Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Judges 6:1-32 (Part 2 of 5)
Gideon Becomes Israel’s Judge

I told my wife last night that the Lord had been working on me to spend time doing a daily devotional with her. We both do our separate Bible studies and prayers. However, we have never really done any type of devotional or Bible study together. We have never really sat down and discussed Scripture together except maybe as part of a larger group of people in small group. So last night we began making a reading of Scripture part of our evening meal. So, often, we make small talk about the day’s activity at the dinner table and scarf down the wonderful meals that my wife prepares for me. Thus, the meals that it takes her an hour or so to prepare are consumed and gone within a half hour at the most, but last night we actually sat at the table for an hour because we had more to discuss than our separate histories of the day just passed.

We began a study of the Psalms last night. Not some fancy devotional written by some high powered Christian author or scholar. Just reading a Psalm and discussing what we each gleaned from it. Last night, we began at the beginning with Psalm 1. In that psalm, David says:

1
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law, day and night.
3
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
In that psalm, David is praising the Lord for the fact that He is the source of all we need. He is the river from which our tree draws its strength and sustenance. The river is a symbol for God’s Word and we must stay connected to it or we begin to decay and be blown about by the whims of our desires, the whims of the latest cause celeb, the latest self help guru, and any other form of self-determined worship or anything we believe in other than God. How do we stay connected to the river of God? It is through God’s Word. David says that we should mediate on His Word, His law, day and night. It must be part of what we do each and every day. When we fail to make God’s Word part of our daily lives, we begin to let decaying thoughts have greater rule in our lives. When we withdraw our tree’s roots from the river for His Holy Word, we are like chaff blown by the wind. We lose our anchor and we lose our way and become enamored with things that are not of God and tend toward defining for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. As we continually lower the bar of what is acceptable (because we have no standard of God to measure it by since we are not in His Word), we lead ourselves down a path of destruction, all the while thinking that it’s OK for me to live this life of sin – like the story of a frog who sits in an pot of water where the temperature is slowly increased and the frog is OK with it until it kills him.

Likewise, last night as part of my studies for my doctoral program, I finished up my fifth book of required read. This book was one entitled, Prayer, by Tim Keller. One of the best quotes from those final 50 something pages that I read last night was this,

Paul said we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) meaning that we should if possible, do everything all day with conscious reference to God (1 Cor. 10:31). There should be a background music of thankfulness and joy behind every incident in our day, audible only to us (Col. 3:16-17). This kind of spontaneous and constant prayer during the day should be a habit of the heart.

However, this daily and constant communion and realization of the presence of the Lord in every aspect of our day will not happen unless we take up the discipline of regular, daily prayer.

p.240, Prayer, by Tim Keller

It often amazes me how God drives home points to me, words I need to hear, from multiple different avenues. That’s how I often figure out that it’s a God thing – when I hear the same message from God, a message that I need to hear a specific time in my life, from multiple sources that are not necessarily cognizant of the other one speaking the same message to me. God provides me with a synchronous message from multiple, unrelated sources.

So, here, between the first psalm in the Bible, a powerful quote from Tim Keller’s book, and now here in Judges, the message is clear. OK I get it Lord. In order for us to stay grounded in that which is holy, and honorable and righteous, that those things that are of you, we must do more than give lip service to God. We must do more than read the Bible to say we have read the Bible. We must make God’s Word so integral in our lives that we meditate on it day and night. We must have an intimate relationship with the Lord such that His Word is the background music of our day to day lives. From this passage, we see that Israel has forgotten how to be God’s people because they no longer make God’s Word a part of their daily lives. They are like the chaff mentioned in Psalm 1. They had so begun living for themselves or living in such a way being God’s people was just lip service that they sank into their own evil ways that led to their oppression. Without obedience to God, He withdrew his blessing from Israel and they became fat and sassy in the own self-involved lives and allowed themselves to get conquered, raided, oppressed, destroyed.

Today, as we look again at Judges 6:1-32, let us focus on the fact that as we have seen throughout Judges so far that the Israelites are often far from God and must get into situations where they are oppressed before they seek God again. Let us concentrate on the first seven (7) verses of this passage once again, but this time, look at them from that perspective of Israel crying out to God, as it seems, only when they get in trouble. Here is the passage now:

6 The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”

11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”

19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from an ephah[a] of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.

20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”

24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

25 That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old.[b] Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole[c] beside it. 26 Then build a proper kind of[d] altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second[e] bull as a burnt offering.”

27 So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

28 In the morning when the people of the town got up, there was Baal’s altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the second bull sacrificed on the newly built altar!

29 They asked each other, “Who did this?”

When they carefully investigated, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.”

30 The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.”

31 But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” 32 So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[f] that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”

In this passage, we see that, again, the Israelites hit rock bottom before turning back to God. How much suffering they could have avoided if they had trusted Him! Turning to God should not be our last resort. We should look to Him for help each day. This isn’t to say that life will be easy, but God will give us the strength to live through them. Don’t wait until you are at the end of your rope. Call on God first in every situation.

Why is it that we only cry out to God when we get in trouble? Why is that we think we are self-sufficient when things are going good and that God is simply the backstop for the wild pitches of life. We only cry out to God when things get out of control. He is our last resort. Why is it that personal success is often the worst recipe for our relationship with God. We ignore Him til we encounter something that we cannot handle. Israel of the Bible is the mirror of ourselves. We worship God when we need to. We worship God when things get so bad that we can’t handle our lives. Once the crisis is past, we return to our evil ways. Sorry, God, I was just kidding about having a deeper relationship with you. There’s still my sins that I enjoy committing too much to subject myself to your authority full time! Even we Christians are that way sometimes when we are not daily grounded in God’s Word and meditation on His Word and prayer about how His Word applies to our lives.

When we are not daily grounded and founded in an intimate relationship with God through study and prayer, daily study and prayer, we begin to bend God’s Word to make living in the culture easier. We begin to make God’s Word be inconsistent with itself. We begin to make the Bible say what we want it to say. We begin to make certain sins acceptable just to fit in with the culture or to justify the evil that we participate in.

The point is clear from David in Psalm 1, from Tim Keller in his book about prayer, and from the lesson of Israel here in this passage. We must firmly plant our roots in God’s Word daily. We must study His Word and understand it and understand how each passage fits into the grand narrative of the Bible, and understand what it reveals about God, what universal and eternal truths of God it reveals. We must meditate on God’s Word and on the wondrous character of God every day and every night. We must be aware of God’s presence with us as we go about our day in everything that we do. We must have specific prayer time where we have intimate talks with the Lord and seek His will for our lives. All of this leads to intimate knowledge and intimate love of the Lord to the point that we are firmly grounded in the water of God’s river. We are not blown about by the wind. We are secure in His love for us and we are not subject to the whims of culture and we know the difference between what is of God and that which is not. Message received. Let us not be like Israel with their cycles of obedience and disobedience. Let us stay with the Lord. Let us be so intimately in love with Him that it is our greatest desire and pleasure to please Him and only Him – our audience of one!

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 15:13-19

The Land Given to Caleb

That is when I know I am sunk. When one of my daughters puts like four a’s in the word, daddy. You know, daaaady! I reach for my wallet because I know a money request is coming. My daughters and step-daughter are all grown up now, but they can still use their daughter charms on their daddy to get their way. Back in the day though when they were little and they could still sit easily in their daddy’s lap, they would come up, hop in my lap, put an arm around my neck and then bat those little girl eyelashes at me and make their request whatever it might me. How can you refuse a daughter so cute and precious? Little girls come into this world knowing how to work their daddies!

 

Even though they are grown now, there is always a special relationship between a father and a daughter that transcends time and chronological age. To even grown girls (unless they lived in an abusive home growing up), they think of their dads as ten feet tall and bullet proof. To daughters, dads are full of wisdom. To daughters, dads are their protector from everything bad in the world. To daughters, their fathers are the example of what they subconsciously measure every man by in comparison. To dads, daughters are the most precious gift of all. They are wonderful little mysteries to us. They are unlike having a boy to a dad. Dads know everything about a boy because we once one ourselves. But daughters are this amazing mystery of laughter, unbridled joy, and of tea parties, and dolls, and pink and thinking that Dad is the most amazing man in the world. To dads, their daughters are examples of just what is right and perfect about the world. How they love flowers and to smell them and to give them to you as if they have brought you this amazing thing. To dads, our daughters seemingly without cultural influence are the nurturers. You seem them being mommy to their dolls and when they jump in your lap after you have had a hard day and they just hug you. There is nothing better than being a dad to daughters.

 

There is nothing that I would not do for my daughters. Sometimes, though, like currently, with my youngest daughter, she is making foolish choices in her life and seems to now blame me for all the problems of her life and she has completely shut me out of her life. I have seen and spoken to her only over a 3 day period back in February. That’s the only contact with her over the past year. What I have done; I do not know. I know that over a year ago I told her that I could not give her money for another one of her all of a sudden emergencies and that is part of this. However, the complete shutdown of our relationship has come as surprise to me and it certainly hurts me down deep. I am only going to be on this earth for 20-30 more years and why is she wasting valuable time over some perception that she has created in her mind. If she just knew how much I love her and just want her to grow up and reach her God-given potential! Why has she created this ocean between us. I just don’t get it.

 

All of these things remind me that no matter the state of the relationship between a father and his daughters, they know that their dad will be there for them when the chips are down and when they need that feeling of protection. Dads love their daughters no matter what. Theirs is a special and unique relationship that I have been privileged to have been granted by God. I am now venturing into the granddaddy-granddaughter world. There will come a time when Ralyn has learned the ropes and will have learned the tricks of the female world and will look at her Papa in a certain way and she will say Papa with four a’s in it…Paaaapa! I will be like ooooooohkaaaay, Ralyn! What do ya want!

 

I thought of how daughters can usually get what they want from their daddies simply by being bold enough to ask. Dads will draw the line at some point because we want them to grow up to be responsible young women, but if we know that giving them what they want is not going to hurt them, we will give it to our daughters. All they have to do is ask. That unique relationship between a dad and his daughters is what I thought when I read this passage, Joshua 15:13-19, that seems to be almost inserted into the narrative about the division of land. It is about land of course but it is a highly personal story about a father and his daughter. Lets read it now:

 

13 In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) 14 From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, the sons of Anak. 15 From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). 16 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 17 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

 

18 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him[a] to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”

 

19 She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

 

In the desert, water springs are very important and strategic. Whoever who controls the water control the area. Without water, nothing grows. Without water, all living things die. A spring is a place where water comes to the surface of the desert. Normally water is absorbed into a porous soil and then sinks until it encounter a non-porous rock such as igneous rock. There it remains until it finds an outlet where it flows to the surface. However, depending on the source of these springs, it may dry out in summer or very hot seasons. These are the upper springs. Some water collects in large underground chambers. So of it is under pressure and is what we called the artesian wells. They never dry up. These are the lower or nether springs. So Caleb was very generous when he gave to his daughter, Acsah, both the upper and lower springs.  In modern day Israel, the desert is a major agricultural area because of water from these springs.

 

What is my takeaway from this passage this morning? What if Aksah had not asked for what she needed? The Negev was an arid land and it needed water. What if his daughter had not been confident enough in her father’s love to ask him for what she needed as a long-term solution to a long-term problem? She loved her father and knew that her father loved her. She was bold enough to ask him for something that she needed desperately. It was not that she was asking for something impetuous, selfish, or that would hurt her or others. She was boldly asking for something that was a sustainer of life, a real need.

 

How often are sitting in our own personal arid country and have not asked our Father in heaven for what we need. Do you not believe that your Father in heaven wants what is best for you? We do not have because we do not ask. We do not pray. Prayer is talking to God. Sometimes I feel that God is waiting for us patiently to ask Him. He has what we need and He knows what we need. Sometimes I think He is just waiting for us to ask Him. Like Caleb and his daughter. He gives her the land without the water. He is willing and waiting to give. He waited for her to ask. Often, we are too busy to pray. Too busy to ask.

 

If you think an earthly father loves his daughters, think how much more our Father in heaven loves us. Have you ever thought that maybe it comes down to how big you think God is and how much he loves you? Are those the reasons that you do not ask. Let me assure you, God is big enough and He loves you more than you can even understand. He doesn’t care so much about temporary things but if your request is consistent with the character of God and what He wants for us – why have you not asked our great and mighty Father in heaven for what you need? He knows of your needs. He is just waiting for you to be confident enough in how big He is and how much He loves you for you to ask.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 7:1-15 (Part 2 of 4)

Ai Defeats the Israelites

Have you ever felt like that your prayer life was disconnected? Have you ever felt like that your prayer life is not what it is supposed to be? Do you feel like your prayer life is pale in comparison to those of others that you hear pray? Do you feel like you are rambling all over the charts when we you pray publicly yourself?

 

The answer is a resounding yes to all those questions, for me. I feel like these days and have felt for a long time that my prayer life is empty. I don’t feel as though that I am praying to anything when I pray these days. When I pray I feel no close connection to God. Not like it is supposed to be. I just feel as though, when I actually do pray, I am going through the motions. Just saying what needs to be said. A public prayer, I just touch on the points that need touching and not really feeling connected. I just feel as though I am occupying time when I pray at times. It’s been a while since my soul was stirred by my own prayers. It’s been a while since I felt the Holy Spirit settle over me and lift my soul to the presence of God. My prayers in this place that I am right now just feel like the kid at the chalkboard writing repeatedly “I will talk in class unless given permission by my teacher” 100 times on the board as punishment for being disruptive in class. After the first two or three times of writing that sentence on the chalkboard (and, yes, I have had to do this as late as my high school 11th grade history class), you just robotically write the words with no connection to what is being written. You are just getting through a task from the 4th time to the 100th time you write the sentence on the chalkboard. That’s how I feel about my prayer life right now. I am just going through the motions to get the task done.

 

Then, I feel even worse about my own prayer life when I hear others pray publicly or talk about their own prayer lives. It does not bother me so much that my prayer life may not be as good as, say, the elder/pastors at my church. They are full-time ministers. They get asked to pray constantly over their careers and they have gotten pretty darn good at it. And, add to that, they are probably light years more spiritually mature than I am. But what strikes despair in my soul is not them but rather the prayers of everyday people at our church. They look at me, since I am on staff at the church, and think that I am some spiritual giant but I feel inadequate when it comes to prayer – the thing that is, to me, the most critical part of being a Christ follower. I hear other people pray and they seem to have all the right words to say and it seems so genuine. They move the spirit of other people when they pray. Their prayers are like getting on one of those old fashioned theme rides where you get in a boat on water and you are transported through this 3-D animatronic world as you float through. You are taken away to another place. I have friends who pray in such a way that you are taken through illustrative words to a spiritual place that is a whole other world and you thank God for having listened and for having been transported to this wonderful spiritual place that they have taken you. I hear people pray with great emotion and come to tears as they pray. I just love hearing these kinds of prayers – the ones that take you away to a place, transported by their flowery, spiritual words and those that just touch your heart. Why is my prayer life not this way? Why?

 

Then, when I do get the opportunity to pray, I feel as though I am rambling and making no sense at all. I may pray down a road of thought and then forget how to land the plane, as the saying goes. I fumble and ramble. I repeat thoughts. I forget what I had prayed previously. I get jammed up. I don’t use all the fancy prayer buzz words that are common to Christianese. Shortly put, I feel as though my public prayers are travesties of justice. That’s why here lately, I have shied away from publicly praying because I feel so inadequate compared to other prayer warriors. I just feel ashamed over my prayer life and my ability to pray effective prayers in public. Just being completely honest here.

 

That idea of feeling inadequate in prayer is what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 7:1-15 for the second of four times that we will read through it. Let’s read it together, now:

 

7 But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things[a]; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri,[b] the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

 

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.

 

3 When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” 4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

 

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”

 

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

 

13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.

 

14 “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. 15 Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’”

 

In this passage, for this morning, we see that Joshua and the elders tore their clothing and through dust on their heads, an ancient Israelite custom that demonstrates deep mourning before God. They were confused by their defeat at Ai after their spectacular victory at Jericho. They went before God in deep humility and sorrow to receive His instructions. Imagine praying this way before God. This prayer was not some formulated church prayer. It is a prayer of a man who is afraid and confused by what is happening around him. Joshua poured out his heart and his real, gutty thoughts to God. Hiding our needs from God is to ignore the only one who can really help. God welcomes honest prayer and wants us to express our true feelings to Him. From this passage, we can learn that it is OK to be honest with God in our prayers and that He is not going to zap us or smite us from revealing our true feelings to Him. It is only through such honesty that we grow more intimate with our Maker.

 

It was that honesty and that heartfelt emotion that I admired of Joshua here this morning when reading through this passage a second time. I made fun of his whining about the defeat at Ai in my blog yesterday and, yes, Joshua deserved it. He failed to consult God in prayer before the battle. But I do admire his reaction as the passage goes on. I think he realized that He should have consulted the Lord in prayer and goes all out in prayer. He humbles himself before the Lord and pours out his heart to the Lord. He is honest with God. He lets it all hang out.

 

Maybe that’s the lesson that I need to learn today if I am ever to get my prayer life back on track or let’s be honest – to get it on track. I don’t think I have ever really been good about prayer. That say that in order to get good at something, you have to practice. Instead of having these formula prayers that I sometimes pray. Or praying what I think God wants to hear and ignoring what is really on my mind. Maybe, I need to be like Joshua and just let it all hang out. Just be totally open and honest with the Lord. Not be afraid to reveal to the Lord what I am really thinking. He already knows what I am really thinking anyway. It is just a matter of me being honest about it. God wants, I think, for me to throw my garbage out on the table and help me examine it from His perspective. God wants me to be honest about it when I am angry at Him about something (even with it being unfounded). He wants me to be real with Him and just say what needs to be said. It’s like the transition from dating your wife to being married with your wife. When you are dating you show her the best of you. When you are married, you show her all of you. That’s what makes marriage last is the honesty and real-ness between a man and a woman as they progress through their lives together. Should we not be that way with God.

 

We should be married to God when it comes to prayer not just dating Him. We should reveal all our raw-ness, all our emotion, all our angers and frustrations, all our sorrows as well as all of our joys. He wants all of us. The depths of emotion not just the intellectual ascent to His existence. He wants us to be real with Him. He wants no formulas. He wants the real you and the real me. He wants us to be married to Him in prayer where we reveal everything by choice and knowing that we are safe doing so. He wants us to quit dating Him in prayer and saying just what we think He wants to hear. He wants us to be married to Him in prayer so that we can reach a level of intimacy that comes only in the honesty and no-holes-barred way that marriage is.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 6:1-27

The Fall of Jericho

My favorite song right now is “Do It Again” by Elevation Worship, the worship band for Elevation Church, the multi-site and one of the top 10 fastest growing churches in America with campuses across the Charlotte, NC area. It is has that great combination of great lyrics and great music. The opening stanza’s lyrics to the song go like this:

 

Walking around these walls

I thought by now they’d fall

But You have never failed me yet

Waiting for change to come

Knowing the battle’s won

For You have never failed me yet

 

The idea of this opening stanza is that sometimes we wonder why we are doing what we are doing for the Lord. Sometimes it’s hard to see the end game. It’s an idea that is close to my heart right now as I spiritually struggle with what the future holds. In the song, I see a group of Israelites on like the fifth pass around Jericho on the fifth day. They had walked around Jericho four times on four different days now. They are on the fifth pass on the fifth day. They still have tomorrow single pass around the walls of Jericho. And then there are the six passes on the seventh day where nothing will happen before that fateful seventh pass when it is time to shout, to blow the horns, and for the walls to fall and for the hand to hand, house to house Battle of Jericho to begin.

 

It kind of reminds you about playing football back in school. You have the two a day practices in the August heat with no game on the immediate horizon. You are busting your butt doing drill after drill and all the exercises, all the wind sprints, the suicides, the hill climbs, the stadium step climbs, the dreaded six inch drills, the high step running through the tires, the one on one blocking drills. The two-a-day practices in August are more about conditioning than they are about installing an offense and defense and about running plays. It’s about breaking down your pride and pushing you to your physical limit. All of it is done so that when the game is on the line in the fall that you have the stamina, the heart, and the willingness to follow instructions to win the game.

 

In both situations, the fifth time around Jericho with much behind you and much ahead that does not necessarily produce immediate results was a test of the soldiers’ willingness to follow God. Just as the August two-a-days test your willingness to lay it all on the line for the team, we are faced with those situations ourselves at times. I remember in football, there were always people that quit during August two-a-days. Those that wanted the glory of game day without the hellish work of the August two-a-days. Imagine being the soldiers at Jericho. I wonder if any of them quite on the fifth day – thinking it stupid that soldiers should have do this silliness of walking around the city of Jericho in the hot weather of spring and/or summer in Palestine. What’s the point of it. Why can’t the walls just fall down after one pass? Why must we do this day after day with no results. Why can’t we just attack the city now? What is God waiting on?

 

Walking around these walls

I thought by now they’d fall

 

 

For me, I am walking around the walls thinking by now they should have fallen so that I can go into Jericho and begin the fight. Why is it that God gave me the passion, the desire, and the calling to go into ministry but yet nothing has happened? Walking around these walls. Why have the walls not fallen? Why has there not been any opportunity for my to have my entry into the “city” of full-time ministry.

 

Some have suggested that I plant a church if there is nothing opening up for me in established churches. Yes, that’s certainly an alternative. But someone once told me that you should have a burden for a certain people group or location of people to plant a church. He said that you needed to have that burden be so great on you that you can do nothing else but to go that people and/or location and plant a church. You ache for those people and their lostness. I wish that were the case for me. I wish that I had that burden. Maybe I will someday soon. Maybe, I will encounter a people and a place that God just strikes me down to the core to go to them. But maybe right now, God is testing my resolve to follow Him. I am on the fifth pass around Jericho. I still have tomorrow’s single pass and the next day after that there is the 6 passes before the all important final and seventh pass. I think that we all have had times in our past where we have gotten on spiritual highs and dedicated ourselves to be better Christians. Then, something happens where it gets too hard and we quit. Sometimes I think God puts us through spiritual two-a-days like in August preparing for the high school football season.

 

To continue with the football analogy, what if you have made it through two-a-days in August and you haven’t quit. But now it’s football season and you must endure classes all day during the week and then practice after school 4 days a week. Those after school practices can test your resolve too. Three hours of intense work after you have already been in school all day. Then, after you go through all that work during the week, you are not a starter yet. You must put in all that work but you are not a starter on Friday night. That can test your resolve to your team. You put in all the work but you do not get to play under the lights with the stands filled with fans. It’s like walking around the walls of Jericho on that fifth day. You are putting in the work but no results yet. You are doing the work but nothing is happening.

 

It’s that idea of following through on God’s direction even when you do not see immediate results is what struck me this morning when I read this 6th chapter of Joshua this morning. How often do we give up on God’s call on our lives when it gets difficult or when there are no immediate astounding results? That’s what I want us to have in mind as we read it together now:

 

6 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

 

2 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. 3 March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

 

6 So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” 7 And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”

 

8 When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. 9 The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. 10 But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” 11 So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there.

 

12 Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. 14 So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

 

15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted[a] to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.”

 

20 When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. 21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

 

22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” 23 So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.

 

24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house. 25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

 

26 At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho:

 

“At the cost of his firstborn son

    he will lay its foundations;

at the cost of his youngest

    he will set up its gates.”

 

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.

 

The first thing that comes to your mind when reading this chapter/passage is the question, why? Why did God give Joshua all these complicated instructions for battle? I think there are several reasons. First, God wanted it to be undeniably clear that the battle’s outcome would depend on Him, and not upon Israel’s weapons and expertise. To support this claim, it is why priests carry the Ark of the Covenant, not soldiers, lead the Israelites into battle. Second, this strange military maneuver was a test of the faith and resolve of the Israelite people in following the Lord’s instructions completely.

 

That’s the thing. So many times in life we are quitters. We don’t want to put in the work necessary to achieve our goals. We sometimes quit sports teams when we are young because the practices are too hard and we don’t get to start on game day. It takes dedication to the team to put up with the hard hitting practices during the week to then sit on the sidelines waiting for your opportunity to get in the game. You have the heart and the passion for the game, but it’s just not your time to start. What if it takes three years for you to become a starter? Are you willing to continue to work at it till it’s your turn. Are you willing to continue walk around those walls on the fifth day with still more walks to come before the big chance to show what you’ve got?

 

Sometimes, God tests our resolve to follow Him. If He is going to entrust us with much, He wants to see how obedient we are going to be on that fifth trip around Jericho with still much more to come before He grants us the right to join the fight, to jump in the game. Sometimes, you and I find ourselves in spiritual dry places where nothing seems to be happening. We pray and pray and God seems not to hear us. We do and do and work and work but God does not reward us. We keep putting in the effort but nothing seems to come of it. Are you in that place? Are you in a spiritual desert where you feel like you are just going through the motions and you see no results? You can either quit on the fifth time around Jericho or you can keep going. If we quit on the fifth time around Jericho, we will miss that miracle on the seventh time around on the seventh day. How many miracles have we missed because we gave up on God, we gave up on prayer, we gave up on doing what He called us to do, because it was too hard, too mundane, too little immediate results.

 

The thing that keeps being drilled in my mind by God here lately is “keep plowing the field in front of you.” Sometimes we have to keep our land to the plow and till the land for many months before we see crops grow. Sometimes God wants to make sure that we are going to keep our hands to the plow before He reveals the fruit and the harvest. When we get into full-time ministry there are going to be times where the pressure’s on and there is no way out of making the tough decisions, no way out but doing what is unpopular but what is godly, no way out but to follow God instead of following public opinion. He wants to see how dedicated we are in the trusting department before He entrusts us with the souls of the sheep.

 

Are you in dry place? Has God not answered your prayers? Has the miracle you asked for not yet come? Are you studying the Bible but not getting anything out of it? Is your prayer life hit a place where it just feels empty? Is what you are asking God for not coming? Are you a single mom just trying to keep your head above water and there’s no end in sight to the responsibilities of both parents that you are carrying by yourself? Are you praying for your grown child to find their way in life so you don’t have to worry about them anymore but there is no change in them? Are you a couple who has been trying to get pregnant for five years but nothing has happened yet?

 

Keep plowing the field. Keep trusting. Keep praying. Sometimes God breaks down to the point of giving up on Him so that we will know that what He gives us as the answer is truly a God thing. Sometimes, He pushes the envelope with us to see how strong and how long we are willing to trust Him. We are temporary and God is eternal. Sometimes, his clock is different from ours. Sometimes, we have to just keep plowing the field til the miracle comes. Sometimes we have to keep walking around Jericho the fifth time, the sixth time on the sixth day and then the first six times on the seventh day before the miracle come on that seventh trip around. Sometimes we have to pay our dues on our football team before we become a Friday night starter. Sometimes we have to pray for years before our prayers are answered. In the process God has taught us to trust Him and not ourselves.

 

Walking around these walls.

I thought by now they’d fall.

But You have never failed me yet

BUT YOU HAVE NEVER FAILED ME YET.

 

Amen and Amen.

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.

Deuteronomy 31:1-8 (Part 2 of 2)

Joshua Becomes Israel’s Leader

You see it a lot in professional sports. A guy who has stayed one year too long in the league. No longer are they able to perform at the high level they once did, but too proud to say that it’s time to hang it up. One of the famous examples of this phenomenon was Joe Namath. Back in the days before the merger of the American Football League and the National Football League, Joe was one of the first high profile college quarterbacks to accept a contract from the younger, upstart league (the AFL was formed in 1960 while the NFL dates back to the early 1920s). The NFL always got the best the college prospects but this time the New York Jets of the AFL offered Joe Namath a contract that the NFL owners would not be willing to match and Joe became a Jet. He was young, brash, and loud, but he could always back up his mouth with his play on the field. His leading of his New York Jets to victory over the vaunted Baltimore Colts in the 2nd Super Bowl (after the 1969 season) was a landmark moment in the rivalry between the two leagues that ultimately led to the merger of the two. In the years after that Super Bowl, Joe continued to have a couple of really good seasons after that but knee injury after knee injury began to slow him down.

 

He became at the end a shell of the great quarterback that he once was. Yet, he would not retire. He was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams and ended his career quietly and with little fanfare at the end of the 1977 season. There are many such examples in pro sports of hanging on too long and not leaving with dignity. Joe Montana was another great quarterback that spent all but one year of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers but because of pride refused to retire as a 49er when management thought it was time to hand the reins off to the younger (and equally talented) Steve Young. Montana robbed his fans in San Francisco and the NFL in general of that farewell tour for the man who was the face of the franchise for more than a decade. Instead, he still wanted the glory. Although he performed well in KC, he was injured for about half the time he was there. He finally retired after the 1994 season, but what a spectacle it would have been if he had retired as a 49er, going out at the height of his career three years earlier.

 

These are celebrity superstar football players that are in the news, but sometimes we see it right around us. In old traditional Baptist churches, you will see pastors who had been at a church for 30 or 40 years and it is obvious that they have outlived their prime and their greatest effectiveness as pastors. They are a shell of the pastor that they once were, but because of the honor of the powers-that-be at the church, they want to the let the pastor retire on his own terms rather than being forced out. In the Methodist Church where, because of the system that they use, pastors at best will stay at a church for a decade at the most, you will see pastors who refuse to retire and end up being transferred to backwater circuits where they are serving small little country churches when they once pastor large metropolitan churches. Knowing when to quit is important. Knowing when it is time to move on is important.

 

That’s what I thought this morning as I read about the commissioning of Joshua as the new leader of Israel. Man, could you imagine how Moses felt at this moment. Let’s read the passage together, Deuteronomy 31:1-8.

 

31 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. 4 And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

 

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

 

Man, could you imagine being in Moses’ position. He was the grand poobah of the people of Israel and had been for about 42-43 years. He had be the guy in charge that led his people out of Egypt through mighty confrontations with the Pharoah. He had managed the people as they became the people of God at Mt. Sinai. He had an intimate relationship with God himself. He had been in the presence of God more times than you could count. He had developed the system of government and dispute resolution of the Hebrew people. He had ran the nation of people and had put up with a lot of bellyaching and complaining over the years. But God tells him that He will not get to the Promised Land. God tells him that he will die before he gets there. He had done a lot of hard work, thankless work over the years. But he would not get the credit of being the guy who led them to that final destination. You would think He would be bitter, but he was able to address the nation and reaffirm the covenant that the people had with the Lord and to pass on the mantle of leadership to Joshua.

 

What struck me this morning is how we finish is as important as how we start and how we are at the height of our skill. As leaders, we must know when to say when. We must be willing to accept that we are no longer performing at our top level. Also, we must know when it’s time to move on even if we are doing great right where we are. For example, with Moses, he was just what the people of Israel needed when they were a nomadic people who had only periodic skirmishes or battles with other people groups. However, what was called for when entering into the Promised Land was going to be a leader that was a great military leader for one thing and a great leader of a settled nation with boundaries and cities and towns, a standing army, actual buildings of the seat of government and so on. Knowing when its time to turn over the reins of leadership to someone who is better equipped for the new phase of your organization is the toughest thing to do especially when you are still in your prime. Sometimes, it is as important as knowing when to retire.

 

If you are a pastor who can handle the management of a smaller church of 200 or less but you are not equipped to handle a church’s growth past that barrier (where the pastor personally knows and interacts with each member of his flock), it may be best for you to move on to allow someone who is more gifted and talented at managing other pastors and more gifted at administration to take over. That type of pastor is more equipped to take the church to 500 and maybe to a 1000 or more.

 

For us personally, do you know when it’s time to move on? Do you know when it’s time to retire? Are you serving in a capacity at church but refuse to give up your position because of pride? Are you willing to say, this is what is best for the church – to allow someone to take my place who has the ability to move the ministry to the next phase of its life cycle. That is not to say that they are better at leading than you. It is simply recognizing that you may have been the groundbreaker and the builder but the next person is the one who builds on what you have done. This leader may have not been the one who could have founded the ministry. They did not have those talents to create something out of nothing like you, but they do have the skills for the next phase of ministry for your ministry.

 

It is important for us as leaders of the church to do what is best for the church and not necessarily what we want. Sometimes, we get God’s church and Our church confused. I once heard my senior pastor say that the church is the bride of Christ, not my bride. He said we as leaders of the church cannot forget that. We are simply hear to prepare the bride to meet Christ when He returns. We must know when to say when. We must know when it is time for us to allow others to lead and so that God can show us what is next for us in ministry. What if Moses had refused to leave Midian? He would have never experienced the greatest part of His ministry and His greatest moments of closeness to God. Here, though, at the precipice of the Promised Land, Moses was man enough to accept God’s will and pass on the leadership of the people to Joshua.

 

Finishing well is important, whether its retirement or moving on to the next thing that God has for us. Finishing well requires prayer. We must have an intimate prayer life so that pride does not get in the way of letting go to another leader. We must through the counsel of the Holy Spirit through prayer and through God’s Word to be able to hear that it is time to close out this chapter of our lives and move on. Knowing God’s will requires intimacy with him and the humility to understand when it’s time to say when! We need to prepare the way for the next leader. We must also be aware and open to what God has in store for us. What if Peter had refused to leave the fishing boats? What if he had not been open to the Holy Spirit’s influence on his life? Man, what he would have missed? What if Paul had refused to listen to what Jesus had to say in his vision on the Damascus Road? Where would the church be now? Where would the New Testament be (about one half its final canon)? What if we were so prideful in trying to hold on to what we have right now that we refuse to see the opportunity that God has for us next? What if it involves not moving from the church you are at now but changing roles at the church you are at now? We must listen for the Lord to tell us when to stay and when to go. We must do that through being obedient to His counsel through prayer and through God’s Word.

 

Let us learn to finish well. Let us learn to know when its time to stay and when its time to move on. Let us be open to what God has next for us. Let us be willing to hand the reins to another for the good of the bride of Christ. Let us be willing and open to do that so that God can show us what comes after Midian, what comes after the Damascus Road, what comes after the fishing boats, what comes next! Finish well!

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 20:1-20 (Part 3)

Regulations Concerning War

As I have been reading this passage multiple times over the past few days, it was easy to pick out and write about facing opposition and about destroying bad influences in our lives. Those things were pretty obvious. However, those things are wrapped around a couple of verses that have been in the back of my mind the whole time the past two days. The first four verses of the passage were where I drew the inspiration for Sunday’s blog about facing opposition and then vv. 10-20 were the source for yesterday’s blog about staying true to God’s Word and not immersing ourselves in sinful situations. Then, there was vv. 5-9. Why did God inspire Moses to write those words? Why was he sending people home from the army of Israel?

 

I think the best way to understand these verses is through an illustration and through the context of what comes before and after these verses in the passage. The illustration here comes from the 2016 version of my favorite college football program, the Clemson University Tigers. In 2015, the Tigers came within maybe 2 minutes of winning the national championship. They played well enough to win that game against Alabama but there were two plays in that game that cost them the title. The game proved that Clemson and Alabama were equals when it came to talent and desire. However, it was two special teams plays that cost the Tigers the championship. The onside kick by Alabama, a brilliant move by Coach Saban of Alabama, that they recovered (because of something they saw on film about the Tigers’ kickoff return team’s habits), in effect, stole a possession away from Clemson and allowed Alabama to score against an already tired Clemson defense. The second special teams play was a kickoff return by Alabama where a few Tiger coverage guys blew their assignments and got out of position. It is the little things that are the difference in the battles between two equally matched teams.

 

One thing about this past year’s (2016’s) Tigers was that they had great resolve. There was one goal and one goal only that would suit this band of Tiger footballers. It was getting back to the championship game, and, hopefully, against Alabama. Even the upset loss at home to Pittsburgh, it seemed to further steel their resolve to do all the little things right from then on. After the loss to Pittsburgh, the Tigers were one focused football team. Coach Swinney said that this particular team was his easiest to coach. To a man, the players policed each other, encouraged each other, and were willing to do all the hard work on the little things to get back to the championship game. He did not have to create motivation for this team. All of his previous teams were ones that he motivated by saying that no one respects you – so go out and prove you belong among the elite programs in the country. This team, though, he simply said to them, “embrace the target.” Everyone knew the Tigers of 2016 were going to be national championship caliber but the issue would be whether they wanted it bad enough. Ultimately, Coach Swinney said that this team was willing to make the sacrifices, willing to put their hearts on the line, do what was necessary and by far the easiest team to coach he has ever had. There was commitment. There were no distractions for this team. They wanted it. Everybody was all-in. Anything less than a title shot in 2016 was unacceptable. A national championship was their heart’s desire and everyone was “all-in”. The question now becomes, for the Tigers, is now that the leaders of the 2015/2016 Tigers are all gone off to the NFL, will the 2017 team have that same hunger and same commitment. When you look at the 2017 roster and the recruiting class coming in, the 2017 team has the talent to make it to the college football playoffs for a third straight year, but will they be “all-in” like the 2016 team? Will they have that complete focus without letting the distractions of being the reigning national champions get in the way? Will they have that inner drive that compels them to greatness like the 2016 team did?

 

That’s what I thought of this morning when reading about sending people home from the battle preparations and it became clear in the context of the Scripture before and after vv. 5-9 and in context of what I have written about the last two blogs. Let’s read the whole passage now with particular focus on vv. 5-9 and how it fits into the whole passage:

 

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. 3 He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. 4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

 

5 The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. 6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. 7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” 8 Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” 9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

 

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

 

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

 

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?[b] 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

 

In this passage, we see the commanders sending people home from the battle preparations. This fact seemed hard to comprehend at first. But then, I got to thinking about how little things can defeat and how complete focus can lead to victory which led me to think about the 2015 Tigers compared to the 2016 Tigers. Attention to detail and complete focus was that minute little difference between a runner 2015 team and the 2016 team. If we have something that takes our focus away from God, it will defeat us. We must have attention to detail as Christ followers. We can never cruise. When we become complacent as Christians, we take shortcuts in our walk with Christ. We quit doing the little things that bring us victory over sin. When we become focused on other things, we first cut out prayer time. Then, as we become slack, we cut out our bible study and meditation upon what we read. Next, participation in ministries becomes optional. Next, we get into little battles of ego with people and leaders at church. Next, church attendance becomes optional. Next, we are not attending church at all. Next, you can’t tell the difference between us and the culture that we live in … and we accept sinful lifestyles as OK.

 

We cannot half-ass our walk with Christ no more than football players win championships without sacrifice and hard work. We will face opposition and we will face influences that require us to be completely focused on God’s Word and on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in our lives. We must be all-in. Otherwise, we never grow as Christ followers. We never make it to being championship-level Christians. We cannot dabble in the sins of the culture and expect to be championship-level Christians. We cannot overcome opposition to being a Christ follower without that steely-edged resolve to cling to the Father even if it leaves us standing alone against the crowd. Opposition will come to us. Satan wants mediocre Christians that he does not have to worry about. Satan wants there to be Christian soldiers who are distracted and will not be much trouble. He would rather have Christians who must be sent home from battle because they have their love in other things. What Satan worries about is those all-in, do-whatever-it-takes, battle-tested, full-of-passion-for-the-Lord Christians who will not turn and run because of opposition. He is afraid of those who cling to Jesus and believe His Word, study His Word daily, pray daily, submit themselves daily to the Lord. He is afraid of these championship-caliber Christians who are all-in, no guts-no glory kind of Christians. Embrace the target, to borrow Coach Swinney’s phrase. Embrace the target of being an all-in Christ follower. If we are all championship-caliber Christians who were willing to do anything for the Lord, just imagine how different our world would be.

 

Let us no longer accept being mediocre, distracted Christians. Let us be totally focused, all-in Christians. Let us change the world for Jesus Christ! Let us be able to hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

 

Amen and Amen.