Choices; May 24, 2017

Joshua 24:15 “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The whole Bible is about choices, and nowhere is that more clear than in this verse. Whatever anyone says, free will is not an illusion. We try to deny the reality of free will only because if we were not free to choose, we would bear no responsibility or accountability for our choices. In some ways free will is a paradox, because God knows how we will choose before we make that choice simply because He is outside of time and is aware of it all at once. That’s where the whole matter of predestination comes in. I’m not sure Paul did us any favors by using that term! (Romans 8 and Ephesians 1) We are free to choose, but we bear the consequences of our choices. The only human being ever to make only righteous choices was Jesus. I sometimes wonder if He ever made poor choices that weren’t sinful, such as using the wrong tool in His work as a carpenter. That’s a pretty idle question, but we do need to remember that not all choices are matters of righteousness. Clothing choices, provided they are decent, aren’t a matter of righteousness, but they can certainly be wrong! Even so, we have to bear the consequences of choosing to wear stripes with polka dots, or whatever. If we will seek the Lord in all things, He will even guide us in things like clothing choices, perhaps by providing someone to give us good advice. It all comes down to the choice Joshua proclaims here, to serve the Lord. If that is our foundation, we don’t have to be anxious about any other choice.

Today is a remarkably appropriate day to be writing on this, because 48 years ago today, I chose to marry Cathy. (Actually, my choice was made in February, but May 24th was the day of our wedding.) It was a superb example of God’s grace, because at the time neither Cathy nor I was walking very close to the Lord. Our whole relationship has been a matter of choices, as it really is for every couple. I think that’s one reason Paul links marriage so closely to the relationship of Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5. Each of us had chosen someone else prior to our meeting, but God in His grace made it clear that those were not right choices, and then He brought us together. Actually, the day after our first date I wrote my parents that I had found the girl I wanted to marry, and we telephoned them with the news of our engagement before I had a chance to get their reply. I’m enormously grateful God enabled me to make that choice so firmly, and so quickly. I feel the choice of a spouse is the second most important choice we make, after the choice that Joshua expresses here. With that first choice in place, everything else follows.

Father, thank You for Your amazing grace. Thank You for choosing and using me. May I indeed fulfill every purpose for which You created and chose me, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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God Fighting For Us; May 23, 2017

Joshua 23:10-11 “One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God.”

There is a distinction in Japanese here that clears up what I think is a common misunderstanding about this and similar passages. We are prone to think that if the Lord fights for us, we don’t have to fight at all. Sometimes that is indeed true, as in Exodus 14:14 and, perhaps most notably, 2 Chronicles 20:17. However, such cases are the exception rather than the rule. The Japanese grammar here makes it clear that the Lord fights on our behalf, rather that in our stead. If we didn’t have to fight at all, then why would this talk about one person routing a thousand? Like so many things in the spiritual realm, what is called for is our choice; we have to choose to fight. That’s why the devil tries so hard to convince us that “Resistance is futile” (to quote Star Trek). In Christ, that is absolutely, never, true. This past Sunday I preached on how the devil is afraid of believing Christians, and it was a true Word indeed. We need to believe that life in Christ is worth the fight, and take our stand in obedience to Him. When we do that, the devil indeed turns tail and runs, just as James said. (James 1:22)

I have certainly tasted this from all sides. I well remember a particular “besetting sin” that the devil kept reminding me of, and I kept falling into. It wasn’t until I really grasped that I was forgiven that I was able to shake loose of it. In other words, I had to receive the faith and hope God had for me, and choose to act accordingly. I can’t say that I’ve never been tempted with it again, or even that I’ve never stumbled since, but I can say that I have the victory, and I know that it’s because God is on my side, just as Joshua said. As a pastor, I deal with people who are just as weak as I was/am. I need to help them understand that God will supply all the strength they need if they will only choose to receive and apply it. Without our choice, it’s only potential and not actual. It’s the same way with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He supplies them, but it is our choice whether to apply them. He might give a gift of prophecy, for example, but we have to choose to open our mouths, or perhaps write it down. Almost every time I have been used in prophecy I have only known the beginning when I started speaking, and I have been as surprised as those hearing me at what I have ended up saying. Sometimes I’ve had no idea at all, but just had the feeling that God wanted to say something, and He wanted to use me to express it. My words by themselves are of no particular benefit, but I’ve got to choose to speak if I want God to speak through me.

Father, this is an important point. As is so often the case, I had no idea I would write this, just from reading the passage. Help me choose to fight, to speak, to do Your works, knowing that You will do the “heavy lifting” if I will just make the choice to serve You. Thank You. Praise God!

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Taking Possession; May 22, 2017

Joshua 18:3 So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?

Quite a few of the things God provides for us come under the same category as the land for the Israelites. That is, it’s God’s provision, but we have to be active in taking possession or we won’t have it. It is a well known but often ignored truth that we tend to devalue things we haven’t worked for. God is too good a Father to let that happen without a fight. Of course His grace and love are things we could never earn, but even there we have to choose to receive them. Why we put that choice off is sometimes a real mystery! We often dread the work involved in laying hold of certain things, but once we have them, we discover that the process of getting them was as valuable as the thing itself. I think these words of Joshua apply to many of us far more often than we would like to admit.

Of course this shoe fits me as well as it does anyone. I have a real tendency to spiritual – and physical – laziness, wanting God to hand me things rather than actively pursuing them. Sometimes that is wise, rejecting human ambition in favor of waiting on the Lord, but all too often it is simply inertia, failing to get moving. Right now I have two major projects that come under that category: finishing the book I started and implementing a regular tracting program in this part of town. I don’t know what God has for me personally in getting the book out, but I feel sure it will be a blessing to the Body of Christ. I don’t know when or whom or how many people God might bring in through the tracts, but if I don’t distribute them, I am denying those people an opportunity to enter God’s family for eternal life as His children. Yesterday God brought someone to this church whom we knew nothing about. He was baptized as a young man, but hasn’t been to church in 30 years. In his late 50s, he is hoping to be involved in active evangelism and ministry after his retirement. That’s not something we worked for, but I’ve got to be active in helping him grow spiritually so that he and we may take hold of that which God wants to provide, to him and to us. It looks like the feeling that God was going to change a lot of things in this fiscal year is certainly accurate! I am not to hang back, but move forward in faith and obedience on every front to indeed take hold of that which He has provided.

Father, yesterday was quite a day, not only with the man showing up but with people staying around until after 5, talking about the wedding coming up next week. Then there’s the man who’s been coming for years who confided to one believer that he wants to be baptized. He hasn’t worked up the courage to say it to me yet, but You have him firmly in hand! Thank You for all that You are doing. Help me indeed be active in my part, not running ahead or straying to the side but certainly not lagging behind. May Your will be done on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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Faith and Miracles May 21, 2017

Joshua 10:13-14 So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

Of all the miracles in the Bible, the two that deal with the “movement” of the sun (here and 2 Kings 20:9-11) are the hardest to reconcile with current cosmology. We know very well that the sun seems to move, from our perspective, because of the rotation of the earth, so how could these things have happened as reported? The thing is, the geological record shows that various anomalies have occurred in the earth’s rotation, and the magnetic poles have swapped more than once. There are those who have pursued this particular issue, but I’m not one of them. The point is, nothing at all is impossible for God, just as He had Gabriel tell Mary. (Luke 1:37) Jesus even doubled down and said that in faith, nothing would be impossible for us! (Matthew 17:20) This is why Jesus praised childlike faith. We are too prone to let “grownup” objections rob us of trusting God. The more we know of how the world works usually, the less we tend to believe that God can make it work any other way. For adults, faith almost has to be the gift the Bible says it is. (1 Corinthians 12:9, Ephesians 2:8) The thing is, not believing God is actually a form of idolatry, because it is placing human intellect ahead of, and even above, God. It has been said that science is following God’s footprints. I like that, because all of creation points to the Creator, just as Paul said. (Romans 1:20)

I had the huge advantage of growing up in a home that valued both faith and science. I have both scientists and ministers in my family tree. At no point did my parents deny science, but they always made it clear that science is incomplete, whereas God is infinite and perfect. As far as the Bible is concerned, I am fully aware of “textual criticism” and the like, but I am convinced that God caused the Bible to be written, and He is more than capable of guiding the process. The fact that He still speaks to me through it daily, as many times as I’ve read it, certainly confirms, to me at least, that it is supernatural. As I comment from time to time, I am more aware than many of the difficulties of translation from one language to another, but there too God can and does guide. If God can change the rotation of the earth to benefit His children, and I believe He did, then He certainly can transmit His Word down through the centuries, and He can meet every need I could ever have.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Even as well as I know this is true, I still default to humanistic, intellectual solutions too much of the time. I know that You have the right solution all of the time, but I don’t act like I know it. Help me trust You fully, not demanding that you change the rotation of the earth, but not letting my unbelief get in the way of anything You want to do, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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Leadership; May 20, 2017

Joshua 6:16 The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!”

Differences in language can be very interesting. In English, the command to shout is one syllable, but in Japanese, the shortest it could be said is three syllables, and the translation I use expresses it in 11 syllables! Part of that comes from the fact that there are different kinds of shouting, and the translators were most concerned with accuracy. This makes me very curious about the Hebrew! That said, this is one moment in one of the most famous and dramatic incidents in the whole Bible. God used Jericho to teach the Israelites to trust and obey Him, specifically through Joshua. I don’t think this generation ever forgot that lesson! Sadly, later generations, not having Joshua, lost sight of the vital truth that our trust and obedience are due to God, and only secondarily to those whom He uses. This is a major factor in churches today. Some churches are indeed centered on God, with the pastor as the Chief Worshiper. However, all too many are centered on the pastor himself, and that never ends well. It doesn’t matter how gifted and/or charismatic a person might be, apart from Christ they can do nothing. (John 15:5) Following God brings success. Following a person alone doesn’t. If the leader is committed to following God, then the distinction between following God and following the leader blurs considerably, as it did with Moses and Joshua. However, that becomes very risky. Leaders need accountability to help them stay on focus in following God rather than their own ambitions. Many major ministries have crashed and burned from a lack of accountability. This is why James says so clearly, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) It’s bad enough when we miss God on a personal level, but even worse when we lead others in the process. That’s why a leader’s personal relationship with Christ is of the utmost importance. One of the saddest statistics is how few pastors read the Bible at all, other than for sermon preparation.

As a pastor, I am painfully aware of this truth. My devotional time each day is my first priority in a number of ways, but that doesn’t guarantee that I hear and follow the Lord with perfect accuracy. I have always sought to have a Christ-centered church, rather than a pastor-centered church, but I’m afraid that a lot of people look at it as my church anyway. I endeavor to communicate what I hear the Lord saying and not simply command people, but it doesn’t always come across that way. I’ve not been very good at praising progress when it has fallen far short of perfection. I forget how far I fall short of perfection! I need to let my painful mistakes teach others to avoid them, so that together we may follow Christ more accurately.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for the Coaching meeting yesterday, and for all You did in it. Thank You for the potential door that appeared for me to have a wider ministry. I pray that I would not run ahead or lag behind, but do and say what You want me to when You want me to, to build up the Body of Christ in this nation for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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God’s Changing Provision; May 19, 2017

Joshua 5:12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.

God supplies, but He doesn’t spoil. When the nature of His provision changes, we tend to panic. Actually, the Israelites had a hard time getting used to manna in the first place, but once they were used to it, having it stop was probably anxiety-producing. No one under 40 had eaten anything else! (Actually, it seems to me that they probably ate meat from the sacrifices and from hunting, but they hadn’t had grain and such.) Because God had them moving for those 40 years He provided supernaturally, but with their changing circumstances, He changed the nature of His provision, requiring more participation on their part. I am reminded of what happens when people who have grown up on welfare are required to work for a living. The reaction can be rather severe! The problem comes when we fail to recognize that things like welfare payments are for special circumstances and are not the normal state of things. I’m sure plenty of Israelites were upset when the manna stopped! In the final analysis we are all totally dependent on God for our existence, but He, being the perfect Father, knows what is best for us, and it’s certainly not a dependent, entitled mentality. We are to be active as stewards of the things and the opportunities He provides. When Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) He wasn’t just saying not to be anxious, He was saying that we are to be active in the tasks God has for us. If we will do that, we will discover that God’s provision is abundant indeed.

This has certainly been my experience. The more I have focused on getting stuff for me, the faster it’s gone through my hands. When I have focused on knowing and doing what God wanted of me, I have enjoyed genuine prosperity. That doesn’t just mean getting stuff, it means that what I have had on hand has lasted and served me well. I have some clothing that I’ve worn for over 20 years! Recently the Lord has been indicating that some things are to be replaced, but I’m not to mourn their passing. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have enough income to owe income tax, but to my observation, I live much more comfortably than some people who have a lot more income. The point is, if I’m where God wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do, I don’t have to worry about anything. He’s got it.

Father, thank You indeed for Your abundant provision. Help me be the steward of that provision that You want me to be, so that Your purposes for each part of it may be fulfilled, for the blessing of many and for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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May 18, 2017

Joshua 3:15-16 Now the Jordan is in flood 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 (the Salt Sea ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.

This has always struck me as an enormously significant symbolic event. God arranged that it happen under the most dramatic circumstances, at flood stage, but this actually was the physically easiest for the priests carrying the ark. Because it was overflowing, they could step into the water without going down into the channel of the river. At the same time, no one could later claim that there had been a drought and the river was just a trickle. All of that, however, was just a matter of staging, so to speak. What really mattered was that the water stopped at a town called Adam. You can’t get any more explicit than that! The ark, representing God’s redemptive covenant with His people, was effective all the way back to Adam, the first man. Jesus came and died and rose again at a point in history, but His redemption is effective for everyone from Adam on down. We have trouble grasping that because we too are in the flow of time and see everything as past, present, or future. However, God being outside of time sees everything at once, so His acts are effective for all eternity. Physicists agree that time is a function of the material universe, speaking of “the space-time continuum,” so God, being Spirit rather than matter, is logically outside of time. We are spirits, but we inhabit material bodies and so have trouble, quite literally, thinking outside of that. Even if we can’t do it by human intellect, we need to accept by faith that God’s redemptive grace is effective for all time, past, present, and future, and so rejoice to serve Him in obedient gratitude.

I have thought about this issue perhaps more than most people, but even so I get stuck in temporal thinking. I need help grasping that though God’s miracles take place in time, they are not limited by time. That’s why, for example, when we prayed about finances one time when I was in seminary a check arrived in the mail almost immediately, but it had to have been mailed days before we prayed. That’s no problem for God! There are real limits to what my mind can wrap itself around, so I’ve got to accept that God’s smart and I’m not, and rest, relax, and rejoice in Him, knowing that if He could roll back history to Adam, nothing I need is any problem for Him at all.

Father, thank You for this reminder. I really look forward to when I will be outside of time with You, though I can’t really grasp at this point what that will be like. There are no words to paint such a picture! Help me indeed walk in obedient faith for as long as You have me in the flow of time, so that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled on Your schedule (!) for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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