Posts Tagged ‘trusting God’

1 Samuel 19:18-24
David Flees to Ramah

Recently, I read the story of miraculous survival from World War II. These story is about surviving the sinking of battleship. On May 24th, 1941 several British warships were tracking the German battleship Bismarck in the North Atlantic. They were trying to catch up to it and sink it. Among the British ships was the pride of the British fleet, the battlecruiser HMS Hood. When they caught up with the Bismarck and her escorts a tremendous battle took place. Just 10 minutes into the battle a shell from the Bismarck hit the Hood and exploded in her magazine, where the Hood’s munitions were. This resulted in a cataclysmic explosion in the rear part of the ship, which sank almost immediately. The bow quickly became vertical and sank a little more slowly, but within three minutes all traces of the Hood were gone. Of the one thousand four hundred and eighteen men on the Hood, only three survived. Only three of almost 1500 men. One of the men who survived, Ted Briggs, told of his harrowing escape. He managed to get outside and started going down a ladder when the water reached him. He attempted to swim away from the ship but the force of the sinking ship pulled him under. He said he remembered struggling for a while, but then realized that it was hopeless as he was being carried further and further down into the ocean’s depths. So he gave up all hope. Then suddenly, he found himself being miraculously propelled back to the surface by a huge air bubble. Some air had escaped from the sinking ship and he was caught up in it. It could be that the windows on the bridge collapsed and released the air that had been trapped there. Wherever it came from it happened right under the spot where Briggs was and he shot to the surface and soon found himself among the burning oil. He was able to hang on until help arrived.

That’s an incredible story. All hope was gone and then suddenly he was saved in the most unexpected of ways. We do not always have stories of miraculous survival at sea, but still there are stories from our lives in our pasts where God has sustained us when no other explanation could be offered. I have stories like that from my past. Stories that scream God’s miraculous provision. One story from my previous job that occurred about 5 years ago is where on the surface it appeared that I had made a major mistake that could have cost me dearly but in the last minute the truth came out about the real cause of the situation and I was exonerated. Only God allowed reason to prevail long enough for the truth to come out in that situation. There are many other situations in my life where God has protected me from the sin of others, my own sins, stupid mistakes that I have made, and, sometimes, even from things that could have physically caused my death. In all these situations, we have bumps and bruises and cuts (either figurative or literal), but God does often snatch us from figurative and literal traps and pitfalls of life because he is not done with us yet. I firmly believe that.

The past should provide us with evidence of God’s provision and protection. However, we often forget it. Every time a new situation arises that seems overwhelming and seems to large and seems like it will defeat us, we forget the past. We are like the Israelites who complained and bellyached in the desert about God not providing for them and completely forgetting all the miracles that had gone down before them in the past. We are often the same. A new problem or a new danger arises and we forget. I am no different from anybody else. Even though God has provided for me and looked after me constantly over the years and saved me from my own mistakes, the bad intentions of others, just plain difficult circumstances, and even physical danger, I forget. Currently, my new job as director of business/staff pastor at Calvary Church just seems so overwhelmingly different and strange. I don’t understand the mechanics of so much that is under my area of responsibility. Although I conceptually understand stuff, the mechanics and procedures are all different and even foreign to me at times. Add to that, one of the people that reports to me just resigned for personal reasons on Thursday. So, my weekend has been a whirlwind of self-doubt and self-effacing emotions. Wondering why I even came here. Wondering. Wondering. Wondering. All self-confidence I had about myself just a short month ago in a decade long tenure in one position in the secular world. All the confidence I had about my church finance capabilities gained in a much simpler accounting system at LifeSong is gone now that I am dealing with the seemingly more complex systems here. How this one event of losing an employee rocked my world to the point of serious self-doubt is no doubt the work of Satan.

How quickly we forget God’s provision. I was not always the confident dude at Fujikura America or at LifeSong. The confidence gained and displayed in the second half of the years those dual roles back in South Carolina came after years of just figuring stuff out and God directing my steps toward understanding. God directing my steps after understanding to taking things and making them simpler and more efficient. God directing my steps to better seeing how all the pieces fit together. God protected me in those early years as learned. I must remember that every new job is like starting over as a new baby and re-learning to walk again.

When I read this morning’s passage, 1 Samuel 19:18-24, it reminded me that God is my protector and provider and that he has proven it over and over again over the years. David’s protection by God in this passage from Saul once again is a reminder that I should never doubt whether God will provide. Let’s read the passage now:

18 So David escaped and went to Ramah to see Samuel, and he told him all that Saul had done to him. Then Samuel took David with him to live at Naioth. 19 When the report reached Saul that David was at Naioth in Ramah, 20 he sent troops to capture him. But when they arrived and saw Samuel leading a group of prophets who were prophesying, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men, and they also began to prophesy. 21 When Saul heard what had happened, he sent other troops, but they, too, prophesied! The same thing happened a third time. 22 Finally, Saul himself went to Ramah and arrived at the great well in Secu. “Where are Samuel and David?” he demanded.

“They are at Naioth in Ramah,” someone told him.

23 But on the way to Naioth in Ramah the Spirit of God came even upon Saul, and he, too, began to prophesy all the way to Naioth! 24 He tore off his clothes and lay naked on the ground all day and all night, prophesying in the presence of Samuel. The people who were watching exclaimed, “What? Is even Saul a prophet?”

In this passage, we see again for like maybe the fourth time, the Lord saved David from certain death. Tow times he was saved by Saul’s kids (Jonathan and Michal each saved David’s life by the actions they took) and once there was a spear thrown at David that just missed him and stuck in the wall instead of David. Now, God preserves David by causing the Holy Spirit to descend on Saul and his warriors so that David could escape.

It is a reminder to us all that God provides for those who love Him. It may not always be in the way that we want. It may not always be without bumps and bruises. It may not be without the testing of our faith. It may not be without moments where we doubt whether the Lord is watching over us. I may not be without moments where we wonder why God led us to where we are. It may not be without moments where we wonder if we have done the right thing. It may not be without moments where we wonder if what we are doing is actually in God’s will or just us mistaking it for God’s will.

Those doubts that come from Satan must be offset by the memory that God is with those who love him. Those doubts must be offset by our memory of what God has done for us in the past. Those doubts must be offset by remembrance of how God provides for His people in His Word, the Bible. Satan loves it when we buy into his lies about our self-worth and whether we are following God’s will. When he takes our confidence in God away, he makes us ineffective. When he makes us ineffective, he wins. Just ask Adam and Eve.

We must remember what God has done. There is a prayer from Deuteronomy that I must always keep in mind as I progress down this new and unknown path at Calvary Church. It says, “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Amen and Amen.

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1 Samuel 14:16-46 (Part 2 of 3)
Israel Defeats the Philistine & Saul’s Foolish Oath

What would you do? What if you told God that you would do whatever he asked and then crunch time came? Most of us are like Peter at the first Lord’s Supper who vowed that he would die for Jesus rather than desert him. Then crunch time came. He crumbled. He denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. He was afraid. He was scared. He was relying on himself rather than on God. He valued his earthly existence more than his heavenly reward. That night of denying Jesus in crunch time ended up being the fuel that powered Peter for the rest of his ministry. When Jesus forgave him and commissioned him to look after Jesus’ flock, Peter felt as though he didn’t deserve the love and forgiveness he got from Jesus and it fueled his passion for the gospel the rest of his life. When we read the Bible, we know in advance that Peter is going to deny Jesus three times. We have heard the story since we were children so we know it’s going to happen.

But what if we were there that night. What if you and I had been with Jesus for three years, virtually day and night, when we not out fishing or spending time with our families. These guys had been with Jesus for those three years and they felt pretty strongly that they were tight with Jesus. They had ate meals together. They had traveled together from town to town. They had sat around campfires. I can envision that at those campfires, there was laughter and sometimes jokes (seeing as how God invented humor and Jesus was God in the flesh). I bet those were some great times. And I bet around those campfires, Jesus had them captivated with his lessons about God’s Word and about the meaning of life and about anything. Jesus I bet was a captivating small group leader. These guys had done everything with Jesus and they knew he loved them and he knew that they admired and loved him in return. So, at the Lord’s Supper, the thought that they would betray him was beyond comprehension for them. They thought they had what it took. They thought their love for Jesus and their loyalty to Him was greater than any fear of losing their life. But, then, crunch time came. They all scattered. They all crapped out. They all shrunk away from the moment. In the grand scheme of things, God used it to ensure the establishment and survival of God’s church but they made these grand vows to Jesus that they would never betray or abandon Him but when it came crunch time, they bailed.

Some of us find ourselves there. We may grand vows to God. We may say to the Lord while we live in our cushy little worlds and our safe jobs and surrounded by our families and the safety of the known and familiar that we will follow wherever God leads us. You may even pray earnest prayers from deep in your soul that you will leave everything behind and follow wherever God leads you in addition to making public vows of the same.

Then, crunch time comes. God provides the opportunity to keep your vow that you have made and the prayers you have been praying. Then, the fear comes. The doubt comes. You then list the 100 reasons why right now is not the best time for me to fulfill my vow and act on answered prayers. We begin to think of how hard it is to follow the Lord in what He is asking us to do. We shrink away. We think that we cannot do what we have vowed we would do. We begin thinking about security and safety and our kids and maybe if you are lucky enough to have them, grandkids, and our life that we have made in the place that we are. We tell the Lord then, there are too many obstacles. We look horizontally instead of toward the heavens. We think of our control and not His. We wonder how we would actually live in doing what God has called us to do and what we have vowed to do. Have you ever had a crunch time like that with the Lord? Have you shied away from a vow that you have made to the Lord because when it came down to it, you did not trust your own power to do it rather than trusting the Lord to empower you and keep you and make it glorifying in some way to the kingdom?

I think we all have those moments where in the safety and security of the world we know that we vow to God that we will do this for Him or that for Him such as dropping everything to be a missionary in a foreign land, or to be a church planter in Connecticut when you live now in little ol’ Lyman, SC, or to go into the ministry full time, or to even just start tithing when your budget is tight as a drum right now. When it’s crunch time, when God presents you with the opportunity to follow through on your promise to Him, what will you do? Trust yourself and shy away or will you trust God and move forward in doing what you promised God you would do?

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning when I read this passage. It is how Saul talked a big game about being the Lord’s man but really in the bottom line, he trusted himself more. Everything that he may have couched in terms of honoring God, it was really about him trusting himself more than he trusted God. That led him to make rash decisions. That led him to make rash vows. That led him to make foolish vows. Another example of this I trust myself more than God mentality of Saul can be found in this passage. Let’s read this passage now, 1 Samuel 14:16-46:

 

16 Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah of Benjamin saw a strange sight—the vast army of Philistines began to melt away in every direction.[a] 17 “Call the roll and find out who’s missing,” Saul ordered. And when they checked, they found that Jonathan and his armor bearer were gone.

18 Then Saul shouted to Ahijah, “Bring the ephod here!” For at that time Ahijah was wearing the ephod in front of the Israelites.[b] 19 But while Saul was talking to the priest, the confusion in the Philistine camp grew louder and louder. So Saul said to the priest, “Never mind; let’s get going!”[c]

20 Then Saul and all his men rushed out to the battle and found the Philistines killing each other. There was terrible confusion everywhere. 21 Even the Hebrews who had previously gone over to the Philistine army revolted and joined in with Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of the Israelites. 22 Likewise, the men of Israel who were hiding in the hill country of Ephraim joined the chase when they saw the Philistines running away. 23 So the Lord saved Israel that day, and the battle continued to rage even beyond Beth-aven.

24 Now the men of Israel were pressed to exhaustion that day, because Saul had placed them under an oath, saying, “Let a curse fall on anyone who eats before evening—before I have full revenge on my enemies.” So no one ate anything all day, 25 even though they had all found honeycomb on the ground in the forest. 26 They didn’t dare touch the honey because they all feared the oath they had taken.

27 But Jonathan had not heard his father’s command, and he dipped the end of his stick into a piece of honeycomb and ate the honey. After he had eaten it, he felt refreshed.[d] 28 But one of the men saw him and said, “Your father made the army take a strict oath that anyone who eats food today will be cursed. That is why everyone is weary and faint.”

29 “My father has made trouble for us all!” Jonathan exclaimed. “A command like that only hurts us. See how refreshed I am now that I have eaten this little bit of honey. 30 If the men had been allowed to eat freely from the food they found among our enemies, think how many more Philistines we could have killed!”

31 They chased and killed the Philistines all day from Micmash to Aijalon, growing more and more faint. 32 That evening they rushed for the battle plunder and butchered the sheep, goats, cattle, and calves, but they ate them without draining the blood. 33 Someone reported to Saul, “Look, the men are sinning against the Lord by eating meat that still has blood in it.”

“That is very wrong,” Saul said. “Find a large stone and roll it over here. 34 Then go out among the troops and tell them, ‘Bring the cattle, sheep, and goats here to me. Kill them here, and drain the blood before you eat them. Do not sin against the Lord by eating meat with the blood still in it.’”

So that night all the troops brought their animals and slaughtered them there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first of the altars he built to the Lord.

36 Then Saul said, “Let’s chase the Philistines all night and plunder them until sunrise. Let’s destroy every last one of them.”

His men replied, “We’ll do whatever you think is best.”

But the priest said, “Let’s ask God first.”

37 So Saul asked God, “Should we go after the Philistines? Will you help us defeat them?” But God made no reply that day.

38 Then Saul said to the leaders, “Something’s wrong! I want all my army commanders to come here. We must find out what sin was committed today. 39 I vow by the name of the Lord who rescued Israel that the sinner will surely die, even if it is my own son Jonathan!” But no one would tell him what the trouble was.

40 Then Saul said, “Jonathan and I will stand over here, and all of you stand over there.”

And the people responded to Saul, “Whatever you think is best.”

41 Then Saul prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, please show us who is guilty and who is innocent.[e]” Then they cast sacred lots, and Jonathan and Saul were chosen as the guilty ones, and the people were declared innocent.

42 Then Saul said, “Now cast lots again and choose between me and Jonathan.” And Jonathan was shown to be the guilty one.

43 “Tell me what you have done,” Saul demanded of Jonathan.

“I tasted a little honey,” Jonathan admitted. “It was only a little bit on the end of my stick. Does that deserve death?”

44 “Yes, Jonathan,” Saul said, “you must die! May God strike me and even kill me if you do not die for this.”

45 But the people broke in and said to Saul, “Jonathan has won this great victory for Israel. Should he die? Far from it! As surely as the Lord lives, not one hair on his head will be touched, for God helped him do a great deed today.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

46 Then Saul called back the army from chasing the Philistines, and the Philistines returned home.

In this passage, we see that Saul made this vow because was overly anxious to defeat the Philistines and wanted to give his soldiers an incentive to finish the battle quickly. In the Bible, God never asked His people to make oaths or vow, but, if they did, he expected them to keep them (Leviticus 5:4, Numbers 30). Saul’s vow is not something God would have condoned, but still it was a vow. And Jonathon, though he was not aware that the vow had been made, was nevertheless guilty of breaking it. Saul made a vow that risked the life of his own child just like Jephthah in Judges 11. Fortunately, Saul’s own people intervened to prevent the heir to the throne from being killed. This vow was not intended to honor God. It was intended to get what Saul wanted. He was not thinking of God’s power. He was thinking of his own will. He wanted what he wanted. He made a show of honoring God but he was really thinking under His own power and not trusting God. If he had trusted God, he would not have made such a foolish vow. The foolishness of his vow is just ample evidence of how Saul trusted himself more than God.

It’s crunch time. Do you trust God or do you trust your own power (even though you may couch it in terms of God just doesn’t want you to do what you promised right now). Maybe, it is time for you to put your trust in the Lord. Maybe instead of thinking and praying about what you will do for the Lord and it being some far off dream, there will come a day when you have make a choice. Do what you have promised God and even prayed to God to come true or shy away? Is following God beyond the comfort zone more than you are really willing to do? Is participating in outreach events ultimately the most you are willing to do? Is going on a mission trip ultimately as far as you are willing to follow God even though you have promised God that you would leave everything behind and follow Him if he sent you to Haiti or southernmost Mexico, or Japan, or Iraq, or Iran, or wherever? Have you prayed for these things but really in the back of your mind you knew it would never come to pass so realllly your faith would never have to be tested. What if it was actually crunch time? There are 100 reasons not to do what you promised to God and only 1 reason to do what you promised to God. Faith in God to provide for you and protect you and trust that some kingdom good will come our out of our faith in Him. Do you trust God or yourself (like Saul)?

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 21:1-45 (Part 2 of 2)

The Towns Given to the Levites

Sometimes, we forget to enjoy the journey. We are so hellbent on getting to our goal that we forget to enjoy the moment. Sometimes in waiting for a goal to be fulfilled, we forget to enjoy the precious moments along the journey that taught us so much. Sometimes, we get angry and frustrated because it taking God so long to fulfill the promises that we believe He has made to us. Sometimes, the journey to the promise is the thing that God is teaching us.

 

When I look back on six years ago when I felt for the call to ministry, I almost immediately enrolled in seminary. I enjoyed all three years of seminary en route to my Master of Christian Ministry (MCM) degree. For some reason though, upon walking across the stage at graduation, I expected some church, some parachurch organization, some non-profit, or even my own church to be waiting on the other side with the gift that I had been waiting on. A chance to prove myself in full-time ministry. However, nothing happened immediately. I began to wonder and wander. But a part-time opportunity came up at my church that seemed to be the dream come true. I would work part-time there (in addition to my staying at my regular job) for a small monthly salary (it was nominal but that was not the point – I was on staff). The promise was that it would become a full-time job as a pastor of discipleship and administration at some point in the future when the money for the church was there consistently to be able to support an additional full-time salary. Budgets are always tight at our church no matter the year, but giving grows about 4-5% per year. However, within the first year of working “part-time with a promise” the church had the opportunity to rehire, this time on a full-time basis, a former pastor who had left us to go plant a campus of our church in Connecticut. It was now self-sufficient, mostly, and one of the plant team members had grown so much spiritually that the reins of the pulpit were handed to him. This former pastor was then rehired as the discipleship pastor back here at our church. Once he was on board, the elder team was reorganized and one of the new aspects of that reorganization was that the worship pastor was made also the executive pastor to take much of the day-to-day church operations responsibilities off the lead (founding) pastor. So, as you can see, the two avenues that were once out there as my route to full-time employment had changed – discipleship and administration. Both filled by full-time pastors other than myself. But most assuredly I cannot blame them for what they did. Our pastor of discipleship is an amazing man. I am a total project and he is an accomplished discipler of men and women. He was that free agent that they had to go out and grab when he became available. I get that. Our church is so headed in the right discipleship direction with him on staff. It was a stroke of genius inspired by God to bring him back to our Lyman, SC staff.

 

The elder team carved out responsibilities for me to fulfill under the title of director of finance and administration working up under the new executive pastor position. However, I knew from the time that the new discipleship pastor was brought on board as a full-time pastor, then the hiring of a full-time youth pastor near the same time, and the expansion of responsibilities for the worship pastor as the executive pastor and knowing the finances of the church, the future of me being a full-time member of the pastoral staff at my church would be delayed for a long-time as the church worked on what the needed priorities were. As well, there came a point too in my limited capacity there I had accomplished a lot by a year and a half later. When you combine that with what we had accomplished when I was completely volunteer as the finance director, we had accomplished a lot in 5 years. We had implemented an accounting software package that enabled us to understand the church’s performance. We had gone back and developed financial statements all the way back to almost the beginning of this young church. We had refinanced the church’s building debt. We had defined roles and responsibilities. We had developed policies and procedures. We had hired a maintenance contractor service. We had identified all the things that were wrong with the church buildings and began working on them. We had developed and refined the budgeting process. We had adequately satisfied the bank’s documentation needs each year. We even were able to secure a line of credit for the church to help ease the peaks and valleys of giving. So much was accomplished, particularly during that year and half I was on part time staff.

 

However, God had laid it on my heart that my salary from the church was a drag on the finances of the church and that it would be 5 to 10 years before they could bring me on full-time. It was time to go back to volunteer status and free up $1k of cash plus taxes per month. I just didn’t feel right any longer just working part-time with no real target in sight. After much prayer, I went back to volunteer status as of April of this year. Sure, I still manage the financial reporting of the church and am still a teacher in the discipleship team, but the dream of being a full-time pastor seems to have ended or been delayed or something.

 

Maybe it is not here. Maybe there is some people group that I am going to meet where God just lays it on me to go there and plant a church. Maybe, like in the show, How I Met Your Mother, when Stella tells Ted that though he is alone now, his perfect soulmate is out there, somewhere, and “she’s getting here as fast as she can!” Maybe, there’s an already existing church that God has in store for me and she “is getting here as fast as she can!” Stella told Ted that he HAD trust that! Likewise, I have to trust that! Maybe, this time at LifeSong is preparation for me to develop a new ministry out of our church. That idea has been gelling in my mind as part of deciding what my doctoral thesis will be about it. Maybe, I can translate that doctoral thesis plan into an actual plan of action and ministry to be operated out of our church (because that was the original laboratory for what my thesis is going to be all about).

 

There’s a lot of maybe’s and nothing is clear at this point. But like Ted trusting that his woman of his dreams was getting to him as fast as she could, I must trust that God is working out the details of my true ministry where I will spend the remainder of my days on this earth. That idea is working its way out. It is getting here as fast as it can. I must. I HAVE to trust that from a God who keeps his promises.

 

It was that idea that God always, ALWAYS, keeps his promises that struck me when I l re-read this passage this morning – particularly those last three verses. Let’s read the passage together now:

21 Now the family heads of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the other tribal families of Israel 2 at Shiloh in Canaan and said to them, “The Lord commanded through Moses that you give us towns to live in, with pasturelands for our livestock.” 3 So, as the Lord had commanded, the Israelites gave the Levites the following towns and pasturelands out of their own inheritance:

 

4 The first lot came out for the Kohathites, according to their clans. The Levites who were descendants of Aaron the priest were allotted thirteen towns from the tribes of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin. 5 The rest of Kohath’s descendants were allotted ten towns from the clans of the tribes of Ephraim, Dan and half of Manasseh.

 

6 The descendants of Gershon were allotted thirteen towns from the clans of the tribes of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan.

 

7 The descendants of Merari, according to their clans, received twelve towns from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Zebulun.

 

8 So the Israelites allotted to the Levites these towns and their pasturelands, as the Lord had commanded through Moses.

 

9 From the tribes of Judah and Simeon they allotted the following towns by name 10 (these towns were assigned to the descendants of Aaron who were from the Kohathite clans of the Levites, because the first lot fell to them):

 

11 They gave them Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), with its surrounding pastureland, in the hill country of Judah. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) 12 But the fields and villages around the city they had given to Caleb son of Jephunneh as his possession.

 

13 So to the descendants of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron (a city of refuge for one accused of murder), Libnah, 14 Jattir, Eshtemoa, 15 Holon, Debir, 16 Ain, Juttah and Beth Shemesh, together with their pasturelands—nine towns from these two tribes.

 

17 And from the tribe of Benjamin they gave them Gibeon, Geba, 18 Anathoth and Almon, together with their pasturelands—four towns.

 

19 The total number of towns for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, came to thirteen, together with their pasturelands.

 

20 The rest of the Kohathite clans of the Levites were allotted towns from the tribe of Ephraim:

 

21 In the hill country of Ephraim they were given Shechem (a city of refuge for one accused of murder) and Gezer, 22 Kibzaim and Beth Horon, together with their pasturelands—four towns.

 

23 Also from the tribe of Dan they received Eltekeh, Gibbethon, 24 Aijalon and Gath Rimmon, together with their pasturelands—four towns.

 

25 From half the tribe of Manasseh they received Taanach and Gath Rimmon, together with their pasturelands—two towns.

 

26 All these ten towns and their pasturelands were given to the rest of the Kohathite clans.

 

27 The Levite clans of the Gershonites were given:

 

from the half-tribe of Manasseh,

 

Golan in Bashan (a city of refuge for one accused of murder) and Be Eshterah, together with their pasturelands—two towns;

 

28 from the tribe of Issachar,

 

Kishion, Daberath, 29 Jarmuth and En Gannim, together with their pasturelands—four towns;

 

30 from the tribe of Asher,

 

Mishal, Abdon, 31 Helkath and Rehob, together with their pasturelands—four towns;

 

32 from the tribe of Naphtali,

 

Kedesh in Galilee (a city of refuge for one accused of murder), Hammoth Dor and Kartan, together with their pasturelands—three towns.

 

33 The total number of towns of the Gershonite clans came to thirteen, together with their pasturelands.

 

34 The Merarite clans (the rest of the Levites) were given:

 

from the tribe of Zebulun,

 

Jokneam, Kartah, 35 Dimnah and Nahalal, together with their pasturelands—four towns;

 

36 from the tribe of Reuben,

 

Bezer, Jahaz, 37 Kedemoth and Mephaath, together with their pasturelands—four towns;

 

38 from the tribe of Gad,

 

Ramoth in Gilead (a city of refuge for one accused of murder), Mahanaim, 39 Heshbon and Jazer, together with their pasturelands—four towns in all.

 

40 The total number of towns allotted to the Merarite clans, who were the rest of the Levites, came to twelve.

 

41 The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all, together with their pasturelands. 42 Each of these towns had pasturelands surrounding it; this was true for all these towns.

 

43 So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

 

In this passage, we see that God proved faithful in fulfilling every promise He had given to Israel. Fulfillment of some promises took a good long while, but “not a single one of all the good promises the LORD had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled.” God’s promises will be fulfilled according to His timetable, not ours, but we know His words is sure. The more we learn of the promises of God has fulfilled and continues to fulfill, the easier it is to hope for yet to come. Sometimes, we become impatient, wanting God to act a certain way right now. Instead, we should faithfully do what we know He wants us to do right now and trust Him for the future.

 

We get impatient with God at times, when He does not dispense what we want from the vending machine fast enough. We may feel the need to bang on the vending machine. We may feel the need to shake the vending machine. We may get all pouty about why God has not come through on the promises He has made to us. We may get all pouty because the dream has worked out the way we planned it. I imagine that the Levites may have been wondering the same thing after wandering in the desert for 40 years and then watching the assignment of the lands to the tribes and nothing was happening for them. Finally, God gives them cities and towns scattered throughout the nation as their inheritance.

 

God never fails to keep a promise. If He has called you to ministry, He will make a way. It may not be today. It may not be five years from now. It may only happen when you quit trying to set the agenda for God. God’s plan for my ultimate ministry will fall into place in God’s timing not mine. He will bring it and it will be abundantly clear. It will be that aha moment that everything falls into place for me to do exactly what He has planned for me. He’s getting the plan together right now and everything is about my readiness and that ministry opportunity coming together at that right moment in time according to his plan.

 

None of this is wasted. Every bit of everything I have ever gone through is preparation for that intersection moment of perfect clarity, passion and burden that lies ahead. I must trust in that. It is His timetable. It is His plan. And He is bringing it to fruition even as I sit here and right about it being out there somewhere. And God is getting it here as fast as He can. I have to trust that. I am trusting that. God is bringing my dream ministry to me as fast as He can. In the meantime, I should enjoy the journey. I should enjoy what God is teaching me that is to ready me for what is next.

 

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 16:1-17:18 (Part 1 of 2)
The Land Given to Ephraim and West Mannasseh

There is a line from that wonderful movie that I adore about Southern women, the most wonderfully complex creatures on the planet, that seems to ring true for all of us. Shelby tells her mom, “I would rather 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special!” Her mom was arguing vehemently against her having a child (Shelby was a diabetic) because it could kill her during pregnancy, childbirth, or simply cut short her life even though she might be able to deliver the child. Shelby was telling her mom that the risks were worth getting the reward of having a child. So many times in life, we will shy away from some big prize because the work to get there may be risky or too hard.

Some of us may want to be doctors when we are kids but then we find out that there is a whole lot of school that you have to go through to get there. We rationalize away that we cannot afford it. We rationalize away that it would be too difficult to not only go to college but to medical school, do an internship while in school, and then do a residency after medical school and all that before you can begin earning a living as a doctor. It is a long, hard rode that few choose and even fewer succeed at. However, the rewards for those who make it through the grueling process. You are typically set financially if you are just even an average doctor. However, the primary reward is to be able to help people in times of sickness about which they can do nothing for themselves. Some of the most joyful people that I encountered growing up were the doctors who dotted the churches that my dad served. These were people who truly cared about helping people while balancing that against making a living for themselves so that they could do good for their families and their churches.

Some of us dream of being missionaries or ministers as second careers. Some of us want to fight against injustice in the world in the name of Jesus Christ. Some of us want to go to Hong Kong, Southeast Asia, India, Eastern Europe, or anywhere to fight against sex trafficking and modern slavery. Many of us envision ourselves as going to the Middle East to predominantly Muslim countries to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of us envision ourselves as missionaries in third world countries such as Haiti or in any of the countries of the continent of Africa. Many of us envision ourselves as pastors because we love God and His Word and we study it daily and incessantly. We may say that we want to serve the Lord full time and whine about why it is not happening. But when it comes down to it, are we willing to make the sacrifices to do what we are called to do.

Are you willing to give up your current life to follow God’s calling on your life. Or are you postponing away your life with excuses? Are you impassioned about ending sex trafficking to the point of wearing a Red X t-shirt and show how hip you are to current causes? However, are you willing to risk it all, leave the cushy lifestyle here in the United States and go to India and live in abject poverty to help prevent 12 year old girls from being sucked into or sold into sex slavery or once there help them get out? Is it that passionate for you? Or would you rather feign support for the cause and maybe even throw money at it but tolerate its existence by saying there is nothing that I personally can do.

Are you willing to give your all to plant a church or seek out a ministry position and see yourself preaching and teaching as God has called you to do? Has God called you and given you a passion for being a missionary to a third world country or to a nation dominated by another religion than Christianity? Are you willing to make the sacrifices to make that happen when it comes down to crunch time? You may use excuses such as financial situations, such as an unsupportive spouse, such as having kids locked into a materialistic culture that would revolt against you if did this.

God does not give us a calling for the simple. God does not give us a calling for the easy. A calling is a calling because it is hard. It is difficult. It will require sacrifice. God’s callings on our lives will be the toughest thing we will ever do.

That idea of shying away from what God calls us to do is what came to mind when I read these two chapters and again I read about not following God’s explicit instructions to drive out the pagan cultures of Canaan. Each tribe failed in this directive in one way or another. It reminds me of us, those who talk a big game but are not willing to do the hard work. Let’s look at these two chapters now:

16 The allotment for Joseph began at the Jordan, east of the springs of Jericho, and went up from there through the desert into the hill country of Bethel. 2 It went on from Bethel (that is, Luz),[a] crossed over to the territory of the Arkites in Ataroth, 3 descended westward to the territory of the Japhletites as far as the region of Lower Beth Horon and on to Gezer, ending at the Mediterranean Sea.

4 So Manasseh and Ephraim, the descendants of Joseph, received their inheritance.

5 This was the territory of Ephraim, according to its clans:

The boundary of their inheritance went from Ataroth Addar in the east to Upper Beth Horon 6 and continued to the Mediterranean Sea. From Mikmethath on the north it curved eastward to Taanath Shiloh, passing by it to Janoah on the east. 7 Then it went down from Janoah to Ataroth and Naarah, touched Jericho and came out at the Jordan. 8 From Tappuah the border went west to the Kanah Ravine and ended at the Mediterranean Sea. This was the inheritance of the tribe of the Ephraimites, according to its clans. 9 It also included all the towns and their villages that were set aside for the Ephraimites within the inheritance of the Manassites.

10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor.

17 This was the allotment for the tribe of Manasseh as Joseph’s firstborn, that is, for Makir, Manasseh’s firstborn. Makir was the ancestor of the Gileadites, who had received Gilead and Bashan because the Makirites were great soldiers. 2 So this allotment was for the rest of the people of Manasseh—the clans of Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher and Shemida. These are the other male descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph by their clans.

3 Now Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons but only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. 4 They went to Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the leaders and said, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our relatives.” So Joshua gave them an inheritance along with the brothers of their father, according to the Lord’s command. 5 Manasseh’s share consisted of ten tracts of land besides Gilead and Bashan east of the Jordan, 6 because the daughters of the tribe of Manasseh received an inheritance among the sons. The land of Gilead belonged to the rest of the descendants of Manasseh.

7 The territory of Manasseh extended from Asher to Mikmethath east of Shechem. The boundary ran southward from there to include the people living at En Tappuah. 8 (Manasseh had the land of Tappuah, but Tappuah itself, on the boundary of Manasseh, belonged to the Ephraimites.) 9 Then the boundary continued south to the Kanah Ravine. There were towns belonging to Ephraim lying among the towns of Manasseh, but the boundary of Manasseh was the northern side of the ravine and ended at the Mediterranean Sea. 10 On the south the land belonged to Ephraim, on the north to Manasseh. The territory of Manasseh reached the Mediterranean Sea and bordered Asher on the north and Issachar on the east.

11 Within Issachar and Asher, Manasseh also had Beth Shan, Ibleam and the people of Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo, together with their surrounding settlements (the third in the list is Naphoth[b]).

12 Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. 13 However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely.

14 The people of Joseph said to Joshua, “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people, and the Lord has blessed us abundantly.”

15 “If you are so numerous,” Joshua answered, “and if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites.”

16 The people of Joseph replied, “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have chariots fitted with iron, both those in Beth Shan and its settlements and those in the Valley of Jezreel.”

17 But Joshua said to the tribes of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment 18 but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have chariots fitted with iron and though they are strong, you can drive them out.”

Throughout Joshua, you will see the phrase, “they did not drive out” the people of the land. The fact that they did not do so was against God’s explicit commands in Joshua 13:1-6. The failure to completely remove the pagan people and their idol worshiping religions from the land would cause many problems for the nation of Israel, though it does not seem that way here at the beginning. The book of Judges records many of these struggles. Another thing that you will notice in these two chapters is that there is a contrasting attitude toward settling the promised land by these two tribes compared to Caleb. Caleb took what God gave him and moved ahead to fulfill God’s plan for him. He was confident that God would help him drive out the wicked inhabitants and the he would soon fully occupy his land. In contrast, the two tribes of Joseph were given rich land and lots of it, but they were afraid to drive out the inhabitants and take full possession of the land. Instead, they asked for more land so that they would not have to fight to win full control of their allotted land.

Why is it that we will tolerate things that we know are evil because it is too hard to do the work to drive it out. Why do we talk about sex trafficking but tolerate its continued existence. Why the hell are we not mad as hell enough to en masse go do something about it. Why do we tolerate this evil? It took William Wilberforce a lifetime to get the British Empire to outlaw slavery in the empire. It took convincing an entire empire that slavery was wrong and could not be tolerated. It will take the same en masse conviction of entire nations, particularly ours as the most powerful nation in the world to end this modern slavery known as sex trafficking. Doing nothing is tolerating its existence and allowing its evil to exist and continue.

Are you willing to follow your calling into the ministry or to the missionary field? Are you willing to chuck it all and depend on God to provide for you and your family. Are you willing to trust that God will convince your spouse that it is the right thing to do. Are you willing to trust God to change the hearts of your spoiled American children entrenched in the gadgetry of our culture. Are you willing to trust Him yourself to guide you into the unknown most craziest, most unbelievable, thing you have ever done? What if God removes every roadblock in your life that you throw up to him as to why you can’t following His calling? One by one He removes them. What now? It is you and God, are you willing to do the hard work that may not even get mentioned in your church newsletter? Are you willing to dive into the deep end of the pool when all your excuses are gone? Are you willing to follow God’s call on your life – for real, not just talk, not just dreams, but for real?

We may die in the effort to bring the gospel to third world countries. We may die in delivering the gospel to Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist nations. We may go broke and die penniless in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. We may die in trying to save someone from the injustice of human slavery. We may feel as though we made no impact at all save a few girls that we helped smuggle out of slavery. We may serve for years without any visible evidence other than God called us to do it.

But at the end of the day, in following God’s call on our lives, wouldn’t you rather have had 30 minutes of wonderful rather than a lifetime of nothing special. It was Thoreau who said, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation!” Thoreau was saying the same thing as Shelby. We can regret our ways to the grave. All the things we should have done. The calling on our lives that we should have followed.

What is God calling you to do? What is that 30 minutes of wonderful that God has called you to do? Or are you going to make excuses such that it becomes a lifetime where you lived a nothing special life? God is calling each of us to real ministry whether its in our neighborhood, our town, our state, our region, our nation, our world? He is calling you to something? What is it? Are you willing to take the risks necessary to follow God?

30 minutes of wonderful or a life of nothing special, a life of quiet desperation? How much do you trust God? He is calling you to something wonderful….what’s it gonna be? 30 minutes of wonderful or a life of nothing special, filled with regret, that you did not follow God’s calling on your life…

Amen and Amen.

Joshua 8:1-29 (Part 2 of 3)

The Israelites Defeat Ai

If you are like me, one of the biggest questions that I have after reading this passage was “Why was it OK for the Israelites to keep the plunder, the spoils of victory, at Ai but it was not OK to do it at Jericho?” It is a puzzling question. Does it bother you that God seems to be inconsistent here? If God is a God of truth, then what is true in one situation is always true, right? Is God displaying situational ethics here? What’s the deal?

 

It kind of reminds me of the fact that as a father we know the difference between a boy that is really smitten with our daughters and those who just want a physical conquest. I have a 10 ½ month old granddaughter now and realize the world that she will grow up in will be completely different from the world that I raised her mother in and it was worse than the world that I grew up in from a moral values standpoint. I just worry about my granddaughter and the pressure she will face from guys growing up. She is already a very beautiful little girl at less than one year old. I imagine that she will grew up to be a knock-out of a girl just by how cute she is now, about how expressive her face is, and so on. She is just cute and that’s not just me talking. So many people talk about how gorgeous she is already at such a young age. So, I know that as she becomes a middle schooler and later a high schooler and then college and then early adulthood, that there will be guys. She will be very feminine I know that. Her mother is a girly girl. 100% girl. Loves being a woman. She loves all the things that girls love. She will make sure that her daughter is feminine. But being a beautiful women in this world today makes them vulnerable to every dude who wants a notch in his belt. Women are more toys to boys that they ever were before. Today’s world objectifies the female body in a way that was only hinted at when I was a teenage boy.

 

Why do I worry about my granddaughter? I was a teenage boy once. I know what that was like. You are ruled by one thing – our testosterone. We are ruled by our lusts when we are teenage and early twenty year old boys. We will do anything and say anything to achieve our goals. I know what that was like. I will be able to spot that from a mile away. Just by the way he will look at my granddaughter,  just by the way he says things to her and what he says to her, I will know. The one thing that I will know is that to Ralyn, she will think her dad and her granddad are being inconsistent when it comes to the boys that she will date. We will like some. We will loathe others. She, as a girl, will not understand why and her dad and I will not be really able to explain it to her. There will be things that her dad and her granddad will sense about the boys she brings around us that cannot be explained but just known by us because we are men. There will be boys that just want to take Ralyn to bed and use her up and throw her away and move on to the next conquest. And there will be possibly and hopefully those boys that are just smitten with Ralyn and will treat her like a princess and will respect her femininity and will respect the delicate flower that women are in our lives, the most wonderful creatures that God created.

 

Ralyn will not understand when her dad says she can’t see this boy anymore. She will not understand when her Papa says that boy’s no good for you. She will just think that we are being controlling and random. She will not understand that we know boys and we will be able to smell out the ones that are after one thing and ones that are truly in love with her and respectful of her. She will just think we are being mean. But we will only have her best interest at heart. She will only understand it when she does find that one right guy that treats her as the princess that she is and will be. She will only understand later when she has to call her dad or her granddad when she finds herself in a jam because she found out what we already knew – that certain boys only want one thing from her. But there will be many days when she just thinks we are being inconsistent and illogical. This boy’s ok but that boy’s not. Get rid of that one. Keep this one. We will drive her crazy with our seeming inconsistencies. But it will be for her own good and she won’t understand it until she arrives at the altar with that one right guy.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through Joshua 8:1-29 for the second of three times. Let’s read the passage together this morning:

 

8 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.”

 

3 So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night 4 with these orders: “Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city. Don’t go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. 5 I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them. 6 They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, ‘They are running away from us as they did before.’ So when we flee from them, 7 you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8 When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the Lord has commanded. See to it; you have my orders.”

 

9 Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai—but Joshua spent that night with the people.

 

10 Early the next morning Joshua mustered his army, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. 11 The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. 12 Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So the soldiers took up their positions—with the main camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of it. That night Joshua went into the valley.

 

14 When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. But he did not know that an ambush had been set against him behind the city. 15 Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. 16 All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. 17 Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel.

 

18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.” So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand. 19 As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire.

 

20 The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising up into the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. 21 For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from it, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. 22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.

 

24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed[a] all who lived in Ai. 27 But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua.

 

28 So Joshua burned Ai[b] and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. 29 He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day.

 

From this passage, we see that, Israel’s laws for handling the spoils of war covered two situations. First, cities like Jericho were under God’s ban (judgment for idolatry) could not be looted (see Deuteronomy 20:16-18) because God’s people were to be kept holy and separate from all influence of idolatry. Second, the distribution of captured goods from cities not under the ban was a normal part of ancient warfare. It provided ancient armies with the necessary food, flocks, and weapons needed to sustain itself in wartime. Ai was not under ban. The conquering army needed the food and equipment. Because soldiers were not paid, the plunder was part of the incentive for going to war and risking their very lives for their cause.

 

Sometime on the surface we may think God is being inconsistent in this passage. But think about the fact that the Bible clearly stated that Jericho was an idol-worshiping culture. Nothing of the kind was said about Ai. They may have been without God in their lives but it is not mentioned that Ai was filled with idols and all the immorality that went along with worshiping idols. Since it was a much smaller town than Jericho there may have not been many idols and trinkets related to the industry of idolatry as there was in Jericho. I don’t think God was being inconsistent here. He knew something about Jericho that was going to be a bad influence on the Israelites. Jericho may have been much like Corinth in the New Testament – a town where anything goes and a town like Vegas where what happens in Jericho stays in Jericho. Jericho must have been so warped and so wrapped up in its self-pleasing idolatry that it had to be completely destroyed. The Israelites may have not understood why it was OK to keep the plunder at Ai but not at Jericho. They may themselves have thought God was being inconsistent and capricious. Just like Ralyn may think her dad and her granddad as being capricious and inconsistent when it comes to the boys that she will date. She will not understand it. She will have to just trust that we know what we are talking about and accept it. I pray that she does not have to find out the hard way through real experiences of being hurt and crushed by a boy who just wanted her for one thing.

 

Sometimes, God may seem inconsistent to us in the things that he leads us into or steers us away from but we must trust Him as the Sovereign of our lives. We must trust His eternal knowledge. We must trust His eternal foresight. We must trust Him. Sometimes, we won’t understand why but we must just trust and let God be God and us be His child. He knows best. He is our Father.

 

Amen and Amen.

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

The Israelites Cross the Jordan

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Amen and Amen.

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.