July 6, 2020

Returning to normal?

Joshua 8; Psalm 139; Jeremiah 2; Matthew 16

A letter from a missionary requests prayer that the virus threat would soon be over so she can get back to work. People talk about a return to ‘normal’ meaning they want their lives to be what they were before this pandemic. This way of thinking reminds me of a noted Christian educator who said, “Christians deeply resist change — forgetting that is our destiny.

Jeremiah spoke to a people who had abandoned God. They didn’t want change either. He said of their problems, “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God, when he led you in the way?” (Jeremiah 2:17) This prophet went on:

“As a thief is shamed when caught, so the house of Israel shall be shamed: they, their kings, their officials, their priests, and their prophets, who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ and to a stone, ‘You gave me birth.’ For they have turned their back to me, and not their face. But in the time of their trouble they say, ‘Arise and save us!’ But where are your gods that you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you, in your time of trouble; for as many as your cities are your gods, O Judah. (Jeremiah 2:26–28)

This morning’s newspaper had pictures of people crowding beaches, going to parties, saying ‘no way’ to social distancing and to being careful . . . as the statistics are rising and thousands are getting this virus and dying. While we don’t like loss of control and our government telling us what to do, the Bible is clear: yield to God (totally) and obey the governing authorities even if they are doing a lousy job of it (in our opinion) for God has put them in place and to resist our leaders is to resist God. (See Romans 13). We want our way and resist change.

God doesn’t work the way we think He should. His priority is not my comfort. While He cares for me and wants to bless me, His priorities are revealed in Jesus Christ. This passage says much about the error of worshiping the good life, even of putting my priority on ‘normal’ and life itself:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:21–26)

The things of man? Peter figured that of all people Jesus should not die. He was clueless about the plan of God to use the death of His only Son to change the world. Am I clueless about the purpose of Covid-19 in the plan of God? I hope not.

Come after Him and deny myself? Deny what? That could mean watching TV, eating too much dessert, loafing in the sun, all sorts of good life things, but Jesus says self-denial means my whole life. It means losing all desire and effort to gain the world — which Scripture defines as the “desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life.” (see 1 John 2:15-17). I’m asked to pray that things return to ‘normal’ but I don’t think so, not if normal means going back to the opposite of the will of God and enjoying what keeps me from putting Him first.

APPLY: Give up any idea that I or the rest of the world needs what we call normal when it includes that so-called freedom to do whatever we want. Romans 12:1-2 tells me to present my body as a living sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable to Him for this is worship. I’m not to be conformed to this world/age but transformed. My thinking is to be like His thinking so I can discern His will and realize its perfection, that it is good. Woe to me should I ask Him to make life like it used to be when my destiny, and the destiny of the whole world, is change . . . change that glorifies God.



July 5, 2020

Never say my sin isn’t a big deal

Joshua 7; Psalms 137–138; Jeremiah 1; Matthew 15

A sore toe can slow down and even cripple the entire body. One lie can ruin a relationship. One fool can embarrass an entire family. A weak leader can ruin an entire country. Today God reminds me of the importance of keeping my life clean before Him — and it isn’t about just me.

This story tells of one man who disobeyed God and because of his actions, the people of God lost His favor and the entire congregation lost a significant battle. They were supposed to conquer a place called Ai and destroy everything in it. The battle was won but Achan took some of the spoils of war and hid them in his possession. When Joshua, their leader, anguished before God . . .

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.’” (Joshua 7:10–13)

Achan died for his folly and the people of God moved forward. Can my sin keep an entire congregation from moving forward? Yes, according to this and other historical examples, my sin can affect the spiritual well-being of the church I belong to, even the entire Body of Christ. It can be the “want of a nail” that causes one horse to lose one shoe, and lead to the entire calvary losing the entire battle. Being a Christian is not just about me.

When the Israelites were held captive in Babylon, they wept when they remembered their homeland, their national worship that had been lost. This was not about their individual loss of freedom, even though each person felt great sorrow. The psalmist expressed his feelings in the plural. Their captivity was about all of them as was the importance of what they had lost and what they loved . . .

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! (Psalm 137:4–6)

The prophets knew they were a small part of a bigger picture and their hearts were broken at what they saw. When God asked one of them to speak to the nation, God had to reassure him that he was not alone in the task he was given:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:6–8)

It is easy to say, “I’m just a little toe in the Body of Christ” and think my prayers are not important to the victories God has planned. He reminds me of the boy who gave his five loaves and two fish — not much lunch, but it fed thousands. He also reminds me of a famous quote that challenges many and goes something like this: “The world has yet to see what God can do with a person fully consecrated to Him.”

Part of what it means to be fully consecrated is to keep short accounts, to realize that my sin can block the moving of God even in His answering my prayers! Holding on to even the smallest bad attitude can prevent Him using me to speak to, pray for, or really love others. My pride can have me talking about myself instead of concentrating on what Jesus wants me to say. Focusing on what I want always keeps me from glorifying God. It also is a terrible reflection of what being a Christian is all about. For all these reasons, the APPLY part is obvious, not easy at times but important to the advancing of His kingdom never mind to the health and well-being of my own soul.



July 4, 2020

Where does faith begin?

Joshua 6; Psalms 135–136; Isaiah 66; Matthew 14

Joshua was tested. Who in their right mind would think a fortified city could be conquered by marching around it, playing trumpets and shouting? God told them to use this outrageous strategy. They believed God, maybe because He spoke in a prophetic tense meaning it was already accomplished before they even started. Or maybe they believed Him because they realized His faithfulness to His Word. Whatever their thinking, they did it. The inhabitants of the city did not shoot at them. No indication that they laughed either. He and his men marched as told and on the last one, the walls fell flat, the city was taken and everything destroyed.

The psalmists were tested too. They looked back at their history and determined that God was faithful. They could declare, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” (Psalm 135:6) and repeatedly declare, “His steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136) They said it 26 times in 26 verses and gave that many reasons and more.

The prophets were tested too. Isaiah declared the Word of the Lord even though he was told the people would not listen. In the end, the Lord had him say to the people:

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me,” says the Lord, “so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 66:22–23)

The disciples were also tested. Could they trust Jesus to feed 5000 plus people with five loaves and two fish? They found out that He could when they gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. (Matthew 14:13-20) Could they believe Jesus could walk on water? Only after seeing Him do it, and invited Peter to join Him. (Matthew 14:22)

In many examples from the Bible, faith is built on seeing God at work yet obedience is there first, which means a measure of faith is there too. Joshua would not have gone forward to march around Jericho if he thought God had no power to make victory happen. The psalmists could not praise God as omnipotent if their faith hadn’t held during the dry spells of uncertainty and unanswered prayer. They would not know His love endured forever if they decided all their blessings were ‘coincidences’ or ‘luck’ or anything other than God showing them His love for them.

The disciples would never have started passing around lunch if they thought they would run out after the first one or two hungry recipients. Peter would never have set one leg over the side of the boat had Jesus not said, “Come” and this man believed he would be safe to do so.

Everyone has faith in many things. The sun comes up in the morning and sets at night. Snow melts in the spring. Babies do not stay in the womb but are born. Even the stove heats when the switch is turned. I learned this from evidence, from hearing and reading. It makes sense that God’s Word says, “Faith comes by hearing” . . . not just being told but reading the information God gives us through the narratives, the worship experiences, the wisdom He gave others who believe, the miracles that Jesus performed — all of it.

I’m thankful that my mother and the created world insisted and keeps on insisting that there is a God and that I listened to both, starting with a little faith. Then I read and read and read without getting it, just putting it in there until that day Jesus walked in and gave me a greater glimpse of who He is, enough to move me to follow Him. My eyes and I-wants tug me away at times, but the more I read, the more I see the wonder of this God who changed my direction and keeps blessing me with a deeper trust in Him.

APPLY: Keep reading His Word. Wallow in it. Soak it up. Listen to it. Love it. Tremble at it. and let God pour truth into me like milk for a baby, water for a wanderer, food for a famished soul. Faith comes by hearing words about Jesus.