April 30, 2015

Trying harder is not the answer. . .

Joshua 22:10–24:33; 2 Corinthians 13:11–14; Psalm 60:1–12

I used to tell my children ‘try harder’ but that was not a good way to teach them about faith. Finally I learned that repentance does not mean ‘try harder’ either. Yesterday my course professor reminded me, “Never tell God of your resolve to serve Him; tell Him of your inability and ask for grace and help.”

Experience with New Year’s Resolutions ought to be enough to convince anyone. Years of trying to do things in my own strength ought to be enough to convince me. However, God already knows that He must give me challenges that I’m absolutely sure I cannot do without His grace and help.

While learning this takes far too long, I’m not the only slow learner. Israel went into their promised land by the grace of God, fighting and winning battles because He was with them. The Lord reminded them . . .

“And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’” (Joshua 24:11–13)

This reminder didn’t sink in though. Within minutes Joshua challenged them to serve the Lord. Here is what he said, followed by their confident response . . .

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” (Joshua 24:14–20)

Joshua was right. These people resolved to serve God, but resolve does not work, only humility and utter dependence. God hears and answers humble cries for help. I wonder if He just smiles kindly at confidence as He takes me back into the classroom of life to learn again where my strength really is.

Paul knew this principle. He said God’s strength was perfected in his weakness. He reminded Christians many times to obey, but do it in faith and relying on the Lord. He ended 2 Corinthians with this prayer: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14)

David, Israel’s song writer, said it even better: “Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.” (Psalm 60:11–12)

My ‘foes’ this week are three assignments that are to be submitted in a certain style. I’ve no clue how to do it, so I’m asking the Lord for grace and insight. I can say “I can do all things” but must not forget the ending of that verse. Those ‘all things’ can only be done “through Christ who gives me strength.”

April 29, 2015

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever

Joshua 21:1–22:9, 2 Corinthians 13:1–10, Psalm 59:1–17

Some say that in Christ, the attitudes and abilities of God are displayed differently than they were in the OT. That is, the OT revealed God as fierce and full of wrath, while the NT reveals God as gracious and merciful. A comparison from today’s readings shows me that God has always been gracious and merciful.

In the OT, Joshua divides the land for the people, then the priests. His gracious gifts have become their prized possession: “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (Joshua 21:43–45)

Yes, they fought for this land, and yes, they killed their enemies. However, read in light of the rest of the Bible, they were mere instruments. Both Old and New Testaments declare that sinners deserve death. God has every right to pour out wrath on those who defy goodness. Perhaps those who ‘criticize’ God for telling His people to slay their enemies need to rethink that lest they fall on the wrong side of things. Maybe we should be asking why God does not slay us all, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Christ came to die for that sin. If the NT is different, it is in that respect; we now have a Redeemer. He offers sinful people (meaning everyone) a way out of bondage to sin, just like He took Moses and the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. He patiently endures our wanderings, takes care of our needs, and leads those who will follow to a better life, the life He promised. Did not He do the same in the OT?

He changes hearts too. He changed Paul, once called Saul. This man was killing Christians, but Jesus encountered him and turned his life around. Instead of being a powerful advocate to imprison and kill Christians, he became a powerful witness for Christ.

The change was so dramatic that many had trouble believing him. Others saw him as a weak person and this resulted in the Christians at Corinth “seek proof that Christ is speaking in (him).”

His response shows how much God changed his life. To their accusations, he replied, “(Christ) is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God . . .  For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.” (2 Corinthians 13:3-4, 8–10)

These are the words of a tender heart. He knows God is powerful. I do too, and if I should think otherwise, would I really want to see a display of His might? Or His wrath? He protects His people in power, and He gives me that same attitude Paul had of wanting to protect His people, not the coddling kind, but protecting them from evil and building their faith. God did that change in Paul’s heart and He is doing it in my heart too.
Those who find fault with God stand in a dangerous place. When they doubt His wisdom and judgment, they are not able to praise Him, but if they turn to Him in repentance and trust, He will fill their hearts with words like these....

O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies . . . But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love. (Psalm 59:9-10, 16–17)

April 28, 2015

Some connections are more subtle than others . . .

Joshua 19:10–20:9, 2 Corinthians 12:11–21, Psalm 57:1–58:11

When I selected “Connect the Testaments” as a devotional guide for the year, I didn’t know I’d be taking a class that requires a thorough exegesis of Old Testament texts to discover what it meant to the original hearers, then show how it points ahead to Jesus Christ and the New Testament.

While this devotional book has prepped me for class assignments, there are some days that “Connect the Testaments” does not seem to connect. This is one of those days, at least it started out that way.

The OT reading for the past few days is about the allotment of land after the children of God entered the Promised Land. Today it finished those descriptions then goes into God’s provision for manslaughter. Instead of throwing that person in a prison, God provides a different and unusual arrangement.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood. He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them. And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not give up the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unknowingly, and did not hate him in the past. And he shall remain in that city until he has stood before the congregation for judgment, until the death of him who is high priest at the time. Then the manslayer may return to his own town and his own home, to the town from which he fled.’” (Joshua 20:1–6)

While leaving home and family to live in another city could be considered a sort of ‘imprisonment,’ this is far better than having someone do the ‘eye for an eye’ thing and wind up dead because of an accidental death of a relative or friend. With this arrangement, a trial still happens, but more to establish innocence for the person who fled those who sought revenge.

Children and the occasional adult says, “But I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.” I’ve never liked that excuse. To me, whoever says it is at least guilty of thoughtlessness. However, reading God’s view of accidents has me rethinking my opinion. I should be more merciful.

The NT reading has nothing to do with accidents and escaping retaliation, but it does cause more rethinking, this time about actions that go against the will of God. Paul had been to Corinth and wrote letters rebuking the sins he found in the lives of God’s people in that city. He notes that this congregation is slow with repentance. He says, “For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.” (2 Corinthians 12:20–21)

These Christians didn’t easily change their ways. They didn’t like being corrected either and had to be rebuked for having too high a view of themselves. I can relate to those problems. I am proud, don’t like being corrected, and am often slow to repent. When in those states, I’m feisty, quarrelsome, and easily become angry.

But I can also relate to Paul. Even though I sin too, I want every sin, even the thought of sin, out of my life, even out of the lives of all Christians. God’s goal is that we are changed people, becoming more and more like Jesus Christ each day. However, I cannot make that happen. If I could, Jesus would not have had to come and die for me.

It is at this point where I can see a connection between these reading from both Testaments. I cannot change others. I cannot even change myself, but when we who are the people of God step into eternity, we will be like Jesus. He can make those changes happen. In fact, He began that work the moment that we put our faith in Him.

But in the meantime, and here is the connection, my daily prayer is like David’s prayer from Psalm 57:2: “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me” and not only for me, but for all of His children.

April 27, 2015

Old Covenant cf. New Covenant

Joshua 18:1–19:9, 2 Corinthians 12:1–10, Psalm 56:1–13

The OT regulations for land allotment did not include the priests. “To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him . . .  The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the Lord is their heritage . . .” (Joshua 13:14 and 18:7)

In the book of Numbers, the Lord explained that He would be “your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel” and that “the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.” (Numbers 18:20–24)

In the NT, God tells Christians that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) There is nothing about inheriting land or land allotment, only that all of God’s people now inherit eternal life.

I don’t know for sure, but it seems like the old covenant is a fuzzy picture that becomes clearer in the new covenant. The priests were people wholly dedicated to God, serving on behalf of others. They got no land from God, but neither do God’s NT priests. For us, this is not our permanent dwelling place. The earth is not our home. We look forward to our eternal home, and for now are like Jesus who owned nothing yet owns everything. I’m learning about the types and shadows in the OT and if this is not one of them, it is an interesting comparison.

The NT verses for today remind me not to get too excited about the discoveries that I make for God isn’t going to let me have a swelled head about anything. He said these amazing verses to Paul, a much wiser and more knowledgeable Christian than I’ll ever be . . .

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7–10)

I don’t mind the weakness part nearly as much as I once did. Along with the psalmist, I am able to say . . .

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?  . . . You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call. This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?  . . . I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. (Psalm 56:3-4, 8-11, 12–13)

Thank you, Jesus, for the most amazing day of blessing, weakness, and contentment.