Category Archives: Christianity

Joshua 18-21; The Donut Hole

I’m the type of person who usually needs to see something in order to understand it. So reading these chapters concerning the division of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel is like trying to read Chinese or something. It’s meaningless. The map in my study Bible didn’t help much. It had the tribal names in the right places, but it didn’t show the borders. It kind of all ran together for me.

Then I found a map on biblestudy.org that not only drew in the borders, they color-coded the different tribes! Now I get it.

But what is it I get? I’m not one to spend a lot of time studying the material components of Scripture. I don’t have a burning desire to visit that area of our world we call the Holy Land. But because God inspired the recording of the details concerning this property survey, I figure it must be important. So I pulled out my commentaries.

Didn’t get a lot of insight. But Matthew Henry did connect some dots. Like telling me Mount Carmel and Nazareth were in Zebulun’s territory. The tiny area allotted to Issachar is where Ahab’s palace was, where Sissera was beaten by Deborah, where Saul and Jonathan were killed. It was a happening place! Anna, the prophetess who hung out at the temple until she could hold baby Jesus, came from all the way up north in Asher.

I’ve spent all morning dot-connecting. I found it very interesting. But is the reason why these chapters are included in Scripture so that we can get to know a piece of dirt that will perish with the rest of the world some day? I put my commentaries aside, and asked God if there was something He wanted to say to me.

I stared at the map on my computer screen for a while and my eyes kept going to the southern most part of the Promised Land. It’s where Judah received their inheritance, and it’s one of the largest portions of land. But right in the middle, like a donut hole, is Simeon’s land. Simeon, who had disgraced himself, and who was cursed by his father Jacob because of his sin, was placed right in the middle of the territory given to his brother Joseph’s family.

The black sheep of the family was surrounded by the family Savior.

Now there’s a lesson!

I think this is a beautiful picture of how we are to handle it when a brother or sister in Christ sins. So often, we turn our backs on them. We shun them. We talk about them behind their backs. But God, painting a beautiful picture here, puts that sinner right in the middle, surrounds them with the strongest believers.

I notice that the map I have of this area during the time of King David, identifies that area simply as “Judah.” My research tells me that by that time, most of the tribe of Simeon were assimilated into Judah. I LOVE THAT!!!!

The New Testament tells us that when a brother sins, we are to confront him, talk to him, take one or two others with us to do everything we can to bring that person back into the fold. Yes, there may come a time to disconnect. But that should never be our first response.

So the next time you become aware of someone in your family or your church fellowship  who is falling away, remember you are the donut. Surround that person, embrace that person, love that person back to the Lord.

I hope your family will do the same for you.

 

 

Joshua 11-17; Still Ticking

I retired from public education in 2011. I’d spent 37 years working with kids, parents, and fellow teachers. And I loved it. But during Christmas break in 2010, I knew it was time for me to go. I was tired.

Much has happened in the six years I’ve been retired. And I haven’t regretted my decision to move on from teaching. I will say, though, that this chapter in my life has its own challenges.

Caleb was in his 80’s when the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Now, at 85, he was ready to tackle his own challenge, and take the land God had given him. It meant war, and hardship. But he said he felt as strong at 85 as he did at 40. I’m not close to 85, but I don’t feel as strong as I felt at 40.  I wonder what he ate for breakfast.

I’m reminded that obeying God, and serving Him does not have an age limit. I have a dear friend who’s mother has had several hospital stays the past few months as doctors try to get a sore on her foot to heal. She’s been in a lot of pain.

But that hasn’t stopped her from sharing Jesus. She talks about her Savior to everyone who comes into her room. She hands out business cards with our church’s address and phone number, and invites them to join us. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, volunteers, janitors, have all received a special invitation from this dear woman. They all know and love Ms Madelyn.

Ms Madelyn’s ministry has changed over the years. She can’t teach Sunday School or work in the nursery or sing in the choir. But even in the midst of her pain, she’s obeying Jesus’ Great Commission. She is still involved in ministry.

Ministry changes with age, as does simple tasks we take for granted. My back isn’t as strong as it used to be, my knee gives me problems from time to time, I don’t have the stamina I once had, and my hands are showing signs of arthritis. But my heart is still ticking, and I have a job to do.

At prayer meeting last Wednesday, we prayed for an especially long list of people with physical needs. Cancer, heart problems, organ failure, the health of our elderly population is getting more precarious all the time. Our pastor told us he’d read that someone once said the aging process is a gift from God, intended to wean us away from this life, and get us looking forward to the next.

It’s kind of like the timing of my decision to retire from teaching. People kept tell me I’d know when it was time for me to retire. I remember saying, “Then I’ll never retire, because I love my job.” And I did. For 36 1/2 years I loved it. But during that particular Christmas break, I realized I was worn out physically, mentally, and emotionally. I didn’t have the same enthusiasm I had when I was first out of college. I didn’t wake up each day eager to get to school to be with my kids. Even my colleagues started getting on my nerves.

I think what the pastor shared about aging being a gift from God, is true. I know the older I get, the more I am aware that this body is wearing out, and the more I think about living in heaven. I just never considered these aches and pains gifts from God, a way a loving God helps us let go of this life, and grasp His hand to lead us into eternity.

So what I take from these chapters today is to be faithful with the abilities God has given me today, in 2017. I may not be able to do the things I once did. But I can do the things God asks me to at this stage of life. If God can help Caleb conquer nations at 85, I’m pretty sure He is going to help me with the battles He wants me to win today, too.

You’re never too old to tell someone about Jesus. Not while your heart is still ticking.

 

Joshua 3-5; 1,000 Yards Away

The Jews reached the Jordan River, but Canaan was on the other side. Plus, the river was at flood stage so that took wading across out of the mix. They could see the Promised Land. But there was a watery barrier between them and the blessing.

Then Joshua told them God’s plan: Have the Levites pick up the ark, and step into the Jordan. That in itself was an act of faith. And their obedience always speaks to me every time I read this Scripture. But something else jumped out at me today.

We know the Ark of The Covenant wasn’t just a fancy trunk containing valuable Jewish memorabilia. It was the place God sat on earth. It not only represented His Presence. It was His Presence. And no one could touch the ark and live.

The Levites took the ark into the river, the river stopped flowing, the Levites walked on dry ground and stood in the middle of the Jordan. The people were told to follow the ark, and they did.

Now here’s what I’ve been overlooking all these years: Joshua told the Israelites to stay 1,000 yards away from the ark. That’s ten football fields, over a half mile.

We’ve all seen the pictures in our Bibles, or on the walls of our Sunday School rooms. A wall of water looming over them on one side, dry ground on the other, priests standing there holding the ark, and Jews scurrying along to get to the other side. That’s not how it happened.

The ark stood there, all alone with only the Levites holding on to the poles. The wall of water was more than a half mile away, and the dry ground reached all the way to the sea.

The commentaries I read this morning pointed out some interesting thoughts about this. One, it tells us God stands alone. He doesn’t need our protection. Two, everyone could see it, and be assured by its presence. If they had crowded around it, only those closest to the ark would be able to see it. Standing back gave everyone the same opportunity to look and be encouraged. Three, no one would be in danger of accidentally bumping into it, which would have meant death to that person. And four, it demonstrates that a Holy God is untouchable.

So I sit here today and wonder what any of that has to do with us in 2017. The ark was meant to be followed. The Presence of the ark parted the waters when the Levites obeyed. But no one could get within a half mile of God. Is that the lesson today? Are we to take this to mean God is far off, working in our lives, but untouchable?

Yes.

God is so holy that no one ought to ever think about approaching Him closer than from 1,000 yards away. He is that holy.

But Jesus!

Makes me love Him all the more. When I take a look at God’s holiness as shown in Old Testament Scripture, I am humbled to know I have access to Him every moment of every day, up close and personal, because Jesus lets me wear His holiness! I deserve to be made to stand back from God. Way back from God.

But Jesus bids me, “Come.” Wow.

God has not changed. He is as holy as we see Him here in Joshua’s book.

But Jesus!

Holy God, I pray that we will never overlook the fact that You are Holy, Holy, Holy. I don’t think we really grasp that reality very well here in 2017. Thank You for sending Jesus to purchase holiness for me, so that I can come to You boldly, without fear of the death I deserve. It’s true that Jesus is the only access to the Father. I pray that everyone reading this blog post will receive Him and allow Him to be that bridge between us and You. You are holy. We are not. But because Jesus died on the cross, we don’t have stand 1,000 yards away from You. We can crawl up into Your lap, whisper in Your ear, and know You welcome us with open arms. I love You.

Joshua 2; BC (Before Canaan)

I am a little surprised Joshua sent a couple of spies into Jericho. Didn’t God just tell him he’d be victorious over all the nations of Canaan? Are we to assume Joshua had a bit of doubt, and sent those spies just in case he’d misinterpreted God’s promise? Is Joshua demonstrating a lack of faith?

My old buddy, Mathew Henry, says this is an example of an effective leader making it a point to look through other people’s eyes. I think Joshua sent those spies across the Jordan to help them see for themselves what they were fighting for. They hadn’t heard God’s voice like Joshua had heard it. Maybe Joshua wanted to give them the vision by giving them a sneak peak.

I see Jesus in Joshua. Jesus lived His life, faced temptation and rejection, got tired and sick and hungry, wept when He was sad, not because He needed to understand how it felt to be human. But so we humans could understand He gets us. It was for us He lived.

And I think it was partly for the Jews’ peace of mind that Joshua sent those spies. Oh, he received some intel from inside the city. But I believe those spies came away with much more than a city map.

Joshua and Jesus both understood the big picture. But they looked through our eyes and saw what we needed to understand, too.

Dear God, thank You for seeing my perspective of things. Thank you for reading my mind, hearing my thoughts, recognizing my hope, dreams, and my fears. Thank You for knowing exactly what I need. And thank You for Your patience those times I’m too focused on myself or the situation to see the big picture. Open my eyes so I can see through Yours.

Joshua 1; Leadership and Changes

I remember sitting in the third pew on the left side of the sanctuary one Sunday morning when my life changed. The church itself was a daughter church, only a couple of years old. Our pastor and his wife were young, vibrant, loving people. And I loved them. Even as a teenager, I learned so much from them both about loving God, studying the Word, about living for Him.

But that morning, our pastor walked to the pulpit, and announced his resignation. He was taking a position at the district level of our denomination.

I was stunned. I felt betrayed. Never in my wildest imagination did I see that coming. I guess I thought they’d be there forever. I went into a period of mourning. And I’m not proud to say I was pretty resistant toward the next man who filled that pulpit.

Most of us have experienced pastoral changes, or changes in leadership at work. Maybe you’ve been the leader who steps into someone else’s shoes. You stand before your new congregation, or look at the faces looking back at you at your first staff meeting, and what comes out of your mouth first might be the difference between acceptance, and rejection, between success, and failure.

Moses had died. Moses, who was loved and respected, known to represent God in a mighty way, would lead Israel no longer. He had been a trusted leader. For most of the Jews living at that time, he had been the only leader they’d ever known. And Deuteronomy tells us that when he died, the nation of Israel went into mourning for thirty days.

Then Joshua, in obedience to God, stepped up to the plate. And I think his example should be a blueprint for all of us facing change in leadership.

The first thing Joshua did was spend time with God. We read that God talked to Joshua in the same way He’d talked with Moses. The Lord gave Joshua clear instructions concerning the direction He wanted the Jews to go. Joshua got instruction as well as encouragement from spending time with God.

The next thing Joshua did was to go to the officers. These men had served under Moses and were loyal to him. Joshua needed their loyalty as well. He gave the officers a commission, and assured them the plan was still to go across the Jordan and take the land God had promised them, just as Moses had said.

Then Joshua went to the people, and told them the agreement they had with Moses was still in effect. The three and a half tribes would stay to the east of Jordan, but only after they fought with the rest of the Jews to defeat the inhabitants of Canaan. Nothing had changed, he promised them.

And the people pledged their loyalty to Joshua.

I believe all three parts of this transition of authority is important. Some congregations are uncomfortable without a pastor. They don’t take time to mourn the loss, to put a bit of distance between the separation, and moving on. They end up taking the first available candidate, and especially if the former pastor was loved, it’s a recipe for disaster. Not many pastors survive a quick transition.

Another mistake some newly hired pastors make is not reaching out to the established leaders. The elders, the Sunday School teachers, the Youth leaders, and the choir are important workers who can make or break a pastor’s ministry. Joshua went to the established leaders first.

I knew a young preacher, right out of seminary, who was a youth pastor with dreams of being the senior pastor of a church as soon as possible. He and I would talk about spiritual things fairly often and I learned a lot from this young man. But he shared with me what his first sermon would be as a senior pastor. It went something like this: Things are going to change around here. There’s no room for dead weight. So if you aren’t going to run with me, walk somewhere else.

I asked him to pray about that. I said the people he would be offending were the prayer warriors and regular givers. They were the older saints who were the glue that held the church together.

Sadly, he did give that sermon one day. The church he pastored went through a really hard time before they healed, and lost a lot of solid followers of Jesus because of it.

One of the worst things a new pastor can do, I believe, is begin their ministry by pointing out everything that is “wrong” in the church. Wouldn’t finding common ground be a better way of starting out?

Change is good. It’s necessary. And it’s hard for most of us. As a pastor, or a person in some other leadership position, I believe the best advice comes from God’s Word. And I think Joshua is a pretty good example of how to make change successfully.

If your church is facing a change, I hope that you will encourage the congregation to be patient, to wait on God, to pray, to read His Word. Take time to find the pastor that will fit best, and whose ideas for the future aligns with yours.

And if you are a pastor who is making those changes yourself, slow down. Relinquish some control, ease into your position of authority with love and kindness. So often you hear a pastor talk about “his” church. A pastor friend of mine always had the attitude that the church was the congregation’s. He was their servant, not the other way around. He deferred to the elder board on every issue I can recall.

We can learn from Joshua to first and foremost spend time with God before making any change. Seek the council of others. Look for ways to connect instead of alienating. Don’t just write off the established way of doing things, but grab hold of what is working. Change for the sake of change is as bad as holding on to tradition for the sake of tradition.

At least that’s what I think Scripture is telling us.

 

 

Deuteronomy 30-34; The Law and Grace

What is your definition of grace? When you think of God’s grace, what comes to mind? Jesus? The cross? Forgiveness? Eternal life? What about, the Law?

I’ve heard religion criticized for being a list of rules, of “don’ts.” And actually, Moses reminds us it is. The Law is a very big part of this thing we call Christianity. Even though we know the Law is powerless to forgive sin.

The Law reveals sin, though. And in doing so, it points us to our Savior.

I guess God could have left us to our own devices, not defined sin for us, then sat back and watched us unknowingly crash and burn. Like a cop who knows the speed limit sign is missing, then pulls over unsuspecting drivers and tickets them for driving too fast.  Sorry, boys, not knowing the speed limit doesn’t change the speed limit.

Not knowing what sin is doesn’t change what sin is.

But God is full of grace. In Romans 7:7, Paul tells us he would not have known what sin even was if it had not been for the Law. I wouldn’t know what light was except for the darkness, what health was if it weren’t for sickness, what joy was but for sorrow. I wouldn’t know what forgiveness was if I didn’t know I needed to be forgiven.

Deuteronomy 33:3 tells us God loved the people, He held them in His hand, they worshiped Him, and God gave them the Law as a possession, an inheritance. God gave them the Law as something precious, not because they deserved it, but because He graciously wanted them to know their boundaries so they wouldn’t cross over them. Then He could bless them, like He longed to do.

The Law is still in effect today. Those boundaries are still in place. Idol worship is still a sin. Adultery, lying, dishonoring parents are still sins. And because the wages of every sin is death, God wanted to spell it all out so we would not be caught unawares.

He wanted to give us life instead of death. A life, as sinners, we don’t deserve. That’s grace. And in a very real way, the Law plays a big role in God’s grace.

Grace greater than all our sin.

God, thank you for letting me see your Law as an act of grace. You want us to know what sin is so that we are quick to repent of it, to accept what Jesus did on our behalf, and to enjoy unbroken fellowship with you. That’s grace. Thank you for grace that is even greater than my sin.

Deuteronomy 26-29; First-fruits

Do you follow a daily routine? For those of you who work outside the home, I imagine that is true of you. Those of us who don’t have the demands of a job might be less inclined to follow a regular pattern every day.

But I noticed in reading chapter 20 today, God didn’t make provisions for different life-styles. All Jews – everyone – were commanded to take the “first-fruits” of their produce, and give it to the Lord. Matthew Henry tells us there are three things we can learn from this:

  1. to acknowledge God is the giver of every good thing. Sometimes we pride ourselves on our accomplishments, or possessions purchased with the fruit of hard work and dedication. “I did it my way…” is applauded in our society. But the reality is, everything we enjoy is a gift from God. Moses is reminding us it’s important to recognize that, and show God that we are grateful.
  2. to deny ourselves. The Jews had labored in the fields over that crop. They planted, weeded, watered, harvested each grape, each sheaf of wheat. But they gave up their “rights” to the food and gave it to God.
  3. to give God the first and best we have. The first of the crop is the choicest, best part of the harvest. That was the produce these Jews brought to the Lord, not the leftovers.

It should be the same in a spiritual sense, too. I like how Matthew Henry put it: “Those that consecrate the days of their youth, and the prime of their time, to the service and honor of God, bring Him their first-fruits.”

So what is the “prime” of your time? Are you at your best first thing in the morning? Or when the kids go down for a nap? Or at lunchtime at your work desk? Or before you go to bed at night?

I knew an elderly pastor who was a firm believer that if you didn’t have your quiet time with the Lord early in the morning, you weren’t giving Him your first-fruits, and therefore were disobedient to Him. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, because I know some people who are NOT morning people. Early in any day is definitely not their prime time.

But if morning is not your best time, when is? That is the time of day I believe God would have you honor him, deny yourself, and give Him the best you have. That’s the time of day you need to be in His Word, praying, communicating with your Savior.

And it’s the time of day you should be setting aside to do that. If we try to “find” time to spend with God, there will be days, perhaps weeks, when we don’t get around to it. That, my friend, is not pleasing to God.

Instead, we need to be making time to spend with God. We make time to do the things that are important to us, right? Plan ahead, set aside, get into a routine and follow it.

When I was working, and going to grad school in the evenings, I remember thinking I was too busy to have daily devotions. I was on a golf league, and a racquetball league, I played the organ at church, and sat on a couple of boards. I was a busy girl. I could barely get up in the morning, and worked late into the night. There was no time to open my Bible. I knew I should. I felt guilty about it. But I couldn’t imagine where I’d find another fifteen minutes of my day.

I made the mistake of saying that to my pastor who immediately said, “If you are too busy to spend time with God, you are too busy.” He talked to me about eliminating some of the demands on my life. But I loved to golf, I loved racquetball, and I couldn’t just quit school or my job just to read my Bible.

He looked at me and said one word, “Priorities.”

Ouch. I realized God wasn’t a priority in my life, and He deserved to be my first priority. “First-fruits” took on a whole new meaning.

I realized then and there that the minutes I spend with God each day are the most important minutes of any day. It’s part of obedience to the God who deserves my full attention. And God blesses obedience.

I pray that you will enjoy quiet time with God every day. Read His love letter to you, listen for His voice, pour out your heart to Him, and let Him bless you, strengthen you, hug you. You need it. And He loves that time with you. That’s why He created you in the first place.

Don’t miss it. Give Him the best you have. You’ll be blown away when He gives you the best He has!