Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Prayer Request

Note before the post: On Sunday night I taught at the opening night of four nights of refreshing meetings at a church about 35 minutes from us, hoping for revival, tied in to the Feast of the Tabernacles (this is the third series of meetings we have done, each located around one of the feasts). Based on the number of people who have told me in the last two days that the teaching I gave really blessed them I offer a link to it here for any of you who would like to listen (it is in mp3 format). It uses the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths), and Joshua and the Israelites, as a basis for sharing what God has been recently showing me on the yielded and surrendered life.

Sunday Teaching: Sept. 26, 2010

Prayer Request: Today begins something for me which is overdue, but which I have some real hope for. I have pastored for almost 11 years now without taking any significant break in time to kind of give God a "blank page" to write on (free of having a Sunday teaching, church admin, etc., in the back of my mind). At the encouragement of others, and hopefully by the leading of God, I am doing that now, and I have different men taking the next four services for me, as well as people handling the bulk of the different administrative tasks. I can't thank them enough for their heart to help me in this (the plan at this point is for me to return to the pulpit on 10/31).

I am asking, if you feel led, for your prayer cover for this time. I need to hear from God. I need renewed clarity and assurance on many things—from theological things, to direction, to vision, to provision for my family, to the future, to decisions the church faces, etc. I need His guiding not just for the future, but even for this time of retreat and prayer. Some have called this my "vacation." I chuckle. It will probably be a very directed and focused time of study and seeking, though I do hope to rest as well (and to take some special family time). I don't know if I will blog at all during this time, or if I will blog more than ever as a perfect release and way to record, and share, things He shows me as I travel with Him. I'll just have to see.

If you feel led to be a part of a covering in prayer for this time, I am including specifics below. If not, I totally understand—I am not a good intercessor or prayer warrior, though I covet those who are! Please, just follow God's leading, and if, while praying, you feel He shares something with you for either Mary Ann or me, don't hesitate to email it to me at emar at tcsn dot net (unfortunately, I need to spell it out to avoid computer spamming)—or, you can comment me, and I won't publish it publicly on the blog if you ask me not to.

Prayer specifics:

1) Direction for how God would lead this time.
2) Direction for what I am supposed to return to, and how I am supposed to return to it as (both ministry and personal—I want to streamline and simplify my life so that each part of it counts and matters, to "redeem the time" wisely).
3) Vision.
4) Intimacy with God in worship, study, and a clarity in hearing His voice.
5) A renewed revelation of who I am in Him, what that means for me, and what, exactly, He is asking me to do and what He isn't asking me to do.
6) Courage to do whatever He asks me to do, and courage to be whatever He asks me to be, no matter if everyone, or no one, follows.
7) Rest for both me and for Mary Ann (she is trying to fill her Children's Church slots during this time so that she, too, can rest a little from that and partner with me in this time---she will still be homeschooling, and there is never a break from all the routine things of life we both must do, and as you all must do also).
8) A spiritual cover and protection. I do not think the enemy wants me to have this time and would love to see me distracted, discouraged, etc. I don't want to make any decisions, or follow any voice, other than His.
9) Theological clarity. I feel sometimes like I am driving along a road, just getting glimpses through the trees, of something majestic and mighty on the other side of the forest. I feel like there are some truths about yielding and surrender and how to finish my life strong and eternally focused that are close, but I have yet to fully apprehend.
10) Clarity on what my role as a pastor is supposed to look like, as well as my other roles: youth leader, administrator, husband, father, friend, brother, neighbor, child of God, etc. I need wisdom in being these different things, and I especially don't know what the ministry ones especially are supposed to look like.
11) Revelation on God's ultimate purpose, the Kingdom of God, and the yielded, surrendered life..
12) Revelation on spiritual authority.

Some Thoughts/Things I am Wrestling With to Give Your Prayers Background and Insight: I don't want to define my roles by some cultural "expectation" we have built that God has not given, and I don't want to look back one day over decades of pastoring and feel like I just "did church." I don't want routine worship. I don't want routine teaching. I don't want routine, hollow, Spirit-less services. Nor, am I seeking experience or emotion. I simply want God to fall all over us and a region, and I don't believe it is going to happen the way I am going right now and the way the body of Christ in general, and I start with me, is treating church and our calling and who we are in Him, and who He is in us. And, I don't know how to do it different . . . and I am afraid of how that might even look, or how we might react to what God might say.

Sometimes I look around and wonder how many of us, myself included as first and foremost, really believe what we say we do—and I mean "believe" in the way God means it, when He accused the Israelites of not believing in Him when they turned from their destiny in the promised land. I think that they would have been shocked to realize He felt they didn't believe in Him, and it makes me wonder just how much is wrapped up in the word "believe" the way GOD means it . . . and isn't what He thinks all that matters? How, I wonder, do we awaken the body, myself first, to the reality of what we claim to believe—the reality of either eternity with or without God, the reality of the Creator of the Universe living in us and waiting to live through us, the reality of the fire that will test all of our work and show what was eternal and what was just fluff, the reality of spiritual warfare, the reality of the power and need for prayer?

What is happening, I wonder, when churches can't even sustain prayer meetings, and only 25 people represent FOUR collected churches at revival meetings? What is happening? What has to happen? How does a pastor do this? If it is the Holy Spirit's job, then what is our role in it? How do we build each other up to what He calls us to, without breaking each other down with condemnation and guilt?

Why are Christians so often so self focused? Where is the joy and the peace, and how do we experience that and still be taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and following Him and the path He walked and walks? Why do we look so different from the church in Acts, which is supposed to be our model, which was CONTINUALLY together in prayer, fellowship, teaching—and saw people flocking to it and signs and wonders accompanying it . . . if this is our model, then why does it sometimes feel like there should be apologies for even asking people to gather for more than a Sunday morning service?

Where is, starting with me, the broken humility before God that causes us to love (and not judge) all others better than ourselves? Where is, starting with me, the overwhelming awe and wonder at God that causes us to fall before Him and simply cry out and worship Him as worthy of all we have, including our lives? What is God asking of me, and what part have I played in the whole thing?

These are some of the questions I am asking, and at the same time I am praising God for the wonderful people He has surrounded me with—people who do love Him, who love on each other, and who love me and my family. I thank Him for them, and for you who read this all and who share this journey with me. Thanks for your prayers and love. I long to finish strong, and I treasure your prayers along the way.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The "Rest" in Work . . .

Last night at Youth Group, and this morning at Family Worship, we talked about God's call to Moses from the burning bush. In Exodus 3:2 it says, "And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed." (Moses is in the desert because he fled Egypt for killing an Egyptian and Pharoah wanted to kill him.)

The account tells us that Moses turns aside to check it out and God speaks to him from the bush and tells him that He has seen the plight of His people enslaved in Egypt, and heard their cry. So far, so good for Moses, I would imagine. Then God says in verse 10, "Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."

Up to this point I imagine Moses is really glad God has seen and heard the people's problems and situation . . . but suddenly when God wants him to be the solution things suddenly aren't so good. You probably know the rest—Moses gives reason after reason why he's not the best guy for the job, and God replies to each one basically the same things:

1) I will be with you.
2) I am sending you.
3) I will take care of what you need (power, signs, words, etc.)

Towards the end, when all of that is not enough, God gets angry at Moses' fear and doubt and reminds him of Aaron, and Moses reluctantly goes ahead with it all.

The thing that always intrigues me in this is that God never answers Moses' question, "Who am I?" He simply says, "I'll be with you." As I told the youth (many of whom have been on the school softball team I've coached), "If I sent you in to a critical position in the field during a game and you expressed doubt about yourself I'd build you up, remind you of all you have practiced, pump you up with encouragement, tell you how amazing you are, etc." But, God doesn't do that—He says, "I'll be with you."

What more do we need to know? Really? Knowing God is sending us, and we are doing His work, what more do we really need to know? This is the God who saw simply a vast void of blackness. He envisioned a universe with galaxies and nebulae and cosmic swirls and asteroids and infernos called suns; and He envisioned an earth with amazing coral reefs and sea life, with birds that fly with hollow bones, with crazy creatures like giraffes and hippos; and He envisioned a man with a mind more amazing than the most amazing computer and an eye more complex than the most complex telescope . . . and He envisioned that and, with simply a word, He brought it into existence from nothing. He is so completely awe inspiring and amazing and worthy of our praise and worship that when we know that He is at work through us (which obviously means He is with us) what more do we, truly, need to know?

The whole key is going where we are sent—doing what we are told to do. Because when we are yielded and He is working His work through us as His hands and feet and mouth we don't have to wonder if He is with us, because it is His work He is working. As Philippians 2:13 says, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." God places His desires in us, for what He wants to see done, and when we yield to those it is in fact He who is doing the work to bring His desires to pass. That means, of course, that He is with us, and that His full resources are working through us—and we can "rest" in that, because . . . what more do we really need to know?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Two Lessons from Joshua . . .

In our Family Worship time this morning we were looking at the next event after the fall of Jericho and two things spoke to me strongly from it.  As a background to it, God told the people that when Jericho fell, ". . . And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. . . . But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord." (Joshua 6:16-19).

Then, in the next chapter, it tells us: But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan . . . took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the Lord burned against the people of Israel.

Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai . . . and said to them, "Go up and spy out the land." And the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, "Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few." So about 3,000 men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, "Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! . . ."
(Joshua 7:1-9)

The two points that speak to me strongly from this are:

1) The tremendous cost to the whole body of Christ when one member does not walk as God calls him or her. I believe that we take the "body of Christ" wording too figuratively. We are integrally linked as Christ's body, with Him as the head. Only ONE man hid goods from Jericho against God's command, and the whole nation suffered a defeat from an enemy they should have easily beaten.

What one of us chooses to do, or not to do, dramatically affects far more than we realize. We saw this much earlier in Joshua's life when there was nothing wrong with either his or Caleb's faith, but they wandered for forty years with the others, outside of their destiny, because of the unbelief and fear and sin of the body/family they were integrally linked to. We may think our little sin, or our staying home from church, or our holding back our first from God, or our grumbling or negative expectations, or whatever that thing is that we are doing apart from surrender and yielding to Him is just about "us" when, in reality, our whole family and local body is affected by it. We are no longer ours. We have died and been born again in Christ. We are his, and when a part of anyone's body rebels or acts independent of the head the whole body is affected, whether or not they realize it.

2) There is tremendous cost in calling "good" or "OK" what God has deemed otherwise. It cost Saul his kingdom, and it cost Israel its victory in this account. Joshua and the people, not yet knowing someone had kept goods from Jericho, had every reason to cry out in confusion and fear and bewilderment. Unlike their parents, they had chosen to trust God and His promises and to enter and take the land HE was giving them! And here they were, routed and humiliated, by a wimpy army they should have destroyed! What about God's promises? What about Him going with them? What about being strong and courageous? How they must have cried out and been confused.

But, one of them had compromised. He had deemed OK what God said to destroy or do otherwise with, and it had crippled their power against the enemy, and it caused God to pull back from them. Achan kept objects that had been set apart for destruction or the Lord, by the Lord. As such, he brought the destruction of those vessels upon himself (and the "family/nation" he was a part of), and Israel became powerless against her enemies.

I believe the spiritual lesson in this is huge. Both as individuals, and as corporate bodies in regions, we battle the hosts of darkness regularly—just look at Jesus' life and ministry if you doubt that. We have God's authority and adoption. We have tremendous promises of victory against the hosts of darkness. The enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus gives us His authority and works through us against those forces, and greater is He is us than he who seeks to destroy. But, when we compromise, when we allow to remain in our life something God has said to get rid of, we cripple our authority and power against the enemy, and we hamstring the chance of victory for us and others we are linked to. The cloak and silver and gold Achan kept must have seemed miniscule compared to the wealth of Jericho—something that wouldn't even be noticed . . . but it cost a nation a victory, and 36 men their lives.

What, in your life, are you allowing that God has said to purge? Is it thoughts, is it entertainment, is it language, is it a hobby or way you spend your time, is it fear, is it a eating habit? What, if anything, have you deemed "OK" that God has said to remove? I know it is not easy, but we MUST not get casual with what God has called us to purge. We are in a war—we must never forget that! Our enemy is real, and lives and marriages and hearts are the what is at stake. We must—we must—yield ourselves to God's Spirit in total surrender because, only then, when we walk in the Spirit, will we crucify and put to death the works of the flesh.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eating the Enemy's Food . . .

A short time after the Israelites crossed the Jordan and built the memorial God commanded them to with stones from the bottom of the Jordan (from where they had crossed in dry land), but before they went against Jericho, Joshua 5:10-12 tells us:
While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

There are some key things here, I believe:

1) After the Jordan, and before the verses above, they circumcised the males at God's command. This was an act of the covenant with Abraham—whom the promise for the land before them originated in. We, too, are in a covenant with God (a better covenant, one brought about by Christ's blood), and we are strengthened by reminding ourselves of that covenant of grace, of Christ's FULL payment, of our new relationship with God and our complete acceptance through Christ.

2) They kept the Passover, the reminder of God's protection of them because of the lamb's blood on their doors. We do well to keep present in our mind the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, that died for us (on the Passover). Because of His blood, His full payment for OUR sins, we do not die, but sleep, we close our eyes here and open them in the welcoming presence of the Lord. We can say to death, "Where is your sting?" and we can live with confidence here.

3) The Israelites were on the "right" side of the Jordan because they chose faith, and they chose to trust God and His promises. It required great faith and trust to succeed where their fathers had failed because of fear and unbelief. They had the command from God, and the promise from God to give them the land, and they needed to cross the Jordan and go against a formidable mass of enemies in faith that:

a) God was big enough to back up His Word.
b) God was trustworthy.
c) God was with them and would not leave them.
d) God would direct them each step of the way as they walked in faith, obedient, not knowing HOW He would bring His Word to pass, simply trusting that He would.

Then, and only then, did they get to eat what was theirs and that which the enemy had wrongly possessed. They got to take back what they should have already had. The manna ceased (God had still taken care of them, they were just in the desert wilderness), and they finally ate of the land that was once the food of their enemy.

What has been stolen in your life that God has said should be yours? Jesus says that the thief, Satan, comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus comes with restoration, healing, joy, and peace. Is it a relationship? Is it joy? Is it the freedom of grace? Is it the rest of trust and surrender? Is it your belief? Is it the spark in your eye? Is it your courage? Is it health? Is it victory in your family? Is it peace? Is it the realization of who you are in Christ? Is it the expectancy you once had? Is it . . .?

Remind yourself of your covenant with God—one you never could earn, so one you can't lose by messing up. Remind yourself of the precious blood of Jesus that saves you from death. Remind yourself of God's promises to you. Remind yourself of the complete work Jesus did on the cross, and the complete joy and freedom and rest that allows us when we understand it. Take captive your fears, negative expectancy, hopelessness, and unbelief to the truths and promises and testimony of God. Step out in faith. Be obedient. Trust. Surrender your plans and ways and the world's advice and wisdom to a life of trust and faith, and stand in confidence. You are God's child, adopted and joined to Him by His very self in the presence of the Holy Spirit. He will not leave you. Go forth boldly. Courageously. Resting from your own work, yielded to His work in and through you.

It is God's plan. Years later we see how the Philistines tormented Israel with fear and intimidation. Then one man, David, stood in faith, reminded of God's testimony and faithfulness in the past, and—against all the common sense of the world—defeated an armored giant with a sling and a stone. His faith, and the courage of faith, inspired an army of God's people who drove the enemy from the land and came back and PLUNDERED the enemy's camp . . . they took what used to be the enemy's, and made it theirs! To use an analogy Jesus would use later, they bound the strongman and then plundered his goods.

The strongman needs binding, the giant needs defeating, the river needs crossing everywhere we look—and God is waiting for us to ask so He can show us where He is at work and where He is ready to partner with us. All around us people are bound with fear, hopelessness, addiction, depression, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, sickness, broken marriages . . . it is time to rise up. It is time to surrender ourselves to God, hear His voice, and let Him live through us. It is time to drive out the enemy, and plunder his goods. It is time to take back what has been stolen.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jealously Loved . . .

Have you ever been jealous when someone gave their affection or time or attention or admiration to another? Be honest (and no, you don’t have to post a comment and tell us all when and why).

Seriously though, have you ever been jealous of another’s affection or attention? Has it ever been so strong in you that it almost defined who you were? Maybe it was at a younger age over the “love” of one you “loved” being given to another, maybe it is a wounding you have suffered recently when one you love gave themself to another in either heart or body, maybe it was when someone gave praise and admiration to another when you wanted to get it from them instead. You were stirred inside with feelings very deep when you saw affection given to another, from one who you desired affection from, and you felt that the affection they gave that other took it from you. The greater your affection for a person, the greater could be your jealousy toward that person—you don’t care who someone loves if you don’t love that person.

Jealousy can be a powerful, driving force when unharnessed and allowed to drive and define a person. Proverbs 27:4 says, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” and Galatians 5:20 lists it as a work of the flesh. And yet, during our Family Worship time, or whenever we play worship music, one of our favorite songs has been Jeremy Riddle’s version of “How He Loves.” In it is a line that says God is jealous for me. Having heard it probably 40-50 times, this morning it struck me powerfully and seemed to jump out from all the rest. I thought, “God is jealous for me! Wow!”

Just to nip in the bud any rebuttals in advance—I am not accusing God of sin; nor am I saying that His jealousy for us is identical to the jealousy in us that I asked about in the first paragraph; nor am I saying that any human analogy I use is a perfect or completely correct way to look at God. But, there is the fact that God uses human relationship to illustrate our relationship with Him (Father/child, Bridegroom/Bride). And, there is also the fact that God is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14 says, “(for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God).” Jealous is one of God’s very names, and His names define a part of who He is.

Similarly, Joshua 24:19-20 records Joshua saying to the people: "You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good."

Psalm 79:5 asks: How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Zechariah 8:2 says: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath.

Indicating that there might, in fact, be a “proper” kind of jealousy, in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 Paul writes to the believers in Corinth: I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

And, to conclude sharing just a few of the many verses on God’s divine jealousy, in James 4:4-5 it says: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?

The word “jealous,” when used in the Scripture in reference to God, is most often used in the context of God’s anger. They are fearful passages in the Bible that talk about God’s jealousy and the consequences of His pouring out His wrath from jealousy. But, may I suggest, that there is another side to looking at this as well (not meaning in any way we should ignore the first). May I suggest that God is jealous for you because He so loves you? That if you had no worth or meaning to His heart your misplaced affections and worship would mean nothing to Him (i.e., in admittedly flawed human terms, would you be a jealous lover if someone you had no feelings for loved another?). Might the depth of His jealousy toward you be a mirror of the depth of His love for you?

When we look at the brutality of the cross in all its graphic reality, and at the spiritual horror of One who was without sin taking on Himself the sin of the world, we are forced to realize that God loves us with a love more passionate and alive and deep than we can ever fathom or capture. It is no wonder that He is “jealous” for us—He loves us!—and it makes me feel good to know that God loves me so actively and vibrantly and passionately that my highest affections and my “worship” and “service” turned to anything other than Him provokes Him to jealousy (not feeling good that I do that, but that He cares enough to care).

I think that, in our theological talk, we often lose the “aliveness” (my word) of our faith. God becomes an idea, a theology, a “topic,” when, in fact, He is very alive, very passionate about things, ferocious, wonderful, awe inspiring, Holy, able to be grieved and angered, deeply and actively loving, participatory, etc. Any true relationship with Him is alive, dynamic, and an interchange of feelings and communication because He didn’t stay in the tomb, having paid for our sin, but He rose again to dwell with us and in us! “God loves us” is a living reality, not an idea. “God is jealous for us” is an expression and a truth, not a verse. Our sin is against Him, not a Bible. “God is with us” is a physical, real, tangible, truth, not simply a “feel good” platitude. He is real. He is interactive with us. He is mighty, and alive! We get so caught up in our own “feelings” that we forget that God feels things too, and that He has invested Himself completely in relationship with us.

God is holy, and He is awesome. He is worthy of our worship and reverence (and, when appropriate, fear) whether or not He loves us. His jealousy for me is passionate and alive, and that, in some way, tells my childlike understanding that His love for me is too. And, I am glad for that. May the living reality that God’s heart burns for you touch and awaken you throughout the days ahead.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who Did the Work?

As our family goes through the early pages of Joshua for Family Worship time, I asked some questions of the girls this morning:

Q: Who parted the Red Sea? A: God (that's right, all they needed to do was go through it)

Q: Who made water come out of the rock? A: God (that's right, Moses just needed to obey)

Q: Who brought food from heaven and provided for the Israelites? A: God

Q: Who parted the Jordan? A: God (that's right, they just needed to obey)

Q: Who brought the walls of Jericho down? A: God (that's right, they just needed to obey some instructions that were completely silly to the "trained" mind)

The point becomes clear through repetition—God does the work, our job is to obey. Now, the first time (at the Red Sea) it was easy (or, easier). You have an army bent on death and slavery behind you, and ahead of you the water just parted in a miracle. Walk on!

But, the second time, at the Jordan . . . now you are not walking away from an enemy army—but toward one! Now, it requires faith to leave the place of comfort and provision (and "existing," not occupying or driving out the enemy).

But, the same God is there and our job is just the same. Obey. In Joshua 3:5, the day before crossing the Jordan, Joshua tells the people to consecrate themselves (or sanctify themselves) because "tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you." When something is consecrated, or sanctified for a purpose or use, it is set apart and made available strictly for that use. Joshua is telling the people to cleanse themselves of all else, to set themselves apart for God's work and purposes, to be simply available for His use.

That is our job. To be available. To be surrendered. And to obey and rest. God does the work. He always has. In fact, the time Moses got in trouble was when he, in anger, worked from the flesh and not the leading and struck the rock. It was a costly move for him!

When we are doing God's work (or, He is doing His work through us) His full resources are at work. We do not need to worry or be anxious, but rather we can rest in peace and joy. (It is amazing how hard it is for us to rest!) In doing God's work, we might be physically working hard, but the real work, and the movement of the impossible, is God's to do. We can't, and we  must rest in that He will and depend and count on that. Now, if we aren't sanctified (set apart) and doing His work, obeying Him, then we can't rest or count on that because we are on our own. But, when we are surrendered and obeying then we are colaboring with the One who parts oceans and topples the walls of the fortified cities of our enemies and "does wonders among us." And that is a great partnership to be in!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Commanded to be Strong and Courageous . . .

Our family has been looking at Joshua for Family Worship time in the mornings, and I find that in the first nine verses of Joshua 1 we have many keys to the Christian life. I know that this is a long post (probably my longest to date), but I believe it is well worth pouring a good cup of coffee and curling up with. (I would value feedback for the future—when a post needs to be longer, do you prefer it in one shot for you to break up and digest on your own, or would you rather I break it up in to multiple posts?)

After Moses' death God commissions Joshua to lead the people into the land He has promised them and their fathers. Three times in those nine verses He commands Joshua to be strong and courageous, and tells him not to be frightened or dismayed. In other words, He tells Joshua that, despite what lies ahead and its seeming insurmountable obstacles (wide rivers, huge cities, fortified people, leading a bunch of grumblers, etc.), Joshua is to not be afraid, he is not to feel hopeless, he is to be in faith, he is not to doubt, he is to rest and not be anxious, he is to have peace. How? How is this seeming impossible command fulfilled?

1) Doing God’s Work: The first key is that Joshua will be doing what God has told him to do. Joshua is not running off on his own work or mission—he is obeying God, doing God's work, surrendered to God's call—not living by his flesh or feelings or good intentions, but by surrender and obedience. When we are confident we are doing God's work, we can be confident God is doing it through us, and that means that all He is and has are at work with us, and through us.

(There is an important caveat here—Joshua was responding to God’s direct command. He would have been, in a sense, “correct” if he tried to cross the Jordan or take Jericho by his own plan or strength because he would be trying to take the land God wanted them to take, but wrong because He didn’t do it God’s way. Similarly, in Acts 16 Paul would have been fulfilling God's commission to "go in to all the world" had he gone to the regions he wanted to, but been wrong since God's Spirit was telling him a different course. Just think of the problems Abraham caused when, in good intentions, he tried to "help" God's plan by doing it his own way! Intimacy with God and time for Him to lead us and speak to us is paramount, or our best intentions will be fruitless because, apart from Him, we can do nothing. We need to make sure we are as intimate with the author of the Word as we are with the Word He wrote, or we may fall in to the trap of believing we are in His will when we are not.)

2) Promises: The second key is that there are promises from God. God can not lie. He has promised them the land. By faith the land is already theirs (later in the story the commander of the Lord's army will say that God has already given Jericho to them, days before it ever physically fell). If God has promised something then it is done in His book—it is past tense to Him. It only awaits our faith and obedience to bring the life from the promise, and, in faith, we can stand on the promises He has given us.

3) Being OK with Not Knowing “How”: A third key is that there was nothing in any of God’s command that told Joshua how He (God) would take care of all the obstacles, simply that He would. Joshua was commanded to trust and be strong and courageous without any knowledge of how the promise would come to pass. How often do we remain anxious until we see HOW (the mechanics and plan and way) something will work out, instead of being at peace before it has?

For Joshua this will be a step by step obedience. He’ll get to a river, and then God will part it. He’ll get to a city, and then God will tell him how to take it. Step by step is usually, I find, how God will take us and carry us. Rarely will we know the end, or even the path, but rather we need to trust Him moment by moment and WALK by faith. Isn't this the heart of Proverbs 3:5–6 . . . that, as we trust Him, lean on His ways and not our understanding, and acknowledge Him in all things, He WILL direct our paths? Only the walk of faith—of completely trusting that promise—can take us ahead in these times.

4) Obedience to Word (and keeping the Word at the front): God gives Joshua another key in verses 7–8 when He says: . . . being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

There are two keys here—obedience to God’s Word in every area of our life (sanctification—being set apart for Him and His purposes), and keeping His Word at the forefront of our hearts and minds continually that we may know it and obey it.

5) God With Him: Finally—and this is the key to it all, provided the above things are met—the reason God says that Joshua can be strong and courageous is because God is with Him. He can be assured God is with him because all of the above points are fulfilled (he is doing what God asked and how God asked it, God has promised him, he is okay knowing it will be step by step, he knows and keeps God’s Word in every area of his life). That done, knowing God sent Him and God is with him is all he needs to know.

Read verses 5, 6, and 9 of Joshua 1 where God repeatedly assures Joshua that He will be with him. This is the assurance God ties in to His command to be strong and courageous and not to be frightened (unbelieving, faithless, fearful, not at peace) or dismayed (overwhelmed, anxious, hopeless).

"I will be with you." What more assuring words do we need to hear and know than that the Creator of the universe—the One who has shown us such love that He willingly died on a cross at our own hands for us—the One who has shown us such power that He rose from the dead though all the hosts of hell would have fought to keep Him down—is with us?

Are not these the same words He gave a fearful and doubting Moses in Exodus 3 when He commanded him to lead His people out of Egypt? There was no description of the plan, or how He would free millions of slaves from a powerful and harsh Pharoah. Of all the Israelites, Moses (having been raised in Pharoah's court) would have been most familiar with Pharoah's power, and that of Pharoah's magicians, and of the scope of the problem. For Moses, according to God, there was simply those two most precious and essential things that he, and we, must know—and that are, really, ALL he, and we, must know: "I have sent you, and I will be with you."

Interestingly, as in the case of Moses' knowledge of Pharoah, of all the Israelites save Caleb, Joshua (having been a spy in the land), would be most familiar with the obstacles before him and the scope of the enemy's strength. Doesn't it seem like, sometimes, God is more willing for us to see the size of the problem than He is to tell us how He will take care of it? I believe this is because it keeps us in faith and dependent, and not running on ahead in our own good intentions and ideas. The safest place in the Christian walk, and the most powerful, is the place of total faith, dependence, and surrender where we can truly say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ is living in and through me—and I live this life by faith."

Many years later, Jesus came bearing the name Immanuel, which means “God with us.” He came, encased in a human body, and walked among us. But then He left and said something better was coming. He would come to dwell in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Now, not only is God with us, but He is IN us. No wonder it is the "better” covenant, and no wonder God can say to us, "Be anxious for nothing"!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Set of the Sail . . .

Early in August I wrote a post called "The Wind and the Sail . . ." This must be my season to write about sailing metaphors . . .

Last week in Los Angeles I found an old hardcover biography of William Borden, first written in 1926, called "Borden of Yale '09". I was sharing it with Mary Ann the other evening and was drawn to the back cover. It has a line which reads, " 'tis the set of the sail, and not the gale that determines the way we go."

I found that really speaking to my heart. With the proper set of the sail you can even sail almost straight in to a strong wind. What that means to me is that God can be moving in a direction—strongly moving, in fact—and if my "sail" is not set to catch that wind I can move in a totally different direction. I can struggle and work and force my own direction and way, or I can set my "sail" to catch His wind and go in the direction it is blowing.

God has been talking to me a lot about surrender lately. About letting go, and just letting Him. Letting Him work His work through me. Letting Him carry my burdens. Letting Him take care of me. Simply laying down on the altar, a living sacrifice, saying, "Here I am, my precious Lord." I don't want to sail against His wind. I want to catch His wind and go with it—to travel with the Father's full force behind me and propelling me. To run with His wind and let it carry me. To quite striving, and start enjoying the joy and the peace that I know total surrender will bring, and yet which I find myself fighting against so much.


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