"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Light of Men

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews had been under Roman rule since 63 BC. Luke records that Caesar Augustus proclaimed that the whole empire should be enrolled for tax purposes. Each person was to go to his ancestral city. Without understanding it, Caesar was fulfilling the prophecy of Micah that God’s appointed ruler for Israel would come out of Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary went to the city of David, because Joseph was a member of the tribe of Judah (probably Mary as well). Her son, Jesus, would be born with the full endorsement of prophecy and Davidic rank—He would have the rightful claim to the throne of David.

Matthew states that Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. At the time, engagement was a binding arrangement, a man could call his fiancĂ© “wife”, and it was assumed that the couple would be married (Matt. 1:20). Before they were legally united in marriage, Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant. To him, this could only mean she had been with another man. As a man of justice, he sought to divorce her. As a man of mercy, he sought to do so privately. At that point in time, God intervened in a dream and revealed to Joseph that the child was conceived by the Spirit of God, and told Joseph to marry her. He obeyed, giving Jesus full legal status before the law, as their legitimate son.

Previously, as recorded in Luke, the angel Gabriel came to Mary with a message. Calling her “favored one,” he proceeded to tell her that she would give birth to the Son of God. He would save people from their sins and be called the Son of the Highest. Apparently thinking in the normal framework of how births occur, she was incredulous. However, the angel clarified “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and for that reason, the holy offspring will be called the Son of God.” Ultimately, he reminded Mary that to God, nothing is impossible. Her ultimate response was, “Let it be unto me according to your word.”

Mary must have treasured this in her heart, reflecting on this event as they traveled to Bethlehem. Her encounter with Elizabeth, soon to be Mother of John the Baptizer, may also have brought her comfort. Elizabeth’s unborn babe leaped for joy in the womb as the unborn child of Mary approached. What must she have expected as a suitable place for the birth of the Son of the Highest?

She must have been surprised to hear “There is no room in the inn.” Their resting place was a lowly manger where the livestock was kept. Whether or not she realized it, a pattern was emerging. She was a very young woman of low social stature. Bethlehem was a mere village, not held in high esteem. His birth was first announced to shepherds, not the religious or social hierarchy. When He laid aside his riches in Glory, He stooped to the most humble social position in the human race. He was also identified with the poor in his birth, in that the Shepherds were the first to hear the announcement.

Only later, were wise noblemen from the East guided to Him by a star. Their question upon arrival at Jerusalem in Matthew, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” caused a very different reaction in King Herod who feared a rival was born. The scribes, apparently dispassionate, told Herod that according to Micah’s prophecy, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Leaving Jerusalem, the wise men were guided once more by the star. Apparently, no one from Jerusalem cared enough to follow them. This apathy toward the King of Kings was to be a pattern seen in the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. The only interest they showed was due to his potential threat to their superiority and position.

Some things have changed very little. The difference between "religion" and true relationship with God through Jesus continues to be divided by misunderstanding and a broad gulf of motivations. The former guards its position of power and superiority, looking down on those around it in contempt. The latter recognizes the level ground at the foot of the cross and bends knee to worship the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, born, not in a palace and carried on a steed, but brought to life in a manger amid the muck and mire of a fallen world... where the rest of us live and die.

He found us where we were, broken and imperfect, confused, on the road to destruction. He shined a light in the darkness to show us a better way, a road home, to intimacy with God and others. The way he came to show us is the way of love. We love, because he loved us first.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men." John 1:4

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Good News

Because the writers of the gospels wrote from various perspectives with different purposes in mind, it is difficult to establish the chronology of much of the content of the gospel accounts. Of the roughly three years of Jesus’ ministry, only about 30 days of actual activity are specifically recorded. By cross-referencing the content of the gospels, we can get a somewhat broader perspective.

The English word gospel comes from the Anglo-Saxon god spell, or good tidings. It is a literal translation of the Greek “eueaggelion” which originally meant “a reward for bringing good news” and eventually “good news” itself. The term in the New Testament has come to represent God’s plan for reconciling humankind to Himself through salvation and sanctification. Although Matthew, Mark, Luke and John differ in detail, they show remarkable agreement on the general flow of Jesus’ ministry, teaching, and supernatural character. They have been accepted from the earliest church period as sacred, authoritative accounts of His life and teaching.

Historical readings indicate that Matthew was the most revered and read of the four Gospels. It is considered the teaching Gospel. It concerns itself with the appearing of the Promised Savior and King (beginning with the genealogy). A unique feature is that it uses the word “church,” and is sometimes referred to as the Gospel of the Church for that reason. Matthew shows specifically that Christianity is the fulfillment of the Old Testament revelation.

The shortest Gospel, Mark, depicts Jesus as Servant. It contains very little of the teachings of Jesus. Nothing is recorded of his birth and childhood. A genealogy is not necessary to make the case of a servant. Beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist, it goes directly to Jesus’ public ministry. It ends with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and shows Jesus as a humble servant and a powerful Savior. Most likely written in Rome, it is concerned with Jesus as suffering Servant and mighty Conqueror. Focusing on servanthood, Mark lists only 18 miracles.

Luke shines the spotlight on the perfection of Jesus as man and Savior. Written to the Greeks, the genealogy extends to Adam (not Abraham). A feature of Luke is the honoring of women, including Anna, Martha and Mary. He includes many healings performed by Christ, something that Luke, as a physician would have found extremely remarkable. Other emphases include Christ’s attitude toward the poor and the great value of prayer.

John emphasizes Jesus as the Son of God. The Gospel is written to “all who will believe.” A key word for the Gospel of John is “relationship.” He exalts Jesus, and in the opening verses calls him God. His express purpose for writing is that the readers would continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that they would continue to have life in His name. The faith of believers was under attack by teachings that He was not really God in the flesh, and John wrote his Gospel to refute that teaching and to protect the faith of true believers. It is referred to as the spiritual Gospel, emphasizing the King, not the Kingdom.

Jesus Christ is the most significant and impacting human being who has ever lived. History hinges on Him, and is even divided by B.C and A.D. demarcations because of Him. When we speak of His life, we are referencing the writings of the Gospel writers. Only parts of his life are revealed in these writings. He has existed before time began, and was present at the creation of the universe (John 1:1-5). He had fellowship with Father and Spirit before the world existed.

He appeared to different people in the Old Testament as the Angel of Covenant. His appearing in person was foretold by Old Testament prophets. His fulfillment of these prophecies is recorded in the Gospels. When his work was finished here on Earth, he returned to the Father to take his place at the right hand of the Father in power and majesty (Heb. 1:3), where He now lives as our glorified Savior and Intercessor. He reigns over the Church on Earth through the Holy Spirit. He has promised to return to Earth to gather his people and to judge all humankind. In ages to come, He will be worshipped and adored by believers (saints) whom He has redeemed for eternal fellowship.

His ministry in the form of man was expansive. However, we have only what is recorded in the Gospels. The recorded story began in Palestine, a tiny country bordering the eastern Mediterranean. It was a crossroads of the world in Jesus’ time. The nation of Israel had lived there for centuries, as Jehovah’s servant. Intended to display the glory of Jehovah among the nations, Israel broke her covenant with the Lord through idolatry and disobedience.

Christ came to Israel and identified with his people. He was focused on reconciling God and humankind. When He proved Himself obedient unto death, God raised Him from the dead. Those who believed in Him began proclaiming the Gospel, the Good News of salvation. His enduring promise is to be with them until the end of time.

"But the angel said (to the shepherds), 'Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Matthew 2:10-11

Friday, November 11, 2011

Love Believes

Like the previous phrase “love stands,” the next phrase Paul presents in the multifaceted description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is open to interpretation as well. “Love believes all things” is the traditional translation. Some more modern translations have opted for “love always trusts.” In actuality, either is perfectly acceptable, which comes to one of the common myths about Koine Greek language; contrary to popular belief it sometimes is more vague than English simply because of the alternative interpretations that are available and acceptable. Here, two pivotal words are open to multiple translations: all, always, etc. and believes, trusts, has faith, etc. These are not subtle distinctions, and major translations fall down on different sides of this fence.

Since the learned scholars who have devoted collective centuries to the translation of the New Testament have not apparently come to a consensus on the translation of these phrases, I will not, in arrogance, presume to know which phrase is more accurate, though I do have a favorite. Rather, I will look at each possibility and try to shine a light, I hope empowered by Spirit, and show the truth in it. One hopes, after all, that the same Spirit has guided the translation and preservation of the Bible through the centuries. Even though those of us who hold to inerrancy of scripture do so in the original manuscripts and languages, and make room for human error in translations, we believe that God has kept enough of the originals intact to provide us the truth we need to come to him and to flourish in him. Sorry for the digression, but I feel that when I point to apparent disparities in translations, and I do not know my audience, it is necessary to lay a little foundation.

“Love believes all things” being the most traditional translation, is the broadest in its meaning and holds great hope for our relationships in the church. It does not necessarily imply that every individual is to be trusted in every situation (which seems unrealistic in light of Jesus’ teachings: “I send you out as sheep among wolves”). I do not take it to mean that a follower of Christ literally believes everything; he is not blown here and there by every wind of doctrine. No, this is a relational passage. A person filled with agape love is able to believe all things for and with the one(s) he loves, even when these things are not yet visible. This, after all, is the very nature of faith (the same greek word, pistis), to trust in things not yet seen. You may have guessed it, and I am not trying very hard to be neutral here (it IS my blog and you are free to comment). This is my favorite translation: Love believes all things.

Then there is the possibility that Paul meant to say “Love always trusts.” If so, what did he mean by it? Certainly he did not trust every one in every situation, and he did not teach others to do so. Even in the same letter, he had harsh words for the behaviors and character of some in the Corinthian church. If we assume that Paul, as an apostle, was a man of character, and that he was more or less consistent in applying what he taught, he cannot mean, literally, trust every person in every situation, no matter their track record. As noted above, Jesus taught his followers to be aware of human nature and to be, as it were, on guard, not casting their pearls before swine, and being shrewd as serpents, gentle as doves. The Bible is nothing if it is not realistic in its portrayal of human nature. There is little written in its pages that inspires us to naively place our faith and trust in humanity, even redeemed humanity.

So much for what I believe “love always trusts” cannot mean. However, what if the trust involved is not so much in other people or circumstances, specifically, but that God is in control in his churches, and things will eventually work out? What if the trust is, primarily, in the Lord, who is ALWAYS trust worthy, versus people, who are, well, let's just say not always trust worthy. That being said, I do believe that we give one another the benefit of the doubt, that there is a sense in which we keep on believing that the Spirit of God will have his way in our brothers and sisters, and that God will complete in one another the work he has begun. That’s something to believe in, because He’s someone to trust.

“Love…believes all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 NASB

“It (love) always trusts.” 1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Love Stands

Our next phrase, translated as “love always protects,” is one of the more interesting renderings in the passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13. The same word, stego, is used 3 other times in the New Testament. In every other case it is translated as some form of “stand,” as in “when we could stand it no longer” (twice), and in another case “to put up with.” Its usual meaning falls in line with bearing with one another. However, I am here assuming that the translators had some solid reasons (not mere adherence to traditional translations) for their choice in this matter, and am going with the word “stand,” which seems to cover both meanings. To stand in love is to afford protection to the beloved. Standing in love also implies bearing with the faults and shortcomings of the one who is loved.

When I love someone, I stand my ground in their defense. Certainly this is the way Christ has loved me. He taught his disciples about such love, saying that no greater love exists than to lay down your life for your friends. His anger in the temple and with the religious establishment was not only because of the distortion of the truth of his Father’s message, but also because of the impossible burden the religious authorities had placed upon the people, without lifting a finger to help them. He stepped between the woman caught in adultery and those who condemned her in the most beloved of stories, bringing into sharpest focus the principles of grace (neither do I condemn you) and truth (go and sin no more). Ultimately he stepped between the righteous wrath of God the Father and all who receive him as Lord and Savior. His love protects us from the consequences of our own sins if we accept his atoning sacrifice on our behalf.

His love also “stands” us. That is to say, he bears with us. I think there is good reason that the intimate and unflattering little exchanges between Jesus and his disciples are included in the gospels. Many times he turns to them in exasperation and says something like, “How long have you been listening to me? When will you finally get it?” These conversations are there not so that we can feel superior to his followers. They are there so that we can relate to them. He could say the same to each of us. He bears with us. His love allows him to stand us.

Agape, then, empowers us to stand one another in a way that conditional love cannot. All other kinds of love are based on some kind of a performance standard or exchange for services. Worldly love needs to see that it is getting something in return in order to keep investing itself. It keeps asking, “What’s in this for me?” As we have seen in earlier posts on agape, this kind of love is different. It asks, “What’s in this for the other(s)?” This attitude makes it possible for us to hang in there, when worldly love gives up and gives in. When we are not holding out for the self-centered return on our investment, we have all the patience in the world (and beyond).

Occasionally, I get a glimpse of how God’s love stands with me. Unwavering, it protects me from all accusations (even my own), and empowers me to stand myself. Let it empower us to protect and bear with one another in the same way.

“Love always protects (stands).” 1 Corinthians 13:7 (parenthesis mine)

"We love because he loved us first.” 1 John 4:19

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Love and Evil

Two words seldom seen in the same sentence, unless in a romance novel, or (worse yet) a romance novel about vamps, are the words love and evil. In their purest sense, love and evil are mutually exclusive. They cannot share the same space. God, as the source of purest love, has no evil in him, and cannot be in the presence of (unredeemed) evil. Purest love drives out evil. So when the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:6, “Love does not delight in evil,” his readers must have silently responded with a resounding…”duh.”

However, when we step away from the purely philosophical views of love versus evil, is this principle, that love does not find pleasure in evil, all that obvious? If a hidden camera recorded our every conversation, each movie, book or television program we choose to digest, would it be all that clear to the objective observer that WE do not delight in evil? Hmmm… maybe not.

Truthfully, when evil presents itself, we do a double-take. We are drawn to it, like the auto accident at the side of the road. It’s as if we can’t help staring. When it is framed as humor in situation comedy, we roll on the floor laughing. And that bit of tantalizing gossip we just can’t resist listening to (and passing on) is evil... delightful evil.

Just as the Corinthians (if they stopped to think about the immorality that was so commonplace in their fellowship) had grown to delight in evil, we are in danger of getting used to the evil in us and around us. Having grown used to it, we accommodate it in our homes, our fellowships, and our hearts. Delighting in it is a short step away.

The consequences of small, seemingly unimportant concessions to evil become monumental when evil drives out love. We are filled with Spirit, or we are filled with something else. He does not share space with other idols. Love and evil are mutually exclusive. At any given moment, we are walking one path or the other. Choose wisely.

“Love does not delight in evil.” 1 Corinthians 13:6

"So be very careful to love the LORD your God." Joshua 23:11

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meditating on the Word

I have heard about meditation on the word of God for most of my life. I have generally understood this to mean that one looks up a passage (that either comforts or challenges) and reads it, then sits and thinks about it for a while. Hopefully, the Holy Spirit brings enlightenment to the person who is earnestly seeking to hide the word in his or her heart. The word then is more likely to take root and become an actual part of us than if we just passively read it, check off our devotional requirement for the day, and call it good.

Recently I set out with a more patient, methodical way of meditation on the scriptures in which I approach a passage one phrase at a time, as if to memorize it, but with a deeper purpose. As each phrase is repeated a few times, I prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to cause the truth of the passage to sink in deeply. The results are more profound. Please hear me out on this and especially what I have to say about context and interpretation in closing.

I began with Colossians 3. It is a great chapter about newness of life in Christ, focusing on the things above, forgetting about the things of this earth, letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, forgiving others as we have been forgiven, and living in gratitude. Sounds like standard fare for Paul, right? So familiar that one might easily glide over it barely affected by it, especially if you have been hearing this stuff in churches for a long time. But as I meditated on each phrase, the overarching question in my spirit seemed to be—What would be different if I really believed this with every fiber of my mind, emotions, soul and spirit? What if every part of me was in harmony, moving in concert in the same direction as the Spirit of God as revealed in this particular phrase I am hearing right here, right now?

A particular phrase demanded my attention: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (vs. 15).” Over the course of about 3 weeks, during my quiet time, this became more personal, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.” Finally, it became a choice I owned, “I am letting the peace of Christ rule in my heart.” Still sounds very simple. Yet what was going on during the pauses between the phrases was profound. The Spirit was bringing to mind other things that I was allowing to rule in my heart: envy, fear, anger, material desires, the desire for approval, circumstantial happiness, the list went on and on. There were then conscious choices to trade each of these counterfeits for the peace that comes from Christ. As I have done so, I have found a deeper peace than I have known in quite some time. I expect this to be an ongoing process, but it is one the Spirit has brought to my awareness through the meditation of the passage. What the practice did was jump start my progress in this area. What might have taken years of normal living progress was realized in the course of a few weeks. This is not a way of feeling special about oneself, but a means of sanctification, a stripping away of self.

Again, I cannot emphasize enough that no method is to be worshipped. Peace comes through relationship with Christ. Christ is revealed in his Word, by his Spirit as we prayerfully approach him. (The Bible itself can become an idol if we let it obscure the One it is meant to reveal). This process of meditation works for me, and I am eager to utilize ways to take the Word of Christ ever deeper into my being, so that it can dwell there ever more richly. I am motivated to share with you anything and everything that might build you up and draw you closer to him and to one another.

Here is what I want to say about context and understanding. If we just pick a passage or a verse and begin to meditate on it, without understanding the passage in its original context (who wrote it to whom with what purposes in mind) then we are open to misunderstandings, misinterpretations and misapplications. God gave us a mind as well as emotions, and he expects us to use them in pursuit and worship of Him (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind…). Therefore, what I am insisting on is a preliminary, prayerful study of the passage you are meditating on. You do not have to be a scholar these days to do so. There are a number of decent Study Bibles on the market, and your local Christian book store will be happy to walk you through them. Most even come in affordable paperback versions. Two that come to mind are the NIV Study Bible and the Life Application Study Bible.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Colossians 3:16

“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your ways and I will not neglect your word.” Psalm 119:15, 16

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Love and Irritability

Ecclesiastes asserts there is a time and place for every action and emotion under heaven. This must include anger. God certainly exhibits anger, and Jesus demonstrated it from time to time in various degrees. Anger is not always wrong, and it is not always sin. Sometimes, however, when our buttons are easily pushed, when we are easily provoked, when our anger is stirred at the drop of a hat, when we become greatly distressed over matters that later appear minor, it can only be supposed that we are not coming from a place motivated primarily by love.

Godly anger is motivated by godly motives. His values are being violated, people are being hurt, his truth is being compromised. We must take a stand and speak clearly on his behalf. There is a time for such anger, and God stands with his hands on our shoulders as we become his channels for such energy, still motivated, even at those times, by his love.

Much of the anger that gets us in trouble is the kind Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 13:5, “Love is not… easily angered.” The Corinthians were even suing one another rather than approaching one another in love to reconcile their differences. Of course, such things would never happen in the church today (insert sarcastic tone here).

Some of the attitudes that set us up to be easily angered include: a highly opinionated approach to life (a prideful attitude that implies “I know best.”); a lot of beliefs, beyond scriptural principles, about the way things “should" be done; personal insecurity and self-doubt easily triggered by off-hand remarks; a desire to have personal control of things that are beyond one’s personal control; an unrealistic need for the approval of others; projection of our own dark hearts onto the character of others (so that we can safely judge them from a distance). What these things have in common is an attitude of godlikeness-- with a small “g.”

Rather than becoming like our Father, who forgave us much, we are becoming little gods of our little kingdoms, setting up our thrones of judgment and control and handing out judgment and retribution when people fail to meet our standards. What is lacking in our hearts at such times is clearly agape love. Agape love, expressed in Gods child, is not easily angered because it is not invested in ruling its own little kingdom. It knows that is God’s job.

Agape, expressed through people, knows that it is forgiven, and gives itself away freely on that basis. We love, from agape, not because the other person fails to annoy us (on the basis of our own arbitrary standards) but because God loved us first. The only reasonable outcome of such love is that it be given away—with abandon. In order to do so, I must let the peace that comes from Christ rule in my heart (which means setting aside the many other idols I have placed there) and let him rule. Then I will kneel, side by side with my brothers and sisters, objects of his love, grace and mercy, freely loved, freely loving.

“Love is not… easily angered.” 1 Corinthians 13:5

“And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you were called to peace.” Colossians 3:14-15

Monday, October 10, 2011

Love and Rudeness

This week I am returning to 1 Corinthians 13 to our phrase by phrase ownership of the famous chapter on love’s superiority to any spiritual gift without it. Paul here states,” Love…is not rude.” Study of the Greek word revealed that it is found only here and in the same letter, chapter 7, when Paul states that a man who has been engaged to a woman for a long time and finds that he is “acting improperly” toward her, can go ahead and marry her if he wishes. If he does so, Paul concludes, he is not sinning. This passage seems odd to today’s reader and is worthy of its own analysis. Suffice it to say here, that the meaning has something to do with not taking into account the effect of one’s behavior on the feelings and reputation of another. To act in such a way, with disregard for how we are affecting others, is to act improperly, to act rudely. One has the distinct feeling that this is one of those words that loses something in translation, but we are stuck with what we have.

Rudeness in this sense seems to carry a tone of insensitivity, callousness, indifference to the wellbeing (emotional, spiritual, reputation) of another whom we are called to love. The Corinthians were exhibiting rudeness in their worship (insensitivity to how their disorderly worship might affect newcomers) and in the observance of the Lord’s Supper (showing favoritism). To this extent, they were not exhibiting the agape love God intended.

Today’s reader can learn a lot from considering this phrase. In our quest for boundaries (I am responsible for my own feelings and no one else’s) we may, at times, go too far. In Western culture, we stand upon our independence. In so doing, we are fond of declaring our rights: our right to say and do and eat and drink exactly as we please. Our freedom in Christ may give us even more reason to declare that no man can tell us what to do. We are not legalists, after all, bound to a set of rules. But we are not to forget that just because a thing is permissible, that does not mean it is profitable. And permissable does not make it beneficial. If a newer believer, or one weaker in the faith, witnesses us doing a certain thing, might it cause him to stumble? Then love might call us to make another choice.

There are many things that are not technically sin that can wound another. While we are not unilaterally responsible for the feelings of others, we are commanded to build one another up. In another letter, one written to the Ephesians, Paul challenged Christ followers to allow only those words to cross their lips that were beneficial for building one another up. What a different experience the church would be, if we took these charges to heart. Sensitivity toward one another is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of Christlikeness, as we take on his compassion, and leave behind the rudeness of the world from which he called us.

“Love … is not rude.” 1 Corinthians 13:5

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only that which is useful for building others up according to needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Coming Home

Our recent trip to Nashville revealed many wonders. The Opryland Hotel, with its acres of atriums, waterfalls, walkways (many at treetop level) cafes, restaurants and elegant architecture is a marvel to behold and a privilege to abide. The classes were Spirit led, opened with sincere prayer for guidance and open hearts, both psychologically researched and scripturally sound. Our “extra days” got us a river boat cruise, some neat music shops (including a chance personal encounter with Brad Paisley) and some time downtown on Broadway where many music legends were born.

There is a lot to like about Nashville, in my opinion. It has not lost its “small town feel.” People have time to talk with you, take an interest in you, and for the most part, exude that traditional southern warmth. Driving through town, you never have a sense of being in a metro area, as the lush trees and greenery flank the roads and highways. As you look across the landscape, you see trees, rolling hills and rooftops, not sterile subdivisions, concrete and pavement. It’s probably a matter of taste, but for these reasons, I like Nashville a lot. Then there’s the music-- everywhere. Open air downtown, in the restaurants, and concerts. The hotel has a free shuttle to The Grand Ole Opry where you get a blend of old and new style music in a fun and professional atmosphere for about $40 a person. On Friday night we saw: Jimmy C. Newman, Lonesome River Band, The Whites (Oh Brother, Where Art Thou), Josh Kelley, Jimmy Dickens, Jesse McReynolds, The Mclymonts (Aussie Sisters), T.G. Sheppard and Exile.

Back in the hotel, as I walked among the other 6,999 conventioneers, I observed a sea of diversity. There were the guys with $100 haircuts and tailored suits, the women with stylish shoes that came off the minute they sat down, and the folks in tattered jeans and tee shirts, looking like they would, I assume, on a typical Saturday afternoon around the house. Some were outgoing, making eye contact with easy smiles, many were in their own little spaces and following their own little road maps for the day, oblivious to those around them (probably an urban phenomenon I have left behind or forgotten). A chance encounter on one of the shuttles with one “pastor” with a gift of prophevcy was a standout. Within a sentence or two he was ready to judge a particular church’s growth as being “like a cancer” because it shares some seeker sensitive principles in its approach. His communication was one way, and I could see that he was most definitely a prophet. His disclaimer, “I don’t have the gift of mercy,” seemed to get him off the hook for a lot…

On the plane coming and going, I read “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan. It is a challenging book, and I recommend it with the assumption that the reader is mature enough not to take any book outside the Bible as gospel. It is our job to search the scripture and take the contents in prayer to Spirit to ask him to reveal to us what we should learn and become. That being said, there is a section in the book where he asks regarding our geographical setting: “What would be different in the kingdom of God if you were not there?”

In reading that sentence, even in the wonderland of Nashville, with all that I enjoy and even prefer there, I longed to come home. I think this is one of the ways we can know that we are in God’s will (at least for now). If we feel the tug to be with those we minister to and with, even when the world dazzles us with its splendor, then I think we have found a home.

Yes, it’s nice to be home again. I am so thankful for the place God has carved out for us here, to bless and be blessed by the family of God. I am grateful for this place between the mountains to (hopefully) be a lamp on a stand to those who seek, and to serve shoulder to shoulder with fellow travellers on the ultimate road home.

"God can testify how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus." Phillipians 1:8

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Poor in Spirit

For the last few weeks I have been approaching the definition of agape love in 1 Corinthians 13 phrase by phrase. The obvious title for the next phrase “is not arrogant” might have been: “Arrogance and Love on the Road Home.” Call me skeptical, but I thought no one would want to read such a blog post. Few of us think we are arrogant. If we suspect we are, we don’t want some blogger rubbing it in our face. If we think someone else is, we may be better off not dwelling on it (leads to judgment, after all.)

Jesus’ harshest words were unleashed upon the self-righteous, the “religious,” those arrogant in their moral superiority. Those who prayed, “thank you God that I am not like that sinner” versus “God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!” were not open to the gospel, because they were not aware of their need for it. On the other hand, he said of those repentant of heart, “Those forgiven much, love much.” There is, then, an inverse relationship between arrogance and love, and a direct correlation between poverty of spirit and the capacity for love.

Occasionally, it is my extraordinary pleasure as a counselor to work with individuals who recognize that they are poor in spirit. They are not coming to the counseling session for relief from a particular symptom or to deal with a particular relationship or even an event. They are seeking guidance and insight because they have come to see what Christ expects of them, and they recognize how far they fall short of those expectations.

They are not legalists. They are not concerning themselves with a set of external rules or behaviors. It is not generally abstinence from a vice that drives them to their knees. There are programs and self-help books in abundance for such issues. When they realize that, in the depths of their hearts, they love the likable and despise the rest, they fear that they are no different than the rest of the world. They wonder how knowing Christ has altered them. They may even question whether they really know Christ at all. When I think of such people, I am reminded of the rest of the beatitude~ “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

It is a good thing to realize that, in and of ourselves, we are utterly lacking. That is the truth that brings us to our knees before Christ. It causes us to cry out to him, to crave his righteousness to manifest itself in our hearts first, then in our lives and relationships. It is crucial that, in the process, we accept the agape of Spirit and others. That is what grace is for.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 NIV

“Love is not…arrogant.” 1 Corinthians 13:4 NASB

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Love and Boasting on the Road Home

When attempting to describe something to someone who has never experienced it, we sometimes resort to its opposite: Snowy climates are not hot, the desert is not humid, and agape love does not boast.

In I Corinthians 13:4, as Paul was talking to the church in Corinth, the church body was being split into factions. They were tempted to see levels of gifts that the Holy Spirit never intended, placing some believers above others. The implications were far reaching. The temptation to boast was all too apparent. Paul's concern was that this boastful attitude was incongruent with the agape love of the Holy Spirit.

The one who is boasting (about gifts or anything else) is not loving. Such a person has become like a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Lots of noise and attention, but not much real ministry going on. The word for boasting here, interestingly, is used only here in the New Testament.

It is no accident, I suspect, that Paul places this phrase so strategically after the phrase about envy (see last weeks post). We are prone to boast about the same things we are prone to envy. The particular flavor of our boasting is likely determined by the social setting (if we are sensitive to such things at all). So, if we are carnal folks, surrounded by worldly friends and family who openly live for today and live by the motto "he who dies with the most toys wins" we will brag about our toys. If, on the other hand, such boasting is not kosher in our circle of "spiriutal" friends, we may still quietly hoard and covet such things, inviting friends and family to see them, then boast in the success of our ministries or gifts and our special relationship with Jesus.

This matter can challenge us because it comes down to motives that nobody else can see-- nobody but you and Jesus. Hopefully, we want to glorify Him. We want to share with others the great things He is doing in our lives and ministries. If we are not very careful, our hearts can cross the line, and it becomes about the great things we have done, or even the great things He has done with us, his special pets. We can easily find ourselves saying, in the depths of our hearts--"Can I sit on your right hand in glory?"

There is no boasting in love. The fingernail does not boast that it is more visible than the toenail. It just does what the body tells it to do because it is integrated to the finger which is also doing what it is told in submission to the brain, etc.

Each part, each person, is necessary. Jesus is the great one. If we boast at all, let us boast in Him.

1 Corinthians 13:4 "Love ... does not boast."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Love and Envy on the Road Home

We have all felt it, that twinge of jealousy when we first see our friend's much nicer house or his cooler new ride. Something childish and primitive deep inside cries out, "Why not me? I deserve that more than he does! I want! I want! I want!" We know we should be happy for him, but, truthfully, we wish we had it.

Maybe we have left such material desires behind us. Being spiritual, we have moved on. Until we hear the stirring young gifted one teach and move the multitude to repentance and restoration and in our dark hearts we question, "What dues has he paid, Lord? I have been your faithful servant all these years and never seen such fruit. It's not fair!"

Jesus knows us cold, doesn't he? In the parable of the workers (Matthew 20:1-16) he used the illustration of calling workers for a wage. Some came at the beginning of the day, agreed to the wage, and devoted themselves to the task. Others came at the end of the day and received the same wage for a short amount of work. At this, the workers who had labored hard all day cried, "Unfair!" To which the overseer replied, "Mind your own business. Or are you envious because I am generous?" (OK, that's my paraphrase.) I know, the point of Jesus parable probably had more to do with Israel and Gentiles than the point I am making here, but I don't think he will object.

God gives to each one according to God's plan, in his sovereignty, and we need to, essentially, mind our own business. As Jesus said to the other disciples regarding John's lifespan, "what is it to you if I decide he should tarry until I return?"(John 21:22) As usual, our difficulty arises when we forget who is God and who is not.

Another part of the sovereign plan of God that we overlook is his lovingkindness for each of us. The Mother who says "no" to her child who wants the second dessert or the Father who does not give his young son the keys to the Jaguar does so out of love. They can see consequences the child cannot see, and are protecting them in ways the child cannot understand.

There are very good reasons, no doubt, that we do not all look like movie stars and have unlimited wealth. These are not the things that will bring us into spiritual and emotional intimacy with God and one another, and that is the purpose of our being here. That is the destination of our journey on this, our road home.

"Love... does not envy." I Corinthians 13:4

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Recently I was lying in bed in the early hours before the dawn. It was during one of those seasons as a counselor when the task of bearing other’s burdens was taking a particular toll. I could feel the pain of the sheep entrusted to my care in the depths of my soul. This pain motivates my prayer, my study, and my diligence as an under-shepherd. At times, I grow weary in doing good, even knowing better.

On this particular morning, my words all used up, my soul was groaning in sighs too deep for words. Suddenly, a wave of peace swept over me in my bed as tangibly as a wave of water. With it came a sense of knowing. I somehow knew that God had heard the cries of my soul on behalf of the beloved. I knew the prayers would be answered in ways above and beyond our expectations. The Father is not stingy; He is not meager in granting the desires of our hearts when they are in alignment with his will. He is able and willing to grant them exceedingly and abundantly above and beyond our wildest dreams.

These are the moments that keep me going. Much more than words of praise on lips of men, more even than the days when actual life circumstances begin to shift miraculously and the hand of the Lord is seen to deliver us in times of trouble…it is in these quiet intimate whispers in the wee hours of the morning when it seems darkest and most hopeless, hope breaks through in the intangible voice of the Spirit of God. Ironically, I would never know these moments without first walking a narrow and difficult path. God’s treasures are rarely found on the broad and easy road.

If you are weary of wielding the sword of faith, take heart. He is not far from you. He will hold up your arms and make you victorious for his Name’s sake. If you have prayed for the wayward child until your knees are calloused and your inventory of words has run dry, keep crying from the depths of your spirit. He hears you. He will answer your prayers and be true to his promise to hold his sheep tightly in his hand. If your heart is broken by the circumstances of life that have thrown it to the floor again and again, hand it to Him. He is the Master of mending the broken hearted. Wherever you are today, know that He is not far from you. His love for you is never-failing and oh, so competent.

We are not paupers, as the enemy would have us believe. We are indeed, children of the King. Take heart.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Love and Unkindness on the Road Home

Unkindness and love are mutually exclusive. They have nothing to do with one another, and are polar opposites. They just do not mix. Yet, how many times do we say we love God, and curse man, who is made in God's image? Beloved, this should not be so.

Unkindness creeps in like weeds among wheat. Springing up among the tender shoots, its motives often indistinguishable from those that will eventually bear nourishing grain. However, the fruit of unkindness is more unkindness, along with discouragement, bitterness, and resentment. Because of unkindness many have turned away from the fellowship of believers. Kindly forgive the mixed metaphor, but many lambs have gone astray because other spoiled sheep wanted their way over this triviality or that. The Shepherd is not pleased by such things, but calls us to follow his example of servant leadership instead:

"If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care--then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim any special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless life..." Philippians 2

The pathway to kindness is not found in human effort. Those who have tried that path have admitted in their latter days that it really was about the attention they gleaned for their self denial. So it really was about them in the end. What a horrifying discovery for a pilgrim who set out to deny self!

The pathway to kindness is to find the heart of the Father beating in our chests. He has promised to replace our hearts made of stone, and to give us new hearts made of flesh, and to write his statutes upon those hearts (Eze. 11:19). He gives us the desires of our hearts; he changes the things we desire so that we desire the things that he desires. His desires are for the good of people. Kindess must follow. Selfishness cannot abide in the same heart for long.

So the pathway, I believe, is less about a set of spiritual disciplines (though these may be helpful for some) and more about a relationship with the Father, the Shepherd, the Vine...our source of power and wisdom and love on the road home to intimacy with God and others.

"Love is ...kind." 1 Corinthians 13:4

"But the fruit of the Spirit is...kindness." Galatians 5:22

"He who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble." 1 John 1:9,10

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

gates of hell

Jesus said of his church, that the gates of hell will not stand against it (Mt. 16:18). A high profile and controversial book recently said that the gates of hell are a defensive stance, that is, the gates stand defensively, so we followers of Christ need not be concerned about them. That is to say, the gates of hell are stationary and cannot come after us, and so, not to worry. However, in Greek culture and language, gates were seen as synonymous with rulers, or those in power (see Vines), so could easily have been a reference to the powers of hell, which will not prevail against the church in the end. As such, they need not be defensive at all, but may in fact be offensive in strategy. A similar figure of speech today might be, for example "pillars of the faith" in reference to leaders and scholars.

In any case, one has to take scripture as a whole, not in part, before arriving at such conclusions. To that end, please consider the following passages written to Christians:

1 Peter 5:8 "Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."

1 Tim. 3:7 "He (an overseer) must have a good reputation with outsiders so that he will not fall into disgrace and the devil's trap."

1 Tim. 5:15 "Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan."

2 Cor 2:11 "In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."

Ephesians 6:12 "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

Beloved, we owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to search the scriptures to see whether what we are being taught is accurate (Acts 17:11). Many things sound right at first blush, and so error is introduced to a generation, and each generation can drift a few inches farther from truth. God forbid! Let each generation represented take seriously their responsibility to guard both the grace and the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only then can we, the church, prevail against the very gates of hell.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Last weekend I spent several hours at a large Christian event, NightVision, with world class Christian artists, musicians and speakers present. There were nearly 20,000 in attendance on Saturday alone. In our rural area, over 5 hours from the nearest significant metro area, this is kind of a big deal. Because I am reflective by nature, and maybe because I am growing older, I came away with mixed impressions. I am sharing some of them here. They are not gospel, just one man's impressions.

First, what a gift! That someone, that some people, have listened to God's call to put this thing on, in the middle-of-nowhere Colorado, is beyond great. Thank you thank you thank you to God, to Victoria Hearst, to all the dedicated board members, volunteers and community members who cooperate (a miracle in itself) to make this thing happen year after year!

Other positive impressions, the happy faces of so many. lifted in bliss, forgetting themselves in Praise of Jesus. Young and old, people of all races, socio-economic, educational and genders united, differences insignificant for a while. A slice, perhaps, of what heaven might be like, I imagine. The artists (I have decided not to get into parsing out favorites or reviewing performances) who impressed me were those who talked less about the (title of their group) and more about the name of Jesus. Very telling, I think. And the glory went where the glory was assigned, in both cases.

When the speakers were sharing their hearts, it was remarkable to me and somewhat disappointing, that the much of the crowd acted as if the platform was a movie screen or a television that could simply be ignored without consequence to anyone's feelings. Agree or disagree with the message, these are real people who came at expense and difficulty to present something from the heart for you to consider. Have your conversations at home or in the car. Control yourselves. Listen. But we are not good at listening when we are not being entertained. And that is a concern that I came away with. Even here in rural Colorado, I fear that what I saw is this: We have confused worship with being entertained. We have disdained being equipped for service.

On the way back to the parking lot, we witnessed people dragging their toddlers with harsh indifference, cussing, honking at one another with impatience, and generally demonstrating lack of spiritual and emotional maturity. As a counselor and a prodigal son, I know more than most, that the church is made of people at various stages of growth. I realize that Jesus wants everyone to hear the good news, especially those who need it most. My concern is this, especially for those of us who have been around a while, are we going to such places, including church, with selfish intentions of being entertained and somehow confusing this with worship?

Scripture defines worship as a lifestyle. The lifestyle of worship is characterized by self sacrificial love. This means service. That means we will need to be equipped for service, so we will need to be taught some things. We will have to (excuse the bluntness) shut up and listen from time to time. What passes for worship does not please the Lord if it is anything less.

This post is not meant to rain on anyone's parade. Rather, it is meant to call some of us out of a state of double-mindedness. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot worship Him and our selfish natures at the same time. He will have none of that. He is Lord of all, or He is Lord of nothing at all. Let's make Him Lord of All. Let's worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Let's present our bodies as living sacrifices, for this is our reasonable and spiritual act of worship!

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Anger: Every Man’s Other Battle

Lust is often called every man's battle, and for good reasons. Wired with strong responses to the presence of the opposite sex, most men struggle with their thought life and behaviors in this area. No wonder this is the squeakiest wheel in our parade.

However, there is another battle that wages against us. It threatens to divide our churches, our friendships, our families and our marriages. We can even be at odds with ourselves, waging war against our own failures, refusing to forgive ourselves, withholding the grace we would gladly offer to others. This battle is to manage the force of anger that surges within us.

This post is not intended to slight the female readers. They may relate to it very well. They may also glean some insight into the inner workings of the men in their lives. Why am I considering this as an issue men may struggle with more than women might? I believe men reflect that part of God’s nature carrying his propensity for wrath, jealousy, power, might and anger. Men carry an inner warrior who is ready to rise up and destroy. It is a kind of default mode that most men go to when feeling threatened or vulnerable. It may come across in normal circumstances as grumpiness, abruptness, or coldness. Under enough stress, uncharacteristic anger and even rage may emerge. Some have suggested that there may be some kind of a decision (conscious or unconscious) that takes place in his mind. He begins to feel weak or vulnerable, so the inner warrior rises up to greater or lesser degrees. He looks angry. He feels powerful. The weakness is hidden behind the curtain. The mighty Oz thunders and postures, and the little man behind the curtain hopes desperately that nobody will notice.

Ephesians 4 echoes Psalm 4, “In your anger, do not sin.” The anger itself is not the sin, but what we do with it might be. Psalm 4 elaborates, “ …on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” I think that anger is like the temperature gauge on my dashboard. When I am feeling it, I need to pull over and look under the hood. I need to “search my heart and be silent.” A heart check is in order. A heart check might include such questions as: Why am I really angry? Is it anger or something else (fear, sadness, sorrow, fatigue, jealousy)? Is it selfish or Godly (about me or the Kingdom)? Can I make a reasonable request that would remedy the situation? Can I make changes on my part that would help or remedy the problem? Can I let it go? Would Jesus want me to? Is my anger driven by my own unreasonable expectations? Can I alter these? Asking the Spirit to shine a light into the dark corners of our hearts is not a painless process, but the rewards are worth the discomfort. While I am sorting it out, silence is a great policy. Slow to speak and slow to anger…sounds familiar.

In the next chapter (Ephesians 5), Paul transitions from this discussion to the treatise on marriage (love and respect) with this covering statement: “ Honor one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). I often use this verse, with a visual of Jesus looking over the shoulder of a challenging person, watching to see if my response to them will honor (or dishonor) Him.

The ones who love Him are the ones who keep his commands. What is his command? Love one another.

“In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search you hearts and be silent.” Psalm 4:4

“My dear brothers, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20

“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26-27

"A new command I give you: Love one another." John 13:34

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dry Seasons

When seasons of drought come upon us, our bodies and souls cry out for relief. We long to know that God has not abandoned us. We seek reasons for the dry seasons that come upon us without explanation.

Seasons of plenty, from our point of view, do not require much explanation. We seem to see them as our due. At the very least, we see them as what God does. God is good and benevolent and delights in blessing people, so it is natural that seasons of lush greenery and plentiful fruit should come upon us. Who would question such a thing? Well, maybe we should. Such seasons are actually NOT our due. If Isaiah of Old and more recent Paul are correct, no one seeks after God, and all fall short of his glory. What we deserve is not blessing, but its radical opposite. Seasons of blessing are actually what we should question, but do not. At times, I fear we are like tourists who have grown accustomed to first class treatment on our cruise, and now have found reason to complain about the melting ice in our water pitchers. We feel entitled to heaven on earth when we do not even deserve earth.

So, by contrast, dry seasons leave us challenged beyond our resources. Facing the raw realities that life is sometimes cruel, and bad things happen, even to good people, we look toward God and ask, “How could you?”

America is going through a dry season of late, and yet a strange denial prevails. Our economy has taken a major hit. The automotive, real estate and construction industries have seemingly grinded to a halt in recent years. Yet, turn on your television, and the three-ring circus, replete with smoke and mirrors, continues. However, tell the construction worker, the real estate agent, the automobile salesman that life is normal these days, and see what they say. The money these industries would normally generate has created a vacuum in the economy. It affects us all. Economically, we are in a dry season.

Dry seasons come in many shapes and sizes. Usually, they involve loss of some kind: loss of a person we have loved; loss of career; loss of position; loss of a home; loss of income; loss of health whether physical or emotional. The world we once knew has suffered a drought. It has gone dry. The lush greenery we took for granted has died and blown away, and taken our hope with it. If we sink into despair, our fear becomes-- this is more than a season. This is our new reality.

For the child of God, the challenge is often to look beyond the desire for immediate relief. Larry Crabb, in Shattered Dreams, tells of an incident when, as a boy, he became stuck in the upstairs bathroom of an old country house with no ventilation. His desire was relief, to be set free to frolic in the green shade of the lawn below. His challenge to us is to leave such childish desires behind us, to grow up. He encourages us to learn to quiet ourselves, to seek God and his lessons, even while still enclosed in the hot confines of our discomfort.

In these dry seasons, God reveals some of his richest lessons, his greatest treasures, to those who persistently seek Him. Find them amidst the rubble, diamonds in the dirt. There, buried in the shards of junk we once held dear, we discover how little those things really mattered. We unearth a greater truth-- the one thing that matters more than anything in the world is the thing that no one can take from us.

"Spiritual seasons of dryness and the desert teach the soul to listen to and embrace God's will in its impenetrable mystery. They are signs of progress...and in the process, we surrender control, and by personal abandonment to God we find Him afresh not for his gifts but for Himself."
Kenneth Boa (Conformed to His Image)

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

"...We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:3-5

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” Philippians 4:12

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or nakedness or danger or sword?" Romans 9:35

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

God in History ~ Book of Judges

A major theological theme the Book of Joshua is the inheritance of the Land in fulfillment of God’s promises. In the Book of Judges, concern for the Land remains a priority, but with a difference. Now the issue is why Israel had not been able to possess the Land completely. The answer is clearly seen in Israel’s disobedience---in not completely annihilating the Canaanites, and especially in turning to their gods (2:1-3, 20-22). Therefore, the theme of the Land is tied to another concern in Joshua as well, the purity of Israel’s worship. The gift of the Land, a major theme in Joshua, is seen in Judges as compromised by Israel’s apostasy.

Israel’s apostasy is the cause of threats to the Land, as is explicitly stated in the text (2:1-3, 20-22). Repeatedly, we see the Israelites breaking the Covenant, turning to Canaanite gods, and generally doing evil. Repeatedly, we see them suffering the consequences. The oppressions, chaos, and general negative themes of the book are a result of repeated sin.

God’s faithfulness forms the counterpoint to Israel’s apostasy in the Book of Judges. He repeatedly provided deliverance, in spite of Israel’s repeated falling away. He did not do this mechanically in response to Israel’s cries for help, and He did not spare Israel the consequences of her actions. In fact, He angrily delivered Israel into foreign hands. His deliverance of Israel was motivated by his promises about the Land. He remained faithful to his promises. The immediate cause of God’s deliverance of Israel was not due to any merit on Israel’s part, but was due to his compassion and pity (2:16, 18). God alone emerges as the hero of the Book. He acted on Israel’s part in spite of her faithless character. Even the judges themselves did not contribute greatly to the improvement of spiritual conditions in the Land. Though Gideon and Samson are highly regarded in the Book of Hebrews, they were anything but paragons of virtue.

The case for kingship is presented in Judges in three major ways. First, through its outline and structure, Judges shows repetitive cycles as a part of a downward spiral, leading to a virtual bankruptcy of any positive virtues in the Land. (However, there are signs of hope as in the tribes confronting Benjamin in a unified manner).

In the final chapter, 4 times we find the phrase “In those days, there was no king in Israel” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). In two of these references (17:6; 21:25), there is the additional phrase “every man did what was right in his own eyes.” These comments do more than just state the conditions in Israel at the time (the reader is painfully aware of that). Rather, they make clear the point that things would be better under a king. The biblical norm was that people would do what was right in the Lord’s eyes, not their own.

A second way in which the Book of Judges speaks to the issue of kingship is in the episode where the men of Israel asked Gideon to rule over them (8:22-23). Gideon refuses them, stating that it is the Lord himself who is to rule over them, and no other. This is usually seen as one of the clearest statements in the Old Testament against kingship. However, the message here is not so much that kingship itself is the problem, rather that the problem is the motivation for the request; it is because “you have saved us out of the hand of Midian” (v. 22). This is in direct contradiction to Deuteronomy 17:16 about the Israelites not building up the number of horses they owned, and is in direct contradiction to the entire point of the story in Judges 7:1-8 about the paring down of the numbers of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300 men. Israel was not to boast “that her own strength has saved her” (7:2). Gideon’s refusal is not a statement about the illegitimacy of the institution of kingship, but, rather, a more limited comment about the circumstances under which Gideon was asked to rule.

A third way the Book of Judges speaks to the issue of kingship is its perspectives on Abimelech’s abortive kingship in chapter 9. Gideon’s son, Abimelech made himself king by means of a slaughter. He is condemned, not for being king, but for the means by which he did so. He was not called or raised up by God, but was motivated by his own selfishness, greed and murderous lust for power. The inevitable outcome of such a kingship is destruction. Howard asserts that nothing in the Book of Judges suggests that the final author was antikingship; rather he was arguing that things would have gone better under a king. He feels the Book functions, therefore, as an introduction to--and a justification of--the monarchy.

The end of the Book sets the stage for the larger story related in 1 Samuel, the introduction to the monarchy. We are more than ready for the saga of King David, and his ultimate successor, King Jesus. God is a God of covenants. He has always been, and always will be, true to his words.

He draws near to those who seek him, He disciplines those who worship idols (whether literal or figurative). He exhalts the humble and brings low the proud. He does all these things because he is a God of covenant and because He is a God of relationships. He loves us too much not to keep us in the fold, even if it means making us uncomfortable for a time. We are far too dear to Him. He is the constant factor in our relationship. He stands always ready to welcome and forgive. We are the variable factors, the slow learners, each generation seemigly needing to start from scratch.

Oh, the depth and height and breadth of his lovingkindness and compassion toward us! All of history is an object lesson of people seeking their own way and God patiently extending Himself to them. Ultimately, King Jesus will have his reign. Let it be!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Remembering God

We struggle emotionally for a number of reasons. The reasons tend to fall under a larger category of lack of peace. Other people are not behaving as we hoped them to. God is not protecting as we understood Him to promise. We are unable to control our own emotions, as we understand the scriptures to mandate. The world is not living up to our expectations, and we need to find a way of bringing it into line. Our own behaviors may be at odds with our proclaimed beliefs and values. As gods of our little universe, we are failing. We want help in getting back on our thrones.

Christians are not immune to this type of thinking. In fact, some of us are masters at it. Having read the scriptures, we have a general grasp of how things should work, or so we think. Our expectations enhanced, we set off, only to encounter a world that is still broken and dysfunctional at every turn. And we are active participants in that world, right down to the core. The very fact that we want to sit in judgment of it proves the point. We so easily slide onto our thrones, gods of our own little worlds.

Even knowing this, I find my peace in peril on a regular basis. The realities of our culture at this time bring many into my office whose lives have no easy answers. Some people have lost everything: jobs, homes, relationships, now they are struggling to maintain their faith in a God who seems silent in their time of need. Unconsciously, I want to find the solution for them. I want to rescue them from their position of peril. I want to save them. Honestly, I want to be their savior. However, they already have One, far better than me. Moreover, even though it is not always clear either to the client or to me, He has them covered. He loves them far more than I do. He has their eternal best interest at heart, and He is weaving something of eternal value into their spirits through the insolvable problems that lie before us. At times, my role is not to solve the problems or to become the savior, but to keep pointing them back to Him.

How much peace do we forfeit because we forget who is God, and who is not? When we are encouraged to pray, it is not so that we can counsel or advise Him, it is so that we can pour out our hearts and find peace in the fact that He is God and we are not. When scripture exhorts us to be there for one another, it is not to become gods to one another.

We can encourage, comfort, even convict, but ultimately we cannot be the Holy Spirit to another. We cannot be God. I for one am glad for this.

Frequently, I write this note on a post-it and ask my client to place it where he will see it several times a day:


God put it another way:

“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

"Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome..." Nehemiah 4:14

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Short Parable

A little heresy mixed in with truth is like serving your children rat poison, and telling yourself --"As long as it's not the main ingredient, it will not hurt them." Quite a different issue from not getting the proportions of the original recipe exactly right.

He who has an ear, let him hear.

"If any one comes to you, whether an apostle or even an angel from heaven, with a different gospel than the one we have brought you, let him be accursed. I say it again, let him be accursed." Apostle Paul

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Outside the Box

This feels like a risky post to share. In showing my weakness, and in letting you see that I can be a bit “out there,” I hope to share some hope with you. So here goes.

Those of you who know me, know that I am called as a counselor first, and exercise other roles as the needs arise, but not always comfortably. Recently, I was standing in the wings, waiting to go on platform to deliver a difficult message, to a large crowd, at a difficult time. It was in the wake of international and local tragedies, and I had been struggling with it spiritually and emotionally. I also had a nasty bronchial issue, always there, always nagging, always threatening to spring from my chest and take my throat and mouth by storm, rendering me useless as a speaker. I stood there, surrounded by black walls, black curtains, black ceiling. The black door closed behind me, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Boxed in, literally and figuratively.

The usual prayers, “God help me,” head bowed, spirit broken. Then, through the crack, I saw the lyrics to the praise music. I could not sing, but I lifted my heart to Him, the One who brought me there to do His will, to speak his Words. My hands soon followed my lifted-up heart.

At some point, I am not sure when or how, I began to dance. I just forgot myself. I became a little boy dancing before his Father-- then, Abraham beneath the stars. The black box that once contained me was gone. There I was, before the God of the universe, dancing, worshipping, free to serve without reservation. At some point, my attention had shifted from myself, and my own inadequacies, to God and his complete adequacy.

There was something different in my gait as I crossed the stage that day. I still had to stop to sip water a time or two (the flesh is weak) but there was newfound liberty in the delivery of this message. I was free from the box that once contained me.

How often in the days that preceded the delivery of this message, I questioned, “Why do things always have to be so impossible?” Here is what I have decided: If things were possible (to me), I would not rely on God in the same way that I do when they are quite beyond my personal grasp. There would be little room for God. I would be content within the box. And what a shame that would be!

“Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 10

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Legend of Two Wolves

Not original to me, I pass this along to you because it has inspired many. It challenges me to listen to my inner monologue. . .

An old man and his grandson were walking along a path. The grandson had reached an age to realize that some people become bitter, hate filled people, while others do not.

So he asked, "How can this be?"

Grandfather responded- "Within every man, there are two wolves. One, a black wolf, represents, despair, envy, self-centeredness, vindictiveness, unresolved anger, and unforgiveness. The other wolf, a white one, represents such qualities as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, forgiveness."

Insight passed quickly over Grandson's face. Then another question- "But Grandfather, if these two wolves live within me, which one will win?"

Grandfather's response, "The one you feed the most."

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Philippians 4:8,9

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. Romans 7:21-23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such things, there is no law. Galatians 5:22,23

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hide and Seek in the Book of Esther

Even though there is no mention of God or religious institutions in Esther, except for fasting, several assertions can be made about a theology of the Book. Most discussions of Esther place God’s Providence at the heart of the Book. Esther and Mordecai are God fearing individuals who find themselves in a foreign land, rise to positions of great power, and the resulting influence is greatly beneficial to their people (much like the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-48). A focus on God’s providential oversight of these events, rather than on His obvious, spectacular intervention, is the norm in these stories (Joseph, Esther and Mordecai). God’s presence, though hidden, is alluded to in the act of fasting because of the crisis at hand (4:3, 16-17). In the Old Testament, fasting is usually connected with praying, with the purpose of moving God to act. We also read the assurance of Haman’s wife and friends that he could not prevail against a Jew (6:13), a reference to the history of the Jews and God’s providential purposes for them as His people. Perhaps the most direct statement of God’s providence is seen in Mordecai’s statement to Esther in 4:14a, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place.”

Theological views of Esther also lead to observations about God’s hiddenness. Esther is one of only two books in the Bible that does not mention God openly, the other being Song of Songs. Nor does it mention the Temple, the covenant, the law, prayer, or other institutions central to Israel’s religious practices. Many explanations have been offered about these omissions, including the theory that God remained aloof from the story because of displeasure with some of the actions of the characters (deception, Esther’s willingness to lose her virginity to become wife to a Gentile king, Mordecai’s pride in not bowing to Haman). One logical conclusion to be drawn from God’s apparent absence is the importance of human action. The characters, faced with a crisis, do not sit idly by, waiting for a sign from God, or a dramatic miracle from God. The best solution to God’s apparent absence from the Book would seem to be that the author is being intentionally vague about God’s presence, veering away from it abruptly at times. In so doing, the author seems to be suggesting that God is indeed involved with the events of the story (providence), and on the other hand, that this involvement is sometimes difficult to see (God’s hiddenness). While the author and his readers rationally know that God is always present and in control, the experiences of life show that the specific manifestations of His presence are not always so clear. Therefore, we can discern a carefully crafted indeterminacy, which is a part of the message of the Book. From human viewpoint, we are given the impression that people are in control of human history and events. Only by looking deeper can the spiritual man discern the presence and providence of a sometimes “hidden” God. This indeterminacy is not to be confused with unbelief. When we scrutinize Esther for signs of God, we are doing exactly what the author wanted us to do. By extension, the author is telling us we must sometimes look for God in our own lives in just the same way.

Another significant motif in Esther is that of royalty. The story takes place in a royal setting, Esther is a royal figure who exercises royal power and influence in the story, leading to the ultimate deliverance of the Jews. Less obvious are the significant references to Mordecai as a royal figure. He is honored with royal robes and a royal procession (6:7-11); he is given the king’s signet ring, a sign of royalty (8:2); he is invested in royal power and exercises it in making decrees (9:20-23); and ultimately he is raised to a position second only to the king in royalty (10:1-3). Mordecai’s ancestry is traced in 2:5 to names in the lineage of Saul (Kish and Shimei). This motif may have been a way of assuring the Jews that royalty still had some significance for them as God was able to raise up Jews to places of influence, even in exile. In connection with this motif, is that of festival and feasting. Mordicai inaugurates the Festival of Purim as a celebration of the way the Jews were delivered at the time. Multiple feasts are mentioned in the book, and the entire Book of Esther deals with the Festival of Purim directly or indirectly. The careful written instructions for the generous Festival elevate Esther to Talmudic status to the level of the Torah, since these are the only two portions of scripture giving specific instructions for Biblical festivals. It may be concluded, then, that though God may be “hidden” in the Book of Esther, to the discerning eye, his presence is clear.

Implications for today are also clear. As people of faith, we move through our lives, doing our best at any given moment, based on our limited knowledge and insights. To the outside observer (as to the "reporter" of the events in Esther) God may not be obvious. As we lean into Him, however, his presence is (ususally) known to us, though his specific revelation and guidance may not be. At the end of the day, as events grow more distant, we gain a little perspective and make some educated guesses about God's hand in the ordinary and extraordinary events of our lives.

As we view human history unfolding, God is rarely mentioned these days, at least in mainstream media. The world sees people as the center of the universe and as the masters of the planet. To the person of faith, there is always the backdrop of God laughing from his throne. In all our pompous posing, I suspect human exploits may be, more often than not, a comedy of errors when viewed from the throne room of God. He is not surprised or befuddled by the things men do. His plan will have its inevitable way even as men exercise free will (a mystery). And that is very good news for those who call him Father.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hide and Seek in the Book of Ruth

God’s sovereignty and steadfastness can be seen in the Book the Book of Ruth in numerous ways. There is a particular focus on God, especially by the characters. Of the 85 verses, 23 verses mention God, and only two of these are narrator’s comments. The characters themselves are aware that God in his sovereignty, orders events, and they rely on Him to do so. God is seen as working throughout the Book, bringing about his plan for the once threatened family of Elimelech. God’s faithfulness can also be seen in his loyalty to his people, his refusal to abandon them, and his rewarding of their faithfulness. The most pertinent Hebrew word here is hesed, understood to mean “steadfast love,” “kindness,” or “mercy.” The word appears three times in Ruth, usually translated as “kind” or “kindness,” but it should be remembered that hesed carries strong undertones of loyalty and commitment. In God’s case, this involves his commitment to his covenants with his people.

Paradoxically, God’s hiddenness is a theme in the Book where the characters are so focused on God’s reliability. God’s presence and guiding hand are more hidden than in many other biblical books. It is not that God is missing from the Book, but that the narrator uses restraint in explaining his actions, referring to God only twice (as noted above). Seemingly told from a human viewpoint (as events might have seemed to the characters or their contemporaries), events that might have easily been attributed to God are assigned to people or even chance. For example, see 2:3 where it is said “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz.” In 3:18, Naomi says, “Wait, my daughter until you find out what happens.” Thus, God’s hand is to be searched for in the affairs of everyday life, in the turns of events for God’s faithful people. His presence is one of constant and steadfast involvement, not merely a dramatic “hit and run” type.

Inclusiveness is seen in the clear message that God’s kindness is not limited to the Israelites. Ruth stands with a group of other foreigners, including Melchizedek, Rahab, the Ninevites of Jonah’s day, and Namaan, who knew or worshipped Israel’s God. She is one of four women, along with Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba, mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. These illustrate the covenant promise in Genesis 12:2-3, that people would be blessed through contact with Abraham’s descendents and their God.

Theology of the monarchy is demonstrated by concern for the line of David in 4:17b and 4:18-22. The last word of the Book is David, showing interest in the great King, and by extension, the monarchy of Israel. A major concern is for the lineage of Elimelech, which is threatened with eradication. In showing how his name was preserved, it goes further to demonstrate how it became a part of the great lineage, so crucial centuries later. Interestingly, it shows that God’s choice of David had its roots much earlier than David’s time. The hidden works of God on behalf of David began during the lives of his ancestors. Judah occupies a prominent place in the Book of Ruth, significant in that Judah was the tribe to whom it was promised, among other things, that kings would spring forth from its descendents (17:6, 16; 35:11).Ultimately,the Lion of Judah would be revealed, but not in the Book of Ruth. He is hinted at in Boaz, the "kinsman-redeemer" of the Book.

So we see that God is consistently present, constantly weaving together the threads of lives and nations, to ultimately redeem his beloved people and creation. Even when it appears that God is not present, or his presence seems hidden, He is both near and active. We are inchworms crawling across a tapestry, making sweeping assumptions of eternal import based on the quarter inch of thread before us. God's view is sweeping. He has it covered. He is trustworthy.

Smile, as you move forward in your quest for intimacy with Him. He is weaving something good from it all. Even the dark threads are somehow essential to the design.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Impasse on the Road Home

It is painful to hear. The partners in the couple before me seem so motivated to change the relationship for the better. However, for whatever reason, they find themselves at an impasse. They feel unable to move forward on the road home to loving relationship.

Individuals find themselves stuck in their progress, too. If you have ever failed at a resolution, you know the drill. Buy the book or video, or enroll at the health club, start with intensity, and watch as the intensity wanes as your energies drift elsewhere. Sometimes, the intensity itself becomes the revolving door on the burning building of emotional distress. No matter how fast we run, here we stay.

Frequently, the impasse seems to come in the form of deferred responsibility. If the partners in a relationship feel the solution lies exclusively in the other person’s camp, not much is likely to change for the better. If the individual believes that others (or the world) must change, or that God must take control of their emotions, in my experience, things usually stay much the same.

One might conclude, then, that I am advocating for a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy similar to the former-drill-instructor-become-therapist commercial on the airwaves these days. As funny as it is, that is not what I am talking about. People need to be willing to look at their part in the problem, to evaluate what changes they themselves can make, and proceed with optimism. This is a secret passage through an invisible wall.

Jesus taught that we should remove the plank from our own eye before helping our brother remove the speck from his. Note, he does NOT say not to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, as some erroneously conclude (probably to avoid confrontation by others). What he does advocate, is removing the beam from our own eye, so that we can see more clearly to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.

But, what is all this talk of planks and specks, and how do we apply this parable to our personal growth? I truly believe Jesus is teaching us to own our responsibility in troublesome matters, because in so doing, we own our power to bring about positive change. The hypercritical husband who engenders active or passive rebellion from his wife and children needs to take a long hard look at his heart, his goals, and his actions. If what he wants is an immaculate life devoid of messes and conflict, he may eventually find himself alone and lonely. The wife who has slid into passive rebellion, chronically “forgetting” to do what her husband asks of her, needs to evaluate whether her long term goal is to undermine his trust in her. Open honest dialogue with both partners owning responsibility for their contributions to the ongoing conflict is the first step. For this to happen, hearts have to be open to evaluation and change.

David’s classic prayer, “Search me and know me, and see if there is any wicked way in me,” is an excellent example of a pliable, teachable heart. The Holy Spirit is ready, willing, and able to shine His light into the dark recesses of our souls, not for condemnation, but for healing.

Once we have allowed thorough soul-searching on our own part, have asked forgiveness for our contributions to the problem, and have lovingly evaluated the other person (acknowledging our human perspective is limited), we are in a position to be truly helpful. This is a good question to have looming in our minds as we approach others: “How can I be truly helpful.”

Eventually, forgiveness sets us free more than the person we forgive. If we have a realistic view of our own fallen state and imperfections, it is not as difficult to forgive the specks of others. Then we can all see our way more clearly, as we seek intimacy, on the road home.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Glimpses of God in Joshua

Four central themes can be readily identified in relation to the theology of the book of Joshua: the land, rest, the Covenant, and purity of worship. Of these, the first three can be covered under the heading of “God the Promise Keeper.” Joshua 21:45 states that “not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled,” and 23:14 adds, “You know that…not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you failed. Every one has been fulfilled. Not one has failed.” God had promised for centuries that Israel would have a land, and would rest in that land, in accordance with the covenants He made with the patriarchs. He also promised that Israel’s continued existence in that land would be conditional upon their obedience to the requirements of the Covenant He made with them under Moses at Sinai.

The major theme of the Book of Joshua is the possession of the Promised Land that was promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:7), Isaac (26:3-4), and to succeeding generations (50:24). The Land is a central goal toward which the actions and intentions of the Pentateuch move. Moses was called to bring the people to “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8, 17). The Book of Exodus shows the beginning of the move toward that land, and Numbers shows the continuation of that journey. Repeatedly, the Land is seen as God’s gift to Israel, especially in Deuteronomy. In Joshua, the Land as Gift occurs more than 50 times. A greater portion of the Book of Joshua is given to the detailing of the portioning of the Land to the various tribes, indicative of the Land being given at God’s disposal. The importance of these chapters is in showing that God’s promises were indeed being fulfilled, in tangible ways.
An important concept carried over from Deuteronomy to Joshua is the covenant principle that remaining in the land is contingent upon obedience to the law. In Joshua, the possession of the land and the extermination of its inhabitants are seen as a direct result of Joshua’s obedience to God (10:40; 11:20, 23). Israel’s continuation in the Land is also tied to obedience (23: 9-13, 15-16).

An important consideration in the book of Joshua is the concept of the possession of the Promised Land as the accomplishment of entering into God’s rest. This rest is a gift, a part of the two-part inheritance: (1) the land, and (2) rest from conflict with enemies. Joshua declared to the Transjordan Tribes, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you, ‘The Lord your God is giving you rest and has granted you this land’” (Josh. 1:13).

Typologically, the New Testament equates the Old Testament concept of rest with entering into Christ’s rest. Hebrews 3 and 4 develops this most clearly. Hebrews 4:8 mentions Joshua, under whom the rebellious generation was not allowed to enter the land; it was instead to a new generation the offer was made to enter into God’s rest. This offer was to be appropriated in each new generation.

Another prominent theme in Joshua is keeping the Covenant. Deuteronomistic stress is placed upon obedience to the law (covenant) and the cause and effect relationship between obedience and blessing, and disobedience and punishment. Obedience to the Mosaic Covenant is urged upon Joshua in 1:7-8, upon the Transjordan tribes in 22:5, and upon the people in 23:6, 16; 24:15. Two covenant renewal ceremonies are recorded in the book, the first on Mount Ebal (8:30-35), and the second at Shechem in chapter 24. The Ark of the Covenant occupies an important place in chapter 3.

Purity of worship, Israel’s separate identity in Canaan--especially religiously, pervades the Book of Joshua. That is the essence of holiness in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word qados (holy) has at its base the idea of separateness from the mundane, the everyday, from evil, and set apart for the sacred. Chapter 5 records several ceremonies emphasizing the importance of ritual purity. Chapter 22 records a debate about whether a second alter built by the Transjordan tribes would compromise the purity of the already existing alter of the Lord. In Joshua, dedication to the Lord had the effect of separating the individual out from the ordinary and the profane.

As His children, it should be clear that He loves us with holy jealousy. He wants our devotion. Relationship with Him should result in holiness, that is, we should stand out from the culture in ways that honor Him. Our values and goals should reflect our devotion to Him. In Joshua, it becomes clear that God is a Father who rewards loyal devotion and disciplines disobedience. Our peace is complete because of the righteousness of Christ. In our relationship with Him, we grow in obedience and trust. In this process, we enter more fully into his rest. The national covenant with Isreal may trace the history of nations once devoted to Him, who then choose other gods above Him.

God is the Promise Keeper. It is impossible for Him to leave or forsake his own. He is incredibly patient in perfecting us, and just as consistent in his discipline as part of that process. Our part is to love Him with everything we have, and to grow in love with one another. Please consider this encouragement to add these glimpes of the divine nature to your road map for the road home.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Different Kind of GPS for the Road Home


We don’t have a GPS (Global Positioning System)in either of our cars, but when we were in Nashville, the Cab driver asked me to punch in our destination on his. The voice in it sounded really confident. I asked the cab driver what happens when you miss your turn. Apparently, sometimes it says… “Recalculating” before it gives you the next instructions. These little devices are constantly assessing where you are and if you are headed in the right direction.

While I am not a big believer in resolutions, per se, the New Year seems to be a good time for so many to make changes in their lives. A time to reassess and recalculate. A fresh start. So let’s look at some GPS’s as practical tools to get on track and stay there.


Remember the old saying, “If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time”? Very true. Goals should be personal. They should be realistic and specific. Most importantly, set goals that matter and reflect God’s heart.

1 Kings 8:61 “Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the LORD our God…” (NASV)

• What are some goals that are in line with Scripture?

Examples: personal godliness, loving God, loving others, growing in integrity, defending the truth, sharing my faith, good stewardship. . .

• How will I know if I am on track? What evidence will I see? What will be different? If someone were watching it on a DVD, what would they see?

Even the best of goals need a plan.


This is where the rubber meets the road. A goal is the destination. Plans are the map to get you there. Great hitters in baseball don’t just happen. You will find them at the cage taking 3…4…even 5 hundred swings a day. Be specific in your plans, and then stick to them.

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage…” Proverbs 21:5 (NASV)

• What are some plans to help you toward these goals? How do you get there from here?

Examples: Time in the Word, Prayer, Fellowship, Accountability, One-anothering, Relationships. . .

Even the greatest plans will fail however, without a strategy.


Strategy is defined as a detailed and systematic plan of action. It’s what I do to execute my plans,to reach my goals. Most successful strategies are written down and placed where you can see them every day.

There are over 80 commands in the Bible for prophets and apostles to write things down. Some of these are for our benefit, but many are to make things official and permanent. For example, after the Lord spoke to Habakkuk, He then confirmed His word by directing Habakkuk to “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets.” Habakkuk 2:2 (NASV) Seven times in Revelation John is instructed to write down specific instructions to the 7 churches. Deuteronomy 6:9 Moses admonishes the people to “Write (these commands) on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Writing things down gives them power. Strategies in written form will help to keep you on track.

Strategies would answer such questions as:
• What needs to be done? (break it down)
• Who will do it?
• When will I put the plan into action? Consider: Why not now? What if I wait for the perfect time?
• What could sabotage the plan? Examples:Laziness, legalism, personal effort, other commitments, lack of true motivation.
• How can I prevent being sabotaged, or sabotaging myself?

We need to approach our goals,plans and strategies with humility.

Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Proverbs 21:30 “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against against the Lord.”

James 4:13-17 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on a business and make money.” Wy you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we wil live and do this or that. As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

In this last sentence, James seems to be making sure that our “Deo Volente” (Lord Willing) does not become an excuse for doing nothing! What is called for is action with humility. We are mist, but even a mist, empowered by the Spirit, is a mighty thing. It is precisely when we know our own inability to do anything in our own strength that the power of the Spirit can be shown. Amen?

So consider this simple tool, GPS…Goals, Plans and Strategies…commit it all to the Lord, and hold on for an exciting ride!

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