Posts Tagged ‘trusting God’

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.

Deuteronomy 25:17-19

Remembering the Amalekites

 

Have you ever had someone hurt you badly? Just plain out screwed you over to be mean to you? We have probably all had that happen to us at one point or another in our lives. For me, that instance would have to be when I was going through my divorce from my first wife. Our marriage had been rocky for the last 6 years that we were together. She had issues with drugs after the death of her brother. Trouble with the law resulted. Sending her to rehab the first time resulted in her having an affair with guy she met there. Reconciliation. Changed feelings. Changed addictions for her to spending money. Deep seeded anger for me that would not go away. Then there was my affair. Two years of attempted reconciliation and then the final split in April 1993. Although I did not see what was to be my second wife for more than nine months after my separation from my first wife, the cast was set. The war was on as far as my first wife was concerned. Then began the most horrendous divorce known to man. Fifteen months of antagonism and hatred spewed out toward me.

 

Part of the torment of our separation was preventing me from seeing my children on the appointed weekends and each Wednesday during the week. My girls were 8 and 3 at this time. Very young and impressionable. Pretty much every time I would try to pick them up, she would prevent it! Regardless of what was going on between my first wife and me, I loved my girls and wanted to see them. This prevention happened with such regularity that I finally had to take legal action. My lawyer brought a contempt of court complaint against my first wife. When we got our emergency hearing date for few weeks later and there was back and forth communications between lawyers, my first wife pulled out the most dastardly accusation that someone could bring against a father who dearly loved his girls. She claimed that the reason that she had been withholding the kids from me was that I had molested my oldest daughter the last time that she had allowed them to go with me for a weekend.

 

Talk about your cruelest of blows. This was just plain out mean and dirty. If you know anything about me and my girls, you would know that I adore them and would do anything to keep them from pain and suffering. With that accusation, the world immediately changed. My first wife, initially, had the high ground and she had massacred me in battle. It was such a scary time. The court asked the Sheriff’s Department to administer a lie-detector test on me as to what happened on that last visitation that the girls had with me. If I failed the test (if they detected lies), they were going to bring charges against me. My very future was on the line. However, there was this calm that came over me. You don’t have to dress up the truth. The truth is its own defense.

 

Even with the accusation dismissed by the cops, DSS still got involved in our lives and would be for the next three years. Before DSS had interviewed me, they had spent a lot of time with my first wife and the girls and during this time, I was painted as a villain, a mean, abusive man. It wasn’t until they actually came to interview me that they began to see that there was a great disparity between what my first wife was saying about me and the reality of me. Although I was unable to see my girls for more than six months because of this accusation, the tide was slowly turning my way. Ultimately, when my first wife and her mother attacked me publicly in the lobby of the family court courthouse for what I “was doing to the children!” I quietly took there abuse and walked on. It was like I was being punished in their eyes for leaving their army or something. It was only after that incident that my first wife became the focus of DSS and not me. Ultimately, after observing my first wife for a while, they decided to remove the children from her care. After spending the next two and half years with my parents, I was finally awarded custody of my children in 1996.

 

From 1993 forward, my first wife’s whole aim in life was to destroy me. Ultimately, her hatred for me consumed her so much that she literally drove everyone out of her life and she became isolated in her own little world. My anger toward her in those early years gave way to forgiveness and pity. Her own hatred ultimately destroyed the person that she once was.

 

It was that idea of how God orchestrates justice if we will only trust Him that came to mind when reading through this passage today, Deuteronomy 25:17-19:

 

17 Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. 18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

 

Them they were to overcome by force; wickedness was to be removed by the extinction of the wicked. Moses has already repeatedly reminded the Israelites that they had utterly to destroy the wicked nations of Canaan; and he here closes this discourse by reminding them that there was a nation outside of Canaan which was also doomed, and which they were to root out. This was Amalek, which had attacked the Israelites in their journey at Rephidim, and had taken advantage of their exhausted condition to harass their rear and destroy those who, faint and weary, had lagged behind. For this they had been already punished by the Israelites, who, led on by Joshua, had turned upon them and discomfited them with the edge of the sword. This, however, was not enough; Amalek was to be utterly destroyed, and this the Israelites were to effect as soon as the Lord had given them rest in the Promised Land. It was not, however, till the time of David that this was done.

 

God will have justice over wickedness, we must remember this. Even though it may seem that it will never come, God will turn evil against itself and destroy the evildoers. We may not even see it our lifetimes. But rest assured, God will have justice over evil, according to His timetable. Just like when my first wife and I were going through our divorce, it got ugly and bitter. My ex-wife wanted to destroy me in whatever way she could. However, God has His justice. I must trust that I cannot return evil for evil on my own merits. God will have His victory over sin and evil. The Amalekites were a mean people who, though they knew of God’s delivering exploits when it came to the Israelites, they purposely thumbed their nose at God and were a constant battling force against the Israelites. They were a cruel and ruthless people. However, God had His victory over their evil ways. God always wins.

 

Let us remember to trust God with vengeance and He will have His way. Let us not try to return evil with evil. God will work it out. He always does. He always wins.

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 15:1-21

Supplementary Offerings

When you play sports, there is more time spent on training that there is actual time spent playing the games for which all the practice is about. Take football for example. There are wind sprints. There stair climbs in the stadium. There are hill climbs. There is the dreaded six inches exercise. There are runs on the track. There are the stretching exercises. There is the weightlifting. There are the sled pulls. There the sled pushes. There are the react to the ball exercises. There are tip drills. There is the high stepping runs through the tires and the ropes. There’s the running backwards for 100 yards. There’s the twisting and turning. There’s the carrying of weights on your back for as long as you can. There’s the jumping over a dummy bag while starting from a lying prone on the ground position. There’s the running in place for what seems like forever and the whistle blows and you hit the ground. These are just some of the grueling exercises that you have to go through as a football player. To be honest, you looked forward to the scrimmage/game planning part of each day’s practice. At least that was fun and seemed to have a purpose. Those exercises at the beginning of each practice just seemed like the coaches’ way of torturing us. It all seemed insane to us. What did these exercises have to do with how we, the Travelers Rest High School Devildogs, were going to beat our weekly opponents during the football season? It just seemed all meaningless rituals that are meant to see who really wants to play football and who doesn’t. It just seemed like the coaches sat around and dreamed up ways to stretch, pull, and contort our bodies. They just seemed to sit around and think up new and different ways to see how long we could endure before we threw up our school lunches and whatever snacks we scarfed down before practice. This torture took up at least half of our daily practices before we broke up into to position groups and worked on game plans. You just hated all that stuff because it seemed to have no purpose or point, at least to us as football players.

 

It was those daily drills that we had to go through as football players that seemed so meaningless to us as football players that leapt into my mind as I sit here on a Saturday morning waiting for the college football games to start when I read through this passage, Numbers 15:1-21, today:

 

15 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘After you enter the land I am giving you as a home 3 and you present to the Lord food offerings from the herd or the flock, as an aroma pleasing to the Lord—whether burnt offerings or sacrifices, for special vows or freewill offerings or festival offerings— 4 then the person who brings an offering shall present to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah[a] of the finest flour mixed with a quarter of a hin[b] of olive oil. 5 With each lamb for the burnt offering or the sacrifice, prepare a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering.

 

6 “‘With a ram prepare a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah[c] of the finest flour mixed with a third of a hin[d] of olive oil, 7 and a third of a hin of wine as a drink offering. Offer it as an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

 

8 “‘When you prepare a young bull as a burnt offering or sacrifice, for a special vow or a fellowship offering to the Lord, 9 bring with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah[e] of the finest flour mixed with half a hin[f] of olive oil, 10 and also bring half a hin of wine as a drink offering. This will be a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 11 Each bull or ram, each lamb or young goat, is to be prepared in this manner. 12 Do this for each one, for as many as you prepare.

 

13 “‘Everyone who is native-born must do these things in this way when they present a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 14 For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, they must do exactly as you do. 15 The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord: 16 The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.’”

 

17 The Lord said to Moses, 18 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land to which I am taking you 19 and you eat the food of the land, present a portion as an offering to the Lord. 20 Present a loaf from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor. 21 Throughout the generations to come you are to give this offering to the Lord from the first of your ground meal.

 

Those football exercises for agility, strength, endurance and what have you are seem disjointed and unnecessary stuff that you have to go through as a football player. For me, sitting here in the 21st century after Jesus Christ roamed the earth, my first impression after reading through this passage was that all offering stuff just bores me to read. What does this have to do with salvation? What does this have to with having a relationship with Jesus Christ? What does this have to do with loving my neighbor as myself? And all this animal killing is just messy and what purpose does it serve? I had to purposely try to stay focused when I read through this passage and not go “Squirrel!” or “Bright Shiny Object!” in my mind when some other thought passed through. What does all this stuff mean for me now in the 21st century, post-Golgotha? It’s just like how I wondered how holding my legs straight out and six inches off the ground served any purpose to me as a football player.

 

What I think that we must take away from this passage is that there is grace. There is worship and there is obedience. As we all know, the Old Testament is training ground. It is pointers. It is directing us all toward Jesus Christ, the central figure for all that comes before, and all that comes after in the Bible. We are being pointed toward our once and final redemption. We are pointed to the final solution to our sin problem. Jesus Christ is what all this pointing toward. So, here in this passage we see grace (like we have in Jesus Christ). We see grace because there is a way made to reconcile us temporarily to God whereas Jesus is the far greater offering in that He is the permanent solution to sin. Here we see worship. Should we not offering up our best to the Lord? He is God and deserves our worship and we should give Him glory. We should worship Him. He should be the central focus of our lives. We should revolve our lives around giving Him worship. Here, we also see obedience. Maybe, even the Israelites did not fully understand why they were being required to do these things. Maybe they did. I don’t know. As they lived back then when this was written they may have understood the significance of the offerings better than I do, but that to me is not the point. I may not understand the ephahs and hins and such but I do understand obeying the Lord. We must obey the Lord’s commands on our lives. We must obey His Word and we must obey the direct commands that He gives each of us through the Holy Spirit. Being obedient to the Father in Heaven always works out better for us than disobedience. God has our best interest at heart always. We should know that by now. Yet, we often say to the Lord that what He requires of us is too hard. Shouldn’t we have the attitude that maybe the ageless, timeless, eternal Creator has maybe just a bit more wisdom than we do ourselves and that we should trust Him and obey Him? Sounds like pretty smart advice to me! So, here, to be a good Israelite and for us to be good Christians, we must learn to follow God’s instructions. He knows best. Why rebel against it? Just accept and trust and depend on the Creator of the universe, our God, the Mighty Eternal One!

 

Sometimes it is not for us to know why God is making us do certain things in certain ways. We must just trust that He has a sequence and a plan to it all. Just as the insane exercises that we had to do as football players was all done so that deep in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line that we had the strength, stamina and fortitude to rise up and make that defensive stand that needed to be made. It means when you are a cut and bruised safety who is operating on adrenaline in a game against your rival high school that you can have the energy to break up, tip the ball, and intercept it to preserve the victory for your team late in the fourth quarter. Your tired, sore, but all the preparation before the season and during the week gives you the knowledge that you have reserves in there somewhere and you call on them to jump higher than you have ever jumped before and stretch your arm the farthest that it has ever stretched to get you fingertips on the ball and tip it up in the air and as you are coming back down to the ground and life is in slow motion and you tip it again and get it into your hands and hold onto it as you get creamed by an offensive linemen. And you get up. Game assured. All that insane stuff was for the discipline and the stamina to play hard for 60 minutes in a game.

 

So it is with God. We don’t have to understand why always. We must just trust in Him as our Father in heaven and just say OK Lord, if you say so, I will do it.

 

Amen and Amen

Numbers 14:13-25 (Part 4 of 4)

Moses Intercedes for the People

There was a song from back in the 60s, I think, that I did not discover until my teenage years in the late 70’s/early 80’s called My Condition by Supergrass. One of the lyrics from the song was “I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.” It was one of those, “whoa, that’s so cool and profound, man!” kind of lyrics that blows your mind. But I think it is appropriate today’s blog. So stick with me and find out why…

 

Five years ago, about this time of year, I began following a call that the Lord placed on my heart. I started the pursuit of my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry degree. Although I had a master’s degrees in business since 2000, I had long felt that I had missed my true calling and that calling being to full-time ministry. I had battled against that calling for years and years for various reasons – bills, having young children, that who I was married to at the time would never go for a career change that would take us away from Greenville and reduce our income, having to spend three years with no income while in seminary, among other arguments to God.

 

Each roadblock though over the years was removed (including finding a wife who was willing to make all the sacrifices necessary for me to follow my calling) and I was left with no arguments against preparing for full-time ministry. So, I finally said yes to the Lord. I would go to seminary program at the Brashier Graduate School of North Greenville University (NGU) beginning in the fall of 2011. It was a tough row to hoe. Continuing to work full time at Fujikura America, Inc. as its comptroller as I had been for the previous three years plus taking my course load at NGU. It was daunting task. My regular job is a demanding one with the company’s philosophy of having as little staff as possible. Add to that studying every night and going to class two nights a week. There were many late nights. However, I loved it. I enjoyed the challenges of going deeper in my faith, defending my faith, and learning more and more about the theology of Christianity. I simply ate it up. I loved it. Through all that time, I was faithful, studious, and passionate about my school work. It was a great time for me spiritually because I knew I was in my Father’s will. I was doing what God wanted me to do and I knew it. There is no better place to be than being obedient to the Lord’s call on your life and learning to depend on Him to get you through it. It’s the sweet spot of your Christian walk. So many times, we get out of alignment with His will or have no clue what that is. However, when we find ourselves in alignment with the will of God, there is no greater contentment that you can find.

 

However, the test has come since then. When I graduated, I figured there would be churches knocking on my door or that I would immediately be offered a full-time position at my church. I was in God’s will, right? I had done what God had asked of me. Not only that, I loved it and was passionate about it to the point of being disappointed when it was over and I had my degree in hand. I was in that sweet spot. I thought the offers to transition into full-time ministry would be immediate and swift. However, that has not been the case. I am working part-time at my church as a director of finance/administration but no offers have come my way for full-time ministry. It was frustrating for some time for me in that regard. I had done what God had called me to do – prepare for full-time ministry but yet nothing, at least as I envisioned it, was happening. However, within the last few months, I have learned (through God opening my eyes to the story of Joseph in prison) that we have ministry wherever we serve. If we sit around and complain about what God had promised us and we don’t see immediate results, we may miss the impact that we are having for the kingdom right where we serve.

 

Just think if Joseph, wrongfully imprisoned for sexual assault, would have sat around and moped and been bitter because he was not serving the Lord where he thought he should serve, he would have missed the opportunity God had planned for him all along. If he had not been faithful and available while in prison, he would not have rose to the level of trustee. He would not have become the trusted servant of his jailors. Had he not been in that position, he would not have been able to interpret dreams. Had he not been in that position of trust and so highly valued by his jailors, he would have languished and died in prison. Had he not been in that position of trust, he would have never become the second most trusted person in all the land. Had it not been for the prison stretch, he would have never become the governor of Egypt during a most critical time in its history. We must be faithful, useable, teachable in the place that God has us right now or we might miss the door that opens that God truly wants us to walk through. Sometimes, it takes time for God to work out the details and we must be patient.

 

I think the same thing here about Caleb. He was faithful to the Lord. He fully believed that God would guide them through the travails of conquering the land that was before them. He believed it when no one else would other than Joshua.

 

As we read through Numbers 14:13-25 for the fourth and final time today, let us think about how our ways are not always God’s ways and how we should be steadfast and faithful to the Lord even when we don’t see immediate results as we think we should:

 

13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’

 

17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ 19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

 

20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”

 

Here in this passage, Numbers 14:13-25, we see Caleb’s continued faithfulness being discussed between Moses and the Lord. In v.24, we see the promise made to Caleb. God noticed his faithfulness to God’s plan and God made a promise of reward for it. It is mentioned here as almost an aside to the ongoing conversation about the punishment of Israel. But it is an important reference for the future. What this passage doesn’t tell you though is that the promise to Caleb would not be fulfilled for another 45 years. Just think about that. According the book of Joshua, Caleb here at the time of his secret mission into the Promised Land and his report back to Moses and the nation of Israel afterwards was 40 years old. His reward was not given to him until he was 85. However, the lack of immediate reward, as we move forward in Numbers and later in book of Joshua, it never stopped Caleb from being faithful to the Lord. He was continually faithful throughout his life. He had faith that the Lord had his best interest at heart regardless of whether or not he would ever see the Promised Land. His faithfulness to the Lord was not conditioned by his condition. His faithfulness to the Lord was conditioned by the fact that He loved the Lord, trusted Him with his very life, and felt that being obedient to the Lord no matter the situation was the best alternative because…well…God is God. He knows what’s best for us no matter if the situation does seem great or to our liking. He knows what’s best for us even when we can’t see the result. He knows what’s best for us even we cannot see the other side. He knows what’s best for us even though things seem insurmountable. He knows what’s best for us even things aren’t working out the way WE imagined. We must learn to trust the Lord and He will never bring us to harm. We must trust the Lord to open the doors that need to be opened at the time they need to be opened.

 

Is it not the same with you and me, especially me? I must trust the Lord to open the doors that need to be opened for me for the call to be a pastor that he has on my life. The door will open when He is ready to open it. In the meantime, I must be faithful in the things that He has in front of me. I must fully believe that this is part of the steps. I must fully believe that God has a purpose in this time period that I am in right now and that I must be faithful in it. God will make it clear what’s next when it’s time for what’s next. But God is saying enjoy the moment that you are because it is all part of the process. He is using my talents and I am offering them up and I am being faithful. Do what’s in front of you and I will reward that faithfulness one day – even if it is not til you are in heaven. It is the faithfulness that matters. Joseph and Caleb are examples of faithfulness. They did not care about what was happening next. They trusted that to the Lord. They did what was in front of them because they trusted that the Lord had them in the spot they were in for a specific reason and they were not going to miss out on it. Do what’s in front of you because the Lord is using that to make an impact in some way that maybe you cannot even see. Do what’s in front of you because the Lord has you here right now doing this for the glory of His kingdom. There is no wasted time in God’s economy. There is a very specific purpose for everything that we go through and we must trust that. It has been a hard road to get to that realization. We must not let our faithfulness to the Lord be condition by the conditions in which we find ourselves. We must not let our faithfulness be conditional on our condition.

 

Amen and Amen.