Archive for Faith
Like me, you started out riding a tricycle. Then the day came when you moved up to a two wheeled bike with training wheels. With a little confidence and achieving a bit of balance, the training wheels came off and you rode your bike without the training wheels. Finally, the day came when you received a driver’s license and began to drive a car.
Every break through is a break with. If you insist on holding on to tricycles you’ll never experience the joys of the bicycles and cars. And once you experience the joys of the break through, you’ll never look back. I think that principle is true of virtually every element of life, but especially true of faith.
When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?” “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the LORD’s army.” At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?” The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told. (Joshua 5:13-15, NLT)
Put yourself in Joshua’s shoes for a moment. What would you do if you came face to face with the commander of the Lord’s army? We can learn several things from Joshua’s experience. His first response was to fall prostrate before the figure in worship. The second thing he did was surrender to him, confessing his submission. Notice that Joshua did not bother to reference his own command and the resources he had at his disposal. When you come face to face with ultimate power, who you are and what you have is of little importance.
When he submitted himself to the divine authority, he was then ready for God’s self disclosure. God disclosed himself as holy. I think one of the mistakes we make in our theology is to try to define God by our own units of measure. In other words, we try to see ways in which God is like us. Here’s an important reminder we each need to hear: God is not like you and me. God is God and we are not, for He is holy.
Finally, we see Joshua’s obedience. Upon God’s self disclosure of himself as the holy one and the request for Joshua to remove his sandals, the text tells the reader that Joshua simply did what he was told. He obeyed.
The point of this important passage is that Joshua had to learn to follow before he could learn to lead. Great leaders are followers first. We see that principal on the battle field as well as the field of play. We also see it affirmed in the New Testament. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul encouraged those believers to “imitate” him in the same fashion he “imitated” Christ. We also see this principle occur during the ministry of Jesus in his conversation with the centurion. In Luke 7:8, the centurion told Jesus that “he too was a man UNDER authority.” At first glance you might suspect that the centurion misspoke, or perhaps your Bible has a typo. But the centurion did not make a mistake. He realized the truth that any authority we possess to lead is rooted in one’s ability to follow first.
I think a lot of people, even in Christian circles, misunderstand leadership at this point. The Bible is filled with men and women who expressed leadership and made invaluable contributions to the work of the Kingdom of God. But they did so as followers first. When leaders forget to follow first, trouble is not far.
Tomorrow I’ll conclude this week’s series from Joshua 5 by briefly describing the importance of following first.
My guess is that you had a hero when you were growing up. Maybe it was an athlete or a musician. Or an actor or some other entertainer. Perhaps it was a teacher or a coach. Your hero could have been a parent or an older sibling. I think those influences served us well, helping to shape us into the persons we are today.
Without question, Joshua was the recognized human leader of the Israelites. He was the person out in front, providing direction to the multitude. Even the book that contains his story bears his name as the title. So one could make the case that as the leader he was also the hero of the narrative. But is that really the case?
Up to this point in the story, we have read how the Israelites miraculously crossed the Jordan River. As they prepared for their first objective, the entire male population underwent the ceremony of circumcision. The nation then observed Passover for the first time since leaving the Egyptian border. One interesting side bar that should be noted is that the manna that had faithfully fallen from the skies for forty years unceremoniously stopped as the people began to eat freely of the produce in Canaan.
The next event is very interesting.
“When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, ‘Are you friend or foe?’ ‘Neither one,’ he replied. ‘I am the commander of the LORD’s army.’ At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. ‘I am at your command,’ Joshua said. ‘What do you want your servant to do?’ The commander of the LORD’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did as he was told” (Joshua 5:13-15, NLT).
The text pictures Joshua near objective one, Jericho, possibly surveying the fortified walls of the city and the surrounding terrain. His concentration was broken when he came face to face with a man with a drawn sword. Who was this person? Many Old Testament scholars suggest that this was a theophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. It would be hard to determine with any degree of certainty that that was the case here, although the text that follows supports the idea, given Joshua’s reverential response to him.
Joshua’s first concern with the person was where he stood in relationship to himself. “Are you friend or foe?” The response he received from the character is strong. He replied, “Neither.” In essence he said, “I’ve not come to take sides, I’ve come to take over.”
Now to my point. Yes, to a degree Joshua was the hero of the book. But the real hero of the story was God. The same is true today. God calls special people to specific places to accomplish His sovereign purposes. But no human character ever upstages God. Unfortunately, leaders can sometime assume the posture of the hero, insisting that God “join their team” and support their heroic behaviors. But Kingdom economics don’t work that way. God is the hero, and human leaders are always the supporting cast.
Tomorrow I’ll post a few more thoughts regarding the conversation between Joshua and the armed commander of the Lord’s army.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve wanted to change the world. This is a sentiment that is shared by many people I know. There’s something compelling about leaving a legacy or making a mark, if you will. I think that many are deterred from such lofty aspirations because they automatically assume that changing the world involves something notable or publicly recognized. Aspirations to become a world changer gets overtaken by “visions of grandeur,” so the dream derails.
In heaven’s economy, little is much when God is in it. Take Jocabed, for example. When Pharaoh’s edict to have all male babies destroyed that were born to Hebrew families was handed down (cf. Exodus 2), Jocabed determined to make her mark. Through creative inspiration she “obeyed” Pharaoh’s order and put baby Moses in the Nile River. After all, Pharaoh never mentioned that the babies couldn’t be placed in baskets! Through the miraculous hand of God Moses was drawn out of the water by Pharaoh’s daughter and Jocabed was solicited to nurse him through his formative preschool years. The impact she made on one person’s life bore fruit in his 40th year when he wandered down to the brick making factory to check on “his people.” Moses’ mark on the world is know world wide. Jocabed, not so much.
The point is that you can be a world changer without media attention and cable news interviews. You have the potential to change the world for God and for good. The world may never view your contributions with common knowledge, but God sees and knows what you’ve done and continue to do.
So how about it? Is there a commitment you need to make that will change the world? Is there an opportunity to use your gifts and talents you need to accept? Is there an offering you need to make? Is there a person you need to serve? Is there an organization that needs a volunteer? Make yourself available to God, and let Him determine the size and scope of the impact. Don’t let the small things deter you from making your mark and leaving a legacy. You never know the kind of difference you can make!
After the Israelites crossed the river, Joshua paused and did something important. He sent people back into the river bed to extract rocks that would be used to create a memorial on the western bank of the Jordan to commemorate the crossing. Not only did the people need their own miracles, they needed their own stories. Joshua 4:19-24 give the rationale behind the memorial stones.
“Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the LORD’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the LORD your God forever.” (NLT)
Joshua gave three reasons why this memorial was important. First, the memorial would become a talking point for future generations. When children would see the memorial and ask what it meant, the elders would be reminded to pass down the story of the miracle that occurred. Values in an organization are shaped by the stories that are told. So if you want to change the values in your organization, church, or family, all you have to do is change the stories you tell. What stories are you telling? Are you telling the stories of people from history? Or are you telling fresh stories of God’s faithfulness from your personal experience?
The second reason for the memorial was to serve as a testimony to the people of the earth. This reason reminds me that the faithful activity of God is not solely about “the insiders.” The faithfulness of God is also about the mission of the church. We exist for the people who are not here. We cannot forget that the people of God are a missional people, extending the kingdom of God to those beyond our building’s borders.
The final reason the memorial was significant was that it became a reminder to worship God. We tell stories to convey values to future generations and to share the love of God with those who do not know Him. But we also must be reminded to worship God. Worship is the ultimate priority of the church. Each day that we engage in private worship and each week we come together for corporate worship reorients our lives to the King and his kingdom. As we worship we recalibrate from the hustle and strain of every day living to the God who is God and we recall that life is not solely about ourselves, for we have been created for something bigger.
What memorials have you constructed to remind you of God’s activity in your life? What are the stories that you are telling to your children and grandchildren? What opportunities do you have to tell friends, neighbors, and co-workers about the faithfulness of God? How conscious are you to remember to give God the worship He deserves?
Tomorrow I’ll finish this week’s series and post about the value of creating lasting legacies.
“So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Seac until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho” (Joshua 3:14-16, NLT).
In the story of Joshua thus far, God had called and commissioned Joshua and the people of Israel to continue His purposes for them: to possess the land. Next, two spies were dispersed to scout the first objective in the new land—the city of Jericho.
Joshua began to mobilize the people on the eastern banks of the Jordan River. It was a massive assembly. Estimates from scholars range in numbers anywhere from 600,000 to 2.5 million people! Before them was the Jordan River, full and flowing as a result of the rainy season.
As they looked at the river, the people could have held one of two opinions. The river could have either been an obstacle or an opportunity. Either way, it would have to be crossed in order to begin the Canaan campaign.
How do you cross a river? How do you lead hundreds of thousands of people across a river? Two options were obvious. They could have worked on constructing some sort of bridge. Or, they could have attempted to swim across. But God had something else in mind: He was going to part the waters so the people could cross on dry ground.
Does that sound familiar? Though few remained in their number who had actually experienced the Red Sea crossing, without doubt everyone knew the story of the nation’s miraculous deliverance. I personally believe that God parted the Jordan River for the Israelites because He wanted to give them their own miracle. The people had been living on their parents and grand parents miracles. Now the time had come for them to have their own first hand experience of God’s power and might. They needed to know that the God of yesterday was still involved in the lives of his people in the present.
How about you? As you evaluate your personal faith journey, are you content to live off of the miracles of yesteryear? Or is there a longing in your heart to see and experience God’s work for yourself? Remember, God has not changed. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever! If you will open your heart to the possibility that God is actively involved in the world today, He will give you your own experiences with Him.
“‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go’” (Joshua 1:7-9, NLT).
This week I’ve blogged about Joshua’s commission from God as he assumed the role of Moses’ successor. I’ve written about God’s promises, God’s presence, and God’s purpose for the people which had not diminished in the face of transition. So what was the appropriate response for Joshua and the people? What is our appropriate response? What can we take away from this text?
First, they were to be governed by a strong faith in God. Three times in these nine verses we have read the phrase, “Be strong and of good courage.” To have courage does not mean to muster up bravery. It means to be confidently resolved; to have an unshakable conviction. In short, the people were to have such a confident faith in God that their faith would override any temptation to live in fear.
Fear is a problem for us because fear establishes the limits of our lives. If we’re afraid of heights, we stay low. If we’re afraid of water, we stay dry, and so forth. But fear is not limited to our private phobias. Fear can also become a part of a corporate culture. If we’re afraid of the future, for example, we’ll cling to our history. If we’re afraid to risk, we’ll play it safe. If we’re afraid of change, we’ll cling to the status quo.
So rather than being governed by fear, let our hearts be governed by a deep faith and conviction that God is who he says he is and that he will do what he said he would do. God has not forsaken his purposes for His church. God has not withdrawn his promises for His church, and God has not withheld his presence from His church.
Second, they were to be guided by the words of God. In the context of Joshua these instructions to carefully observe the words of God would have been understood to be a reference to the ten commandments and the Levitical code we find in Exodus and the book of Leviticus. In those sections God gave his people laws concerning health and wellness, property rights, ethical behavior for business practices, and more. In our 21st century context, we take this exhortation as a reference to the Scriptures.
One of the reasons we have a high view of the Scriptures is because the written words reveal the Living Word, Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39, NLT)
As you begin this new year you’re probably like me, facing all kinds of transitions and changes. Regardless of those changes, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His purposes have not changed for your life or your church! God is still “on point.” The best response we can make is to be governed by faith and guided by His words. If we do those two things, we can navigate the rivers before us and possess the land!
“I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you—from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Seaa in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them’” (Joshua 1:3-6, NLT).
We live in a day when promises are viewed with great suspicion. It seems that with each passing day our nation grows more skeptical and cynical. I especially see this in today’s youth and children. The aura of awe and wonder that should characterize bright eyed imagination seems to be all but gone by the time a child reaches Kindergarten.
Unfortunately, that can negatively impact our faith.
Our God is a God that is unafraid to make promises. The promises of God are not like the promises we make to one another. His promises are rooted in his unfailing character and He delivers on them 100% of the time. Joshua and the Israelites were recipients of some of the powerful promises of God, as outlined in the text above. God’s promises were more than simple spoken words. Literally in Hebrew the text reads, “I have already given you…” Hebrew grammar has a verb tense called the prophetic perfect. It is used when God speaks of the future as though it is history. We are unable to make those kinds of promises, but God can. He sees our yesterday, today, and tomorrow simultaneously. The calling He offered to possess the land was sure because He was already there.
The promises of God are not just vague spiritualities that we can paste to our bumpers or affix to our refrigerator doors. They are tangible! If you look carefully at verse four, for example, there is a geographical description of the land that sounds like a map. If you flip to the back of your Bible you’ll find all kinds of colored maps that detail national borders, cities, rivers and such. All of this should remind us that God works in time and space.
Tomorrow I’ll finish this week’s series from Joshua chapter 1. In the meantime, reflect on this question. Do you see the activity of God in tangible ways in your life and church? Don’t diminish the work of God to cliches. God is real and His work is expressed in tangible ways!
“After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them’” (Joshua 1:1-2, NLT).
The first words in the prologue of Joshua set the stage and the context of the next chapter in the ongoing story of the people of God. The land of Egypt is behind them. Their leader is no longer, having been buried above them on Mt. Pisgah. And now a new leader, Joshua, stands with them. The land of promise can be viewed just across the Jordan River.
Perhaps the first and most obvious question is, “who is this Joshua?” The name means “the Lord saves” or “the Lord delivers.” Its popular to consider the fact that the Hebrew name Joshua is akin to the New Testament Greek version, Jesus. Joshua got his start some forty years prior to this moment as Moses’ personal aide. He had stood by Caleb at Kadesh Barnea and boldly proclaimed that the land could be conquered even though popular opinion at that time was that the land could not be seized. Joshua had served as the captain of Israel’s meager fighting forces, leading them into battle when the nation was attacked during the wilderness wanderings.
Prior to Moses’ death, he was selected by God and commissioned by the people to become Moses’ successor. If you read the closing words of Deuteronomy and couple them with the introduction to this fascinating book, two things quickly become evident. First, all that God had done in, through, and for Moses was transferred to Joshua. As God had been with Moses, He would be with Joshua.
The second thing that strikes the reader is that the purposes of God always supersede the leaders of God. God loved Moses, and in the same fashion He loved Joshua. But something greater than these two human leaders was at work: God’s purposes and plans for the world.
Years ago I had an old set of commentaries by Matthew Henry. Perhaps you’ve come across quotes from him or are at least familiar with his work. I gave those books away a long time ago but I vividly remember one particular quote from him regarding this passage. Henry wrote, “God buries the workman but the work goes on.”
Yes, God loves his leaders. And I believe the people of Israel loved their leaders as well. But the leaders are never more important than the work of God. His redemptive plan is first and foremost. Leaders, then and now, are servants to the mission of God for the world. Or to say it another way, this is all bigger than Moses or Joshua, or me, for than matter.
Tomorrow I’ll continue this series from Joshua chapter one. In the meantime, would you pause a breathe a prayer for your spiritual leaders in your congregation? As you pray, ask for God’s presence to be with them as they lead your church to fulfilling its mission and calling.
History has a way of casting big shadows. Circumstances, events, and even personalities can become larger than life! Stories are told and told again until the stories become legends. Now there’s nothing wrong with history and legendary tales from yesterday. But if we’re not careful, we can come to a place where we pause and look at one another and lament like Elijah, “we are not greater than our fathers!”
The story of the Exodus was epic. It began, like all good stories, with the daring rescue of a baby from a tyrant ruler named Pharaoh. The deliverance of the baby from certain death foreshadows what was to come: the rescued becomes the rescuer!
The unfolding drama fast forwards eight decades. The baby, now an aged gentleman (by modern standards, at least), is challenged by God to become the emancipator of an enslaved people. Before you know it, this 80 year old man, armed with nothing but a stick, is standing before the most powerful man in the world, demanding that the people of God be released. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. After all, why should he give up a no cost work force? Plagues follow…first one, then another, until the climactic tenth plague elicits the desired response.
The disorganized multitude observe the first Passover and are on their way to the land of promise. Pursued by the fickle Pharaoh and his army, the people cross the Red Sea and are safely removed from harm’s way. Next comes the giving of the Ten Commandments followed by the construction of the first house of worship.
There’s obviously much more to the story, which spans four more decades. Though Exodus doesn’t give us the conclusion of Moses life, Deuteronomy does. Check out these final verses from Deuteronomy 34:10-12: “There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. The Lord sent him to perform all the miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, and all his servants, and his entire land. With mighty power, Moses performed terrifying acts in the sight of all Israel.” (NLT)
That’s quite a story, and that’s quite a reputation! It would appear that these words would serve as the perfect conclusion to such an epic action and adventure drama. But it’s not, for God’s purposes do not evaporate at funerals or rivers. All of the promises of God to the people of Israel are in the process of being fulfilled.
Joshua chapter 1 represents a turn of the page in the ongoing history of Israel. Joshua is not a new story. It’s simply the next chapter in same story.
Tomorrow I’ll get into the text of Joshua 1. But for now, think about this question: Do you believe God’s best for you is in the rear view mirror? Or is the best yet to come?