Thursday, February 25, 2021

Achan's "Little" Sin--Part I

So, in we go to the Land where we walk with Jesus and re-establish God's presence on earth, one saved soul at a time.  

We still pray for daily bread and God's provision in all that we do.  We drink of Jesus--the Water of life that will never run dry.

But the desert was preparation for the invasion of where God wants us to live, work and witness: the real world of "Canaan." 

Moses went into the desert to learn to shepherd.  He learned the patience and leadership skills necessary to herd animals; he transferred those lessons to herding an unruly group of former slaves.  He left the desert to confront where his enemy worked and lived: the Pharaoh in Egypt and the slavery that made the children of Israel forget who they were.  He then had to return to the desert with his new "herd"--they needed to learn utter dependence, every single day, on God's trustworthiness.

John the Baptist went into the desert, watching and waiting for the Lamb Who would take away the sins of the world.  He taught that how you behave is as important as what you believe, and simply considering yourself a child of Abraham was not enough.  Acting ethically towards others is the first step that shows a changed heart.

Jesus went into the desert, not to stay, but learn the ways and deceits of His enemy.  His enemy didn't hesitate to show up; he pulled out accusation, insinuation and Scripture to waylay the Son of God.  Jesus leaned on His Father every day for provision and walked out of the desert prepared for the long walk to the cross.

So, here we are, in the Land and ready to take it, although in Christ, it is already ours:  Our salvation is assured if we accept and then walk obediently with Jesus in our hearts.  

We get the lay of the Land from the Word.  It tells us of the human heart and its deceit; it tells of our nature and how we need a Savior; it extols the redeeming work of Jesus and it tells us to stand, armored up and ready to do battle.

First up from our biblical recon:  Our enemy knows we are coming.  Just as Rahab says, 

I know that the Lord has given to you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. (Josh. 2:9)

Does that mean that Satan just faded away when the stone rolled away and Jesus emerged victoriously?  No.  The people of Canaan in their fear of the Israelites rallied and fought back, knowing that their way of life was going to be under siege.  Satan is no different.  He comes out swinging as you enter this Land.  He will do whatever he can to drive you out and thus allow his numbered days on earth to be more fruitful without you around.  

You will face Sihons and Ogs: Satan will send out "kings" with a grand show of force, hoping to instill such fear in you that you beat a retreat.  Ever-changing cultural norms; repackaged and rebranded forms of sin; insinuation; accusation and the twisting of Scripture will be used with temerity by Satan's "kings"--people of influence and power, to push back on you being in the Land.  

You will have a Jordan to cross:  Not a measly creek, but a raging river--"flood stage" as the Word puts it.  You look at it and think, "I will be swept away by this."  Yes.  On your own power, you will be.  But if you humble yourself before God ("Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you," instructs Joshua in 3:5) and do as He instructs, the water will not drown you.  In Chapter 3 of Joshua, the Lord tells Joshua to have the priests carrying the Ark  of the Covenant to go into the Jordan river ahead of everyone else.  God always goes first in our endeavors.  The priests step into the water (picture this--into raging waters they go, carrying a rather heavy object on poles) and the waters will stop flowing.  The people then proceed to cross on dry ground.  

God will make a way for us to cross as well:  

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior..." (Isaiah 43:1-3)

This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
    who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
   “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
   See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland."  (Isaiah 43:16-19)

Precedent, pure and simple.  Joshua could remind the people of the Red Sea; Isaiah could remind the people of the Red Sea and the Jordan; what does the Holy Spirit remind you of?  Do you remember the times He made a way and you "crossed over" on dry ground with a song of hope in your heart?  Gather up those standing stones if you have not done so already, and set them up, to remind you of His faithfulness in the face of raging circumstances.  

You'll face "circumcision":  You'll endure personal pain and suffering, in other words.  You'll have to stay in camp until you are healed (Josh. 5:8).  You'll have to wait until it is God's will to move, and if you are not ready yet, wait.  God is patient.  

You will have a Passover meal:  You will feast on the Bread of Life, for Jesus and the Word will be your nourishment.  The manna is now gone--you will prepare the feast in the presence of your enemies, remembering how Jesus' death set you free. (Josh. 5:10-12)  You will eat gladly, even if your enemy eyes you with disdain.

You will face Jerichos:  heavily fortified habits; relationships; seemingly impregnable challenges that you alone could never surmount.  But notice in Chapter 5 of Joshua, Joshua meets the "commander of the Lord's army" before he takes on Jericho.  God always comes first.  

Jericho was "tightly shut up because of the Israelites." (Josh. 6:1)  Satan's kingdom looks very "tightly shut up," but no worries.  Be obedient to the process God wants you to follow, and the walls will come down.  But then, in the victorious ruins of Jericho, sin pops up.  It always does: 

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov. 4:23)

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matt. 15:9)

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

Jesus gives us a new heart, but our old nature is still in operation as we grow in Him.  Growth in Him means more of Him and less and less of my heart being Lord.  

So, in comes Achan in Joshua, Chapter 7.  He took items from the plunder of Jericho intended for the Lord, and stashed them, in total disobedience to what God had ordained.  Funny, how we think the rules, even God's rules, do not apply to us.  Achan probably thought,

Look.  There's a lot of stuff here.  God wants it all to be dedicated to Him, but a few things here and there will not be missed, right?

The only reason Achan's sin was made manifest was because Joshua and Co. went to Ai and got trounced.  Joshua was utterly devastated and fell before the Lord in complete confusion.  Up until now, the Lord favored the Israelites because they were obedient to the Lord's instructions.  

Why do we think we can cut corners and still be blessed by God?  It's not like Achan went and raped a Canaanite, or murdered one, or participated in their rituals.  He "merely" took a few items.  Right?

Look at what the Lord says,  

The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?  Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction." (Josh. 7:10-11)

Wow.  Is the Lord overreacting?  That's our human response, isn't it?  Just a "little" sin, or one that doesn't hurt anyone, or one that is consensual, or one that is modern and enlightened...isn't God overreacting?  Are we who call on His name overreacting?  Do we apologize for scriptural passages that dare to suggest that the culture is wrong?  Sinful?  Against God's Word?  How dare us!

But, God takes sin very seriously.  He asked His Son, His one and only Son, to leave the courts of heaven, come to earth and die a hideous death.  On that cross, He was weighed down in darkness with our sin...The darkness was so deep that He cried out, devastated that His Father had forsaken Him.  

That's how serious sin is.  Because our deceitful hearts lie, and tell us that it's a "little" sin; that God is making too big a deal of it and the culture is more enlightened on such matters, we reserve the cross for the BIG SINS.  But, that the Big Sins change with every generation, for every generation wnats to look more enlightened than the one before.  Pride is the driver for how we define dins. 

God made no such distinctions.  To walk victoriously in His Land, we have to confront sin in ourselves:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:3-5)

Planks and specks exist.  Even if we walk in Christ in His Land, we are still sinners, and thus need to be on guard to use the same Biblical standards to assess others' behavior as well as our own: 

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2)

The standard is Christ.  We don't minimize sin or reculturize it to gain favor with the culture. We know the Word and it humbles us.  We present it as God's words whose sole purpose is to keep us in fellowship with Him, by knowing what He desires.  We cannot please Him unless we know what pleases Him.  His Word does just that.  That's how we present it to others.  We don't blind them with its light; we show them God's path. 

So, the Lord asks Joshua to:

Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.' (Josh. 7:13)

Before we approach the sin in others, we must approach it in ourselves, standing in front of God, heart in hand and humbled by our deceitful heart: 

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin...

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge...

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me...

 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51: 1-4, 10-12 & 17)

With that prayer in mind, as we confront the sin in the Land, we are able to act as Peter advised us:  

Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. Make sure that your conscience is perfectly clear, so that if men should speak slanderously of you as rogues they may come to feel ashamed of themselves for libelling your good Christian behaviour. ( 1 Peter 3:1, Phillips)

Next time, we will stand and watch how Achan's sinful choice is dealt with and how Christ is our model now for such encounters.  

Sin is a compromise.  When we compromise, we are not alone in feeling sin's effects. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Satan Knows His Days Are Numbered

No doubt the children of Israel thought that the Promised Land would be a cake walk.  They had already faced Pharaoh's army and watched the whole lot drown; was there anyone more powerful than Pharaoh?  Nope.

But it's interesting to find out Joshua sends out spies to assess the area around Jericho.  He didn't just walk the people into the Land, and figured he'd deal with whatever the Land threw at them when the time came.  Joshua wanted to be prepared when he faced his adversaries, even though God said the land was already theirs.  

Let's equate that to our new life in Christ.  If we do not disciple new believers as to what the Promised Land holds, they may lose heart.  We need to prepare them to face their adversaries with courage and conviction.  We need to teach them about prayer, Bible reading, fellowship and confession, to be sure, but do we teach them about spiritual warfare?  About how the sinful nature is at war with our new heart and at times the battle is fierce?  That walking in Christ includes carrying a cross--everyone's is different, but we all must carry ours?  That we must tether our joy not to our circumstances, but to Jesus?  That there are Jerichos in all of our lives, but God is more formidable than anything that Satan will throw at us?  That we need to be obedient to God's instructions if we are to see victory in our lives?

God tells Joshua to be "strong and courageous," (Josh. 1:6).  Why?  He will be leading the people into the Land that God promised their ancestors.  Our inheritance is Christ and we, as His people, are His:

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. (Eph. 1:18)

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Rom. 8:17)

...and we have a priceless inheritance--an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. (1 Peter 1:4)  

God then tells Joshua:

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Josh. 1:7-9)

These instructions are no different for us.  We are to obey the Word of God, fulfilled in Christ, and keep our focus on God's promises.  That will give us courage and knowledge as we navigate life in the Promised Land. 

So, we go into the Promised Land with our Joshua, our Jesus, leading us.  

God does not want us to be ignorant of what lies before us.  Jesus spent a great deal of time apprising the disciples of what would face them after He was arrested and crucified.  He then gave them further instructions after His resurrection before He left them to return to His Father.

Joshua wants to apprise the people of what faces them not to instill fear, but faith.  God will be faithfully walking with them every step of the way.  So, out the spies go.  

Look at what Rahab says to the spies:   

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof  and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Josh. 2:8-11)

The people in the Land already knew of the greatness of the God of the Israelites.   Wow.  The people didn't even have to say a word:  God's mighty acts on their behalf preceded them. 

Jesus' death, burial and resurrection precede our entrance into the Land, for Satan was put on notice by God's mighty acts on behalf of His Son:  

'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?'  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:55-7)

Satan knows his days are numbered.  His heart melted in fear when that stone rolled away from the tomb and a triumphant Christ walked out.  He knows his two "kings"--sin and death--were defeated by Christ and now his dominion over humanity is no longer inviolable.  Jesus is Lord, and He rules both in heaven above on and on the earth below.

So:  Plan to have Satan send out his army to meet us as we seek to walk in Christ in the land He has given us.  Satan will try to intimidate us with a show of force, but was was God's advice to Joshua?  Be strong, be courageous, know that we are in Christ because of what He secured for us on the cross, and  read the Book.  

As we explore Joshua and the parallel this book gives to our salvation journey, we will see what compromise does to our walk.  Achan compromised and the effects were far-reaching.  So is our sin, especially if we continue in it after we call ourselves the children of God.  It's our title, to be sure, but it is also our responsibility. 


Monday, February 8, 2021

Wake-Up Call: Jericho

So, into the the real world we go.  The desert built our characters by learning to rely utterly on God for our salvation and our walk in Christ.  Prayer, reading the Word, fellowship with others and time spent alone with God, all reflect the new Deuteronomy as we enter our next challenge: going in the Promised Land.  

Not that the desert isn't challenging:  Living each day, with our apportioned daily bread of life itself--will be hard.  Jesus said, 

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:34)

That's desert life.  I see this desert life enshrined in the prayer model Jesus gave us:

This, then, is how you should pray:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.  
(Matt. 6:9-13)
We walk with God everyday, relying on His provision to help us live as He has called us to do in Christ:

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6)

As the pillar of fire and smoke guided the people in the desert, so too does the Holy Spirit guide us.

But wait!  How do we reconcile these desert-life verses with Ephesians 6:10-18?

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 
Well, we go from wanderers in God's grace to warriors in His power.  We gather God's grace to gathering His power and might for the days ahead.  We exchange the clothes of slaves for the armor of a warrior.  We stood on the shore watching God drown Satan's power over us to now stepping into the river to partner with Him:
 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river... And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.  Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (Joshua 3:7-8, 13-17)
The difference between the desert and the Promised Land is we are spectators in one and direct participants in the other.  And because we are priests in Christ, we go into the water first: 
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—  you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
'See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.'  (1 Peter 2:4-6)
The Promised Land is equally a place of God's grace, provision and guidance.  The difference is we are assigned there to bring Jesus to people who desperately need Him.   

So, in we go.  Through the waters--a baptism archetype--we go in with a promise that is coupled with instructions requiring our obedience:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” (Joshua 6:2-5)

The Promised Land is ours already.  We just need to go in and take it.  

The city is ours:  We will go in and bring in the Kingdom of God, to one soul at a time.  

Its king, Satan is vanquished:  Jesus triumphed over sin and death, the greatest weapons that Satan wields against us.

Its fighting men are no match for those who walk in Christ: We know that our battle is not the flesh, but the minions of Satan who try to harass us and overwhelm us with their supposed superior power.  

The conquering strategy is no different from this conquest of Jericho to our daily battle:  Jesus goes before us, His covenant promise of His presence and forgiveness sustains us and we shout of God's mercy to reclaim His prodigal people from sin and death.  

Let's see what the Promised Land has for us, now that the walls have come down.  We don't grab our lawn chairs, and hide in our churches and follow leaders who promise us that all will be well.  

My Bible tells me to armor follow Christ alone... and know that evil doesn't give way easily, whether in our world or in us.  

But God is faithful. 

That's what faces us today. 



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