Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Jesus' Battles

We have established that life here, in the Promised Land of Christ's salvation, is not going to be a cake walk, despite what many pastors preach these days.  I find it rather incongruous that those who are the most public about following Jesus are the least likely to be living in imitation of His life.  They have huge wealthy churches, lots of toys and engage in a rather prideful parading of their wealth.  Of course, why wouldn't their congregants want to give generously to such a ministry?  

I can hear someone say... "If God has so blessed Pastor So-and-So, because of the principles he follows, then I will blessed if I do likewise!  So I will support such an in-touch-with-God kind of ministry, and while I wait for the showers of blessings (materially? You betcha!) that this pastor promises, I will live vicariously through him--enjoying his wealth as if it were my own.  You can't argue with success, can you?"

But... Why not send the money directly to any reputable charity?  If God is in the business of blessing those who give lavishly with an eye on receiving back a hundredfold from Him, then any charity will do.  Right?  Wrong.  The money's destination is always the ministry, which feeds the followers a fantasy of material blessings and a pain-free life right here, right now.  The pastor lives the life that he promises is available to all, if they give to him.  All in the name of Jesus.

Wow.  Is it any wonder the church in America is losing people?  There is a truly troubling disconnect between the life of Jesus that is preached from the pulpit of the modern church--Jesus sacrificing and going to the cross--and the life promised to His followers: a life full of health, wealth and prosperity, all delivered to us by our faith, and financed by generous giving.  

Some key verses immediately come to mind from Matthew, chapter 7, verses 13-29:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (7:13-14)

It's not easy to follow Jesus, and if it feels easy, you may be going down a road that will leave you following a person, a church or yourself.  Jesus identifies Himself as the Gate; if people hated Him, why do we think He wants us, as His followers, to have public adulation, no challenges and jet airplanes?  So, who does Jesus identify as the wide gate-builders and the broad road-builders?  The people who claim to speak in His Father's name but who do not know His Father:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (7:15-20)

Identifiable not, you notice, by the fruit they have, but by the type of person that they are.  The fruit comes from what is coded from within the plant; Jesus may be echoing the words of Genesis that trees and vegetation will produce seeds "according to their kinds."  The heart brings forth what is stored there; Jesus made that clear.  So, false teachers, whose motivation is control, profit and a cover for sin, cannot camouflage who they are for very long.  

But, I can hear someone say... "But wait!  Look at all the good they do! C'mon!  You can't argue with success!  They heal people!  They help people unlock the Laws of Prosperity that God promises us!  They walk the walk and talk the talk--I look up to them for how to live as a Christian!"

Really?  People can hide their fruit behind what they do for a long time.  But a Day will come when who they were utterly trumped what they did: 

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (7:21-23)  

I can hear someone say, "Then, how do I live this life?  How do I follow You if I shouldn't look to others to model it for me, for there are those who are modeling it poorly or contrarily to You?"  

Jesus answers us:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”  When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching,  because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (7:24-29)

His words are our authority, and not, just as in Jesus' day, those who claim to be speaking on God's behalf.  Listen, learn but then search the Scriptures yourself.  Learn of Him, His faithfulness, His promises and His strength that will give you courage to face the day.  Because the rain, wind and raging waters will come.  Jesus isn't proposing that following Him is a wealthy, healthy, heaven on earth thing.  

He tells us, straight out, there will be storms.  Battles.  Challenges.  Hatred of us.  Contempt.  Utter befuddlement.  

But, while He did not promise a cake walk, He did promised we would overcome.  Why?  Because He did:

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

So, I propose we tour the Gospels to see what battles Jesus faced, and how, if we follow Him, we will too.  Why?

 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.  They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.  Whoever hates me hates my Father as well.  If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:18-25)

I will be using The Narrated Bible in Chronological Order to guide us as we go.  We will see how Jesus' life unfolds and what He faced at each stage.  You will find comfort here; there is nothing you have faced, are facing or will face that He didn't face while He was here:

Seeing that we have a great High Priest who has entered the inmost Heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to our faith. For we have no superhuman High Priest to whom our weaknesses are unintelligible—he himself has shared fully in all our experience of temptation, except that he never sinned. (Heb. 4:15, Phillips) 

I am looking forward to this.  In this time of confusion, and lots of opinion parading around as fact and spiritual wisdom, it will be refreshing to sit and His feet and read the Word together.  That's what a disciple, a talmid, does:  Every moment of our lives is lived following our Teacher, our Rabbi--listening, learning and doing as He does.  



Note to my readers:  I try to post each week; but I didn't do real well with my first round of the Covid vaccine.  I developed mild symptoms and decided to have a Covid test.  I am waiting on the results.  I can hardy wait for the second one!  Weeee!  So, I apologize for this post's delay. 



















Saturday, March 20, 2021

Following Jesus

 If the Promised Land is one of victory, then that implies that hardship precedes the victory.  God, in instructing Joshua, tells him to be "strong and courageous."  Those are terms of engagement and striving.  God is saying, in essence:  You will face difficulty, but receive the strength that only I, the Lord, can give:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Receive the courage that I, only the Lord, can give:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

You will succeed.  You will have victory, but it will come out of doing battle. 

A pattern emerges in Scripture of Eden, Exile, Engagement and Elevation.  Let me break these down.  The world is an unkind place.  After being here for over half a century, I have seen moments of joy, love and true fellowship with a larger helping of death, destruction and dreariness.  But that is the world and that is the pattern.

Let's look at Adam:  Placed in a beautiful garden, he chose his own way, and not God's way.  So, he was exiled out of Eden.  As an exile, he had to engage with a fallen world.  He had to separate the thorns from the fruit, and pull out the weeds that choked his crops.  His elevation came from God's promise  that despite the corrupting influence of sin, God would continue the cycle of seed-time and harvest, and God would walk with him.  Adam had to cling to that promise especially when he faced the death of his son.

Let's look at Noah:  Placed in a safe and secure ark, he could ride out the storm that poured judgement on the ground and cleansed the earth of its sin.  But the flood waters receded; he had to return to a world where human nature still had not fundamentally changed.  He still had to engage with fallen humanity.  His elevation came from knowing that God was faithful to His word: the earth again bloomed, and God walked with Noah until his days were done.

Let's look at David:  He was anointed King--a kind of Eden of status.  His heart greatly pleased God.  But he was exiled into the desert and lived a life on the run.  Saul sought his death.  God provided help along the way with Jonathan's friendship; but David still had to fight to sustain his crown.  Jonathan then dies.  David's elevation came from knowing that God never abandoned him, even in his darkest days of adultery and premeditated murder; God promised his throne would stand forever, and his Descendant, the Anointed One, would be the King of Kings.

Job:  His Eden was a large family, wealth and prosperity.  But destruction of his world drove him into the exile of woe, despair and having to explain his life from friends, who, in their fear that they'd be next, try to distance themselves from him though argumentation and accusation.  His elevation came from declaration that he knew his Redeemer lived; he saw his fortunes restored, but he would never be the same man. This world leaves its scars us.

Moses:  Saved from death, he was placed in a palace, where he was pampered and given the best of everything.  But the suffering of his people led him to murder and exile into the desert, where he lived a life utterly opposite from the opulence of his youth.  He had to engage with an arrogant king, an ungrateful people and a task so huge that it still boggles our minds: leading a nation of slaves out of bondage and into being a nation of priests, prophets and kings.  His elevation came from hearing from God in fire and smoke.  Even though he disobeyed God, He still showed him the Promised Land.  God kept His promises to His leader and to His people.  God then took his servant home.

Mary:  A young girl, living an everyday life in an everyday village is exiled by being blessed:  She would carry the Messiah.  But she faced social ruin; the Lord had to use dreams to teach her husband to believe that she was not an adulteress; she was carrying God's own Son.  She would raise her Son in a hostile world--His own infancy was punctuated by the death of little innocent baby boys.  She would stand beneath His cross, and had to draw upon all the strength and courage God could give her to endure such pain of watching her Son suffer and die.  Her elevation came when she saw her Son utterly restored on that Sunday morning.

Jesus:  He left the very court of Heaven, having been from eternity His Father's Beloved, and exiled Himself from His "Eden" to our sin-filled, corrupted and lonely planet.  He would be misunderstood, accused, betrayed and ultimately murdered for His message.  The voices that sang, "Hosanna," would soon turn to "Crucify Him!"  He would engage sin on all fronts:  He would be tempted as we are; He would drive out demons; He would heal diseases that destroyed, caused death and alienated the victim from the community; He would seek to strip away all the man-made traditions that had so horribly obscured the face of His Father and He would find Himself confronting the worst sin of all in those He tried to save: pride.  His time away from His Father--the only time ever in His eternity--was when all of the world's sin descended upon Him and He, like us all, felt forsaken. But His resurrection was His elevation and in His is ours: We too, if we have accepted Him, will rise to new life for eternity.

But what about now?  

Battles, and lots of them.  If we think we can bring heaven down to earth now, we are trying to mix clean with unclean.  Jesus brings heaven down into us--we are now citizens of the Kingdom of God.  But when His light in us meets the darkness in the world, battles will ensue.  

Let us watch the epitome of the interaction between His light and the world's dark:

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” (John 18:33-40)

So, Pilate goes on a "fact-finding" mission by interrogating Jesus.  Fair enough.  That's his job.  But Jesus immediately controls the mission by asking Pilate questions.  Jesus cuts to the core of the matter:  

Who do you think I am?  You have been keeping tabs on me, Pilate.  You have heard from the leaders.  You have spies everywhere.  So, you are not ignorant of the facts surrounding Me.  So, you need to assemble all the facts, right here, right now, and give Me your conclusion.  

But what does Pilate do?  He distances himself from any responsibility of determining who Jesus is by saying he is not a Jew; so he doesn't have any opinion.  That is rather disingenuous; he is an informed leader and does has an opinion.  He wants to absolve himself of any culpability in this matter, for he can see that Jesus has run afoul of the religious leadership and they want Pilate to exert his power to kill Jesus.  The Jewish leadership does not have the power to exact capital punishment; only Rome does.  But Pilate can't see how this Man, however deluded He may be, is deserving of death.  

Jesus boldly reminds him that His kingdom is not of this world.  God's kingdom is not an earthly kingdom writ large; God's kingdom is run by entirely a different sets of principles.  Those principles reflect God's own character:  integrity, truth, no compromise with sin and a love that desires mercy, not sacrifice.  Redemption characterizes the Kingdom of God; retaliation characterizes the kingdom on earth, that both Pilate and the Jewish religious leadership are serving.

Jesus is not a king in any worldly sense; He is not contending for Caesar's power.  His mission is to teach, live and die for this truth:  That God so loves this world that He has sent this Son, who now stands before a skeptical leader, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Pilate's reply?  The world's reply?  

"What is truth?"

The darkness of the world seeks not truth, but a fulfillment of its own agenda. It looks for its own truth, but with a sinful nature directing the pursuit, only chaos, confusion and darkness can occur:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Rom. 1:18-31) 

Feeding the flesh leads to an ever-deepening darkness in the soul, a futility in thinking and a world that boasts and manifests the very worst in humanity.  

"What is truth?"

Jesus made the audacious claim (if it's not true) that He is Truth.  He embodies it, lives it and when He was on this earth, He didn't compromise it.  

Some yelled, "Hosanna" and some yelled, "Crucify Him!" to His claim.  

In our exile on this earth, should we, who are following Jesus, expect anything less?


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Battle After Battle After Battle...

Yup.  The Promised Land of our walk with Christ is not a leisurely stroll towards heaven.  We will face battle after battle after battle.  We cannot afford to ignore what is really going on.  And we cannot focus on just how much faith we have.  Rustling up enough faith to overcoming adversity is not the mindset here:  Knowing our enemy is within our hearts and outside of our hearts humbles us to walk with the Commander of the Lord's Army--Jesus Christ.  

Our focus needs to be on Him and His Word.  The whole Word.  A   

So, if you are led to believe that God wants only wealth, health and prosperity for you, then you will ignore the reality of life in the Promised Land to your peril.  Victory is not the same as no challenges or a smooth path with no obstacles.  Victory is knowing we will cross the finish lines, even if we are bruised, tired and overwhelmed.  Jesus is the Author and Perfector of our faith and the One who calls us heavenward, even as the battles rage. 

The inhabitants of the Land do not doubt the reality of the warfare that comes when God sends us in to bring His light and His Word.  

Evil takes notice.  Your own heart is a battleground, and Satan makes no pretense of wanting anything else but for you to fall in battle with the flesh and lose.  It's tough out there--as 2020 has so aptly illustrated.  

It's tough in here--in our heart and mind as we seek to walk with Jesus every day.

After the episode with Achan, Joshua returned to battle and stomped Ai.  Joshua learned once again that compromise with sin is not acceptable--Achan was the case in point--and he had the king of Ai impaled as a visual reminder that if Israel is to be successful, they cannot compromise at all with sin.  

In chapter 8 of Joshua, I love how the people renew their commitment of what the Lord had said was the only basis for their society:  the very words of God.  Joshua has an altar erected according to the instructions that God had given Moses about stones unhewn with iron tools.  I am speculating that pagan temples were highly crafted and shaped--the pagans took pride in their temples and their gods.  But not so with the children of Israel:  The stones came from earth, crafted by God Himself.  The focus was to be on the words inscribed there, not on the building itself:

Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the Lord burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses. All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel. (Josh. 8:30-33)

Everyone was there, standing in the Promised Land the sole focus was on the Lord and His Word.  Not on the altar, not on the victorious battle (although thanks were given to the Lord for the victory) and not on Joshua as the leader of the campaign.  The focus was where it should always be:  on the Lord and on His Word.

When we take matters into our own hands, and we redefine what the Word states, or downplay the Word's preeminence in building a just society, we end up with chaos and what the Book of Judges states so succinctly:  

Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (17:6b)

What is the standard if we judge according to what we view as "the right"?

People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart. (Prov. 21:2)

If it feels good, do it.  You're not hurting anyone.  It's your choice. Who are they to judge?  Follow your bliss.  Get woke.
But, what is the result of such thinking?

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Prov. 14:12)

Why is this?  Because the heart we possess is so utterly deceitful:

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

Jesus spared us no illusions as to how we will fare if we allow our hearts to be our sole guide:  

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (Luke 6:45)

For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. (Matt. 15:19)

So, what to do?  The Word needs to be central.  It is God's Word to us and of course it makes us angry, offended and upset.  It's not Man's Word. 

Before Joshua even entered the Promised land, God reminded him of the centrality of His Word:

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Josh. 1:7-9)

The Book of Deuteronomy is a recap of the Law given in Exodus.  The generation that heard the Word died out in the desert; the new generation, the one going into the Promised Land, heard it again before entering; then God reminded Joshua of its centrality again before they crossed the River Jordan.  Now Joshua presents the Word again, as he carves it into the altar's stones after the defeat at Ai.

How come?  Heart-check time:  

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Heb. 4:12) 

It's the standard whereby we judge our motives, actions and behaviors.  Such an introspective life,  unlike the very public and rash way we live today, will allow the Lord to work through us, because we can hear Him speaking through His Word.

Our enemies know that if we keep our focus on ourselves, our wishes and our opinions, we are more likely to be deceived.  If you remember, Rahab said the surrounding area was filled with people who had heard of the great God of Israel and His miracles; their hearts had melted in fear. 

But evil will cower only so long.  Evil finds like-minded sorts and will amass, sometimes right under our very noses:

As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel. (Josh. 9:1-2)

Or, evil will engage in deception:

But when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they resorted to deception to save themselves. (Josh. 9:3-4)

The wolves of Gideon pull out their sheep costumes and go to talk with Joshua. They look the part of tired dusty envoys, from a distant land, who are seeking a peace treaty with Israel.  Joshua asks pertinent questions, but instead of answering him, they point to their worn-out gear as proof positive that they really did travel far and are legitimate.  They are very convincing.  Their evidence, moldy bread and old wineskins, once new (so they claimed) and now old with arduous travel, seem to really impress the people, despite not really answering Joshua's questions.  They claim to be "servants" and retell all of the mighty deeds of Israel's God. Their elders instructed them to make peace with Israel; and here they are!

Sin is so legitimate, it seems.  Its logic makes sense, and we listen, nod our heads, and say, "Why not?"  So, Joshua and his leaders did what any self-respecting person would do when faced with overwhelming evidence of the rightness of something: 

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.  And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. (Josh. 9:14-15) [emphasis mine]

Eventually evil shows its face and Joshua realizes that he was duped. The Israelites go and scout out the nearby cities from which they people came; but they would not attack them, because of the vow they  had made.  The people of Israel are now upset with their leaders, but the leaders must comply with the treaty.  They find a compromise:  These Gibeonites are to be water carriers and woodcutters.  

Hmm.  But they are still in the Land and have an influence on the people of Israel.  

Joshua calls the Gibeonites to account, and they play the fear card:  They knew that God had ordered the destruction of the people in the Land, so they did it out of self-preservation.  Hmmm.  

They ask Joshua to be merciful.

They ask Joshua to do whatever he thinks he should do.


How often do we give in to envoys from the Land, who tell tales of wary travel and a need to have us accept them, without any judgment?  We look at our history, our own failures and that of our society, and we cringe.  Then we give in.  We give these people a lower status, in some way (to show how angry we are) but we still allow them to have influence over our lives, our beliefs and our conduct in the Land.

But what was their original motivation?  Deception.

We are being deceived right and left (pun intended) about how we should act and believe in an increasingly progressive society.  We cringe at passages in the Word, fearing that such black and white thinking is unacceptable in a world where only gray prevails.

Their arguments sound reasonable; their need for acceptance warrants consideration and the history we are ashamed of swims before our eyes, making us eager not to repeat it.

And yet. 

What does Jesus say?

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matt. 7:24-27)

Not a  house built with a few choice bricks from His Word, but completely constructed from "these words of mine."  In their fullness.  Even the uncomfortable bits.  (And boy, were Jesus' contemporaries, especially the religious leaders, because they wanted to pacify the Romans, uncomfortable with His words.  So uncomfortable, they partnered with their enemies to put Him to death.)

We may compromise out of good motives, but what are the motives of our enemies?  Deception.  

The battles will continue, whether the enemies are in full view with a battle-ready order, or are hiding under the guise of accommodation, but they will continue.

It's the nature of the Land we walk in.  

What will be our response in these ever darkening days?

The Word is a good place to start as we consult the Lord as to our response.



















Saturday, March 6, 2021

Achan's "Little" Sin--Part II

So, we are in the Land.  God's gracious hand has been extended at every turn: 

He closes the sea over Satan's army and drowns it in the blood of His Son. (Exodus 14)

God commands us to follow His Word--"Study this Book of Instruction continually.  Meditate on it day and night you will be sure to obey everything written in it.  Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do." (Josh. 1:8)

God extols us to be "strong and very courageous." (Josh. 1:7)

The Word of God is also "intel"--it gives us the lay of the land, what its inhabitants are doing and how we are to advance only in the name of Jesus Christ, under the Holy Spirit's leading.  The Word is our "spy" and we hear how Satan and his minions tremble at God's mightiness as demonstrated at the cross and at the tomb. (Josh. 2)

We stepped into the river, with our High Priest ahead of us, and its raging waters stop up and we crossed on dry land. (Josh. 3)

We erect "standing stones"--those times when God answered our prayers, delivered us and showed His mighty hand--and we remember these as an antidote to fear and frustration. (Josh. 4)

We remind ourselves of His covenant with His people, and how Jesus took our strips to heal us.  We eat of the land--desiring more and more the meat of Word, leaving the milk of manna behind.  And, most of all, we meet the Commander of the Lord's army--Jesus Christ  Himself, the Author and Perfector of our faith. (Josh. 5)

We see the fortified city of Jericho, that is, anything in our lives and in the lives of those around us that seem so insurmountable and so formidable that it is only by following God that we will ever see the walls come down. And they do.  (Josh. 6) 

Then we go to war--taking on those challenges that God has directed us to take on--presuming all is in order and that defeat is guaranteed. Then we get our spiritual butts whooped.  We lose the job, fail to convince a non-believer, watch heartache and chaos all around us and watch in utter disbelief how our enemies are winning.


We prayed. We read the Word.  We walked and talked with our Commander.  

You can hear in Joshua and the elders' display of utter dismay when they can't fathom how the Lord's army was defeated.  Joshua, along with the elders, intercede with God on the people's behalf:

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell face down to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, 'Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!  Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?' (Josh. 7:6-9)

Sounds like our Jesus-Joshua:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Rom. 8:26-27)

Then God, Who will never withhold the truth from us, reveals the reason: Sin is present because there are those who disobeyed God, as to what He directed should be done with the plunder.  Achan nabbed some things from the plunder and hid it. God makes it clear to Joshua and the elders the true nature of the sin and what has occured:

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. 7:10-12)


So, personal sin affects the larger society?   It's not just my choice? 

Achan is singled out, and Joshua tells him to confess what he has done:

Achan replied, 'It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.' (Josh. 7:20-21)

Ah, sin.  Does he bring the items to the gathering, preemptively showing everyone that he feels  ashamed and wants to make amends? No.  He broke the 11th Commandment: "Thou shall not get caught."  

It's a lot easier to tell the truth once you've been caught, because now it's hard to deny what is in front of everyone. Telling the truth when our sin is still stashed in our tent, and we are secretly hoping no one will know, but we still come forth anyway, because it is the right thing to do, indicates the true nature of our heart and how we view our sin. 

Ah, sin.  The robe is so pretty.  The metal will come in handy for future expenses.  Achan is justifying his disobedience with practical reasons:

Honestly, c'mon guys.  God doesn't need that robe, and it would be a shame to see it destroyed.  The money?  Hey, someday we are going to drop our swords, pick up plowshares and start our own farms.  I will need investment capital.  Or if this war thing goes on for a while, I'd like an upgrade in armor and a new sword.  Why not?  That stuff hidden in my tent isn't hurting anyone--it's my little secret, and I alone am affected by it.  No one needed to know because no one would be affected by it, except me and my family.  This is a win-win, as far as I am concerned.  

Really, Achan?  So a secret dalliance of a pastor only affects him?  If no one finds out, then he can conduct his affair, without his church, his family or his ministry being adversely affected, correct?  

Really Achan?  So, you must be honest after you get caught, because then, well, everyone knows.  But, instead of just confessing that you sinned against God, you go on to justify your behavior and that somehow makes it right?    

Really Achan?  That you made a choice, in your little bubble, and no one should judge you, because, well, God doesn't really need a robe or precious metal! 

But God sees the consequences play out.  He sees the many ripples in the community pond, and how no one is free from the consequences of personal choice.  Why?  Because if everyone makes a "personal choice," those choices do accumulate like snow on a ridge.  At a certain point, the consequences come roaring down the hillside.  God doesn't compromise with sin, because He can see far into the future and measure how the terrible consequences will play out.  

We only see ours, and He sees everyone's.

God saw sin as a community affair; He deals with it as a community affair.  Joshua says to Achan:

Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, 'Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.'

Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since. (Josh. 7:24-26)

Whoa.  That's seems harsh, does it not?  Besides, we live under God's grace and forgiveness today because of Christ; this harsh treatment was way before Christ.

But, step back and notice why this harsh punishment was meted out:  God had expressly said that all the plunder from Jericho was to be dedicated to Him.  Then the Israelites lost a battle at Ai.  The warriors thus lost their courage and they became "paralyzed with fear." (Josh. 7:5) The warriors had a long road ahead of them, and word getting out that the Israelites were not as invincible as Rahab said the people viewed them as, would only embolden their enemies and make the conquest increasingly harder. 

Long-reaching consequences for what would be, in our economy, a small sin, but in God's economy, disobedience is never isolated or without consequences.

So, a new kind of standing stone was erected:  the stones that marked the body of Achan.  

I have watched the break-down of marriage and its disastrous effects upon children since that seemingly innocent repeal of no-fault divorce laws.  What was once unusual became the norm; I am sure people thought, Hey, it's only me that ending my marriage.  Just a few of us doing so won't hart marriage as an institution. 

But, enough have and the divorce rate is around 50%.  I was on the crest of that wave as a teenager in the 70's, when a law officer knocked on our apartment door, and handed my mom divorce papers.  Her twenty-three year marriage was over and done with in a matter of months.  Yes, my mom was an alcoholic, and my dad had been unhappy for years, but the reform in California's divorce laws meant he could leave with no real challenge to his decision.  I saw him then justify having an affair with a married woman, who would not leave her husband due to their financial connections; I saw my dad move in with another woman, and not marry for a while; I then saw my dad hook up with a woman he thought had money, and she thought he had money, and the surprise of it all did not lend itself to a happy union.   

Every important event of my life became an endless negotiation of who would attend:  my graduation from high-school my wedding and visiting my first-born.  My dad just stopped coming to my big life events.  He would call me, only to complain about his unhappiness with his current relationship and tell me how jealous his wife was at our time on the phone together. 

My parents' divorce was the gift that kept on giving. 

As an adult, I watched as children got on airplanes to go and visit and mom or dad; a parent who couldn't leave the state because of the children; children whose Christmases were a nightmare because of all the squabbling about how who did what where; how every important event was marred by who or who would not attend.  

I have seen marriage repeatedly redefined since those heady days of the 70's when people could just walk away.

Yes, I know, it's more complicated than that.  

But Achan thought simply hiding a few plundered items would not adversely affect anyone, and if anything, these items would benefit him and his family in the future.  

As we walk in the newness of life, in this promised Land of His grace, it is to our peril, personally and societally, to hide our sin in the tent marked, "Personal Choice.  Do Not Judge."


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...