Archive for May, 2017

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

The Israelites Cross the Jordan

One of the famous lines from the movie, Steel Magnolias, was during the scene where M’Lynne and her diabetic daughter, Shelby, are discussing her previously unannounced pregnancy. M’Lynne is so angry at her daughter for getting pregnant because of the fact that pregnancy and child birth could likely kill Shelby. Because of their mother-daughter relationship where mom had always found some kind of fault in everything Shelby did, this discussion became a monumental watershed moment in their relationship. Once of the classic lines of the move and of this particular scene in it was where Shelby says,

 

Mama, I don’t know why you have to make everything so difficult. I look at having a baby as the opportunity of a lifetime. Sure there may be risk involved, but that’s true for anybody. But you get through it and life goes on. And when it’s all said and done there will be a little piece of immortality with Jackson’s good looks and my sense of style, I hope. Please, please I need your support. I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.

 

Last week, one of the things that came out of our staff development meeting was the idea of what are the unconfessed sins of us collectively and individually as a church that is holding back God from expressing his full glory through our local church. God has a specific mission for each of the churches that God allows to be created. Each one has its purpose and mission in God’s redemptive plan. Each church is supposed to fulfill its mission in the spectrum of missions that God has for each in His grand plan for redeeming the world through His Son. There is a mission for each church. There is no church that is still in existence that does not still have its unique mission from God. The question is that have we settled for mediocrity because of collective unconfessed sins. Have we settled for a lifetime of nothing special rather than God’s design for us for our “wonderful”? Have we settled because we do not want things to change from the mediocrity that we are wallowing in?

 

Our senior pastor challenged us as leaders to examine ourselves for the things in our lives that are holding back God’s glory from being fully expressed through our church. What is it that is holding back the 30 minutes of wonderful in exchange for the lifetime of nothing special in our church. Is it us? Is it me? We must examine ourselves for unconfessed sin. Do we have pride that is preventing us from working together or from submitting to leadership? Are any of us so convinced that we have the corner on the market of this “being a Christian” thing that we no longer need instruction from our leaders? Do any of us have trouble submitting to leadership because we think we know better than they? Do we have a sin in our lives that would destroy our church if it came out under the pressure cooker of moving our church to the next level? Do any of us want to be carbon copies of other leaders? Do we simply try to do what’s been proven elsewhere rather than listening to what God says is the specific thing that He wants from our church that is unique, untested and never done before? Do any of us not trust God enough to find our own voice, to find that unique mission of our church? Do we have sins in our closet that prevent God’s glory from being fully expressed through our church? Remember the sin of Achan that caused the Israelites to lose the Battle of Ai that we will see when we get to Joshua 7. We must confess our sins and repent of them so that God can express His full glory through us. What is holding you back from experiencing the glory of God? What is it that you have exchanged God’s glory for a lifetime of nothing special?

 

That was the thing that I noticed here this morning in the first of four blogs on Joshua 3. That thing being how the people sought to purify themselves before battle and how that was similar to the guts of our staff development meeting this past week. What is it about us collectively and individually that is holding us back from the victory that God has set in front of us? We must examine ourselves and then repent of our sins and then commit ourselves to doing whatever it takes, whatever sacrifices that are needed, whatever risks need to be taken so that God’s glory is shown through in that specific mission that he has for our church. Let’s read this chapter of Joshua together now:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

In this passage, we see that, before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were to perform a purification ceremony. God often required such acts such as before offering a sacrifice or before witnessing a great miracle of God. His Law showed the Israelites could become unclean in many ways – eating certain foods, giving birth, dealing with disease, touching a dead body. God used these various outward signs of uncleanness to illustrate a person’s uncleanness that comes as a result of sin. The purification ceremony pictured the importance of approaching God with a pure heart, a focused heart, having confessed our sins, and concentrating on giving God His glory and our total attention.

 

Are you willing to take the time to seek to purify yourself before God? I am not talking about some ritual but a soul searching? Like those videos you see of football players going through their pregame locker room processes of putting on their uniforms before a big game. You see them thinking and visualizing and praying about the battle in which they are about to partake. They are laser focused on their part of the game plan. They are in deep thought and often don’t even talk to each other. Each thinking on the big game ahead and their part in it.

 

May we have that same laser focus when it comes to playing our role at church? God has a mission for our church. God has a victory for our church in His grand redemptive plan for the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford area, SC. We have a specific mission. God has a game plan for us. However, we must be focused in on God’s mission. In order to be laser focused on his mission, we must examine our weaknesses and sins that can be exploited by the enemy in the heat of battle. What are the sins that I am protecting that can be exploited by Satan that will prevent or hinder the full glory of God from being expressed through our local church. What sin am I not confessing before the Lord? What sin are you not confessing before the Lord? We need to purify ourselves. We need to identify our sins that we think are not sins such as pride and arrogance. We need to identify the lusts of our lives that we are protecting and hiding and confess them before the Lord so that He will not withdraw His glory from our house of the Lord. Or are you willing to settle for mediocrity. Are you happier with things the way they are? Are you willing to settle for a lifetime of nothing special so that you or I can keep our sins that we want to keep? What is it that is making us into a lifetime of nothing special. Don’t you want God’s glory to be fully shown through you and I and the church we call home?

 

Let us examine ourselves. Let us confess our sins. Let us live for God and not a life where we are protecting our pet sins. Let us live the “wonderful” that God has for you and for me and for our church. Let us not settle for a lifetime of nothing special just so that we can exist. Let us be willing to sacrifice it all for the Lord by being fully purified, fully confessing, people that are willing to do whatever God directs us to do to be in that wonderful place (aligned with God’s will) rather than a lifetime of mediocrity of not fully seeing what happens when God has a people that are sold out for Him. Thirty minutes of wonderful vs. a lifetime of nothing special?

 

Amen and Amen.

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

Rahab Protects the Spies

I guess I am getting all 80’s nostalgic this week. This will be the second blog in a row where my opening includes a reference to a hit song from the 1980s. 80s music (which was really from like 1979-1992) was an awesome time for music – music that lives on today, some 20-30 years later. Music lives on when it tells a story that is common to our experience. The music of the 80s did that well. Today, that 80’s song reference is a song by Cyndi Lauper called “Money Changes Everything”. It was a gritty tune with heartfelt emotion from Cyndi. She belted the lyrics out with passion and volume. Always one of my favorite songs from the 80s. The chorus of the song went something like this:

 

Money changes everything

I said money, money changes everything

We think we know what we’re doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Money changes everything

 

Today, I would like to usurp Cyndi’s chorus and change it up a bit for the subject that we will hit on today in this third and final visit to Joshua 2:1-24 before we move on the chapter 3. Here is how I would change the lyrics up:

 

Salvation changes everything

I said salvation, salvation, changes everything

We thought we knew what we were doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Salvation changes everything

 

That is an awesome chorus change don’t you think, because it is so true. Salvation, Salvation changes everything.

 

Do you remember the day of your salvation? Do you remember that feeling that came over you? That moment when everything that seemed so foggy became so abundantly clear. That moment when you realized that you were, indeed, a sinner that was in need saving through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. He was no longer a dead radical philosopher that raged against the status quo but rather the Son of the Living God. He was no longer a prophet among prophets. He became God in the flesh to you. He was no longer one of the many ways to get to heaven. He became to you the Only Way. You cried out to God that you believed that Jesus was God visited upon us in the flesh. You cried out that you believed that He came to earth to give evidence to the existence of a mighty God. You cried out that you believed that He came to dwell among us to live the perfect life and to show us how to live according to God’s plan for our lives. You cried out that you believed that because He was God in the flesh that His death on the cross was not just the death of a political revolutionary but rather the permanent conclusion of the Old Testament sacrificial system in that He was the perfect, sinless sacrifice for the atonement of all sins, past, present and future. And because He is God in the flesh, He did actually arise from the grave so as to give us hope and victory over sin and death. All you have to do is say that you believe that with all your heart and you will be saved. That is the essence of salvation. Salvation is that you believe that there is a mighty God who sent His Son to die on a cross for your sins aplenty so that you can be made right through faith and grace with that mighty God.

 

Salvation is a miracle, plain and simple. We rail against God most of us for most of our lives. We dispute His existence. We downplay who Jesus is. We make out that the Bible is just literature and outdated literature at that. We make fun of all the Old Testament stuff and dismiss it without seeking the deeper meaning behind all the “weird stuff”. We throw away the Old Testament. We focus on just the love of Jesus as the benefactor/prophet that had some great things to say but that’s as far as we let it go. We make our own gods. We discount anything in the Bible that is in opposition to the way we want to live our lives. We discount the fact that Jesus said He is the only way to heaven, because that just can’t be. We make Jesus/Mohammed/Shiva/Buddha/Confucius all one guy. We make them the appearances of an all accepting God – if we believe in a Higher Power to begin with. We make the Bible out of date and antiquated when it is different from our sexual desires. We want to have sex with as many women as possible outside of marriage because sex is recreational to us and we want men/men and women/women relationships to be OK so we just rip those pages out of the Bible that don’t apply to our new way of thinking.

 

But on that day of salvation, it is the culmination of the power of the Holy Spirit working on a hard heart. Like our pastor of discipleship was saying the other day about his recent conversations with new attendees at our church (He asks each one why did you choose LifeSong and why did you come back again?). The common answer is that they don’t really know why. They just felt drawn to the church. It is that drawing of people closer to God and that leads to that sudden realization on the day of salvation that changes everything that came to mind this morning:

 

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, one of the things that strikes you is that Rahab recognized something that many Israelites did not – the God of heaven is the one true and only God. He is no ordinary run of the mill god. He is all powerful. The people of Jericho were afraid because they had heard the news of God’s extraordinary power in delivering the Israelites from captivity in Egypt and in defeating the armies across the Jordan River. Today, we can worship the same powerful, miracle-working God. He is powerful enough to save us from certain death as he did with Rahab.

 

Rahab had been hearing the stories of the exploits of this Israelite God. He was drawing her unto himself. He was pricking her soul. God knows when there is an opening in our darkened souls. He knows when we are ready to begin considering Him instead of rebelliously rejecting Him. She may have been wondering whether there was more to life than the life she had come to know – prostitution. In the ancient Middle East, a woman without a husband (either through his death or just not marrying) would have to rely on family members for support and shelter. If she had no family it often led to a destitute life and sometimes led these husband-less women to resort to prostitution. We don’t know much about her backstory if anything at all. But we do know that she was prostitute. We do know that she was aware of the presence of the living God, most likely because she was dissatisfied with the world of Jericho and the lot in life that it had given her. Jericho was an opulent town and had its own army. That’s rich! It was well fortified and the fortifications allowed the city to flourish. Here, Rahab is a prostitute. Watching opulent families walk by and having knowledge of the hypocrisy of the husbands that were her customers. She had to be fed up with her life as it was. That opening is where the Holy Spirit began intruiging her about the Israelites and their God. God then directed the spies to her house because God was already working on her. The spies were the confirmation that she needed.

 

if Rahab’s honesty didn’t win the spies’ trust, surely her next words did: “For the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below”. You heard the woman: “God is God!” A genuine profession of faith, just as the apostle Paul described centuries later: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”. Right then and there that night with the spies, Rahab accepted Christ as her Savior (since Jesus has eternally existed in the trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, then any who professed faith in God prior to Jesus’ dwelling on earth were professing faith in Jesus). Rahad had that moment of full clarity that we all have at the moment of salvation. Everything makes sense. Everything made sense to Rahab even though it meant leaving the life that she used to know behind. Her life would never be the same after this moment of salvation.

 

After this moment of salvation, she followed the order to leave a crimson rope on her window to her house so that she would be spared and anyone who was in her house. After the wall came tumbling down, Jericho was sacked and destroyed by the Israelites – save for Rahab and family. Her faith saved her. Her salvation led her to do what was against the grain of the rest of the Jerichoans. Her life as she knew it before her moment of salvation was over. She had a new family now, the people of God. One house remained standing. “Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her” (). Because of her faith, God saved Rahab in every sense of the word. The Israelites welcomed her into their camp, where a man named Salmon chose her for his bride. Rahab gave birth to a son, Boaz, who married a woman named Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David. And you know where that lineage leads – straight to Jesus Christ.

 

Transformed by God from harlot to heroine, Rahab is an inspiration for every one of us. You, too, can leave your past behind and walk forward in glorious grace, proclaiming to all who will listen, “God is God!” For Rahab, that moment of salvation changes everything. Old life left behind. New life ahead. A new life that will be used by the mighty God that we believe in to accomplish his redemptive plan. Step forward from your past into the newness of salvation and the life that comes after. Indeed, for Rahab, for you, and for me:

 

Salvation changes everything

I said salvation, salvation, changes everything

We thought we knew what we were doin’

That don’t mean a thing

It’s all in the past now

Salvation changes everything!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

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

Rahab Protects the Spies

There was a song by the 1980’s musical group called “The Thompson Twins” who had a song released in 1982 called “Lies”. It’s chorus when something like this:

 

Lies lies lies yeah

Lies lies lies yeah

Lies lies lies yeah

 

Oh you know I know

 

Lies lies lies yeah

Lies lies lies yeah

Lies lies lies yeah

 

See video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6cn0mLJVZY

 

That was a catchy tune that condemns a girl for lying to the writer of the song about the fact that she loved him but her actions did not match her words. She lied. The writer of the song goes onto to say, “You told me you loved me, so I don’t understand, why promises are snapped in two! And words are made to bend!” In this song, it is obvious that the girlfriend’s lies were wrong and the revelation of the truth brought about hurt and the destruction of a relationship. Lies are almost always destructive.

 

When I think back on my life, there have been lies aplenty. Lies start for us when we are little kids when we make the connection that telling a lie can sometimes save us from punishment. Then, it’s on after that. We live to improve our situation or to prevent our situation from deteriorating. We lie. We bend the truth. We break the Ninth Commandment with impunity. Lying is part of the nature of being human. We are fallen by nature. We are flesh. We lie. It is plain and simple a sin.

 

When we commit adultery we not only break the Seventh Commandment but also the Ninth Commandment because there is secrecy involved. There is deceit. There are outright lies told to keep adultery from being found out. When we steal, we break the Eighth Commandment and in so doing to prevent ourselves from being caught we lie. When we murder, we break the break the Sixth Commandment and we almost always lie about it. Lying is common to any of our sins. It is part of sinning. We lie as a part of daily life. We are sinners. Even after salvation, we are in a battle between spirit and flesh and we continue to lie to cover up sins and commit the sin of lying by covering up our other sin. We are condemned in the face of our lies. We are going to be held accountable on our personal day of judgment before the Lord for every lie that we have ever told. Big ones. Small ones (now that song sung by Zazu in the Lion King is playing in your head isn’t it? Well…it is mine…what a lovely bunch of coconuts! Big ones, small ones, some as big as ya head!…but I digress….back to our blog…) Some whoppers. Some little stretches of the truth. Are there any instances where lying is OK? Does this dress make me look fat? Men lie to their wives on that one a lot! Women are often nice to each other’s faces but tell lies about each other behind their back. Little lies are still lies. Telling someone what they want to hear rather than the truth is lying just as much as hiding an adulterous affair if any lie is a sin. Sin is sin. God does not measure degrees of sin. He is a perfect and holy God. Lies are unholy perversions of the truth. They can never be right, no matter how big or how small. We create ugliness in our souls when we lie. Lying is the opposite of truth. Thus, lying is a stain on our soul. Add up all the lies that we tell in a lifetime, and our souls are as dark as midnight when compared to the truth, purity, righteousness, holiness, perfection of our God. There is no lie in Him. He is truth. He is perfection. He is holiness. In Him is all truth.

 

I know that I sound like a professor of logic and/or ethics this morning. However, it was in reading Joshua 2 this morning that I hit the logical and ethical wall when I read of Rahab’s lies. Is there ever a situation where lies are OK. It is a great Christian ethical dilemma:

 

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, one of the things that strikes you is the fact that Rahab lied. Was Rahab justified in lying to save the lives of the spies? Although the Bible does not speak negatively about her lie, it is clear that she lied and lying is a sin. In Hebrews 11:31, the Bible says, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” She praised for her faith. Her lie is not mentioned. Scholars have offered several explanations. First, she sought forgiveness for her lie and she was forgiven by God. Another explanation is that it is simply deceit of the enemy is a customary practice in times of war (the old “all’s fair in love and war” theory). As well, other scholars state that Rahab was not yet a part of the people of God so she could not be held responsible for keeping the standard set forth in God’s law. She was just beginning to be drawn to God. Finally, some scholars go with the theory that “the ends justify the means” in that she matched the lies of Satan (as represented by the Jerichoan people) with lies so as to protect the representatives of God’s chosen people.

 

Rahab presents an interesting ethical dilemma for people of faith. Does God condone situational ethics? Rahab lied. There is no dispute about that. She lied by omission and commission. She lied by omission by not revealing to the Jerichoan authorities that the spies were in her house and she lied by commission by telling them that the spies had already left town and had headed for the hill country. In Hebrews she is commended for her faith and considered a member of the “hall of fame of the faith”. In James (2:25), she is commended for her deeds of protecting the spies as an example of faith that is displayed through the things that we do and that faith without works is meaningless. She lied. She broke a direct command from God. What are we to make of this?

 

My take on her deception is, yes, that it was wrong. She lied. She sinned. God does not condone sin nor is God into situational ethics. What is truth now is truth always. There are no exceptions. Even if we tell a lie for a good reason. For example, what about Oskar Schindler in World War II. No matter how you sugar-coat it, the dude lied his ass off for three or more years. His lies saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Nazi Germany during the reign of terror of Hitler. How many thousands of lies did he tell either by commission or by omission. What about the Gies family that hid Ann Frank and her family during the same war? They had to lie to preserve the lies of the Frank family. You and I have told lies to protect a friend or a brother or a sister from getting into trouble with the parents or with the law.

 

So, what’s wrong with Rahab’s lie? It preserved the lies of the spies. If the spies had been killed, would Israel have turned and ran for another forty years instead of doing as God told them to do. Lying is lying though and it is a sin. Should we glorify Rahab for her lie or should we look at her another way. Should we be surprised that a prostitute, living in pagan surroundings, would lie to governmental authorities? Hardly. But she was not saved because she lied—a critical point that needs expanding. In addressing this idea, Allen Webster wrote: “Rahab lied, true, but God never complimented this action. She was a heathen, not yet even converted to Judaism…. She was saved in spite of her lying, and not because of it. She was a prostitute, but this text does not authorize that is was OK. This is a part of the story that seems to have been missed by the Bible critics who have isolated Rahab’s lie not only from the context of the story itself, but from the remainder of her life and additional biblical commentary on that life. Having established the fact that Rahab’s lie was not the reason for her commendation within the pages of Scripture, the question arises: Why, then, was she honored within the great “hall of fame of faith” in Hebrews 11 and spoken of by James as having been “justified”? There can be no doubt that Rahab occupies a special place within the biblical text, since she is one of only five women listed as being within the lineage of Christ.

 

Surely, the answer to the question has to do with the fact that Rahab did not remain in her sinful state. Her life after the destruction of Jericho must have been marked but extreme devotion to the Lord and a willingness to repent of sins committed. David, for example, told lies that led to adultery, murder, and a whole host of sins. However, his momentary lapse in judgment is not what we judge him by. We judge him as a great in the Bible because of his own repulsion at his sin, his repentance from it, and becoming a man after God’s own heart. Rahab’s life must have been a life of wondrous thanksgiving to the God she barely knew at the time of the spies. She must have become such a person of God that she was worthy of mention in the lineage of Christ our Savior. Think about that. Rahab had a sordid past. She was probably used to telling lies to cover for her customers. She was probably an ardent sinner and liar. But she encounter God through the people of Israel. She was saved. She probably other lies in her life just like you and me. But revulsion at our own darkness and repentance for our lies is the key. We recognize our lies and go to the Father with them. We beg the Holy Spirit to change us.

 

We know that we are covered by the grace of Jesus Christ and thank God that we are. We are sinners and we tell lies even after salvation. However the difference between us and the lost person is that we have the Holy Spirit chiseling away at us daily until we are perfected (and that only happens the day we meet our Savior in heaven). The Holy Spirit is sent to us to lift us up above the darkness of our soul’s natural nature. He pushes us. He sharpens us. He points out our sins to us and compels us to repent and become more Christ-like each day. As we mature in Christ, honesty and integrity become greater and greater and the need and desire to lie becomes less and less. It is a life-long project of chiseling away at our dark patches by the Holy Spirit. It is painful at times. Surely, Rahab became a woman marked by integrity later in life to the point that she is a hall of fame believer mentioned in Hebrews. Through the action of the Holy Spirit in our souls over time, a long time, and a lifetime of the Holy Spirit squeezing us when we sin and forcing us to our knees in repentance, we, too, can become hall of fame believers like Rahab.

 

God does not glorify her lies. He glorifies that she came to faith and became a faithful and repentant believer. That’s what we celebrate. There is no such thing as a good lie. There are always consequences. Rahab ended up having to live with strangers because of her lie. It turned out good but the lie is not the thing. It is what she did after the lie. Repentance. Chasing after God. She became a righteous woman and a hall of fame believer.

 

Amen and Amen.

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.