are willing to submit to the leadership that we offer. We must also have a passion for what we are about to embark on doing for people to follow us. FDR inspired millions of Americans of the rightness of our cause in World War II. He could have framed in terms of national politics and how Germany was trying to change the face of the world political landscape – and it was! Rather, he framed in terms of tyranny and oppression and of how America stood for what was right and moral and decent. America bought into its role as the keeper of liberty for the world. Joshua was passionate and had a vision and the people followed because of the trust that they had in him. They trusted that he was a man who was after the heart of God and they willingly followed. Can we be that kind of people at LifeSong? Can we be that kind of leader that inspires people to do great things that have never been done before? Are we the kinds of leaders that the people trust as being submitted to God?

 

In this passage, we see a people dependent on God. In Verse 17 when they tell Joshua that they pray that God will be with him as God was with Moses. As leaders we must be dependent on God so as to example that to our people. We must seek God. They knew the Lord’s power and how Moses had led them into victory. They also knew they had no chance if God would not be with them as He was with Joshua. The Lord likes His people dependent upon Himself. Sometimes people trust leaders, but when the people of God trust God and follow God, then God is able to mightily use them. We as leaders must demonstrate this same dependence on God. We others see there leaders dependence on God, it inspires them to seek a deeper dependence on the Lord themselves. It is through our dependence on God that His greatness can be show through us. Shouldn’t we be so dependent upon the Lord that we wouldn’t want to live without Him? Why do we let jealousies, worries and selfishness get in our way? Why tolerate such unholy things when we could choose and be delighted with the best? Should we live our lives without His presence? I should hope not. He is our God and we want Him great in our midst.

 

In this passage, we see a people willingly submit themselves to discipline of the Lord. In Verse 18, we see the people tell Joshua that anyone who rebels against his orders and does not obey Joshua’s words will be put to death. This is kind of a drastic statement, but it does point out that they knew the nature of man. We have a tendency to compromise and end up choosing something less than the greatness that God has planned. We as leaders must examine ourselves for those areas of life that are not in complete submission to the Lord and deal with those areas. We must examine ourselves with the question, “Lord, is there anything in me that is hindering our church from achieving the greatness that God has planned for it?” Man, how many churches fall into this trap where egos and selfish desires get in the way of the greatness God had planned. Is there anything about me as a leader that would make God withdraw his blessing from our church. Let us examine ourselves and deal with the hard questions about ourselves as leaders? Remember, we will see later in Joshua where disobedience of one family in keeping the booty from a victory caused God to withdraw his protection from Israel in the next battle and they were beaten badly. Is there something that God needs to discipline me over? Am I willing to see it and allow God to take that part of my life into submission to Him? Am I willing to give up my pet sins so that God can greatly express Himself through my church? Let us pray that God reveals through prayer in each of our leaders what we need to put into submission to Him so that God can more fully express himself through a fully submitted church with fully submitted leaders.

 

What is it that we want? We want to lead people to be the greatest generation of Christ’s disciplines ever. We want to be change agents for Christ – the most impactful generation ever. We want there to be an explosion of evangelism in our midst such that people can only explain by giving credit to the greatness of the Lord. We want God to be glorified on a scale never seen before. We want to be the Joshua generation of the 21st century. We want to be the greatest generation that takes on a mighty, insurmountable task and wins victories in the name of the Lord. We face a world of tyranny and fascism against faith in Christ. We want to change the world. We want to be than generation that accomplishes and establishes a new world order for Christ Jesus. We want to be the generation that returns the world to the Lord. We want to be the generation that draws a line in the sand and says, as Jean-Luc Picard said about the Borg, “this far and no farther!” We will be the generation that ends the tyranny of the devil and leads people back to God. Let us be that greatest generation. It begins with prayer. It begins with submission. It begins with dependence on the Lord. It begins with sacrifices my selfish desires to the desires of God.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua1:10-18 (Part 3 of 4)

Joshua’s Charge to the Israelites

Have you ever been in a place where you just don’t understand what God is waiting on? You feel as though you have done everything He has asked you to do and then you begin to question God as to what His plan really is. That’s the place where I am right now. Are you like me?

 

I have felt the call to full-time ministry pretty much since I accepted Christ as my Savior back in December 2001. But back in those days, I fought against it that calling. I used excuses of whom I was married to at the time. I used excuses about having kids to support. I used excuses of having a kid in college. I used excuses of having been divorced and that no one would accept me as a pastor because of that. I used excuses that I would never be able to quit work for three years so that I could go to seminary. I used all the excuses in the world not to follow the calling that the Lord has placed on my life as I perceive it to be. However, the Lord had over the years, eliminated every excuse I had.

 

He eliminated a marriage that was not based on Christ and where I had made another human being my idol, the false god that I worshiped. As time passed and kids grew up, he eliminated that financial burden. As time passed my oldest daughter finished college and my youngest daughter decided not to pursue her college degree. He did not eliminate the fact that I had been divorced but he gave me courage to push on anyway. He eliminated the need to quit work while in seminary by identifying North Greenville University’s graduate school that featured a seminary-like graduate school program where I could take virtually all of my classes either online or in the evenings at the school. He eliminated all the excuses so I decided to follow His call. I went to school and got my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (MCM) and graduated in May 2014.

 

At this point, I figured the waters would part and some amazing church, maybe even my own, LifeSong Church, would be knocking down my doors to offer me a pastoral position either as an associate pastor in a larger church or as a solo pastor of a smaller church somewhere. Time marched on. Nothing. I have had only one on-site job interview for a full-time ministry position since I graduated and I just missed getting that job. I apply and apply and apply. I have had another interview where it got as far as a video interview but that did not pan out either. I apply and apply and apply. I have worked part-time as a compensated member of the staff at my church, but nothing full-time is going to happen there for many reasons, principal of which is the lack of financial space for the church to hire me full-time, even if they wanted to do so.

 

Right now, it is the end of another academic year, that makes three years since I have graduated from the MCM program at North Greenville and nothing. It has reached the point that I want to give up on the idea of full-time ministry. Maybe, I just deluded myself. Maybe, I have this blatant flaw that everyone sees but me. Maybe, I am in this thing for the wrong reasons. I see guys having great ministries and wishing that I had the same. Maybe, I misunderstood God’s calling. Maybe, I should be trying something else. I am pursuing my doctorate (my D.Min. degree). I am through with the first semester of that program. But I question that too, is this what God is calling me to? What is God calling me to? I don’t know anymore. Maybe, he never intended me to be more than a guy with a secular job with a passion for Jesus and just be a guy in the background who helps make things happen for the church. But I swear, at least in my mind, it was the call to preach. It was a call to full-time ministry. Was that real? Was that God’s call? Was that my ego? If it was just my ego then why is the call still there? Why I am frustrated? If it was just ego, I would have given up two years ago? Then, I kick myself, for not being proactive and not doing something unique like starting a church, but that just doesn’t feel like the call and God has not made that abundantly clear. What avenue to take? What is it Lord?

 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I do not see the wonderful blessings that God has bestowed upon me in the last eight years or so. I have married a woman who loves the Lord and is so good to me and would make an excellent pastor’s wife. I have a great job that is forever demanding but is still fulfilling generally. This job, along with submitting my finances to the guidance of the Lord, has allowed me to become a cheerful giver at church and to be generous to my children and to others. I have no debts outside of my mortgage. My cars are paid for and in good condition. All my student loans from my previous degrees are all paid for. I just have the normal operating bills of living life and my mortgage. We are secure in ways that we, or least I, have never been in my adult life. I am at 6% on my 401k contributions (the max that the company will match percentage for percentage). Things are just really good financially. My marriage is solid. I have a good home. It’s an old mill village home built in the 20’s and has been modernized to the 2010’s. We have a good life no matter if the ministry call never materializes. But that’s the thing. My wife and I have been paying off debts and downsizing our mortgage and doing whatever we can to be ready when the call comes. We would gladly give up this cushy life that we have right now (we ain’t rich by any means but we are comfortable) to go wherever God makes it clear we must go. We have been preparing for it practically since we got married.

 

I feel like Elijah after he defeated the 800 or so prophets of Baal. He thought that was the penultimate moment. He figured Israel would immediately return to God. However, instead of the metaphorical seas parting and everything changed, he found that Jezebel wanted to kill him. He got fed up and ran away and hid. He complained to God that he had done everything asked of him but nothing changed. He was fed up and tired. I feel like Joseph must have felt in prison those twelve years after being falsely accused of raping Potipher’s wife. He was faithful even in jail and when guys from the king’s court were there temporarily and he convinced them to tell the Pharoah of his situation, they forgot. How must Joseph have felt? Twelve years is a long time. We only see bits and pieces of his twelve years there. I bet he had his bad days. I have done everything you asked Lord, but nothing is happening. Nothing is changing.

 

The word that God’s Word has been saying to me in return against my wavering moment of faith here is “to keep plowing the field in front of you!” Keep doing what you are doing. Be faithful. Don’t give up. Your door will open but you have got to trust me on this. But, God, I am 54 years old. Time is short. He keeps saying, “plow the field in front of you.” But…but…but…! Plow my son. Plow. How long Lord? How long? Plow the field in front of you son. That’s what I am getting from God right now. But, the sermon I heard Sunday was that it might not seem like it now, but God’s got a plan. He is not going to leave you in the cave. That was a powerful word and one that was spoken squarely to me.

 

It was the same exact word, the story of Elijah after he had defeated the prophets of Baal, that another pastor/author gave us doctoral candidates this semester when we had our “weeklong intensive” on campus. Before we began the heart of our instruction each day of those five days, our instructor examined that very same set of chapters that were the subject of Sunday’s sermon. God has a way of driving home messages to me from multiple sources. I call it God’s synchronicity. The message is this. He will lead you out of the cave and show you the expanse of the promised land. He will reveal himself to you but you gotta keep obeying, gotta keep trusting, gotta keep on plowing, even when it seems frustrating and nothing is happening. You may wanna give up because I am working my plan in the background but you are not seeing the results yet. You gotta trust that there is a plan. You gotta trust me. I am the Lord. I will not forsake you. I will not lead you to do something and nothing come of it. Trust.

 

That idea of doing it God’s way is what I think of today as I read through this passage a third time with a focus on Joshua 1:16. The whole passage of Joshua 1:10-18 says this:

 

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

 

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

 

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

 

In this passage, with particular focus on v. 16, we see that if everyone had tried to conquer the Promised Land in their own way, chaos would have ensued. In order to complete this enormous task of conquering the land, everyone had to agree to Joshua’s plan and be willing to support and obey him. If we are to going to complete the tasks that God has given us, we must fully agree to his plan, pledge obedience to obey it, and put his principles into action. Agreeing to God’s plan means both knowing what the plan is, as found in God’s Word, and carrying it out daily.

 

We must trust the plan. Whatever you are going through right now, God is not going to leave you there. He has not brought you this far to leave you where you are. He has a plan. He always has a plan. I am preaching to me as well as to you. Trust the plan. Do go off and hide in a cave and give up. Keep plowing the field in front of you. Keep doing what you are doing. There will be a harvest when God is ready for you to start plucking the ears of corn off the stalks. It may not look like it now but there will be a harvest. Trust me. Trust me. Don’t let go of my plan. Don’t go off and try to do things your way. Plow the field. The harvest will come.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua1:10-18 (Part 2 of 4)

Joshua’s Charge to the Israelites

 

What a weekend! Constantly on the go. I did not have time to write me blog for the last two mornings we were so busy. Starting with Relay for Life Spartanburg on Friday night. Then, after that we went to Spartanburg Regional Hospital to visit our friends, Randy and Missy. Randy’s elderly father is seriously ill. We got home Friday night about 11pm. Saturday morning, I squeezed in an hour or two of getting our checkbook up to date. Then, it was shower time and time to hit the road. Saturday to Iva, SC to put flowers on my mom’s grave. Then immediately onto southside Charlotte to A Piece of Havana for dinner with Elena’s family. On to Fort Mill to hang out at Michelle’s place and spend the night. Up and at it again on Sunday morning for 9:30 service at Elevation Church-Ballentyne, the main campus of the megachurch. Then, lunch with Michelle after church at Red Robin in Ballentyne. Then on to see Elena’s mom at the assisted living center near Gastonia on the westside of Charlotte. Then back down Interstate 85 to Greenville to have dinner with Meghan, Curtis and my 9 ½ month old granddaughter, Ralyn, at the restaurant, Southern Culture. After the whirlwind of Upstate South Carolina and the Charlotte, NC area, we finally got home about 8:00 or so Sunday night. After getting all the Mother’s Day gifts and our luggage out of the car, we both plopped down on the couch and love seat, respectively, and finally had some rest. I think we both feel asleep watching the movie, The Help, by 10pm. We were tired from our weekend’s journey and needed a place to rest and be quiet and relax. We needed rest. How busy we were this weekend is a contrast to what I wanted to write about in this, the next blog on the passage, Joshua 1:10-18. This second blog is about rest.

 

When I think of rest, I think of my Mom who lived the life of a preacher’s wife for 52 years. She served the Lord not in some flashy way. She was never in the pulpit, but she was the preacher’s wife – the most overworked, least respected, and underpaid job there is in the world. She supported her husband, the preacher, all those years. She he was no perfect man. He is still imperfect today. She knew his faults but she defended him with tenacity and grace all those years. She loved her husband and defended his job and his family all those years. She made him a home where he could escape the hard toil that is being a preacher. She followed him around the state as the wife of a United Methodist Church minister. Moving from town to town and from church to church. She would always uproot her kids and follow her man anywhere he led us in service to the United Methodist Church in South Carolina. She always found a job in each new town even if it meant driving a half hour or an hour to the location of her job. She sacrificially stunted her career over the years to follow her husband to the next appointment, the next small South Carolina town. In retirement, her health began to fail and in the last four years of her life, there were multiple back surgeries that left her half the woman that she once was. After that last surgery a year before her death, when it gave her no relief from her chronic back pain that was with her with every step and every twist of her body, I think she just gave up on living here on earth. Then, she began the slow descent into dementia. It was difficult to watch. My mother was just tired. She was tired of living and living in pain. She had raised her boys into two good men (though they had their faults aplenty too) that were productive citizens. Her youngest son, me, was finally settled in a good marriage and had moved back to South Carolina from California so she seemed to show signs that her work here was done. However, the body was not yet ready to go. The last year of her life, she was filled with the paranoia and weird recollections of random thoughts and living in a world in her mind that only she knew. That was not the mom I knew and loved. Finally, her body gave out in a nursing home in Iva, SC on November 17, 2010. It was there she found rest. Her long journey was done. Raising two kids to adulthood and seeing them have their own children and raising them into adulthood. Experiencing all those wonderful years of grandparenting. Loving her family in her own unique way. She was now done with the journey, the long hard journey of the life of a preacher’s wife and mother and grandmother. She crossed over the Jordan and into the Promised Land. She now had her rest. No more health struggles. No more work struggles. No more being preacher’s wife struggles. No more struggles. Rest.

 

When I think of rest, I think of my wife of seven (7) years now, Elena. She is my rest in so many ways. She creates a home for me that is my resting place from the world. She takes care of the details of my life so that I may have rest when I am not working, which I do a lot. She takes care of the house so I don’t have to so that I might have rest. She takes care in that way that I might have a warm, hospitable home as a respite from the world. But she is my rest in other ways as well. Elena ended the turmoil of my life and gave me spiritual rest as well. After two failed marriages which were full of drama and the spiritual equivalent of riding on The Scream Machine at Six Flags over Georgia, and then dating multiple women between the end of the second marriage and meeting her was like equally scary amusement park rides where there are great emotional ups and downs. She was the one that settled my life down and gave me spiritual rest. She is that safe haven. She is that harbor from the storm. She gives admiration that I do not deserve. She gives me unconditional love that I need. She gives me peace. She gives me rest. Is that not what a wife is supposed to do for her husband. He is supposed to protect and provide for her. A wife is supposed to be her husband’s safe place. A wife is to be her husband’s rest. Elena is my rest.

 

When I think of rest, I think of the newest mother than I know, my oldest daughter, Meghan. If there was ever a girl born to be a mother it was her. She now has her own daughter, little Miss Ralyn. I think of how Meghan is her young daughter’s rest. When you are a baby, the world is a big, scary place. You were comfortable in your mother’s womb for 9 months and all of a sudden you are in this big, loud, scary world. Everything is new and frightening and unknown. Everything is new. For a baby, their mothers are their safe place where everything is safe, secure and right. I love to see Ralyn snuggle up to her mom as if it the perfect place to be. For Ralyn, it is the perfect place to be. Meghan is her mother. Her mother is her comfort, security and warmth. Meghan loves her daughter you can tell. They are almost inseparable. A mother’s love for her child is transcendent. It is something that we really don’t appreciate as we are growing up. But when we have children of our own, we do think about how our Moms were always there to pick us up when we were tired and how we felt so warm and secure in her arms as we fell asleep. Our moms were our rest. They are that little slice of heaven for their children where everything is right, pure, and perfect. I see that in Ralyn’s eyes when she sees her mom. Meghan is her comfortable, safe, warm, place of rest.

 

That idea of rest from struggles is what I think of today as I read through this passage a second time with a focus on Joshua 1:13. The whole passage of Joshua 1:10-18 says this:

 

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

 

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

 

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

 

In v. 13, we see that God was giving his people rest. This concept was wonderful news to the Israelites who had been on the move for a generation. This generation of Israelites knew nothing but an nomadic existence. They had heard of the promises of the Promised Land but they would not know of its reality until now. The people who had no land would be given land. The people who had no land of their own would be given a home land. And, most of all, after the land was conquered, there would be rest, glorious rest. Being able to build a permanent home, plant crops, raise animals in basically the same place all the time, create cities and towns, permanence. This rest was to be so welcomed by the Israelites.

 

The Promised Land reminds us of what heaven is for all those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. When we get to heaven, we will finally have our safe place. My mom already knows of this. She passed into heaven in November 2010. She has that perfect rest. We will all join her someday. We are safe and secure in that knowledge when we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior. We will be able to rest with Him. There will be no more struggles. There will be no more tears. There will be no more pain. There will be no more evil. There will be only rest. We will receive our reward, rest. We will have run the good race. We will have our rest. We will have that place where our comfort, warmth and security will be assured in the arms of our God. We will no longer struggle with life’s ups and downs. Everything will be a perfect home. A place to be at rest and at peace. We live in a world where it is scary and mean and nasty and the women in our lives, our mothers, our wives, our daughters, show us the meaning of warmth, love, security, home, and rest. The women whom we celebrated this weekend are imperfect earthly representations of what we will feel when we are in heaven. Warmth, love, home, security, rest…above all rest.

Amen and Amen.

Joshua1:10-18 (Part 1 of 4)

Joshua’s Charge to the Israelites

 

Have you ever negotiated with God? If you get me through this situation, I will be a better person. If you help me live through this, I will never do _____ again. We’ve all done it. Certainly, there were times when I was younger and much more foolish that, when I was making offerings to the porcelain god, I would negotiate with God. If you just stop this nausea, I will never drink again. You know that situation. That’s an extreme example of negotiating with God but we often do it in more subtle ways.

 

Suzanne Gosselin in her article, “Negotiating with God” says, “Often we assume that if we figure out the way God would have me go about things and follow the steps precisely, I can achieve — or at least expect — a certain result.” I love Outreach Magazine. It really has some good articles about the Christian life and how we interact with the world outside the church and how we interact with each other inside the church. It often has really good commentaries on current social issues, from a Christian perspective as well. Really good stuff. However, one of the things I have grown to hate about this online magazine service is their lists. 10 Ways to Tell You’re In a Dying Church. 7 Ways to Improve Your Children’s Ministry. 12 Ways to Empower Your Discipleship Program. 10 Things a Preacher Should Preach About Every Year. 3 Hills Worth Dying On. 5 Biblical Elements of a Missional Spirituality. These are just some of the how-to-do-it better or how-to-avoid-doing-it-badly lists of Outreach Magazine. My wife and I laugh about it now because Outreach has gone so list crazy. And the lists of lists goes on and on. I think these prescribed lists give the impression that if you do these things or avoid doing those things that everything will be hunky-dory or that you will be successful.

 

Many times, I think we are that way with God. We think if we do all the right things that God will give us what we want. Things not going well. I will start giving more to the church. That should fix my problems. I hear people talk about being blessed from tithing. I think I will do that too so God will start blessing me more. Christian life not as fruitful as it used to be. I think I will start getting up earlier every morning and read my Bible or even start writing a daily blog about what I read in the Bible each day, then maybe God will do this or that for me. Feeling dissatisfied that life is not going the way you want it to even though you accepted Christ as your Savior five, ten years ago. Maybe, if I volunteer more at church, God will do what I want him to do. Feeling like there’s no end in sight to some issue that you are dealing with. Maybe if I get more involved with ministries at the church, God will grant me the way out that I want. Negotiating with God.

 

Negotiation, we all know about it. One thing that I have learned is that if there is a major purchase that we have to make in life, I am taking my wife with me. She knows how to negotiate for the best deal. She does her research. She figures out what the best value vs. cost match is for what she wants to purchase and she will make sure she gets treated fairly. She is the Proverbs 31 woman in the marketplace making sure that the money that I provide as the breadwinner of our home is spent wisely and efficiently. She scours the sale papers. She shops at different stores to make sure that we get the best prices. If I tell her I need this or that. She will look for the best deals. Her iPad is her purchasing weapon. Watching her over these past 7 years of marriage, I am definitely taking her with me if we ever decide to buy a new car again. Me, I am bright shiny object kind of guy. If I want something, I just go get it. Damn the torpedoes! Doesn’t matter what the price is. If I want it, I want it. Not patient with the whole shopping around thing. I don’t mean I am foolish and pay way beyond what I think is reasonable, but I am not the type to make sure that I have paid the absolute most reasonable price like my wife does. That’s why she I tell her that among her titles as a stay at home wife is Director of Purchasing.

 

We all negotiate our ways through life. But why is that we negotiate with God. In all other instances, we are negotiating as reasonably equal parties. You have something I want and I will give you compensation for it if you give me what I want. We negotiate. Currency came into being because of these negotiations. But why is that we negotiate with God? We are not equal parties. He is God and we are, well, not God. He is almighty and He is Creator and we are, well, just little human beings. God is the big dog and we are just fleas. God is the basketball and we are just an ant crawling on it. God is the football stadium and we are just the one of the armrests on one of the seats. He is big and we are small. Why do we act as if He is like our equal. God if you do this for me; I will do this for you. Have you ever treated God that way?

 

That art of negotiating with God that we do as if He were another deal we other people that we are trying to negotiate is what I thought of this morning when I read this passage for the first of the four times we are going to visit it over the next few days. Joshua 1:10-18 says this:

 

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

 

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

 

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

 

If you remember correctly from Deuteronomy, during the previous year, the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh had asked Moses if they could settle just east of the Promised Land. The area was excellent pastureland for their large flocks. Moses agreed to give them land on one condition – that they help their fellow tribes enter and conquer the Promised Land. Only after the land was conquered could they return to their homes. Now, it was time for these three tribes to live up to their agreement.

 

There was a negotiation with Moses by these tribes to get what they wanted. However, the difference between us and them is that Moses took the request to the Lord. He sought God’s approval for the deal for he signed off on it. How do we know if what we are asking is the right thing or just us wanting what we want when we want it? How do we know if we are treating God like a vending machine and just pushing buttons to get what we think we want? How do we know if what we are asking for or wanting is what God wants for us? Are we just being spoiled children of God in trying to manipulate God into doing what we want Him to do?

 

The answer to these questions is Scripture, Scripture, Scripture and prayer, prayer, prayer. Thanks to Scripture, we know what we are supposed to do. And there is intrinsic worth and reward in obeying God. But often the reasons for things are only known to Him, and if we attempt to define what He is doing along the way, we may be disappointed with the outcome. So how is one to escape a deal-making mentality? Part of the solution lies in possessing an insatiable tenacity for God’s will. This is the desire that Jesus modeled when He said, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” He is God. We are his children. We must seek His will first and not our own. We must realize the relationship is not an equal one. He is great and we are weak. He is God and we are not. We must realize that it is not, in fact, possible to make deals with God, except perhaps in special cases where deal making is part of God’s teaching process (think Hannah asking for a son or Abraham begging mercy for Sodom).

 

In this passage, there was a deal made but it was not as if this tribes demanded their way from God. They asked if it pleased God that they could have this pastureland and it was part of God’s plan. Here we see this tribe being thankful for the provision of God and serving Him in thanksgiving for it. Sometimes though God’s answer to our prayers is not what we want or prescribe. Yet, He knows better than we. We must use Scripture as the measuring stick as to what we want being aligned with God’s will. We must use prayer as a way to discern if what we want is really of God or just our egos. But above all, we must remember the relationship dynamic. He is God and we are his little kids. We must realize that we cannot negotiate with Him. It is not right to treat God like a vending machine and then get mad at him because He does not dispense the drink that we want. Remember the relationship and who is superior and who is inferior.

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Joshua 1:1-9

The Lord’s Charge to Joshua

I have been the leader of the finance group at my company for eight years now. Of course, there have been many challenges over those 8 years. Some small, some large. Something always new on the horizon to keep things interesting. Over those years, I have faced the challenges of getting the department ready to move from California to South Carolina (and hiring all new people). That was a major challenge. There was the challenge of moving the company off its long-time ERP system, eBack Office, to the ERP system that the rest of the US group of Fujikura companies were using, Oracle. That was a huge challenge. That challenge included another challenge within it concerning financial reporting methodology. That was a big challenge that included some missteps along the way. New challenges exist today – training a new temporary employee right now, for the first time in six years; a group of future projects in determining how to better automate our financial reports that involves less manual manipulation of data to get it in the format that we need in our particular business, off-loading some of my more routine tasks to my subordinates so that I can be more visionary and less tied down by details. And there will be challenges after that I am sure. Leadership is all about seeing challenges, preparing for them, and executing plans for them when they get here. Leadership is never static. It is always evolving and moving ahead.

 

These have been the great challenges after I took over as comptroller. However, none of them was a great as the challenge that initial challenge of taking over as the head finance guy at my company 8 years ago. It was the biggest challenge of my life as a leader to that point. Most of working career I had worked as a staffer or as a senior staffer in internal audit departments. I had been the sole internal auditor before – working alone in my function. I had been an internal audit department head before. However, in that case, I was providing leadership from afar with 4 field auditors spread out over the footprint of a finance company that operated in 17 mostly Southern or Southwestern states. This would be the first time that I would lead people that were right there in the same building with me. They say leadership is leadership no matter what. But leading people on-site vs. remotely is a whole different ballgame.

 

When I came on board at Fujikura America, Inc. (FAI) as comptroller eight years ago, that was the biggest challenge of all for many reasons. In that, I can identify with Joshua as he stood before the biggest challenge of his life to that point. He had been the guy under the guy for forty years (talk about patiently waiting your turn!). Now, this mass of people all around him day to day was his charge to lead. It was his first time as the leader of a nation. No big deal, huh! It was similar for me eight years ago. I had never led a finance department before. I had never led people that were going to be around me every day before. As a senior internal auditor at Fluor Corp, I had led project audits before but that was an audit by audit thing and not the same. This was the real deal. Leadership of people that you were working with day to day. Add on top of that, the department was in complete disarray. The company had tried to hire the cheapest leadership it could for the finance group for the past six years and had gone through three comptrollers in that time. Each one was over their head in the job and had failed miserably, all three of them. In that six years, the department’s financial reporting was less and less trustworthy and the employees in the department were all marching to their own drummer in the face of incompetent leadership. FAI’s financial data was not trustworthy and the incompetence of the comptrollers before me made FAI the laughing stock of the whole US group of Fujikura companies. Nobody at the US parent company headquarters could trust any reports or data that came out of FAI. When I came on board, I stepped into the biggest mess and biggest challenge of my working career. I had seen messed up financials before as an internal auditor. In those cases, I had written voluminous audit reports of all the things that were wrong that management had to fix and then moved on to the next audit. Now, it was up to me to identify what was wrong but also to fix it. It was a long, hard battle.

 

That first year on the job involved establishing firm leadership – an expectation of excellence. It involved reviewing everything that my people did and throwing work back to employees that was substandard. It was teaching about basic accounting. It was teaching about learning what your customers, internal though they may be, want and providing it to them in that manner. It was tough creating the discipline of excellence from a “throw anything at the wall and see what sticks” mentality that had existed. It involved extensive research for sometimes up to six years to figure out what was in our balance sheet accounts. When I got there, no balance sheet accounts had been reconciled in six years or more. It was like creating the history of the company from scratch. It was establishing procedures and writing policies and establishing standards. It was the toughest task of my working career. In those first few weeks after I took over, it was like “oh, crap! What have I gotten myself into.” I kind of had an idea that things were in disarray at FAI because I had worked for the corporate office of the US parent company for one year as a compliance auditor for the previous year. I knew FAI was screwed up but I really did not know how bad it was until I took over. The previous comptroller was no help as far as training me on my task ahead. She was a complete idiot when it came to accounting and leading a finance department. So, I was thrown in there to figure it all out on the fly. It was a great big ol’ hairy challenge.

 

I sometimes wonder why God put me into that position. There are surely more people out there that are smarter. I have known this throughout my career. There are plenty and I mean plenty that are smarter than me when it comes to financial and auditing knowledge. So, why, this little old boy from Travelers Rest that is not the sharpest tool in the shed was able to make an ever upward career in accounting is a miracle from God anyway, much less being put in this challenging situation. I was really scared at first. The problems seemed so big and so many. I hardly knew where to start. It was a challenge that I did not know if I was ready for it or not. I think it was Martin Luther King, Jr. that once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This was my time of challenge. This was my moment to step up with runners on second and third and either strike out to end the game in a loss or slam a home run into the left field bleachers to win the game. Was I up to the challenge in this pressure-packed moment? Was I going to harness my fears and take on the challenge or was I going to cower in the corner and continue the legacy of not-so-much at FAI’s finance department. It was going to take courage. It was going to involve establishing discipline among employees, defining responsibilities and establishing expectations of excellence, firing incompetent employees – all that fun stuff of leadership and the reasons so few choose to lead.

 

My experience shows you that we face challenges in whatever we do every day. We do not have to be leaders of major corporations, major organizations, large churches, large anything. Each of us no matter what job we have face challenges in our jobs of all kinds and at all levels. We all come across challenges that we may not think that we are ready for.

 

That’s the thing that came across my mind this morning as I read through the first passage in Joshua this morning. How must have Joshua really felt inside when it was his turn to lead and it was not like he was going to just maintain. He had a major, major challenge ahead. You are the leader now but hey Joshua just as you are beginning your leadership of the nation…ummm…go conquer the Promised Land. No big deal just conquering a vast expanse of land already occupied by entrenched people groups. No small task as you take over the nation. You can do it! Man, what a situation Joshua was walking into.

 

We are going to spend a couple of blogs on this first passage but for today we will focus on how Joshua must have felt when taking over after Moses as we read through Joshua 1:1-9 today:

 

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

 

7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 

In this passage, we see that Joshua has succeeded Moses as Israel’s leader. What qualifications did he have? First, God appointed him to be the next leader (see Numbers 27:18-23). Second, he was one of only two adults who had witnessed the miracles of the plagues in Egypt. Third, he was Moses assistant for 40 years. Finally, only he and Caleb showed complete confidence that God would help them conquer the land.

 

That’s the thing here. God knew that Joshua was the right man for the job even if Joshua did not think so himself. God saw something in Joshua that was going to be useful to the kingdom. I know that in those early days as comptroller of FAI, I did not know if I was up to the task. However, as time progressed, I realized that God had put my career together as he did even some of the bad stuff that has happened to me in my career as preparation for this moment in time. All of it was preparation to do what I am doing now. This moment in time is where not only have I accomplished the initial task but it has allowed me to guide our team through rough waters after that. That initial challenge was great but once I got through it any challenge after that I know that I can get through it.

 

At the same time, these past years at the same time I have been at FAI has been a time of great maturation in Christ. That is no coincidence. I have become a leader in my church and all of that was because God felt I was ready for this challenge in my job 8 years ago. All of it works together. God knows stuff about me that I don’t know yet. He has great challenges ahead of me that I don’t know about yet. But if it were not for the confidence that He has given me and showing me that I can lead and I can conquer challenges that I will be ready, not because I am cocky but because I have grown to trust in the Lord – because He has shown me what depending on Him can do for me. He will lead you and me both to great feats that we did not think we could do before. He is preparing you and me right now for the next great challenge. Depend on Him. Through dependence on Him, we can be bold. We can be strong. We can be courageous.

 

We just have to depend on Him to get us through our challenges. Depend on Him to show you the way -whether it leading a nation, leading a company, leading a church, leading an organization, leading a department, leading your family.

 

Amen and Amen.

Personal Reflection as We Begin Joshua

Have you ever been through some of the roughest times in your life only to find that you have more rough times ahead? When I think of the overarching view of the Book of Joshua, I think of my friends, Randy and Missy. Their marriage several years ago seemed OK to the outside world. They had the nice house. They had the nice cars. They had the good jobs. They had a beautiful daughter who is a pageant-worthy beauty of young lady (who is way too fond of the word, “like”) and handsome son who has a heart of gold. They seemingly had the perfect life on the outside. However, even though it seemed to blow up one day, there were marital secrets brewing for years and lack of communication about things that mattered. All the things not dealt with in the marriage over the years caused it to blow up one day. They separated. Friends were shocked and did not know what to do. We all loved them both and thought they had this perfect life and were stunned as what to do. We did the smart thing. Not shut either one out of our lives.  We loved them both.

 

There were many dark days in their separation. There was talk of divorce. They were lawyers. It was an heart wrenching thing to watch the tears, the anger, the bewilderment of how it all came to this. It could have gotten real ugly as some separations that lead to divorce can become. I know from experience how ugly separation and divorce can be. It can leave permanent scars on you, your former spouse and your children. The pain of the dissolving of a long-term marriage can lead to pain and anger that is so raw and real and it dominates your life and your every thought. Somehow, by the grace of God and His working through our circle of friends around Missy and Randy, they decided to go to marital counseling. Through many months of counseling, pain and heartache, they finally got back together. My experiences with getting back together with your spouse after a separation were ultimately failed adventures both times so I was not hopeful. But they stuck it out, continued counseling even after they got back together, and today we find that they are stronger than ever. Closer to the Lord than ever.

 

The saving of their marriage was a miraculous work of God but that’s not the end of the story. Not long after they had gotten to a good place in their reconstructed marriage, wham! They get hit with the news. Missy has breast cancer. Now, they had been the wilderness already in reclaiming their marriage. It was a long hard road. They have fought to save their marriage. It was the right thing to do. It was tough work. It was blood, sweat and tears. But they did it! Guess what though, Randy and Missy? You’ve got more work to do as a couple. You’ve got to survive cancer. You have got to love your wife, Randy, through the roughest road there is, chemotherapy, constant doctor’s appointments, the pain, the nights without sleep, the fear of leaving this life too soon, the anger of saving their marriage and now this! But, wow, through it all, what was once a weak marriage with all the right appearances was now this solid rock of a marriage that was fighting hand in hand in love against the ugly, vicious enemy of cancer. Missy said recently that if they had not gone through the wilderness of their marital troubles that their marriage would not have been strong enough to survive the journey they have been on for the last 18 months or so with the cancer diagnosis.

 

They had survived the wilderness of near-divorce and it made them appreciate each other. They had learned not to sweat the small stuff. They had learned that love can forgive and move on. They had become strong in their belief in each other. They had learned to communicate. Without the wilderness wandering they would not have been up to the challenge that the Big C, cancer, can bring to a marriage. Just because they had been through the wilderness and the pain and suffering caused by it did not mean that there were not going to be new challenges ahead.

That’s the thing that came to mind when I was researching the various summaries of the Book of Joshua as we begin it today. That idea that there will always be constant challenges to us as Christ followers. Just because we have pain and suffering once does not mean that we will not have it again. We do not get a “skate through the rest of life without pain” card. They are always challenges. There will always be challenges to our faith. There will be defeats and victories. There will be times when we think we can’t take anymore but yet more gets piled on top of us. Be strong and courageous, my friends. God did not promise that our lives would be pain free when we became Christ followers. There may well be one set of strife-ridden days followed by another set of strife-ridden days that come at us from different directions and for different reasons.

 

Be strong and courageous. No matter that one set of challenges are followed immediately by another set, we must remember that God is with us in the storms and challenges of life. He will never forsake us. God never moves. It is often that we move away from Him and wonder what happened to Him. We must remember that God is the Creator of the Universe. He can handle our problems. He can carry us through the rough patch that is followed by the rougher patch that is followed by the roughest patch. God will deliver those who are faithful to Him. From our trials, we learn dependence on the Lord. As we depend on God in greater and greater faith, we trust that He will see us through even the toughest times. He is God. He is Creator. He’s got this. He will see you through. Depend on our Abba Father.

 

Amen and Amen.

 

Now, let’s take a look at a high level about what we are going to see develop as we walk through the book of Joshua. The following summary is courtesy of www.gotquestions.com:

 

Overview of the Book of Joshua

Author: The Book of Joshua does not explicitly name its author. More than likely Joshua, the son of Nun, the successor of Moses as leader over Israel, penned much of this book. The latter part of the book was written by at least one other person after the death of Joshua. It is also possible that several sections were edited / compiled following Joshua’s death.

 

Date of Writing: The Book of Joshua was likely written between 1400 and 1370 B.C.

 

Purpose of Writing: The Book of Joshua provides an overview of the military campaigns to conquer the land area that God had promised. Following the exodus from Egypt and the subsequent forty years of the wilderness wanderings, the newly-formed nation is now poised to enter the Promised Land, conquer the inhabitants, and occupy the territory. The overview that we have here gives abbreviated and selective details of many of the battles and the manner in which the land was not only conquered, but how it was divided into tribal areas.

 

Key Verses: Joshua 1:6-9, “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 

Joshua 24:14-15, “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

 

Brief Summary: The Book of Joshua continues the story of the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt. The book chronicles the approximately 20 years of Joshua’s leadership of the people after Moses anointed him at the end of Deuteronomy. The twenty-four chapter divisions of the Book of Joshua can be summarized as follows:

 

Chapters 1-12: Entering and conquering the Promised Land.

Chapters 13-22: Instructions for distributing the portions of the Promised Land.

Chapters 23-24: Joshua’s farewell address

 

Themes & Foreshadowing: The story of Rahab the harlot and her great faith in the God of the Israelites gives her a place with those honored for their faith in Hebrews 11:31. Hers is a story of God’s grace to sinners and salvation by faith alone. Most importantly, by God’s grace she was in the Messianic line (Matthew 1:5).

 

One of the ceremonial rituals of Joshua 5 finds its perfect fulfillment in the New Testament. Verses 1-9 describe God’s commandment that those who were born in the wilderness were to be circumcised when they came into the Promised Land. By so doing, God “rolled away the reproach of Egypt” from them, meaning that He cleansed them from the sins of their former life. Colossians 2:10-12 describes believers as having been circumcised in their hearts by Christ Himself, by whom we have put off the sinful nature of our former lives without Christ.

 

God established cities of refuge so that those who accidentally killed someone could live there without fear of retribution. Christ is our refuge to whom we “have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us” (Hebrews 6:18).

 

The Book of Joshua has an overriding theological theme of rest. The Israelites, after wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, finally entered the rest God had prepared for them in the land of Canaan. The writer of Hebrews uses this incident as a warning to us not to let unbelief keep us from entering into God’s rest in Christ (Hebrews 3:7-12).

 

Practical Application: One of the key verses of the Book of Joshua is 1:8 “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” The Old Testament is replete with stories of how the people “forgot” God and His Word and suffered terrible consequences. For the Christian, the Word of God is our lifeblood. If we neglect it, our lives will suffer accordingly. But if we take to heart the principle of verse 1:8, we will be complete and able to be of use in God’s kingdom (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and we will find that God’s promises in Joshua 1:8-9 will be ours as well.

 

Joshua is a prime example of the benefits of a worthy mentor. For years, he remained close to Moses. He watched Moses as he followed God in an almost flawless manner. He learned to pray in a personal way from Moses. He learned how to obey through the example of Moses. Joshua apparently also learned from the negative example that cost Moses the joy of actually entering the Promised Land. If you are alive, you are a mentor. Someone, somewhere, is watching you. Some younger person or someone that you are influencing is seeing how you live and how you react. Someone is learning from you. Someone will follow your example. Mentoring is far more than the words that are spoken by the mentor. His or her entire life is on display.

 

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

The Death of Moses

Here we are at the end of Deuteronomy. We started this journey back in the last week of November, some 5 ½ months ago. This is also the end of the first five books of the Bible, all of them attributed to Moses. This is also the end of Moses. He dies here at the end of Deuteronomy. Someone else will write the history of Israel and provide it leadership now. It is time to reflect.

 

Moses was OK with being a son-in-law of a sheep herder. When he fled Egypt for Midian, he spent 40 years there, gained a bride and a father-in-law. He was content to live his existence out there. He was a man who did not want to go to Egypt. In Exodus 4:10, he tells God that he was “not very good with words” but yet here in the book of Deuteronomy, he delivered three very lengthy addresses to the entire nation of Israel. These three (3) speeches make up the book of Deuteronomy. What a change God had wrought in this man, Moses.

 

It reminds of what God can do in you and me. It reminds me of what He has done in me. He brings intersections and people into our lives that are instrumental in making us who we are in service to Him. My story is no different. When I reflect back on the years since I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord in December 2001, he has brought me so far and has matured me in ways that I could have never done on my own.

 

It all started when I was in my second marriage. It was a marriage in which I had made my second wife my god. She was my idol that I worshipped, not too unlike my first marriage. It was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to begin going to church again. In my first marriage, church was a small community/family farm community church that I attended from 1976 when my dad became pastor there until 1993 when my first wife and I broke up for good. It was more a weekly three extended families social gathering than it was a church. So, when my first wife and I broke up, it was not hard for me to leave the church totally. From the summer of 1993 to the fall of 2001, my second wife and I hardly ever darkened the doors of a church. She was my idol that had saved me from the insanity and violence that was the final 5 years of my first marriage. She was everything to me. I had to completely break off all that I had known for 17 years that was my life with my first wife (through dating and marriage). It was a complete break. All new friends and new family. Because of that my second wife was my lifeline. She was the source of everything. She was my god and she knew it. And anything to do with my past was taboo. Anything to do with my past was a burden she did not want to bear, including my children. Ultimately, it was the care of my children beyond the child support order that made our marriage come undone. But it was during this marriage that I found Jesus Christ as my Savior. It was Jesus that gave me the courage to stand up for my kids and do what was right by them and let the chips fall where they may. I know that God detests divorce and I am not claiming that my newfound relationship with Christ ended that marriage. But since God was never at the core of either of the first two marriages, neither marriage was founded on God. Both marriages were idol worship for me. Both marriages were about what we could get out of the relationship. God was nowhere to be found.

 

At the end of the second marriage, I went through a really rough period of life at first where I was going through withdrawal from idol worship. In those days, I was at my lowest. I could barely get out of bed each day. And, weekends, when I did not have my job to occupy my days, were excruciating and lonely. God wanted me to put Him at the center of my life instead of women and that was a long hard road to learn. It started there at the break up of my second marriage in the summer of 2004. This was the one thing that God had to work long and hard to rid me of and it was until some three years later that he changed all that. So, if you think accepted Christ as your Savior is like the skies part and everything changes suddenly for the better, you are wrong. Often, our lives get worse, before they get better. When I look back at the man I was before Christ, the man I was immediately after Christ and all the work that Christ had to do in me, I am ashamed of who I was. I also amazed at how He uses time and people to grow us into maturing Christ followers. Moses had his intersections with places and people. He had Midian and Jethro. He had Aaron. He had Joshua. He had the past life in Egypt. He had his intersections in life that made him into the man God wanted him to be – the leader of the baby nation Israel. He was the right man for the right job that God had for Him. If it weren’t for these people and events that happened in his life, Moses would not have been ready for his moment as leader of the people Israel and would not have been ready for the intimacy that He had with God.

 

There are intersections for me that changed my life. There are people that changed the course of my life once the Holy Spirit led me to the cross. There was Virgil & Debbie Whitted who were so instrumental in demonstrating the life of a couple passionately in love with the Lord. They were real people who showed me that being a Christ follower was not the end of who I was but the beginning. There was the woman who became my third and final wife, Elena. She taught me that love is about being friends first and foremost. She taught me about unconditional love. She is Monica to my Chandler. Once when Monica and Chandler got in a fight right after they had started going together, Chandler thought they were going to break up because of it. Monica told him, “People don’t break up just because they have one fight. You figure it out and you move on.” And then she said the classic line, “Welcome to a grown-up relationship!” Elena was my first grown-up relationship. She showed me that love was unconditional and was more than just about loving sex and then putting up with everything else just to get back to the sex. She never demanded that I act a certain way to gain her approval. She just loved me.

 

The other people of impact since I became a Christ follower have been preachers. The first was Luke Brower. Luke Brower taught me to be more than an armchair Christian. He challenged my faith. He taught me that being a Christ follower was more than Sunday morning. It was an everyday thing. He challenged me to grow up as a Christian. He challenged me to live out the life of a Christian and he pointed out the contradictions in my life compared to Scripture. He taught me that you can’t pick and choose what you want to believe. Man, Elena and I were both challenged by this pastoral couple of Luke and Felisha. It was an intense year that they were in our lives every day. They taught us so much about being Christ followers. When I look back at the Christ follower I was before I met Luke and the year later, the difference was amazing to see. Without the intersection of Livermore, CA and Luke and Felisha and all the people that were at Livermore Alive Community Church that year, wow, where would I be? Where would Elena and I be?

 

Next up came my current senior pastor, Jeff Hickman. What an impact he has had on my life! When it was time, God moved us from the nurturing, babe in arms relationship we had with Luke and Felisha to the time to grow up and serve relationship we have with Jeff. Prior to coming to LifeSong, when we moved back to South Carolina in 2010, I measured the depth of my spirituality by how close I was with the pastor. In Livermore, CA, the pastor and his wife, Luke and Felisha, were our best friends. We did so much together and we ate right out of their hands as they began the baby to toddler Christ follower process with us. They were exactly what we needed at the time. We found traction to our faith there. But we were young in our faith and felt like that the preacher had to shoulder tap you to do things for it to be real Christian stuff. Along comes Jeff Hickman. He teaches us that being a Christ follower is about being led by Christ not being led by a preacher. A preacher is there to point things out to you but He is not the reason for your faith. He challenged us to be Christ each and every day and that we are responsible for deepening our relationship with Christ. He also taught us that if God calls you to do something, do it. It should not matter whether the pastor pats you on the back for it. You are not here to win favor with Jeff but rather to please God by following His call on our lives. Without Jeff’s pushing us to grow up and be Christ followers in our own right and not be dependent on him for the validity of our faith, we would never have become leaders in the church and I would never have gone to seminary and would have never considered pursuing my doctorate. I have done these things in faith in Christ not knowing what God will do with it. I have done these things not because I expect Jeff to pat me on the back for it. I do these things because I am seeking after the Lord. Without Jeff’s pushing us to take responsibility for our own faith, where would I be, where would Elena and I be?

 

I stand amazed where Elena and I are today compared to where we were a decade ago. It is amazing the difference. We are light years deeper in love with Christ than we were years ago. God orchestrated it. He did it all. We were just along for the ride. We are by no means fully grown. We are and will always be in a process of maturation with the Lord. We will look back a decade from now and go wow, we were such babies back in 2017. But wow how far he has delivered us from where we were. Amazing. Amazing love. Amazing grace. Chiseling and channeling. Growing us. It has been painful at times. Growing. Learning things that needed to be learned at the hands of people that intersected our lives that were necessary intersections to make us into who we are today. There will be more intersections to come to take us to the next phase of our deepening relationship with Christ.

 

That was the thing that I see in Moses here at the end. What a life. What God did through him! What important intersections Moses had to make him in the amazing man of God that He was. Normally, I will close out with some final thoughts after each passage in each blog, but today, since it is the end of Moses and the end of Deuteronomy, I have said all I need to say before I present the passage. Let’s end today simply with the Word of God:

 

34 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

 

5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him[a] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

 

9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit[b] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

 

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

Deuteronomy 33:26-29

Strength to Believers

Have you ever seen football players who just throw their whole body into the game? They play with reckless abandon and are so emotional about the game. One of the guys that were on Clemson’s football team the past four years is a guy by the name of Ben Boulware. He is an undersized linebacker from nearby Anderson, SC, but he is a guy that played beyond his size and stature. He was the heart and soul of the Clemson defense the past four years and he will be sorely missed by the Tigers this coming season. His love of the game is unmatched. His love of the university for which he played and from which he got his college degree is unmatched. His enthusiasm and his inner drive was contagious. He played the game with reckless abandon. One play that I remember in particular that defines the career that Ben had at Clemson. I remember two years ago in what is always the biggest game of the year in the ACC (Clemson vs. Florida State) when, on a fourth down and one play that would determine the outcome of the game, Florida State had the ball like at the Clemson 25 yard line or something. Clemson had stopped them on 2nd and 3rd down and 1. However, Florida State being a proud team and only one yard to go on what was looking like the game winning drive very late in the game. On that fourth and one play, Florida State called another running play to their workhorse running back Dalvin Cook, a big back with strong legs and a lot of speed if you gave him room to get going. Dalvin took the handoff and was hit almost immediately in the backfield by one of the Clemson defensive lineman but Dalvin bumped off him and went airborne for what was going to be a sure first down. However, Ben Bouleware being the gutsy guy he is went airborne too. They both were horizontal when they met in the air and it was a major collision and both fell to the ground immediately like rocks dropped to the ground. Cook came up inches short of the first down and Clemson took over. The Tigers then possessed the ball the remainder of the game and won.

 

That was Ben Boulware at Clemson. He loved the game with a passion. He gave his all on every play. He played injured much of his freshman year. He didn’t care about his body. Stopping the other team’s offense was what, and all, that mattered to him. He was one of those guys that if you were in the army and you were in a real life or death battle that you would want in your unit, a guy who would give his life to make your unit successful in its missions. To a man on Clemson’s defense, everyone of them acknowledged this undersized guy for his position was the acknowledged leader of the defense. He’s the guy who succeeded on sheer will and an unending well of passion for the game. The coaches didn’t have to jump on the other guys when they did not give their absolute best at practice or in a game, Ben would do that. He would give it all every game and would come off the field totally spent after each ball game no matter the opponent.

 

That was what I thought of when I read today’s passage, Deuteronomy 33:26-29. I thought of Ben Bouleware and how it was his passion for the game, the love of the game, that drove him to do more that he probably should have been capable of at the highest level of college football at his small size. It was his passion that made him a bigger man than he was. It was his passion that made him one of the hardest hitting linebackers that Clemson has ever had. His passion and zeal would allow him to take on players 20-30 pounds heavier and 5 or 6 inches taller and take ‘em to the great with his ferocious hits. Why did I think of this undersized ball of football zeal when I read this passage? Let’s read through the passage and then I will explain. Here’s the passage now:

 

26 “There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,

    who rides across the heavens to help you

    and on the clouds in his majesty.

 

27 The eternal God is your refuge,

    and underneath are the everlasting arms.

He will drive out your enemies before you,

    saying, ‘Destroy them!’

 

28 So Israel will live in safety;

    Jacob will dwell[a] secure

in a land of grain and new wine,

    where the heavens drop dew.

 

29 Blessed are you, Israel!

    Who is like you,

    a people saved by the Lord?

He is your shield and helper

    and your glorious sword.

Your enemies will cower before you,

    and you will tread on their heights.”

 

What does this passage say to us? This final stanza has blessed the hearts of God’s people through the ages. He is the majestic God (v. 26), the eternal God (v. 27), the protecting and providing God (v. 28). The great blessing of Israel was that He was their God. This final summary blessing for all the tribes that make up the nation of Israel declares that God is our refuge, our only true security. How often do we entrust our lives to other things – money, our career’s work, a noble cause, a lifelong dream, or spouse or some other person. Our only true refuge, though, is the Eternal One, God, who always holds out His arms to catch us when the shaky supports that we trust collapse and we fall. No storm can destroy us when we take refuge in Him. Those without God, however, must forever be cautious. One mistake may wipe them out. Living for God in this world may look like risky business, but it is the godless who are on shaky ground. Because God is our refuge, we can dare to be bold.

 

So, how does this relate to the passion for football that Ben Bouleware displayed for four years as a Clemson football player, a career that ended with a national championship his senior year? That thing is that Ben loved the game and he gave it his all. He really did not care what toll it took on his body. He just had this inner drive that came from his love of the game and his love for his teammates. Being a local boy from a town near Clemson, he was passionate about Clemson in ways that were just infectious to his teammates. He loved Clemson and would give it his all with reckless abandon in an effort to bring weekly victories to Clemson. He played games as if every game were the championship. He played games with reckless abandon and as if there was no tomorrow. He would have given his life for his team.

 

How does that tie into our Scripture for today? What if we lived our lives for Christ like Ben Boulware played football for the Clemson Tigers? What if we were so in love with God that we did not play it safe? What if we through our heart and soul into loving God and loving others in that same passionate way? What if we lived our lives willing to do anything to give God glory? What if we lived our lives as if there was no tomorrow? What if we lived our lives like the end of days was coming tomorrow? What if we lived our lives with that same level of championship drive? What if we had the guts to go airborne to meet a challenge that was headed straight for you? What if we did not care that we weren’t supposed to have the talents to do what we do for Christ but because we had such passion for God that we depended on Him to empower us to do far beyond what we should be capable of?

 

That’s what this final blessing says to me. Israel, if they just maintained their love and their passion for God, would be blessed. There would be no one that could stop them for they had the God of the universe on their side. God is majestic, powerful, sovereign, great, and powerful. That we have Him on our side should embolden us to live our lives with reckless abandon, to give it our all on every play of every day.

 

What can the world do to us when we are saved by grace? They can only kill us. Then we will get our reward – spending eternity in heaven with the one who saved us, Jesus Christ. Whether we live or die should not matter? We have heaven coming to us!

 

But most of us live lives of quiet desperation and lives of playing it safe? What is we lived our lives for Christ? What can come against us? We should be out there sharing the gospel as if this day was the championship game and there is no tomorrow? Why do we worry more about are homes, cars, and things that are temporary and play it safe trying to protect those things? Why do we not live lives of passionate love of Jesus Christ and follow His call on our lives now! Not later when the bills are all paid. Not later after the kids are grown. Not later after I get my 401k built up. Not later because right now would be too hard. Let’s have the passion and love for God to know that He will have our back when we choose to live lives of reckless abandon for Him. He is the God of the Universe. He is the Creator. He is the one on whom we can depend.

 

If we have God on our side, we have the maker of all things, the giver of life, our maker, the ruler of all things on our side! Live life like He really does mean something to you. Live life as if you really believe that He will take care of you if you follow His call on your life. Live life with passionate love and passionate dependence. Throw your body into the game and play the game with your best on every play. Come away from this game of life spent and tired and your jersey dirty instead of standing on the sideline with a clean jersey and all your energy intact. Let us be Christians who don’t play it safe.

 

We serve a mighty God. He is on our side. Let us have that passion that leads to action that demonstrates that we actually believe that. What can come against us? Let us be bold and passionate and depend on our love of God to embolden us to do far beyond what we could imagine that we could do on our own.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 33:6-25

The Blessings for Each Tribe

Sibling rivalries. Unless you are an only child, you know about this topic. My brother and I were no different than any other set of siblings when it comes to this subject. We fought over everything. My brother is two weeks shy of being one and a half years older than me. My mother was only unpregnant for about nine months between the birth of my brother and when she got pregnant with me. Because of the way our birthdays fell, my brother and I were one grade apart in school. Competition between us was fierce, academic, athletic, you name it.

 

There are memories of our sibling rivalry that stick in your mind, random pictures of the subject that stick in your memory banks. One that sticks in my mind was like when I was 6 years old. My brother was in the second grade and I was in the first. It was the morning of his 8th birthday. Mom was making over him because it was his birthday and he was soaking it in. It was early in the morning on a school day. I remember (and honestly I don’t why I remember this) asking mom what time of day 8 years earlier that my brother was born. She said like it was like in the afternoon or something. I blurted it out that it wasn’t his birthday yet because that was like 6 or so hours away til the time he was born. I didn’t want him to have his birthday glory before it was time, ya know. I was jealous. Sibling rivalry. You don’t want any positive spotlights on your sibling that you can’t have yourself. A birthday was one of those exclusive things that is unique to each child. One of those days where the positive spotlight is squarely on them and not you and there is nothing you can do to change it.

 

Other sibling rivalries were our backyard basketball games at whatever parsonage we were living at over the years. Our basketball games grew less and less as we grew up. But there were years though where basketball games were a daily thing and particularly once we got done with our weekend chores on Saturday morning. Yes, we had chores, weekday ones and weekend ones. Weekend ones involved vacuuming, dusting, among other things. All those things that seemingly to us that your parents dreamed up to keep you from going to play on Saturday mornings. But once we got to play, our basketball games were quit fierce. My brother was always taller than me (and still is, by about 4 or 5 inches), so I developed and outside shot over the years so I would not have to go inside on him. However, sometimes, you just have to go inside (if your outside shot is not going well). I learned over the years to bump and bang with my brother on the inside game so I could create space for a shot with him rejecting it. Same thing on defense. I would bump him hard so that he couldn’t easily get his inside shots off. After a while, all the bumping and banging would get the better of us and we would degenerate into arguments. Sometimes the arguments would degenerate into football on the basketball court – tackling and fighting. Ah sibling rivalries!

 

It continued as teenagers when I started going steady with the girl who became my first wife. On weekends we would date and back in those days you would go find a secluded place in the late evening to go “park”. “Parking” would involve getting in the back seat of the car with your girlfriend and doing what teenage girls and boys do when alone. You would have music playing on the radio low. My brother was socially awkward at the time and rarely if ever had a date. So, on Fridays and Saturdays, he would hang out with one of his equally socially awkward friends. One of the games they would play was to find our where my girlfriend and I were “parking”. One place that we would park was in any of the cul-de-sacs of an, as yet, unfinished subdivision called Hampshire Hills. In Phase 2 of this subdivision, they had built the roads for it long before they started building the first house so it was a great place for TR kids to park. My brother one time with his friend found us and started throwing tennis balls at my car. Another time, he and friend pulled a log into the middle of the entrance to the cul-de-sec. Sibling rivalry was full on during our teenage years. And we won’t even talk about all the snide remarks, the arguments. As the years went by, I just didn’t like my brother very much at all. It took him leaving home to go off to college before our relationship started getting better. But oh back when we were at home, it was on!

 

My sibling rivalry with my brother was the first thing that popped into my mind this morning when I read through this passage, Deuteronomy 33:6-23. Let’s find out why after we read through this passage together now:

 

6 “Let Reuben live and not die,

    nor[a] his people be few.”

 

7 And this he said about Judah:

 

“Hear, Lord, the cry of Judah;

    bring him to his people.

With his own hands he defends his cause.

    Oh, be his help against his foes!”

 

8 About Levi he said:

 

“Your Thummim and Urim belong

    to your faithful servant.

You tested him at Massah;

    you contended with him at the waters of Meribah.

9

He said of his father and mother,

    ‘I have no regard for them.’

He did not recognize his brothers

    or acknowledge his own children,

but he watched over your word

    and guarded your covenant.

10

He teaches your precepts to Jacob

    and your law to Israel.

He offers incense before you

    and whole burnt offerings on your altar.

11

Bless all his skills, Lord,

    and be pleased with the work of his hands.

Strike down those who rise against him,

    his foes till they rise no more.”

 

12 About Benjamin he said:

 

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,

    for he shields him all day long,

    and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.”

 

13 About Joseph he said:

 

“May the Lord bless his land

    with the precious dew from heaven above

    and with the deep waters that lie below;

14

with the best the sun brings forth

    and the finest the moon can yield;

15

with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains

    and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills;

16

with the best gifts of the earth and its fullness

    and the favor of him who dwelt in the burning bush.

Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,

    on the brow of the prince among[b] his brothers.

17

In majesty he is like a firstborn bull;

    his horns are the horns of a wild ox.

With them he will gore the nations,

    even those at the ends of the earth.

Such are the ten thousands of Ephraim;

    such are the thousands of Manasseh.”

 

18 About Zebulun he said:

 

“Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out,

    and you, Issachar, in your tents.

19

They will summon peoples to the mountain

    and there offer the sacrifices of the righteous;

they will feast on the abundance of the seas,

    on the treasures hidden in the sand.”

 

20 About Gad he said:

 

“Blessed is he who enlarges Gad’s domain!

    Gad lives there like a lion,

    tearing at arm or head.

21

He chose the best land for himself;

    the leader’s portion was kept for him.

When the heads of the people assembled,

    he carried out the Lord’s righteous will,

    and his judgments concerning Israel.”

 

22 About Dan he said:

 

“Dan is a lion’s cub,

    springing out of Bashan.”

 

23 About Naphtali he said:

 

“Naphtali is abounding with the favor of the Lord

    and is full of his blessing;

    he will inherit southward to the lake.”

24“Most blessed of sons is Asher;
    let him be favored by his brothers,
    and let him bathe his feet in oil.
25 The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze,
    and your strength will equal your days.

 

As a person who grew up with a heated sibling rivalry always operating in the background of my family’s life, the thing that I noticed here was the different blessing given to each of the tribes of Israel. They were all different and not the same. Man, at my house when I was growing up, my brother and I would pick up on anything that was not equal between us. If my brother got X, if I got something that was perceived less than X was cause for family discontent. My parents had to tread softly when it came to gift giving, compliments, things that they would let us do and not do. But were times they had to fjord that river without caring what the results would be. Because my brother and I were totally different people with totally different issues growing up, they had to parent us differently. It caused jealousies, arguments, seething anger in us back then. But it was not until I became a parent myself that I understood how different your kids can be and how each requires a different approach, and sometimes a completely different parenting style.

 

That’s what you notice here is the different blessings. To one, God gave the best land. To another, strength. To another, safety. Too often in the church, like with our sibling rivalries growing up, we see someone with a particular blessing and think that God must love that person more than us. However, we should be looking at this thing from the perspective that God makes each one of us unique and that He has to “parent” each of us in the way that is right for us based on the talents that He gave us, the strengths that He has given us and the weaknesses He has given us. All of our combined gifts, strengths and weaknesses are all a necessary part of the body of Christ completing the commission it was given long ago by Jesus.

 

Let us not be envious of the blessings that God has given others. Instead, let us celebrate the diversity of gifts among His people and celebrate how God has brought all these different talents together at this one place at this one time in history to accomplish what God has for this particular body to accomplish in this place in this time. Let us resolve to quit looking horizontally and developing jealousies of what God is doing for this person over here and that person over there. Let us look vertically to the Lord and thank Him for the gifts that He has given us personally and resolve to serve Him in the ways that He has uniquely ordained us to serve Him. Let us not have rivalries with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us celebrate rather what God is doing through us collectively and be amazed him, the Mighty Conductor who orchestrates the symphony of the body of Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.