Dull of Heart and Hard of Hearing.

Judges 21, Acts 28

For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. – Acts 28:27 ESV

These two books each end with rather sad portrayals of the spiritual state of the people of Israel. In the book of Judges, we see a people who attempt to correct a previous wrong by committing additional injustices while justifying their actions with pious sounding oaths. All the events of Judges 21 take place as a result of the rape of the Levite's concubine by the men of Gibeah, a Benjamite city. Their immoral action resulted in a civil war and the near annihilation of the male population of the tribe of Benjamin by the rest of the tribes of Israel. Over 25,000 Benjamites were killed, leaving only 600 men alive. Their cities were burned and their women and children were executed as well. All because of the sinful actions of a few and the stubborn refusal of the people of Benjamin to give up those who were guilty of the original sin. But after Israel had nearly wiped out their fellow tribe, they had regrets. They realized that their actions had left the Benjamites on the edge of extinction, and they had sworn an oath not to give their daughers in marriage to the Benjamites. This decision would effectively result in the eventual loss of the entire tribe of Benjamin. Not hearing from God, they came up with their own plan, and it would prove worse than the original sin of the men of Gibeah. The key to understanding the faulty nature of their plan can be seen in two simple phrases. The first is found in verse 7: “What shall we do?” The second is recorded in verse 11: “This is what we shall do.” The plan they came up with was their own, not God's. They came up with a loop-hole that would allow them to solve their problem in a seemingly righteous way. Since the men of Jabesh-gilead had not shown up when a call went out to all the tribes to gather (Judges 20:1), they decided to punish them by attacking them and taking any of the virgins of the town as wives for the men of Benjamin. Their slaughter of the people of Jabesh-gilead resulted in only 400 potential wives for the men of Benjamin. They were 200 short. So they then encouraged the men of Benjamin to kidnap an additional 200 women from the city of Shiloh. In effect, the rape of one woman resulted in the forcible kidnapping and rape of 600 women.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Nowhere in this passage do we hear the voice of God or witness the approval of their actions. The sins of the people of Israel have increased to such a degree that they have resorted to the killing, kidnapping, and raping of fellow members of their own nation. They justified their actions. They tried to fix their own sins and only created worse problems than when they began. God seems to be silent throughout this entire ordeal. And the chapter ends with the sad and familiar refrain, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25 ESV). God was not the King of Israel. At least not according to the way the people of Israel treated Him. They did what they wanted to do. They came up with their own solutions to their own problems. God was there, but they treated Him as if He didn't even exist. Yes, the turned to Him when they found themselves in trouble, but when He appeared to be silent, they took matters into their own hands. And God allowed them to do so. He didn't approve of their actions, but He also didn't intervene. Sometimes God allows us to do whatever it is we want to do. He gives us the freedom to act on our own sinful desires and experience the consequences of those actions.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The people of Israel didn't change much over the years. As we shall see, their stubbornness and sinfulness never abated, even after God allowed them to have a king of their own. Their problem was not the lack of a king, but their own refusal to acknowledge God as King. Over in the book of Acts, we have recorded Paul's arrival in Rome for his trial before Caesar. One of the first things he did was call the local Jewish population together to explain what is going on. He wanted to hear from himself before they got swayed by any of his accusers who would surely be arriving any day from Jerusalem to bring charges against him at his trial. Paul finds his Jewish audience seemingly receptive and willing to hear from him. They knew nothing about the events surrounding his arrest in Caesarea but told him, “We desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22 ESV). “From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved” (Acts 28:23-24 ESV).

Paul's assessment of the Jews is clear. It reflects an understanding of the nature of their hearts. They were willing to hear, but unwilling to really listen. Quoting from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, Paul told them, “this people's heart has become dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (Acts 28:27 ESV). Like their ancestors, the Jews of Paul's day had become calloused and cold toward God. They were religious. They were outwardly pious. But they had long since stopped hearing from God. They couldn't see the hand of God operating within their own midst. And as a result, they were incapable of turning back to God. So Paul gives them the sad news that from that point forward “this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

They will listen. Listening was directly tied to turning. Hearing what Paul had to say and what God was offering was not enough. The Jews in Paul's audience heard him clearly, but refused to listen and act on what they had heard. The refused to turn. But the Gentiles would hear, listen, and turn. They would repent. They would see their need for a Savior and accept the offer of forgiveness of sins and salvation through Christ. Even as a believer I still have the need to not only hear from God, but listen and obey. I must see what He is doing and not become blind to His actions in and around my life. This passage conveys a sensitivity to God's presence and voice. I must see Him and hear Him. I have to listen to what He is saying to me each and every day of my life. Otherwise, I run the risk of becoming like the Israelites: Dull of heart and hard of hearing.

Father, give me an ever-increasing ability to see You and hear You, but also to listen to and obey You, so that I don't become dull of heart and hard of hearing. Amen

When God's Plan Doesn't Make Sense.

Judges 19-20, Acts 27

And the Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and the people of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day. All these were men who drew the sword. ­– Judges 20:35 ESV

“Do no be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” – Acts 27:24 ESV

There are times when God's plan for our lives seems to make no sense at all. Things don't always go as we would expect them to. Circumstances don't always turn out like we would want them to. But that does not mean God is not there and it certainly is no indication that God's plan has failed or His power is somehow limited in our lives. In our reading today in Judges and Acts we have two distinctly different stories, but one very similar theme: The presence and plan of God. In the case of Judges, the people of Israel have gathered to do battle with their own brothers, the Benjamites, for a gross act of immorality. A Levite who was seeking shelter in the Benjamite city of Gibeah, found himself surrounded by “worthless fellows” who wanted to have sexual relations with him. In a less-than-chivalrous act of self-preservation, the Levite gave them his concubine, whom they gang raped and left for dead. When the rest of the nation of Israel found out what had happened in Gibeah, they demanded that the men who committed this heinous act be turned over. But instead, the Benjamites refused and decided to do battle instead. The Israelites, who we would expect would be the good guys in this scenario, arrived with more than 400,000 soldiers to go against only 26,700 Benjamites. They even sought God's will regarding which of the tribes of Israel should do the honors and go into battle first. God chose the tribe of Judah, but when the day of battle came, the Benjamites killed 22,000 Israelites. Demoralized and defeated, the Israelites wept before God, wondering what had happened and what they were supposed to do now. Things had not turned out as they expected. But God sent them back into battle. And the results were the same. They lost. A staggering 18,000 Israelites died. Once again, they came before God and wept, wondering what had happened. They fasted and presented burnt offerings. And God sent them back a third time, saying, “Go up, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand” (Judges 20:28 ESV). And God was true to His word. The Israelites defeated the Benjamites, but not before they had lost 40,000 men in battle.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It would have been easy for the people of Israel to question what God was doing during this whole sordid scenario. They would have seen themselves as the good guys, simply trying to avenge the sins of the Benjamites. But their ultimate victory was prefaced with staggering and unexpected defeat. How did any of this make sense? What had they done wrong? Where was God in all of this? But God had been there all along. He had a reason behind all of this. The passage doesn't give us any clue as to what that might be, but one must conclude that God was also punishing the people of Israel for their own sin and rebellion against Him. They were far from innocent. Their track record was clear. As a nation, the people of Israel were apostate, living in willing disobedience to God and committing all kinds of sins deserving of His righteous anger. God would eventually give them the victory, but not before He enacted judgment against them for their own sins.

God always has a reason for what He does and what He allows. In the case of Paul, he had been arrested and put on trial before Festus, Agrippa and was now under Roman guard and being transported to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. He was innocent, but was having to endure the shame of being arrested, chained and treated like a prisoner. And to make matters worse, Luke records with exacting detail, that this trip was filled with problems from day one.

“the winds were against us…” – Acts 27:4

“We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty…” – Acts 27:7

“the wind did not allow us to go further…” – Acts 27:7

“the voyage was now dangerous…” – Acts 27:9

And things went from bad to worse. The entire voyage was marked by increasing storm intensity. Even the sailors began to lose hope and were ready to abandon ship. But Paul had received a vision from God letting him know that they would all arrive safe, but the ship would be lost. God was in full control. This was all part of His divine plan. Yet it would have been easy for Paul to have concluded that this was all out of God's control. It would have been natural to question where God was and why He wasn't doing something about this terrible chain of events. But God was there. There was a reason for the storms. There was a purpose behind all the difficulties. One thing that jumps out is that Paul was able to use the circumstances as an opportunity to share about his faith and to encourage the sailors regarding His God. Paul's peace and contentment in the midst of the storm was a witness to his faith and his confidence in the power and sovereignty of his God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We don't always get it. The circumstances of life don't always make sense to us – even as believers. And when things appear to be less-than-ideal, we can easily become less-than-trusting when it comes to God's sovereignty. We can begin to doubt, fear, question, and even become angry with God, letting Him know just how disappointed we are in His handling of our life circumstances. It all reminds me of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, ‘He didn't make me’? Does a jar ever say, ‘The potter who made me is stupid’?” (Isaiah 29:16 NLT). While the events of our lives may not always turn out the way we want or expect them to, we should never doubt the sovereign will of God. The Israelites had no idea why their superior numbers and righteous cause should have ended in a succession of bitter defeats. It didn't make sense. It didn't seem fair. Paul could have easily questioned why God would allow him to be arrested and sent to Rome, then have to endure the rigors of a perilous voyage that seemed doomed to disaster. But he received word from God that his life was in good hands and their journey was God-ordained and God-protected, storms and all. Ultimately, the Israelites would experience victory over the Benjamites, but not before they had suffered their own form of discipline at the hands of God. He would deal with the sins of the men of Gibeah, as well as the people of Israel. God had a greater score to settle than just the capture and punishment of a handful of immoral men from Gibeah. The entire nation of Israel was apostate and marked by sin. The actions of the men of Gibeah were just a symptom of the greater disease infecting the entire nation. And while the remaining tribes felt righteous indignation at what they heard had happened in Gibeah, they had no remorse over their own state of stubborn defiance toward a holy and righteous God. So God would use the circumstances to accomplish His will and in a way that was totally baffling to the people of Israel. But regardless of what they saw, experienced or thought, God was in control.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Trust God. If there is any more important lesson for the believer, I don't know what it might be. Trusting Him in the midst of the cares and concerns of life is a full-time job and it is never easy. The events of life can easily cause us to either doubt His presence or deny our need for Him. When things are going poorly, we can conclude that God must be absent or uncaring. When things are going well, we can easily conclude that we are in His will or perfectly fine without Him. All of these conclusions are dangerous and decidedly wrong. God is always there. He is working behind the scenes in ways we can't see or understand. We cannot judge His presence or power based on our circumstances. Paul was a prisoner confined to a boat headed to Rome for a trial before the most powerful man in the world. On top of that, their journey was seemingly ill-fated and destined to end in disaster. But God was not up in heaven wringing His hands or somehow surprised by the literal and metaphorical storms raging in Paul's life. He was in control. He had a plan. He could be trusted.

Father, teach me to trust You. Help me to see You in the circumstances of my life – whether they're good or bad. Never let me wrongly conclude that when I need You most, You are not there. And never let me decide that when my life is trouble-free, I don't need You at all. I always need You. And You are always in control. Let me learn to rest in that reality. Amen


No King In Israel.

Judges 17-18, Acts 26

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. ­– Judges 17:6 ESV

Two times in these two chapters of Judges we find the statement, “In those days there was no king in Israel” (Judges 18:1 ESV). It is a statement of fact, signifying that Israel had no earthly king, but it is also a sad indication of something even more important. Israel had refused to acknowledge God as their King. So everyone did what was right in his own eyes. While God had clearly given His people standards for living and rules for life in His Kingdom, they chose to ignore His laws and establish their own. The story of Micah is sad reflection of the times. You have a son who clearly violated the commands of God by not only stealing, but doing so from his own mother, dishonoring her in the process. And when he confesses and returns the stolen silver to his mother, she has him create household idols out of it. You see in this story the influence of the pagan cultures that surrounded the Israelites. They had failed to remove the various nations from the land and therefore, they had left themselves susceptible not only to their physical attack, but their religious influence. The Israelites practiced a kind of syncretism, that blended their own religion with those of the nations around them. They attempted to maintain some form of worship of God, but blended it with the worship of others gods as well. It was a form of hedging their bets, making sure that they didn't leave out any potential god who might be able to assist them as they attempted to survive in what was still a hostile environment. But they failed to remember that God is a jealous God who refuses to share His glory with anyone or anything. He had explicitly prohibited the worship of idols. But the people of Israel refused to obey. Because they refused to see God as their King and ruler. They felt no obligation to obey His commands, deciding instead to do what was right in their own eyes. So Micah built a shrine, created idols, made an ephod, and ordained his own priest. All in direct violation of God's commands. He even bribed a Levite to become his personal priest. Then the tribe of Dan stole all of these things away from Micah, creating their own place of worship and encouraging the people of Israel to live in defiance to the commands of God. “And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up Micah's carved image that hemade, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh” (Judges 18:30-31 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Apostasy is defined as “a total desertion of or departure from one's religion, principles, party, or cause.” And while it might be argued that the people of Israel never fully deserted God, it is clear from these two chapters that they had decided that God alone was not enough. The Danites, who had refused the fully conquer the land given to them by Moses, were still in search for a place to settle. So they sent out spies to search for a possible alternative. When they came across Micah, his idols, ephod, shrine and personal priest, they didn't think twice about stealing them all and making them their own. They had no second thoughts about incorporating Micah's false gods and fake priest into their religious system. And yet, they asked Micah's priest to seek God's will in their search for a homeland. All throughout this story, the people of Dan assumed that God was on their side, even though they had refused to be obedient to His law and His will for their lives. They were doing what was right in their own eyes, but they still expected God to do what they wanted Him to do. God had become little more than a talisman or good luck charm, much like Micah's priest, idols, ephod and shrine. There was no king in Israel – either human or divine. There was no true leadership. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. And that trend would continue for generations. Even by the time Paul came along and the Gospel was beginning to spread throughout the world, there was still no king in Israel. Agrippa was the de facto king of Israel, but he was not a descendant of David. His rule was made possible by Rome, not God. So while he ruled over portions of the nation of Israel, he was not the recognized king of Israel. And yet, neither was God. In Paul's defense before Agrippa, he stated, “I stand here today testifying to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23 ESV). Paul made it clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that Moses and the prophets had predicted. Jesus was God's Son and the Savior of the world. But Agrippa, Festus, the Jewish religious leaders and most of the Jewish people refused to accept Jesus as Lord because they had refused to acknowledge God as King. There was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. But whether they were willing to admit it or not, God was King. He was in complete control. He was still on His throne, enacting His will upon the people of Israel and the nations of the world. God was in control of Paul's life, the circumstances which surrounded him, and all the rulers who reigned – from Caesarea to Rome. God was King, but the people refused to acknowledge Him as such, choosing instead to do what was right in their own eyes.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Self-rule has always been one of man's greatest problem. We can't stand to be told what to do. We want to run our own lives and we resist any attempt to be controlled or ruled by someone or something else. There is within every man the innate desire for self-rule. We want to call the shots. We want to dictate the terms of our life. But God has made it clear that He alone is God. There is no other. He will not share His authority or His glory with any man. Even King David served as God's emissary or ambassador. He did not replace God, but ruled on His behalf. He was God's human representative, responsible for the care and protection of His people and His kingdom. It was when the kings of Israel lost sight of their God-given authority that they began to get in trouble. When they began to see themselves as the sole authority and arbiter of Israel's fate, they wandered into dangerous territory. Even during the period of the kings, it could be said, “There was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Why? Because God was always to have been their King. Human kings who failed to recognize God as the ultimate King would never truly rule and reign with authority or power. When we attempt take authority that belongs to God alone and make it our own, we tread on dangerous ground. When we try and assert our authority and run our own lives, we are acting as if there is no King. We are making ourselves king. And the result is that we always end up doing what is right in our own eyes. A sure recipe for disaster.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is always the temptation for me to do what is right in my own eyes. I can so easily convince myself that I know what is best. Self-rule is attractive and alluring. But it is dangerous and deadly. God never intended for men to rule themselves. He is King. He is Lord. He is the sovereign ruler over all that He has made and while He may occasionally share that authority with a human king, God never abdicates His right to rule and reign over His creation. I must constantly remind myself that God is the King of all, including my life. I am not free to do what is right in my own eyes. I cannot reject the rule of God and replace it with my own agenda. I am not free to rule and reign over my own life or create my own little kingdom here on earth. That is what got Micah in trouble. That is what led the Danites to set up their own gods, their own religious and their own place of worship, all in direct violation of the commands of God. Running my own life may sound appealing and appear attractive, but it is deceptively deadly. Acknowledging God as King and His Son as Lord and Savior is essential. But we will always struggle with the temptation to reject His rule and replace it with our own. But men tend to make lousy kings. But the day is coming when God will establish His Son as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He will take His place on the throne of David and reign from the city of Jerusalem, bringing the authority and righteous rule of God to earth. He will be the King God promised long ago. Any attempt by man to rule in His place will fail. Any effort to replace His rightful place as King will always end in disaster. Self-rule is ultimately always self-destructive.

Father, I want to learn to acknowledge You as the sovereign ruler over my life. I want to submit to Your righteous reign over all that there is. Forgive me for attempting to run my own life and set up my own petty kingdom here on earth with myself as king. I make a lousy king. But You have proven Yourself worthy to rule and reign over all. Help me submit to Your Kingship each and every day of my life. Amen

Samson Versus Paul.

Judges 15-16, Acts 25

But he did not know that the Lord had left him. ­– Judges 16:20 ESV

Samson and Paul were both men who had been hand-picked by God to serve on His behalf. Samson was to act as a judge of the people of Israel, rescuing them from the persecution of the Philistines who surrounded them. Paul was to be God's witness to the Gentiles, introducing them to the Good News regarding Jesus Christ, and providing them with a means of experiencing freedom from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death for their rebellion against God. These men were both servants of God, and eventually they both found themselves imprisoned. But that is where the similarity ends. Samson was an impetuous, impertinent servant of God, who was driven by his passions and controlled by his lusts. He comes across like a ill-tempered child who was constantly demanding his own way. He never seemed to take his role as a judge of the people of Israel seriously. It all appeared as a game to him. Rather than see his superhuman strength as a gift from God, he used it to his own advantage. Instead of taking his Nazarite vow seriously, and understanding that it was a symbol of his separation to God; he treated it flippantly, regularly violating his commitment to God. On the other hand, Paul was a faithful servant of God, who took his role seriously and served his God obediently. And while both men ended up as prisoners, the circumstances that led to their imprisonment could not have been any more different. Samson had repeatedly chosen to align himself with the enemies of Israel, seeking sexual relationships with three different Philistine women. He seemed to view his supernatural strength as a toy to be played with, rather than a Spirit-endowed gift to be stewarded and used with care. And yet, in spite of Samson's flaws and faithlessness, God continued to use him. Samson's unworthiness did not prevent God from accomplishing His divine plan concerning Samson. He would serve as judge of Israel for 20 years. He would destroy many Philistines during that time. But unlike Paul, Samson's life and ministry would be marked by unfaithfulness and a disregard for the holiness of God and the integrity of his own calling.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Over and over again, we see how Samson's lack of spiritual integrity got him into trouble. His moral compass seemed to be broken, causing him to make poor choices and leaving him in less-than-perfect circumstances. And yet we read, “Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him” (Judges 15:14 ESV). In spite of him, God still used him, because God had something He wanted to accomplish through him. God's plan was greater than Samson. God's righteous agenda was not tied to or limited by Samson's unrighteous character. It is interesting to note that Samson's darkest moments are marked by an absence of the presence of God. But his greatest accomplishments are the direct result of God's divine empowerment. It seems that when Samson found himself blind, shorn of his hair, and devoid of his strength, he finally realized that God was the sole source of his significance. As he stood before his captors, forced to entertain them as they attributed his defeat to their pagan god, Samson called out to God for the first time in his life. “Oh Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once. O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28 ESV). He realized that without God, he was nothing. His strength had been from God. His victories had all been God's doing. And now, at his darkest hour, he called out to God. But even as he cried out, his motivation remained selfish and self-centered. He wanted to avenge himself, not God. He wanted to repay his enemies for his lost eyesight, not for their mocking of his God. And yet, God still answered him. One last time, Samson received divine enablement to inflict punishment on the enemies of Israel. “So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have a mistaken perspective that allows us to believe that somehow God is restricted to only using those who are useful. We somehow think that God is relegated to accomplishing His divine will through those who prove themselves worthy. But the Scriptures paint a different picture. God is not limited by the availability and worthiness of men. He is fully capable of accomplishing His will with us or without us. And even when God used men who appeared to be worthy, He did so in ways that to us seemed unexpected and unnecessary. That Paul had to be persecuted by the Jews and arrested by the Romans seems so counter-productive. Wouldn't it have made more sense for him to remain free and continue this work on behalf of the Gospel? But God, in His divine wisdom, chose to allow Paul to be arrested and taken before Festus and even King Agrippa, and eventually imprisoned in Rome. This was all part of His plan. We could easily tend to see Paul's imprisonments as setbacks and road blocks to the Kingdom's cause. But had not Paul been imprisoned, most of the letters he wrote that comprise our New Testament would never have seen the light of day. Had not God forced Paul to take time off the road from his travels, he would have never put in writing the great theological truths found in Romans. We would not have his Spirit-inspired insights into the body of Christ found in Ephesians. We would be without a clear understanding of the role of the Spirit found in the book of Galatians. God had a purpose in his plan for Paul's life. God's ways are not our ways. God used Paul, not because he was worthy, but because God chose to use him. God used Samson, not because Samson deserved to be used, but because God chose to use him. God's divine plan is not restricted to or limited by our usefulness.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God is going to accomplish His will in the world. And He will use whomever He chooses to use to accomplish it. My goal should not be to try and make myself useable by or useful to God, but to understand that God will use me in spite of me, not because of me. My objective should be to remain faithful to Him, not so I can be used by Him, but simply because He has been faithful to me. Had Samson simply looked back on his life, he would have seen that his many exploits had been the work of God, not himself. His victories had been God's doing, not the result of his superhuman strength. Paul had the capacity to see everything in his life as the result of the work of God. That is why he could say, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV). Paul knew the source of his strength. He knew that God was capable of using any and all circumstances to accomplish His will in and through his life. My greatest value to God comes in recognizing that I really offer nothing of value to God. He doesn't need me, but He still uses me. Samson presents the sad picture of a man who gave his life to accomplish God's will, but he did so selfishly focused on his own agenda and his own selfish desires. It was all about him all the way to the end. Paul portrays the life of an individual who willing to suffer insult, imprisonment, indignity and injustice – all so that God's will might be accomplished and the Gospel be spread. That is the man I want to be. That is the life I want to live.

Father, give me the heart of Paul. Forgive me for the many times I act like Samson, childish, self-centered and stubbornly focused on my own desires. Help me to increasingly understand that Your will is greater than my own. Let me continue to learn that Your way is the only way. You don't need me, but You use me. Don't let me get distracted by my own usefulness or usability, but on Your sovereignty. You are in control. Help me to see that You are at work behind the scenes in my life. Help me to accept Your will regarding my life and rejoice in Your use of me, no matter what it may look like or how it may appear. Amen

Righteousness, Self-Control and Judgment.

Judges 13-14, Acts 24

And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed, and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” ­– Acts 24:25 ESV

God has an expectation for mankind. He created us for a reason. There was a purpose and a plan behind His making of man. Adam and Eve were created to have an intimate, uninterrupted relationship with God, and were to rule over and care for the rest of His creation. But sin entered the scene. From that moment forward the relationship between God and man would be radically changed. Rather than live according to God's expectations and follow His plan for them, Adam and Eve would find themselves selfishly seeking their own way and living according to their own self-centered agenda. From that point forward, their lives would be marked by sin – a willful breaking of the requirements of God for their lives. They would spend the rest of their lives violating God's will and suffering from a broken relationship with the very One who had made them. This damaged relationship between God and man is at the heart of the Scriptures. The effects of sin can be seen throughout the pages of the Bible, from beginning to end. Since the time of Adam and Eve, mankind has been marked by unrighteousness and a lack of self-control. The condition of mankind is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV). And because every man and woman who has ever lived is guilty of sin, they stand condemned before God and worthy of punishment. And according to the Scriptures, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV).  So God's preordained plan was to send His Son to deal with and provide the remedy for man's sin problem. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Our righteous, holy God has chosen to work with and through flawed, sometimes faithless and always sin-prone men and women. The judges God used to rescue His people in the Old Testament were imperfect and far from righteous. They tended to exhibit unrighteous characteristics and a marked lack of self-control, and Samson was no exception. He was driven by his passions and a walking contradiction to his role as God's deliverer. He regularly broke his vows as a Nazarite and lived with the focus always on his desires and driven by his natural passions. And yet God used him. That is the amazing part of the story. When Samson demanded that his father give him a woman from among the Philistines, his father “didn't know that is was from the Lord, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4 ESV). Even after Samson broke his Nazarite vow and defiled himself by eating honey from a hive he found in the carcass of a dead animal, God would fill him with His Spirit and cause him to defeat the enemies of Israel. This flawed, faithless man would be used by God – in spite of himself. And yet God's desire and expectation for Samson was the same as it He has for every man and woman He has ever created. He longs for us to live righteously and exhibiting self-control over our lives. And God knows that every one of us faces His judgment one day when we will answer for our sins and pay for our rebellion against Him. And not one human being who has ever lived has ever been able to perfectly live up to God's expectations for them – except one. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became a man so that He might live the life that God expected of us all. He alone was able to live righteously and practice perfect self-control, dying to His own desires and living in perfect obedience to the will of God the Father. Jesus was the man, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The expectation of God for mankind has always been a life of righteousness, living in perfect submission and obedience to His will for them. He gave the people of Israel His law so that they would be without excuse, knowing full well just what He expected. But they couldn't pull it off. They didn't have within them the capacity to live in obedience to His law. And yet, the expectation has never changed. God didn't lower His standards when man failed to measure up. His purpose behind giving the law was not just to reveal His expectations, but to expose man's limitations. He wanted men to know that they were incomplete and incapable of living up to His righteous standards. They needed help. They had to come to grip with the fact that they were sinners in need of a Savior. Their sin had condemned them to judgment and only God's Son provided the solution. This was exactly what Paul discussed with the Roman governor, Felix, day after day during his house arrest in Caesarea. “…Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about ‘faith’ in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed” (Acts 24:24-25 ESV). And Felix should have been alarmed, because what Paul was telling him was that God had an expectation of Felix and his wife. The same expectation He has had for every man and women who has ever lived. He expected Felix and Drusilla to live in perfect righteousness and practice self-control. And if they didn't, they would face judgment at the hands of God. That should alarm anyone and everyone. That is the message of the Bible. That is the purpose behind the redemptive plan of God for mankind. It is the reason Jesus Christ came, died, and was raised again. That He might pay the price we all deserve to pay for our sins.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God has high expectations for every one of us. In fact, His expectations are impossible. No one can live up to His righteous standards. So we all fall short. And because we fall short, we're all guilty and worthy of His righteous, holy judgment. But God provided a solution to man's problem. He offered us a means of salvation that was based on something other than our own self-effort. Paul reminds us, “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it” (Ephesians 2:9 ESV). If left to our own feeble efforts, we would all have fallen short of God's righteous expectations. But God provided a better way, the only way for men to be made right with Him. And that “Way” is what Paul discussed with Felix that day. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He alone provides the means by which men can be made right with God. He alone provides us with a way to live righteously and under self-control. He alone provides us with freedom from future judgment because He has paid for our sins and satisfied our debt to God. But as a recipient of God's amazing grace, I must never lose sight of the fact that His expectations of mankind have never changed. He still demands a life of righteousness. He still expects us to practice self-control. And He wants us to fully understand the reality and gravity of the judgment to come. While I live with the confidence and peace that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV), I must always remember and appreciate that I once lived with the threat of judgment hanging over my head. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV).

Father, thank You that I have had my sins forgiven and my future made secure through the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. I can now do what You have always expected me to do: live righteousness, with self-control. I can live according to Your expectations because You have given me Your Spirit. I have a power I once did not possess. And Your Son's death has paid my penalty and freed me from future judgment. Don't ever let me take that reality for granted. Amen

The Heart of Man.

Judges 11-12, Acts 23

But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” ­– Judges 11:7 ESV

The Bible gives us a glimpse into the character and nature of God. From the very beginning, recorded in the book of Genesis, all the way to the end, chronicled in the book of the Revelation, we are able to witness God in action, creating, calling, commanding, loving, caring, leading, conquering, and faithfully carrying out His divine plan for mankind. The stories found in the Bible provide a well-rounded portrait of God and allow us to see His divine nature in all it's glory. He is holy, righteous, transcendent, loving, gracious, powerful, all-knowing, all-powerful, and sovereign. He is judge, king, creator, warrior, father, benefactor, provider, and deity. His image is revealed through the pages of Scripture. But while the Bible allows us to discover much about God, it also shows us exactly what man is like. And it is not a pretty picture. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the moral and spiritual trajectory of mankind seems to be on a perpetually downward path. On rare occasions we are allowed to see a few individuals whose hearts seemed to defy the odds and whose lives were marked by a love for God. But in most cases, the portrait of man is a dark and depressing one. In the book of Judges, we see the repetitive cycle of sin that plagued the people of God. They just couldn't seem to stop rebelling against God. And in spite of His patience and faithful deliverance of them, they continued to turn against Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Man is wicked. He has been from the beginning. And there came a time when God determined to destroy mankind for its wickedness. The book of Genesis records, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). So God brought a world-wide flood. His righteousness required Him to mete out justice. But He preserved a remnant. He rescued Noah and his family. He preserved a handful of representatives of the human race, because He was not done yet. He had a preordained plan to restore His creation to its original splendor and it would be accomplished through mankind and in spite of them. His will regarding mankind would be fulfilled. His desire to rectify all the problems created by sin would come about – in His perfect timing and according to His perfect plan. And it is amazing to watch His plan unfold through the pages of Scripture, even as man's wickedness is revealed on virtually every page.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The story of Jephthah is a perfect illustration of man's heart problem and God's faithfulness. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute who had been ostracized by his own half brothers. They refused to share their inheritance with him and forced him to give up his rights as a brother. This sad story begins with Jephthah living as an outside, surrounded by “worthless fellows.” And then the story takes a twist. The Ammonites show up. The enemies of Israel arrive on the scene, threatening war and creating panic among the people. And what do they do? They turn to Jephthah, who just happened to be a mighty warrior. This man who was not enough to share their inheritance becomes the perfect person to save their skins. They even agree to make him their leader if he will only help them defeat the Ammonites. What a perfect picture of the heart of man – fickle and unfaithful, opportunistic and always self-serving. The prophet Jeremiah was right when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). The Bible makes it clear that the heart of man is inherently and irreparably wicked. You see it in the repetitive cycle of rebellion portrayed in the history of the people of Israel. You see it in the hatred of the religious leaders of Jesus' day, who adamantly refused to accept Him as their Messiah, instead demanding His execution, rather than acknowledge Him as the Son of God. Those same men would continue their opposition to the cause of Christ through their persecution of His apostles. Paul encountered these same men, and was dragged before them because of his efforts on behalf of the Gospel. During his trial before the Jewish council, we see a glimpse into the heart of these men as they bicker and fight amongst themselves, arguing over the issue of resurrection from the dead. Even their common enemy, Paul, could not keep them from fighting amongst themselves, revealing their selfish, vain, and wicked hearts.  “…a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:7 ESV). “And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10 ESV). Their hatred for Paul was only surpassed by their hatred for one another.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As human beings, we tend to want to think the best of ourselves. We have a hard time recognizing or admitting our own wickedness. But the Scriptures make it painfully clear. When more than 40 men swore a vow to assassinate Paul, simply because they didn't like what he was teaching and preaching, it is hard to justify their actions. What would cause these men to risk their lives against the Roman cohort, just in order to eliminate one man? As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” But God does understand man's heart. He knows full well the wickedness that permeates it. And that is why He sent His Son to provide the only means for restoring man's heart to its pre-fall condition. But it is essential that we understand and acknowledge our own sinful condition and the undeniable reality of our heart problem. I must regularly remind myself of my own heart condition. My heart has been damaged by sin. My predisposition is towards rebellion and rejection of the will of God. My sin nature wants me to resist the will of God and do things my way. My heart is prone to do what I want to do, rather than what God would have me do. Which is why God has placed His Spirit within me, to provide me with a new way of thinking and processing. I have been given a new capacity to live in obedience to God that comes from the very Spirit of God within me. I can't trust my heart, but I can fully rely on the Spirit of God. Paul reminds me, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV). “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26 ESV). The Spirit of God makes it possible for us to live in obedience to God. But it is essential that I acknowledge my need for the Spirit. I must come to grips with my own sin nature and deadly heart condition. I must daily recognize my need for the transformative power of the Spirit of God in my life, providing me with the capacity to live differently and distinctively in a world where man's wickedness is on constant display.

Father, I should have no problem admitting the wickedness of my own heart. I get to see it in full living color every day. It reveals itself in so many ways that it is impossible to deny it. But You are in the process of transforming my heart and renewing my nature. Your Spirit is providing me with a capacity to live righteously that I never possessed before. But I must constantly recognize the true condition of my heart and my indisputable need for His power to live the life You have called me to live. Amen

Called and Commissioned.

Judges 9-10, acts 22

And he said, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.” ­– Acts 22:14-15 ESV

Our two passages today present a stark contrast between two different men. In the book of Judges, we are introduced to Abimelech, the son of Gideon. He proves to be a conniving, murderous individual who will stop at nothing to see himself made king over the people of Israel. He was not appointed by God. He had no commission from God to seek the kingship. But after the death of his father, Gideon, Abimelech saw an opportunity to take advantage of. He knew that at one point the people of Israel had wanted to crown Gideon king. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian’” (Judges 8:22 ESV). But Gideon had refused their offer to make him king, warning them, “The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8:23 ESV). But once Gideon was out of the way, Abimelech saw his opportunity. His father's death had left a leadership void. But he had 69 brothers, all born to different mothers, with whom to contend. So took matters into his own hands and Abimelech murdered them all. Then his mother's relatives, the Shechemites, crowned him king of Israel, and he reigned for three years. But his reign was not commissioned by God and it did not have the blessing of God. It would end in tragedy and with Abimelech's violent death. And nothing Abimelech had done with his life left a lasting or positive impact on the nation of Israel. They remained unfaithful to God and continued their pattern of rebellion.

But in the book of Acts, we meet a man of a different sort. Actually, Paul was probably much like Abimelech at one point in his life. He was a self-made and ambitious man who was working his way to the top. Paul's own story of his early life is quite transparent, revealing some of the more sordid details of his background. “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5 ESV). Paul was a professional bounty hunter whose job it was to round up Christians and thrown them in jail. But something happened. God got a hold on his life and transformed him from the inside out. That day on the road to Damascus, as Paul was making his way to carry out his original commission from the Jewish religious leadership, he received a new commission and calling from God Himself. “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15 ESV). Paul was given a clear charge by God to act as His spokesman and representative, carrying the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It is clear from the book of Judges that God uses men and women to accomplish His will. So far, we have seen Him call Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, and Gideon. These individuals were chosen by God to accomplish His divine will in the lives of His people. Each had a role to play in God's plan. They were called and commissioned by God and had the hand of God on their lives and, as a result, they were able to deliver the people of God from oppression at the hands of their enemies. In the book of Acts, we see God call Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Timothy, Silas and John Mark. He chooses these men to accomplish His will and to carry out His work among both the Jews and the Gentiles. They did not aspire to their roles or seek them out. But God placed His hand on their lives and divinely empowered them to accomplish His will. Paul's story is a vivid reminder of how God can take one man's agenda and turn it on its ear. Paul had a plan for his life and he was working that plan out on a daily basis, doing what he felt was best for his own life. He even believed that his plan was well within God's will, “being zealous for God” and persecuting “this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:3-4 ESV). But Paul's way was not God's way. He did not have the call of God on his life. But that would change. God would recommission him and reassign him for duty, providing him with new duties and responsibilities.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Like Abimelech, most of us can end up living our lives with a me-centered mindset that focuses on what is best for us. Abimelech didn't really care about the people of Israel. And he most certainly didn't care about his 69 brothers. He saw everyone as a potential roadblock to his own personal aspirations and plans. His desire for the crown was self-motivated and clearly not God-ordained. God had never called him to be king, but that didn't stop Abimelech from doing everything in his power to see that it happen. At one point in his life, Paul believed he was doing the work and the will of God by arresting any and all who followed “The Way.” He saw this new-found sect called Christians as a nuisance and a potential threat to the one true religion: Judaism. He thought he was doing God a favor by wiping out this dangerous cult and had the blessing of the high priest and the whole council of elders. But he was wrong. He was not called by God. But his mistake would be rectified by God Himself. He would receive new marching orders and a new purpose for his life that would radically alter his future.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Every human being wants to know what the purpose of their life is – why they are on this planet. They seek to find significance and meaning for their existence. And without a clear calling from God, we all begin to slowly determine our own destiny. Abimelech was not content to be just one of the sons of Gideon and slowly fade into insignificance after the death of his father. He had grander aspirations, and if they included the murder of his brothers, so be it. Nothing was going to stand in his way. But he was not called or commissioned by God. He did not have the blessing or permission of God to do what he did, and it did not turn out well. As a believer in Jesus Christ, it is of utmost importance that I seek to know what it is that God would have me do. It is a dangerous thing to assume I know what is best for my life. God calls us and then commissions us. We are not free to establish out life plan and agenda. And yet, that is exactly what most of us do. We make life plans without consulting God. We determine and map out our destinies without giving God a second thought. It is as if we think God is somehow obligated to bless our decisions with His divine stamp of approval. But God doesn't call without commissioning. He doesn't choose without having a very good reason behind that choice. I am here for a reason. God didn't just save me in order to guarantee a future place for me in heaven. He has work for me to do while I am here. The same thing is true of every believer. But are we seeking to know His will for our lives? Are we asking for Him to provide daily direction for our lives? Do we make plans without His input and set agendas without His permission? God calls. God commissions. Abimelech had no calling on his life from God. Paul did. And the outcome of their lives are radically different.

Father, You have called me and You have a job for me to do. Never let me forget that fact. Don't let me waste my life living it according to my own agenda and plan. Help me to live with a constant ear to hear what You are saying. Give me a growing sensitivity to Your will and Your Spirit's voice in my life. I want to live out my calling and my commission faithfully. Amen

Little Is Much.

Judges 7-8, Acts 21

The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” ­– Judges 7:2 ESV

There is an old song in which the chorus begins, “Little is much when God is in it!” Those words aptly reflect the lesson given to Gideon and the people of Israel in chapter seven of Judges. As God's chosen deliverer, Gideon is about to lead the people of Israel into battle against the Midianites. According to chapter 8, there were more than 135,000 enemy soldiers camped in the valley by the hill of Moreh. When Gideon gathered his own troops, he could only muster 32,000 men. Then God did something rather unexpected and, from Gideon's perspective, a bit uncomfortable. He told Gideon to send home all those who were fearful and trembling. The result was that 22,000 men walked away, leaving Gideon with only 10,000 soldiers to do battle with 135,000 Midianites. But God was not done. He then told Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go” (Judges 7:4 ESV). God devised for Gideon a simple means of determining the men He wanted to take into battle. The test God devised had nothing to do with the caliber of the men chosen, but merely provided a means of trimming the number of men down to the bare minimum. Again, the result was that Gideon was left with only 300 men. From a human perspective, the odds were clearly against Gideon. His army was too small and his enemy was too great. But Gideon had God on his side.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had told Gideon, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” (Judges 6:14 ESV). “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16 ESV). God had clearly called Gideon and given him a mission to accomplish. He had also confirmed for Gideon that He would be with Him and fight for him. God did not need Gideon or Gideon's troops to accomplish His mission. But God chose to use them both. God allowed Gideon and his 300 men to witness an amazing victory that day, as God destroyed a superior army right in front of their eyes, as they stood, swords and torches in hand. God caused the enemy to attack themselves and all Gideon and his men had to do was stand and watch. When the time came, God allowed them to get in on the action. But the victory was His doing.

In reading the history of the spread of the church recorded by Luke in the book of Acts, it is amazing to consider just how rapidly and aggressively it all happened through the efforts of a relatively small number of individuals. We read of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, John Mark and a handful of others who were used by God to spread the Good News around the known world at that time. In a relatively short period of time, thousands upon thousands of people came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the efforts of these men. Paul alone had a tremendous impact on the spread of the Gospel. He was one man traveling through enemy territory, taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and facing constant opposition from pagans and Jews alike. But God accomplished the impossible through him. His faithfulness and God's power were no match for the enemy. What Paul brought to the table was his determination to do God's will at all costs. When warned by Agabus the prophet that he would face certain arrest and imprisonment if he returned to Jerusalem, Paul simply replied, “For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 ESV). He knew he was simply a vessel in the hands of God, and was willing to be used up in His service in order to accomplish God's will.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We are all about the numbers. If we had been in Gideon's sandals and been asked by God to do battle against a superior foe with a handful of soldiers, we would have thought the idea was crazy. It would have made no sense. We live in a society in which “little is much” makes no sense. We firmly hold to the idea that there is strength in numbers. More is better than less. Strength trumps weakness every time. But for the believer, victory doesn't come as a result of our effort or effectiveness. It has nothing to do with our numbers or the abundance of our resources. The battle is the Lord's. And the sooner we realize that the odds are always in our favor because God is always on our side, the quicker we will experience the peace that Paul had. And the sooner we will be able to say, “Let the will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14 ESV). Gideon had no idea how that day was going to turn out. Paul had no idea just how things were going to unfold when he arrived in Jerusalem. But both had the assurance that God was with them. They also knew that God was going to have the victory one way or the other – either with them or without them.

But even when God gives the victory, it is so easy for us to try and claim credit. After their amazing defeat of the Midianites, the people of Israel attempt to make Gideon king. They saw him as the source of their victory. They mistakenly thought that if they could make him king, future victories would be assured. But what they didn't realize was that their future success was based solely on their present faithfulness to God. And we read that “As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and whored after the Baals nad made Baal-berith their god” (Judges 8:33 ESV). Even Gideon, before he died, was guilty of apostasy, worshiping an ephod he had made from the gold won in his God-given victory over the Midianites. Unlike Paul, Gideon proved to be unfaithful and unreliable. He lost his focus. He made it all about himself, rather than all about the will of God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Little is much when God is in it. God is able to do far more with far less. He is able to accomplish the impossible using the improbable. Paul wrote, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV). He knew that God was far more capable than he was. He knew that God was able to what no man could have ever done. God wants to do the impossible in our lives today. He wants to give us victories over the greatest of enemies. He wants to provide us with inexplicable success over insurmountable foes. But we must trust Him. We must long for His will to be done. We must leave the outcome to Him, and give all the praise, glory and honor to Him when all is said and done.

Father, You don't need much to do great things. You can even use me and I find that amazing and humbling. Forgive me for thinking that more is better. Forgive me for thinking that numbers are the key to success. Help me learn to trust You more. Help me have the faith and focus of Paul. I want to watch You work in and around my life in ways that are beyond imagination and way outside human explanation. Amen

The Mystery of God’s Ways.

Judges 5-6, Acts 20

And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” ­– Judges 6:13 ESV

It is sometimes difficult to understand how God works. Because of our limited perspective and somewhat myopic, self-centered viewpoint, we can find ourselves looking at the events taking place around us and come to the wrong conclusions. Gideon did. He was secretly threshing grain down in a wine press just to keep the Midianites from knowing about it. As he assessed the circumstances surrounding the people of God, he couldn't help but conclude that God had abandoned them. He had a hard time understanding why they were under constant attack from their enemies and living in fear for their lives. Of course, we know that it was because “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian for seven years” (Judges 6:1 ESV). This was all part of the cycle of rebellion that marked the lives of the Israelites during the period of the judges. But for Gideon, it was all a mystery. He wanted to know where the great God his ancestors worshiped had gone to. From Gideon's perspective, it was God who had left them, not the other way around. But in spite of Gideon's faulty assumptions, God was going to use him to deliver His people. God even referred to Gideon as a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12 ESV). Which I find interesting, because at that very moment, Gideon was hidden away in a wine press beating out grain and hoping the Midianites didn't discover him. But God had a job for Gideon that was going to be way out of his comfort zone. He was going to accomplish His will through Gideon and reveal that He had never really forsaken His people at all. But again, Gideon's limited perspective prevented him from seeing how any of this could work. His response to the angel of the Lord was, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house” (Judges 6:15 ESV). None of this made sense to Gideon. As far as he was concerned, he made a highly unlikely hero.

What does this passage reveal about God?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8 ESV). God rarely does things the way we think He should. And sometimes, like Gideon, we can misread God's actions and draw faulty conclusions regarding what it is He is doing. There was no doubt that God was punishing Israel for its unfaithfulness. But God had not abandoned them. He had already made plans to send a deliverer. But His choice for a deliverer was going to be a surprise for everyone, including Gideon himself. The presence of trouble wasn't proof of the absence of God. It was evidence of the unfaithfulness of men. But God had a plan. Unbeknownst to Gideon and the rest of the Israelites, the days of the Midianites were numbered. The suffering of the people of Israel was going to come to an end. How? No one had a clue. When? God had not yet revealed His timeline. But it was wrong for Gideon to assume that God was not at work and that He had no plan in place for the salvation of the people of Israel. It was also wrong for Gideon to conclude that he was the wrong man for the job. He was about to learn that God's ways were quite different than anything he could ever have imagined.

It's interesting to note that when Paul spoke to the elders in Ephesus, he revealed that there was much about God's plan for his life that he didn't know or understand. He told them, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained bythe Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there,except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:22-23 ESV). All Paul knew was that he was headed to Jerusalem, having been given clear direction to do so by the Holy Spirit. But he didn't have any idea what was going to happen to him when he got there. Except for the fact that the Holy Spirit seemed to let him know that imprisonment and afflictions were on the agenda. It would have been easy for Paul to ask God why. He could have questioned the wisdom behind God's plan. But rather than doubt, question and fear, Paul simply responded, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24 ESV). Paul may not have completely understood what was going on, but he completely trusted that God's will for his life was best and could be trusted.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have an insatiable desire to know and understand. We want to have an explanation for everything. But God is not obligated to explain Himself or His ways to us. He does not owe us an explanation. He is God. His ways are not our ways. His methodology does not always make sense to us, but He can always be trusted. Paul knew that. Gideon was going to learn it through personal experience. Every time Paul got on a ship, set out on a journey, walked into a new town or opened up his mouth to "testify to the gospel of the grace of God,” he was venturing into the unknown. He never knew how people would respond. In some cases, they gladly received his message and placed their faith in Christ. Other times, they responded in anger, hurling accusations and throwing stones. Paul's obedience to the will of God was not based on the response of his audience, but on his willingness to do what God had called him to do. He was content to trust God with the outcome whether he fully understood what was going to happen or not.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

So much about our life on this earth as followers of Christ is a mystery. We don't know what the day holds. We have no idea what is going to happen in the next half hour, let alone the next decade. There is much about God's will we know and understand, but there is also much of it hidden from our view. We suffer from a limited perspective and a distorted viewpoint. But we must constantly learn to trust God. He knows what He is doing. Paul told the elders at Ephesus, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32 ESV). Paul encouraged them to trust God. He wanted them to understand that it was God who would care for them, protect them, and ultimately, provide for them their future inheritance as His children. Their trust needed to remain in God. Their hope needed to based on the character of God. Circumstances change. God doesn't.

Father, thank You for this reassurance this morning. Forgive me for making snap judgments about You based on what I see happening around me. May I have the mind of Paul, that whatever mystery I may face in life, I keep moving forward, trusting in You and resting in Your faithfulness to me and love for me. Amen

Remorse Versus Repentance.

Judges 3-4, Acts 19

Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. ­– Acts 19:18-20 ESV

The book of Judges paints a bleak picture of the spiritual condition of the people of Israel after the death of Joshua. They found themselves in the land, but they had failed to faithfully follow God's command and purge the Canaanites from their midst. “So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods” (Judges3:5-6 ESV). Their refusal or reluctance to do things God's way resulted in a lengthy period of testing at the hand of God. It began a cycle of rebellion, which resulted in their rejection by God, but also in their eventual rescue at the hands of the judges who God raised up on their behalf. What is interesting to note is that while the people showed remorse for their sin, there is never any evidence of repentance or true heart change. The punishment of God in the form of defeat at the hands of their enemies caused them to cry out to God for help, but they never seemed to make the connection that their rebellion required repentance, or a change of heart. They never seemed to really learn their lesson. So we continue to read, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 3:12 ESV). Their hearts remained unchanged. Their sins remained unconfessed. They wanted God to rescue them, but they were not truly interested in rejecting their sinful way of life.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It is clear from the passage that God was fully in control of the circumstances during the period of the judges. “Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” (Judges 3:1-2 ESV). God always has a purpose for what He does, or what He allows. In the case of the Israelites, He seemed to have four different objectives in mind. First, was going to use the enemies left in the land to teach the Israelites how to fight. Most of the Israelites who were alive at this point had not participated in the battles to conquer the land and were inexperience at war. Plus, God wanted them to know how to fight according to His terms, not their own. Secondly, it is clear that God intended to punish Israel for her open rebellion against Him. So He made their enemies “thorns in their sides” and their gods would become "a snare.” Thirdly, God would use this period of time to expose within the people of Israel their lack of love and faithfulness. Finally, according to Deuteronomy 7:20-24, God actually preserved the land by allowing the Canaanites to remain in it until the Israelites were capable of taking it over and cultivating it themselves. Otherwise, if God had wiped out the Canaanites before the Israelites were ready to move in, the land would have gone wild. God had a purpose behind all of this, but the primary desire of His heart was that His people repent of their sins and return to Him. This is the primary message of the Old Testament. It is the central message that each of the prophets who would eventually be sent by God would proclaim over and over again. But in the book of Judges repentance seems to be missing.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Each and every time the people of God turned away from God, they suffered the consequences. And their suffering caused them to cry out to God for help. It is amazing just how powerful and robust our prayer lives can become when we find ourselves in trouble due to our own sin. When the Israelites found themselves in a jam, they cried out to God. It reminds me of the old adage: There are no atheists in fox holes. The Israelites clearly knew that their predicament was due to the discipline of God and they also knew that their only hope was going to found in Him. And God responded. He sent deliverers. He heard. He listened. He acted. But the saddest part of the story is that it just keeps repeating itself. They never seemed to learn. But in contrast, there is the story of the people of Ephesus recorded in Acts 19. These pagan people were exposed to the Good News about Jesus Christ through the ministry of Paul and many of them became believers. But what is amazing is how they changed. Their new-found relationship with Christ brought about a radical alteration in their behavior. We read, “…many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:18-20 ESV). The change in their lives was significant and far from superficial. It was internal, but showed up in tangible, external ways. And their behavior ended up impacting their community. It ends up that so many had come to faith in Christ and were repenting of their former way of life, that it was having a economic impact on the community. Those who made idols were feeling the pinch from the drop-off in sales. There was a growing fear that if something didn't happen soon, the entire economic infrastructure of the city and the Temple of Artemis were going to suffer irreparable harm. The Good News was turning out to be bad news for a lot of people, because of the transformative power of God in the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

What God longs for in the life of His people is their unapologetic allegiance to and love for Him. He wants to reveal His power in their lives and help them live as the people of God in the midst of a world full of people who do not know Him. He is fully aware that, even as followers of Christ, believers still struggle with sin and are prone to rebellion. But what God desires is that we cry out to Him for help and be willing to repent or turn from our sin and return to Him. The people of Israel never really returned to Him. They cried out. They accepted His rescue. But they never truly turned away from their idols and returned to the worship of God. The were remorseful or sorry that they had been caught in sin by God and were more than willing to have Him bail them out, but they were unwilling to walk away from their sin and return in faithfulness to Him. In the New Testament, the Greek word for repent is metanoeó. It means “change my mind, change the inner man (particularly with reference to acceptance of the will of God), to repent.” Sometimes it is referred to "an about face.” You are headed one direction, then you stop and head the other way. But notice that it includes the mind. It is a change in the way you think. The people of Israel thought they could worship other gods and get away with it. They thought they could choose to disobey God's will and not suffer for it. They thought they knew what was best for their lives. But they were going to have to change their way of thinking. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He simply said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 ESV). Those new believers in Ephesus knew that their behavior was change. Their way of thinking was radically altered by the presence of Christ in their lives and it showed up in the way they lived. They repented of their former way of life and turned to a radically new one – motivated by their new found relationship with Jesus Christ.

Father, may true repentance always be a recognizable part of my life. I want to constantly learn to change the way I think about You, about life, about my own sin, and about the way my faith shows up in my everyday life. Forgive me for the many times I have cried out to You for help or rescue, but have failed to really want to turn away from doing things my way and start living Your way. Amen

If God Be For Us.

Joshua 17-18, Acts 14

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” ­– Acts 18:9-10 ESV

It is interesting to note the parallels between the history of the people of Israel as they attempted to conquer the land and the New Testament saints as they attempted to spread the Gospel around the world. Both represent the people of God, having been commissioned by God to accomplish His will in the world. Both faced intense opposition, but had experienced the power and presence of God in significant ways. They each knew that God was with them. He had proven time and again that He was on their side. But He fully expected obedience to His commands – in spite of the opposition they faced, the fears they may have felt, and the seeming impossibility of their assignments. But the similarities begin to fade as we compare the book of Judges and the events recorded in the book of Acts. After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel still found themselves facing countless enemies who still occupy the land given to them by God. We repeatedly read of the failure of the people of Israel to rid the land of its pagan inhabitants.

And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:19 ESV

But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem… – Judges 1:21 ESV

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Judges 1:27 ESV

Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites… – Judges 1:29 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them… – Judges 1:30 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out… – Judges 1:31-32 ESV

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. – Judges 1:33 ESV

The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim… – Judges 1:35 ESV

The people of God had failed to do what God had commanded them to do. Either out of fear, laziness, indifference or as a result of their own "better" judgment, they refused to do things God's way. And their disobedience brought God's discipline. He made it clear what they were to do, but they had refused to obey. And while they might have rationalized that their efforts were adequate because they had ended up enslaving the very groups they had failed to destroy, God knew their half-hearted obedience was going to whole-hearted rebellion against Him. “You shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars. But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you” (Judges 2:2-3 ESV). The book of Judges is a painful history of this prophecy played out. The failure of the people of God to obey the commands of God would result in their ultimate apostasy from God. “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:11-13 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had a perfectly good reason for His command that the people completely destroy the inhabitants of the land. He knew full well that their refusal to eradicate the land's occupants would lead to their abandonment of Him and their pursuit of other gods. They would end up turning their backs on God and, therefore, He would be forced to turn His back on them. “So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hands of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies” (Judges 2:14 ESV). God could not and would not tolerate their disobedience. So rather than God's presence and power going before them, the Israelites found themselves fighting without Him. Their efforts would prove futile. Their strength would be insufficient for the task. And rather than being able to enjoy the fruits of the land promised to them by God, they found themselves “in terrible distress” (Judges 2:15 ESV). The book of Judges records one of the saddest periods of time in the long history of the people of Israel. It contains a repetitive cycle of sin and rebellion, but it is also marked by the enduring patience and faithfulness of God. While He would give them over to their enemies as punishment for their open rebellion against Him, He would never fully give them up. “Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them” (Judges 2:18 ESV). The people would sin. God would give them over to their enemies. The people would cry out in despair. God would hear and send a judge who would deliver them. Then in time, the people would abandon God again, and the cycle would repeat itself. Rebellion – Remorse – Rescue – Restoration – Repeat. That is the pattern of the book of Judges. But God's faithfulness is in full view throughout the entirety of the book. He never gives up. He never fully abandons them – in spite of them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Over in the book of Acts, we have recorded the early history of the spread of the Gospel as Paul and the other apostles make their way around the known world of their day. In obedience to Christ's commission, they had begun in Jerusalem, moved on to Judea and Samaria, and were now moving out to the ends of the earth. In chapter 18, we have Paul visiting Corinth, Caesarea, Syria, Antioch, Galatia and Phrygia. And in almost every city he visited, Paul found himself facing intense opposition and threats on his life. He was seeing tremendous response to the Gospel message, but with each conversion, the enemies of God seemed to increase in number and intensity. And yet God gave Paul a vision, telling him, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 19:9-10 ESV). God assured Paul of His presence and power. He let him know that obedience to His will was Paul's only concern. God would take care of the rest. Paul was still going to face opposition. He would still encounter threats on his life. But He would know that God was with Him. I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist, “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6 ESV). Those same words are echoed in the book of Hebrews. “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6 ESV). The key was Paul's obedience. He was expected to faithfully carry out his God-given assignment, in the face of opposition and in spite of potential setbacks. He had to do His part. But he could rest in the knowledge that God was there with Him, doing His part, each step of the way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

What an amazing contrast. What a powerful reminder of the need for obedience in the life of the follower of God. We all tend to want to enjoy the blessings of God, but too often we refuse to live in obedience to His will. At times we question it. Sometimes we rationalize reasons to ignore it. There are plenty of times we simply choose to twist it into something that is more palatable to our senses and appealing to our own desires. The Israelites were guilty of trying to do God's will in their own way, and their half-hearted obedience resulted in whole-hearted rebellion against Him. Paul's assignment was no less easier than theirs. He faced just as much opposition and potential danger to life and limb. But he obeyed. He persevered. He listened to the Word of God and obeyed. God did not remove the obstacles or eliminate the opposition. He simply assured Paul of His presence, protection and power. As long as Paul did the will of God, he could be confident to receive the help of God. It is far too easy to question God's will when things don't seem to go the way we think they should. Obstacles tend to come across to us as signs that we are somehow out of God's will. Difficulties are too often viewed as proof of God's absence, but God never promised us an absence of trouble. He simply promised us access to His abiding presence and power. After Paul's vision from God, his efforts did not become any easier and his opposition did not become any less intense. But he continued to do the will of God in full confidence that He had the full and abiding presence of God. Like Paul, I want to learn to trust God as I increasingly learn to obey Him. I want to say as he did, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 ESV). Paul was able to speak those words because he had experienced their reality in his daily life. He had seen them proven true time and time again, in spite of death threats, stonings, beatings, imprisonments, setbacks, false accusations, fruitless sermons, unfaithful disciples, and physical infirmities. Paul was able to keep on keeping on because he knew that God was with him. As long as he remained obedient to the call of God on his life, he knew he would have the presence of God in his life.

Father, may I learn to live like Paul. But too often my life can be characterized by the repetitive cycle of rebellion, remorse and rescue found in the book of Judges. Help me to live in obedience to You, regardless of the circumstances. I don't want trouble, trials, opposition or difficulties to cause me to abandon my hope in You or fail to live in obedience to You. You are with me. And if You are with me, who can stand against me?


The One and Only God.

Joshua 23-24, Acts 17

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. ­– Acts 17:24-25 ESV

As Joshua prepared for his own death and departure from the people of Israel, he wanted to give them one last word of warning. He was determined that they understood fully that their entire existence as a people and their presence in the land had been completely God's doing and not their own. He went out of his way to make that point abundantly clear.

And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. – Joshua 23:3 ESV

The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. – Joshua 23:5 ESV

For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. – Joshua 23:9 ESV

One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. – Joshua 23:10 ESV

not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. – Joshua 23:14 ESV

God had been intimately and powerfully involved in their lives since the day He had called Abram out of Ur. It had been God who made of Abram a mighty nation. He had rescued the descendants of Abram when they found themselves enslaved in Egypt. He had brought them through the wilderness, providing for their every need along the way. He had brought them to the land He had promised to Abram, and gave them victory after victory over their enemies. God confirmed His role in their existence by reminding them, “…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 24:12-13 ESV). The whole point of Joshua's charge to the people was to remind them of the non-negotiable reality of God in their lives. They couldn't deny it. But they could certainly ignore it, and that was Joshua's greatest fear. He knew his people well. He was well aware of their tendency toward unfaithfulness. Which is why he warned them, “Now there fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14 ESV). He challenged them to “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” (Joshua 24:15 ESV). Even when the people swear their allegiance to God, Joshua had to warn them to “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23 ESV).

Joshua knew that idolatry and spiritual adultery were going to be a constant temptation to the people of Israel – in spite of all that He had done for them. And Joshua wanted them to know that faithfulness to God was going to be difficult. “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” (Joshua 24:19 ESV). This is not teaching that God is unforgiving, but that He cannot abide unfaithfulness. His holiness demands allegiance and requires that He punish unfaithfulness.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When it comes to idols, God is anything but tolerant. He is far from politically correct. As the sole creator of the universe and the sustainer of all life, God has no reason to put up with the worship of gods who do not even exist. And yet, false gods have been a part of human existence ever since the fall. Those gods have taken all kinds of forms. Some have been literal statues, totems, figures and man-made representations of various animals. Some have been more sophisticated god-replacements, such as money, power, entertainment, health, military force or political influence. Anything we turn to other than God for our protection, provision, peace of mind, sense of fulfillment, or cause for joy, is nothing less than a false god. These God replacements have always been around. When Paul arrived in Athens, he couldn't help but notice all the idols and religious shrines located all over the city. He even told the citizens of Athens, “I perceive that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22 ESV). He noted that they even had an altar dedicated “to the unknown god.” And in the spirit of Joshua, Paul makes a clear and compelling argument that there really is only one God. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:24-28 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

For Paul, there was only one God. He may have been unknown to the people of Athens, but before Paul was done with them, they would have an undeniable understanding of just who He was. Men tend to make gods who exist for their own well being. Yes, we want gods who are powerful, but only when it comes to their ability to accomplish mighty acts on our behalf. We want gods who are powerful enough to protect us and provide for us. Our gods are where we turn in times of need. If the rain fails to come, there must be a god to go to for help. If the enemy shows up at our borders, there must be a god to ask for assistance. If our wife is unable to bear us a child, we must have a god who will intervene and do the seemingly impossible. If we are poor, we want a god who will make us rich. If we are rich, we want a god who will keep us that way. If we are sick, we want a god who will make us well. If our enemy is well, we prefer a god who will make them sick. But Paul told the people of Athens “we ought not to think the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art or imagination of man” (Acts 17:29 ESV). No, God is not the fabric of man's fertile imagination. He wasn't made up or manufactured. No, the one and only God “commands all people to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV). God doesn't exist for man's convenience or to accomplish man's will. It is the other way around. Man exists for God's glory and to do His will. Man exists by God's doing and is meant to live according to His divine standards.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There are two constant temptations for all men. First, we can try and deny the very existence of God, but inevitably we will have to manufacture a replacement for Him. We have a God-shaped hole in our very being that demands to be filled. So we will come up with a substitute. We may end up placing someone or something else on the pedestal of our lives, or we may simply resort to worshiping ourselves. We can just as easily put ourselves at the center of our universe and make ourselves the sole arbiter of our fate. The second temptation will be to acknowledge the existence of God, but to try and shape Him into the mold we prefer. In other words, we try to make God look like what we want. So we form a version of God that is inconsistent with Scripture. We make Him all loving and refuse to accept the idea that God might have standards or prove to be intolerant. We manufacture a God who is little more than a doting grandfather in the sky, doling out gifts to his grand kids, oblivious to their sins and shortcomings. The temptation is to make of God a god of our own choosing, which is to have no god at all. If we refuse to see God as a judge or try to deny that His holiness demands a righteousness based on His standards and not ours, we end up having an unknown god. But God has made it possible for us to know Him intimately and completely, because of His Son's death on the cross. God is not far from us. He has made Himself known to us through His creation. But He has made Himself knowable and approachable through His Son's sacrificial, sin-cancelling death. I have a relationship with the God of the universe because the Son of God paid the penalty for my sins on the cross. He did what no false could ever do. He made possible what had been impossible for me and every other human being who has ever lived. It is in recognition of that fact that we should “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23 ESV).

Father, You are the only true God. There are no other gods. But I know that I attempt to worship other gods all the time. I can make money my idol. I can make power or position my savior. I can turn to someone other than You for my satisfaction or sense of worth. I can easily seek consolation or solace in something other than You. Help me to constantly remember that You alone are God. You have given me everything I need, from the very life I live to the salvation I so desperately needed. I am nothing without You. Amen


Misunderstood and Mistreated.

Joshua 21-22, Acts 16

Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? ­– Joshua 22:16 ESV

One of the common characteristics of all men is their ability to misunderstand or misrepresent one another. Even people of God suffer from this very human quality. It seems that we have a certain amount of distrust built into our character that makes it hard for us to take one another at our word. We are too quick to judge from appearances and draw conclusions without having done our homework. That impetuous streak can lead to some seriously wrong conclusions. Such was the case with the tribes who had settled the land west of the Jordan. Not long after God had given them the land He had promised them and their major battles were over, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh were allowed to return to the land that had been allotted to them on the east side of the Jordan. Upon arrival, they built an “altar of imposing size” (Joshua 22:10 ESV). When the other tribes got word of this, they immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion, and “the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them” (Joshua 22:12 ESV). In their eyes, there could only be one reason for the building of the alter: they intended to rebel against God and create their own place of worship to honor their own gods. Fortunately, the 10 triibes were wise enough to send a delegation to warn their brothers against this serious breach of the nation's covenant with God. They knew that if it was true, ALL the people of Israel would suffer the same fate, just as had happened when Achan had sinned at Ai. But their conclusions proved wrong. Their assumptions regarding their brothers were false. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had no intention of turning their backs on God. In fact, they had built the altar as a witness to the tribes beyond the Jordan that “we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings" (Joshua 22:27 ESV). The altar was not intended for sacrifice or offerings and was not built as another place of worship. It was a memorial and a reminder, designed to be “a witness between us that the Lord is God” (Joshua 22:34 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

It's interesting that God is somewhat silent in this portion of the narrative. Surely, He knew the hearts of the the two and a half tribes who had built the altar. Joshua and his leadership team could have sought His will in the matter, but they chose to draw their own conclusions. They assumed the worst and took matters into their own hands. And while I appreciate their zeal to maintain the spiritual integrity of the people, it fascinates me that they never sought the Lord regarding the situation. I believe God prompted them to send the delegation, thereby protecting them from making an even greater mistake by going straight to war with their brothers. Misunderstandings can be dangerous. The need for open lines of communication with God and with one another are critical. The men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, had faithfully kept their word and fought alongside their brothers until the land west of the Jordan had been given into their hands by God. All this in spite of the fact that their land already lie conquered and occupied on the other side. Their wives and children waited for them there. And when it came time to return home, and they wanted to honor God by the building of an altar, their actions were misinterpreted. Perhaps they would have been wise to tell the other tribes what they intended to do before the parted way. This might have spared everyone a great deal of trouble. Nowhere does it indicate that they sought God's will in the matter. They came up with an idea and implemented it, never stopping to consider how their actions might be taken by the tribes west of the Jordan. It was the hand of God that kept this whole affair from escalating into a sad and regrettable fiasco.

What does this passage reveal about man?

As believers, we must always be aware of our own propensity to misunderstand and to be misunderstood by one another. We are not immune to this trait. But we must also understand that we will be regularly misunderstood by the lost world around us. Paul and Silas knew that reality first hand. They were faithful servants of God, doing His will and spreading the Good News of His Son wherever they went. As we have seen already, on more than one occasion, the apostles found themselves in conflict with the culture around them, including the Jews and the Gentiles. They were constantly misunderstood and mistreated for their efforts. And when Paul and Silas made their way to Philippi, a Roman colony, they were confronted by a slave girl who was possessed by a spirit that gave her special powers to tell fortunes. Her owners made a great deal of money as a result of her special, albeit demonic, ability. So when Paul cast the demon out and left her normal for the first time in a long time, his actions didn't exactly come across as beneficial to the owners of the slave girl. In their eyes, Paul was a meddler who had just radically and irreversibly influenced their financial future.  So “they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers” (Acts 16:19 ESV). There they accused Paul and Silas of disturbing the city and of “advocating customs that are not lawful for as as Romans to accept and practice” (Acts 16:20 ESV). As a result, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Talk about a major misunderstanding.

But God would use even this unfortunate circumstance for the good of Paul and Silas and the glory of His own name. He intervened in the situation, miraculously opening the gates of the prison and setting Paul and Silas free. But His real intention was not just to release two men from captivity in a cell, but to set an entire household free from captivity to sin and death. The release of Paul and Silas, witnessed by their jailer, was used by God to lead this man and his entire household to salvation in Christ. While their actions had been misunderstood and misrepresented by most, God had a purpose behind it all. He would use it for the good of man and for His own glory. And in a way, it may be that God was behind the whole scenario given to us in Joshua 22, because He knew the hearts of His own people. So did the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. They knew that there was a high likelihood that, in time, the western tribes would view their brothers across the Jordan as separate and distinct from them. They feared that the Jordan would act as a natural barrier separating them from their brothers and leading the western tribes to wrongly conclude, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of God. You have no portion in the Lord. So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord” (Joshua 22:24-25 ESV). They feared that the day would come when they would be refused access to the altar and, therefore, to God Himself. Perhaps God really did lay the idea of a replica altar on their hearts. Maybe this was all God's doing, in order to assure that all 12 of the tribes, on either side of the Jordan, remained united and at peace with one another.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As the people of God, we will be misunderstood by the world around us. Jesus warned us of this. But how vital it is that we go out of our way to understand one another. The key seems to be communication and giving one another the benefit of the doubt. We must do our best to not jump to conclusions and assume the worst. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that we would be one just as He and His Father are one. He desired that we have unity. Unity requires communication. We must openly discuss our thoughts and share out opinions in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. Unity does not mean an absence of disagreements. It simply conveys the need for resolution and loving compromise. It requires that we seek the will of God. What would He have us do? We must constantly remind ourselves that we each have the capacity to misunderstand and misinterpret one another's actions. We must give one another the benefit of the doubt and seek to understand the heart behind our words and conduct. It is one thing to have the lost world misread our actions, but how sad it is when brothers and sisters in Christ jump to the wrong conclusions about one another and do irreparable damage to the Kingdom of God and bring shame to the name of Christ. I know I have been guilty of this far more times than I would like to think about. I am far to quick to judge based on what I see or hear, rather than to take time to seek the facts. Our wrong conclusions can have some seriously wrong consequences. How well King David put it. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1 ESV). Unity requires humility. It demands a listening ear, a receptive heart, a willingness to extend grace, to assume the best, to seek God's will, and to die to my own selfish preconceived notions.

Father, we live in a world filled with constant misunderstandings and misrepresentations. Help me to be less and less a contributor to the mess. Prevent me from jumping to the wrong conclusion regarding my brothers and sisters in Christ. And when I am wrongly misunderstood and misrepresented by them, allow me to show grace and kindness in return. AmeKen Miller Grow Pastor & Minister to Men kenm@christchapelbc.org


Debates and Differences.

Joshua 19-20, Acts 15

But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” ­– Acts 15:5 ESV

We can never escape the reality that God has chosen to accomplish His plan through flawed and fallible men. The fall left the human race ill-equipped to accomplish the will of God. Sin entered into the world and created an atmosphere where rebellion and dissension flourished and every man tended to do what was right in his own eyes. Selfishness and self-centeredness reigned. Disagreements and disunity ran rampant. And even among the Jewish people, chosen by God as His special possession, the tendency was for them to live in a constant state of disagreement with one another and disloyalty to God. In spite of their special relationship with God, they would find themselves committing sins against Him and one another. Which is one of the reasons God commanded Moses to establish cities of refuge. These six designated cities were designed to provide sanctuary for those guilty of unpremeditated murder. The fact was that, even among the people of God, murder would be a sad reality. Disunity and disagreements would exist and, at times, they could end up in one brother taking the life of another. Sin was a constant reality among the people of God and it still is. Even during the early days of the church, there were disputes and disagreements. And while we might want to look back on those days with a certain sense of nostalgia, believing them to have been idyllic and trouble-free, the Scriptures reveal that, even then, the presence of man's selfishness and self-centeredness was readily apparent.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The spread of the gospel is all the more amazing when you consider that God accomplished it through the means of men. One of His primary instruments was a former professional bounty hunter who was well-known for his relentless persecution of the church. Another was a man who, on the night of Jesus' arrest, had denied that he even knew Him three different times. God used ordinary men and women to spread the message of salvation throughout the world. He used the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor. He even used the hatred of men in the form of persecution to force the dispersement of His people throughout the known world at that time. God knew that His messengers were flawed and, while filled with the Holy Spirit, were still going to continue to wrestle with their sin natures. The flaws, weaknesses, and self-centered natures of men don't surprise God. In fact, God's power is best displayed through man's weaknesses. God uses and blesses us in spite of us. And while we might long for a day when there are no more disputes and disagreements among us, God seems to want to use those inevitable moments of friction to force us to turn to Him and to seek His will. Our propensity toward conflict should always drive us to Him for wisdom and direction. Left to our own devices, we will always lean towards selfishness and allow sin to taint our decision making.

What does this passage reveal about man?

As God's divine plan for the spread of the gospel unfolded, it was inevitable that man's warped sense of understanding would get in the way. For generations, the Jews had seen themselves as the apple of God's eye. They were the chosen ones. Their special relationship with God had left them with an elitist mentality that caused them to look down on every other people group. And interestingly enough, during the early days of the church, because it was birthed in the city of Jerusalem, many of the early converts were Jews. These individuals would tend to see salvation through the lens of their Jewish heritage and religious system. They would see Jesus as their Messiah and as an extension of their existing faith in Yahweh. They were not prepared for the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ was available to any and all, Jew and Gentile alike. And even when they began to realize that God was opening up His Kingdom to include Gentiles, they couldn't help but believe that the salvation of these outsiders would be incomplete and insufficient until they became fully practicing Jewish converts, following the rites and rituals of the Hebrew religion, including circumcision. It seemed that everywhere Paul went, he was confronted by Jewish believers who were demanding that all Gentile converts be circumcised according to the custom of Moses, or else they couldn't be saved. This stipulation was unacceptable to Paul. But there was enough backing among many of the Jewish Christians that it led to “no small dissension and debate” (Acts 15:2 ESV). So Paul and Barnabas had to make their way to the church in Jerusalem for a special conference at which this matter would be debated and discussed. There “some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses‘” (Acts 15:5 ESV). This was followed by much debate. Speeches were given. Opinions were shared. But ultimately, they looked for what God was doing in and among them. They searched the Scriptures for insight. And, in spite of their initial differences, they came to a God-honoring solution. They put their differences aside and sought what God would have them do.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is interesting to note that even after this special conference yielded a satisfactory solution, Paul and Barnabas ended up having a “sharp disagreement” over whether or not to include John Mark on their next missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to take him with them. Paul refused, noting that John Mark had abandoned them on their first missionary journey. Paul was unwilling to take John Mark along, and so he and Barnabas parted ways. There is no indication in the passage that one man was right and the other was wrong. In fact, they seemed to part amicably and God used both parties to accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God. Their disagreement and decision to part ways was actually used by God to further the spread of the gospel. And Paul's opinion of John Mark would change in time (Colossians 4:10; Philemon; 2 Timothy 4:11). Disagreement is not always sinful. The key seems to be that both Paul and Barnabas were seeking to do the will of God. Barnabas, a man known for his encouraging character, was willing to extend grace to John Mark. He did not deny John Mark's actions on that first missionary journey, but he was willing to offer him a second chance. Paul, ever zealous for the cause of Christ, was more prone to see things in a black and white manner, wanted John Mark to understand the magnitude of his actions. Interestingly enough, Paul's strong personality was the very thing that God used to spread the gospel so effectively in those early years. But over time, Paul's nature would soften and his zeal would become tempered by a growing understanding of God's mercy, grace and forgiveness. His later letters are evidence of the slow, steady maturing process that took place in his life over time.

As we live life on this planet, we must be prepared for the inevitable disagreements and disputes that will arise among us as believers. They are going to happen. But we must always seek to do what God would have us do. We must be willing to discuss them openly and honestly. We must seek God's will over our own. We must search His Word for what His will might be. And we must always remember that He is going to accomplish His plan with us, but also in spite of us. God longs for our unity. Jesus prayed for it in the garden the night before He was crucified. But God also knows that unity is impossible in the flesh. We must listen and submit to His Spirit. We must die to our own selfish desires and be willing to seek His will at all costs. Even if it means letting go of what we believe is best and allowing Him to do what He wants to do.

Father, give me a growing desire to see Your will done, not my own. Help me not let pride, selfishness and my own worldly views get in the way of what You are doing. I want to do what You would have me do. Give me the ability to let go of my own agenda at times and allow you to speak through others. May we always seek unity and allow You to guide our decision making. May Your will be our will. Amen


Taking the Land.

Joshua 17-18, Acts 14

So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” ­– Joshua 18:3 ESV

As Joshua slowly began to divide up the land that had been conquered into portions for the various tribes of Israel, it became apparent that there was not enough land to go around. There were still seven tribes who had yet been given their allotments. But the problem wasn't a lack of land, it was that the Israelites had not yet completed their job of dispossessing the current occupants of the land. So Joshua had to confront the people about their lack of initiative and follow through. God had given them the land. He had promised to give them victory over the inhabitants of the land. But they were still going to have to do their part, and until the did, many of them would miss out of the intended blessings of God. Over the Psalms, we have a prophecy regarding the rule and reign of Jesus as Messiah or King. It reads, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and i will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession’” (Psalm 2:7-8 ESV). God had promised to give an heir of David all the nations of the earth. That heir was Jesus, the rightful heir to the throne of David. When Jesus commissioned His disciples, He told them, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). In essence, Jesus was telling His disciples to “take the land.” They were to enter into enemy territory and take possession of it for the Kingdom of God. He had warned them that they were going to be like sheep among wolves, finding themselves in a constant battle with the forces of evil in the world. They would be arrested, beaten, and dragged before the authorities, but Jesus encouraged them, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12 ESV). They were in a war, but they would be backed by the power of God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had a job for His people to do. The Israelites were to take possession of the land, relying on the power of God and resting in the abiding presence of God. In the same way, the apostles were to take possession of the land in the name of the King, Jesus Christ, and claim it for His Kingdom. Jesus had commissioned them to go and spread the Good News to all the nations of the earth. They were to enter into enemy land and take possession of its inhabitants, making them citizens of the Kingdom of God. Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Peter, and the others were soldiers in the army of God, doing battle with the powers of darkness and facing daily opposition to their cause. Their war wasn't metaphorical. It was real and there were actual casualties, like Stephen, who had been stoned to death for proclaiming the name of Christ. Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra. He and Barnabas had been forced to flee from Iconium because the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles threatened to stone them to death. But “they continued to preach the gospel” (Acts 14:7 ESV). Even after his stoning, the next day Paul was in the city of Derbe, where he “preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples” (Acts 14:21 ESV). These men viewed themselves as commissioned members of the army of God. They were fighting on behalf of the cause of Christ, and were willing to risk anything and everything for their King and His Kingdom. God had promised to give the nations as an inheritance to His Son. These men were simply doing their part to make that promise possible. They were going places Jesus had never been. They were taking the message of the Kingdom of God to parts of the world where Jesus had never had the opportunity to go. Jesus had told His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12 ESV). This promise from Jesus has less to do with the quality of the works than their quantity. The sheer number of disciples moving out and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, backed by the power of God and equipped with the Spirit of God, would result in many more miracles taking place. There were be even more conversions. The Gospel would spread to places it had never been before. But only as faithful men did as they were told to do.

What does this passage reveal about man?

We have our part to play. God has chosen to make the message of His Son and His Kingdom made known through us. God has promised to give the nations to His Son as His inheritance. But as citizens of His Kingdom, it is our job to go before Him and take possession of what is already rightfully His. We must act as ambassadors and emissaries of His Kingdom, increasing the size and scope of His Kingdom on earth. This world belongs to God and His Son. It is currently occupied by enemy forces, those who oppose God and who refuse to acknowledge His Son as the rightful heir to the throne of God and as their King. Our job is to make the King known. Our obligation is to do battle with the forces of darkness, in order to set free all those who are held captive by the power of the enemy. Paul reminds us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). We are in a battle. It will not be easy, but we know that the land belongs to our King. We know it has been promised to Him by our God. We fight on His behalf and have the full backing and authority of God behind us in the form of the Holy Spirit. But as Joshua said to the people of Israel, God asks us, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land…?” (Joshua 18:3 ESV). We must not become distracted by the cares of this world. We must not allow ourselves to fall prey to the lie that there are more important things for us to do. We have a commission. We have a job to do.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is amazing how easily I can allow living my life to take place of my true purpose as a child of God. I can make it all about me and my own comfort and happiness. But I have a job to do that has been given to me by God Himself. Paul, Barnabas, Stephen, and Peter were committed to the cause of Christ. It was the focus of their lives. It was their reason for being. They took their commission by Christ seriously and spent their days spreading the news of Christ's Kingdom anywhere and everywhere. They entered into enemy territory, taking possession of the land for the name of Christ. They faced constant opposition. They lived with a real threat of danger. They knew that their lives could end just as Stephen's had. But they didn't hold back. They didn't get distracted. They saw the size and scope of the need. They realized the vast nature of the task at hand. The land lay before them. It was theirs to take. And there is still territory that remains in enemy hands today. There are still those who are held captive and have yet to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. It is our job to continue what the apostles began.

Father, give me a passion for Your cause. Give me a heart to fight for the Kingdom of Your Son. May I live my life like Paul, Barnabas and Peter did. Forgive me for making it all about my kingdom instead of Christ's. Forgive me for getting distracted from the cause and allowing myself to put off what You have called me to do. Give Your church a renewed sense of calling and the courage to take the land in the name of Christ. Amen

The Plan of God.

Joshua 15-16, Acts 13

And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. ­– Acts 13:19 ESV

It would take almost 450 years, but the people of Israel would eventually find themselves the inhabitants of the land promised by God to Abraham. He would fully fulfill His promise to give them the land of Canaan as their inheritance. God would do His part, but the people of Israel never fully complied with His command to destroy all the nations dwelling in the land. He would prove faithful, but they would not. Yet, the occupation of the land and their unfaithfulness while living in it were all part of His divine plan. This was not a surprise to God. He was not caught off guard or panicked by their lack of faithfulness. In fact, Paul makes it clear that all of this was part of a well-conceived of plan devised by God long before He ever called Abram out of Ur. The people of Israel would be used by God to accomplish His will for the entire world. They would not only be the recipients of His grace, they would end up being the conduit of His grace and mercy to the entire world.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Speaking at the synagogue at Perga, Paul addressed a crowd made up of Jews and those who “feared God” – Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. He recounted God's choosing of Israel and His blessing of them while they lived in the land of Egypt. He reminded them how God had rescued them from their eventual slavery under the Egyptians and led them for 40 years in the wilderness as they made their way to the land He had promised to give them. Eventually they conquered that land, but it would take them 450 years to do so. And they would never fully follow God's command to eliminate all the nations that had occupied the land. This would end up in their worship of the gods of the very nations they refused to remove from their midst. Which Paul reminds them, is what led to God having to send judges. These men and women would “saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them” (Judges 2:16 ESV). The period of the judges marked a repetitive cycle of the people sinning against God by turning to other gods, then God having to bring judgment in the form of defeat at the hands of their enemies. This would eventually result in the people crying out to God for help, and His sending of a judge to rescue them. Then the cycle would repeat itself. In time, the people of Israel determined they wanted a king, just like all the other nations had. In doing so, they were rejecting God as their true King. But this was all part of God's plan as well. After giving the people Saul, a king just like all the other nations, God would place His king, David, on the throne – “a man after my heart, who will do all my will” (Acts 13:22 ESV). From the lineage of David would came Jesus, the Savior of the world and the legitimate heir to the throne of David. But the Jews would reject Him as their King and Lord. They would refuse to recognize Him as their Messiah, instead demanding that Pilate put Him to death. Which he did. But this was all part of God's plan. The death of Jesus was not unexpected or surprising to God. It was all in fulfillment of a long-standing plan for the redemption of mankind. Jesus had to die. But His death was followed by resurrection. He did not remain in the grave. God destroyed death's strangle hold on mankind by raising Jesus back to life. Elsewhere Paul reminds us, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11 ESV). Jesus' restoration to life from death is proof of God's promise to give men eternal life. Paul told his audience that day, “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The plans of men pale in comparison to the plan of God. The unfaithfulness of men cannot thwart or stop the faithfulness of God. The people of Israel never lived up to God's expectations for them. But He wasn't surprised. He knew they could never fully keep His commands or live up to His holy standards. His law was intended to reveal the depth of their sin and depravity. It made the reality of man's sin visible and undeniable. It also proved that no man could earn favor with God through his own efforts – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). All men, both Jews and Gentiles, find themselves in the same dilemma – under the curse of the law and condemned to death for their sins. But God's plan was to send His Son as the payment for man's sin. His death was intended to satisfy the just and righteous demands of God, acting as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of mankind. But as in Paul's day, there are those who refuse to accept God's Son as the payment for their sins. They refuse to believe their need for a Savior. There will always be those who reject Jesus as Savior and Lord. But God's plan will accomplish its appointed goal: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48 ESV). Many will reject God's offer of forgiveness of sin and salvation made available through Jesus Christ. But others will believe. Because it is all part of God's incredible, unstoppable plan.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is so important that I view life from God's perspective and not from my own, limited viewpoint. I must constantly learn to see the world from a big-picture perspective. While the people of Israel were integral to God's plan, they were not the focus. Their inability to understand and embrace God's big-picture perspective prevented them from enjoying His blessings. They were short-term in their outlook, only thinking about the immediate impact on their personal lives. They didn't live for the future. They lived in the here and now, fulfilling their own personal desires and viewing themselves as the sole focus of God's attention. But God had bigger plans. He had a much larger outcome in mind. And while God still has His hand on the people of Israel and will fulfill every promise He has made to them, His real goal was to provide redemption and restoration to men of every tribe, tongue and nation. God's plan is not yet complete. I must remember that there is far more to this story than my own personal chapter. God is working a much greater storyline and, while it includes me, it does not focus on me. I am not the point. He is.

Father, thank You for the reminder and reassurance that Your plan is in place and You are working it to perfection. There is nothing that I need to worry about, because You are in full control. Help me to see life through Your eyes and not my own. Show me how to view all the circumstances of life as part of Your overall plan for the redemption and restoration of mankind to a right relationship with You. Amen

Faith in the Midst of the Storm.

Joshua 13-14, Acts 12

So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said. ­– Joshua 14:12 ESV

Caleb had waited a long time for this day. More than 40 years ago, he and Joshua had been two of the 12 men sent by Moses to spy out the land of Canaan before the Israelites were to begin their conquest. But 10 of the spies returned with a bad report. They had admitted that the land was bountiful and everything God had advertised it to be, but it was also full of powerful armies and formidable walled cities. Their words created doubt and fear among the people. Yet Caleb had encouraged the people to trust God. “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30 ESV). He had not glossed over or ignored the reality that there were enemies in the land, but had encouraged the people to trust God. In the end, the people listened to the words of the majority and chose not to trust God and do as He had commanded. They refused to enter into the land and, as a result, God banished them to wander in the wilderness until that generation died off. Now four decades later, at the age of 85, Caleb stepped forward to claim his reward. God had promised him, “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord” (Deuteronomy 1:35-36 ESV). For 40 long years, Caleb had faithfully waited to see the promise of God fulfilled. He had watched the other 10 spies die by a plague at the hand of God. He had been witness to the slow die off of his peers as they wandered aimlessly in the wilderness. But now he was ready to enjoy the promise for which he had long waited and eagerly anticipated.

There is always a temptation to do things our own way. Doing things God's way doesn't always make sense or seem logical. It isn't always easy. But Joshua learned that God's way is always best and produces the preferred outcome.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had not forgotten about Caleb. And Caleb had not forgotten the promise of God. It is interesting that Caleb is the one who had to remind Joshua, his fellow spy, that there was a promise yet to be fulfilled. God didn't bring it up. It seems He waited for Caleb to claim it. God's promise stood. It was up to Caleb to stand on that promise and take what was rightfully his. He had waited a long time for this day to arrive. He had probably had his doubts along the way that he would live long enough to see it happen. But he had trusted God because he knew God to be trustworthy. In the face of adversity, he faithfully waited on God. Forty years is a long time to wait. It would give anyone a lot of time to think, doubt, fear, and question whether God was ever going to come through. But Caleb kept waiting and trusting. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Caleb's hope was in the promise of God. His assurance was in the faithfulness of God. He was not going to let time or adversity stand in his way or prevent him from believing.

It is interesting to note that when the church was launched by God on the day of Pentecost, it was characterized by amazing growth as well as intense persecution. It took off like a rocket, but its meteoric rise also attracted a lot of unwanted attention and resulted in strong opposition. Stephen was stoned. James was killed by Herod. Peter was imprisoned. And the believers were forced to pray and wait. As they sat behind closed doors calling on God, they had to have doubts and fears. The had to have wondered why all of this was happening. How could the deaths of James and Stephen be the will of God? How could anything good come of Peter's imprisonment? What if he ended up the same way? What would they do? “But earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5 ESV). They prayed and waited. And God moved. He moved miraculously, releasing Peter from prison and sending him to tell the news of his release to those who had been earnestly praying for him.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When Peter showed up at the door of the home where the others were praying on his behalf, they refused to believe it was him. While they had been praying earnestly, they had evidently been doubting as well. Their expectations didn't seem to include Peter's miraculous release by God. We are not told what they prayed. Perhaps they had simply prayed that Peter's life would be spared by Herod. Maybe they had prayed that Peter would simply be imprisoned but not executed. But we do know that when Peter showed up, they had a hard time accepting the fact that he had been released. They were amazed. It was not what they had been expecting. Unlike Caleb, these people had not received a specific promise from God regarding the future. They had not been told by God that Peter would be spared and released from captivity by an angel of the Lord. They simply had to pray and wait. But it still required faith – the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. They had to wait on God, not knowing exactly what it was they were waiting for. They had seen the growth of the church after the stoning of Stephen. They had witnessed the miraculous conversion of Saul, the greatest threat to the church in those early days. They knew that God worked in mysterious ways and that what He did didn't always make sense. But He could be trusted.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Caleb stood for more than 40 years on a promise made to him by God. The friends of Peter stood on the faithfulness and sovereignty of God. Caleb knew exactly what he was waiting for and had spent four decades with his hope set on its arrival. The men and women gathered in that home praying for Peter had no idea what to expect or how God was going to work, but they placed their faith in God. Caleb had to wait a long time. The friends of Peter didn't. But in both cases, they had to deal with doubt, fear, and the unknown. They had to face apparent adversity with a faithful tenacity to trust in God. He would come through. And in both cases, He did. There are certain promises made by God for which I am assured and for which I am simply going to have to wait. There are other times when the only promise I have is that God is with me and for me. He has assured me of His presence and the availability of His power in my life. But He has not given me the details of how all things are going to work out. It is in those times that I must faithfully wait on Him, trusting in His character and standing on His promise to never leave me or forsake me. God came through for Caleb. He came through for Peter. He will come through for me. How? I may not always know. When? He doesn't always tell me? But He can be trusted. I can have an assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen – because my God is faithful.

Father, I want to learn to trust You more. I want to stand on Your promises and wait on Your power to be revealed in my life. Forgive me for my doubts and fears. Forgive me when I am shocked and surprised when You do come through, as if it is something I never expected. May I never be taken back by Your activity in and around my life.  Amen


God's Way Is the Best Way.

Joshua 11-12, Acts 11

…who was I that I could stand in God's way? ­– Acts 11:17 ESV

Every child of God faces a daily choice to either live their life God's way, or according to their own will. And it's not a one-time decision. Countless times during each day of our lives we are given opportunities to follow God's will and do things His way, or to determine that our way is better. When Joshua led the people into the land of Canaan, he knew full well what God's expectations on him were. He knew what his job was and how God wanted him to do it. And he had learned a valuable lesson when he and the people failed to follow God's plan in the case of the city of Ai. It resulted in defeat. But when Joshua and the people did things God's way, the results were markedly different. God had told Joshua not to fear those nations living in the land, because they would be handed over to the people of Israel for defeat by the hand of God Himself. And that's exactly what happened – “and the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel” (Joshua 11:8 ESV). Joshua's conquest of northern Canaan was a huge military success. In fact, chapter 12 records that Joshua and the people defeated 31 different kings and kingdoms. That was 29 more victories than Moses had experienced when he led the people of Israel.

There is always a temptation to do things our own way. Doing things God's way doesn't always make sense or seem logical. It isn't always easy. But Joshua learned that God's way is always best and produces the preferred outcome.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When God birthed the Church in the early days after Jesus' ascension, it was clear that He had a plan in place. The growth was spectacular and the events surrounding it were far from normal. The Spirit of God was at work. And yet there was persecution present as well. In the midst of the exciting expansion of the Gospel and the coming to faith of countless men and women, there was a growing animosity toward the cause of Christ and those who claimed His name. But that persecution resulted in the spread of the Gospel. The Church was scattered. “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far away as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews” (Acts 11:19 ESV). God was using the persecution of the Church to force the Gospel outside the confines of Jerusalem and Judea and into the surrounding regions of the world at that time. Not only that, He was opening up the Gospel to the Gentile world, expanding the Good News beyond the confines of the Jewish nation. Peter had learned that God's way included ALL men, not just Jews. Barnabas and Paul would discover that God was at work among the Gentiles in Antioch, pouring out His Spirit on them as “a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21 ESV). It was in Antioch, among the newly converted Gentile believers, that the term “Christian” first came into use. The term was used to distinguish those who were of the “Christ party” from the religious Jews and pagan Gentiles. God was doing something new and exciting. His way was producing amazing results, and the world was beginning to notice.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the apostles first received word that Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ, they didn't know what to think. The more hard-core Jewish believers, known as the “circumcision party”, were upset with Peter, criticizing him for spending time with uncircumcised Gentiles. They just couldn't believe that this would be within God's will. But Peter revealed the story of his call by God to go to Caesarea. He told them, “the Spirit told me to go with them, ‘making no distinction’” (Acts 11:12 ESV). Peter made it clear that this was clearly the work of God and it had been anointed by the Spirit of God. He concluded, “who was I that I could stand in God's way?” (Acts 11:17 ESV). Peter knew that God's will was going to be done – either with or without him. To disobey God would have been futile. It would not have halted the advance of His Kingdom, but it would have placed Peter in an unenviable position as a stumbling block to God's will. God was granting to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life, and he was not going to stand in God's way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There should be no greater desire in the life of a believer than to watch God work. Our hope should be that we are always willing participants in God's great plan for the redemption of mankind. His way should be our way. His will should be our greatest desire. When Joshua did things God's way, he was able to witness some powerful results. He was an eye witness to the mighty hand of God operating on behalf of His people. When Peter, Barnabas, Paul and the apostles realized what God was doing among the Gentiles, they knew that their best option was to join in, whether they fully understood or not. God was confirming His work among the Gentiles through His Holy Spirit and there was no reasonable excuse for standing against what God was doing. God's way is always the best way. I must continually learn to live my life in keeping with His will and with a sensitivity to what He is doing in the world around me. I can't afford to let my way get in the way. My personal agenda must always take a backseat to God's Kingdom agenda.

Father, we fail to see more victories in our lives because we tend to want to do things our way, rather than Yours. Help me to understand just how important it is to live my life according to Your terms and not my own. I never want to stand in Your way. I know I do it thought. Sometimes willingly. Other times, ignorantly. Give me a special sensitivity to Your will and an ability to know Your way, and then follow it.  Amen

The Counsel of God.

Joshua 9-10, Acts 10

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. ­– Joshua 9:14 ESV

If you don't know what God's will is, you will find it extremely difficult to follow it. And there is an obligation on the people of God to constantly seek out and listen to the will of God. In the case of the people of Israel, they should have known that God had a will concerning their conquest of the land. He had made it clear what He wanted them to do and how He intended them to go about doing it. Their defeat of Jericho had been quite specific and detailed. Their failure to defeat Ai the first time was directly related to their failure to obey His revealed will concerning the items devoted to destruction. There were times when God's will was extremely clear and undeniable. But there were also times when the Israelites found themselves needing some clarification from God. Such was the case when the Gibeonites pulled their elaborate ruse and tricked the Israelites into signing a covenant with them. Joshua and the people were completely deceived, even though they had some suspicions. They went ahead and signed a covenant with the Gibeonites, not realizing that these people were actually inhabitants of the land of Canaan and should have been on the list of those nations deemed for destruction. The passage makes it clear that Joshua and the people “did not ask counsel from the Lord.” They didn't turn to God and ask His advice. They simply acted on gut instinct. And their decision was binding because they had sworn an oath to the Gibeonites “by the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 9:18 ESV). That oath guaranteed the safety of the Gibeonites and bound the Israelites to protect them at all costs. They ended up having to defend the Gibeonites when a five-nation federation came against them. Their failure to seek God's counsel left them vulnerable and in a compromised position.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God longs for His people to know His will. Sometimes He makes it perfectly clear and undeniable. Other times, God allows us to experience circumstances in which our next step is not always obvious. It is in those times that we must learn to ask God what He would have us do. Over in the book of Colossians, there is recorded a prayer that Paul prayed on behalf of the believers in the city of Colossae. He prayed, “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better” (Colossians 1:9-10 ESV). Paul's desire was that God would give them a complete knowledge of His will, so that they could know beyond a shadow of a doubt what it was that He would have them to do. Knowing God's will was directly tied to living lives that honored and pleased God. When God reveals His will to men, they are given an opportunity to obey and live their lives according to His divine plan. Obedience pleases God. Living according to God's will always produces the right results. In the case of Peter, he received a vision from God that left him somewhat confused and uncertain. He had a dream in which he was offered a feast from God that contained a wide range of animals, reptiles and birds – all previously banned by God to the people of Israel. To have eaten any of these creatures would have made Peter unclean. Yet God said, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13 ESV). Peter refuses. Like a good, faithful Jew, he turns down this seeming temptation to sin against God. But then God surprises Peter by saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15 ESV). The word translated “common” is actually the same word that is often translated “unclean.” God is trying to tell Peter something, but it all leave him confused and perplexed. The arrival of Peter's three visitors would begin to illuminate the vision and clarify God's will.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The command by God to eat the banned creatures had to have caught Peter off guard. It went against everything he knew as a Jew. He would have been violating God's revealed will concerning the consumption of unclean animals. To do so would have been to make himself impure and resulted in his removal from the assembly of the people and banned from the presence of God. But these were different days. God was doing a new work among His people. With the death and resurrection of His Son, God had done a new work and was introducing a new means by which men might be made right with Him. No longer was righteousness to be attained through the keeping of laws, and only available to those who were Jews. Being right with God would not be based on human effort, but on the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. And it would be available to all. Peter was being made aware of God's new plan for man, and it was going to include the Gentiles who had long been considered unclean by the Jews. But as God revealed His will to Peter regarding the Gentiles, Peter was going to have to decide whether to obey it or not. Peter explained his dilemma quite clearly to Cornelius and his guests. “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28 ESV). Peter knew God's will. Now he had to obey it. “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34 ESV). The rules of engagement with God had changed. His revealed will had made it clear that “everyone who believes in him [Jesus] receives forgiveness of sin through his name” (Acts 10:43 ESV).  Peter had received the counsel of God. And he willingly embraced and obeyed it, even though it went against everything he had ever been taught before. The result was a powerful movement of God among the Gentiles. They believed, received the Holy Spirit and were baptized.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Sometimes God makes His counsel known beforehand. It is revealed in His Word and is non-negotiable and undeniable. But then there are those times when we may find ourselves wondering what it is that God would have us do. We all face instances in which we aren't quite sure that the next step should be. It is at those times we must learn to seek God's counsel. And there are no matters to big or small for God. He cares. He wants to reveal His will to us. That is why Paul prayed that his brothers and sisters in Christ would have a complete knowledge of God's will, including spiritual wisdom and understanding. He wanted to them to know how to please and honor God with their lives by knowing exactly what God would have them to do in any given circumstance. Asking for God to reveal His will to us may sound strange. It may require waiting or postponing our decision until we hear from Him. In other words, we may find ourselves having to WAIT. Not something any of us particularly like doing. But living according to the counsel of God is always well worth the wait.

Father, Your counsel is always available to us. We just have to ask. We have to seek it. You have given us Your Word as a trustworthy source of Your will. Keep me hungry to know Your will and to live my life according to it – even when I don't quite understand it or like it. Your way is always best.  Amen

God's Will Must Be Done God's Way.

Joshua 7-8, Acts 9

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. ­– Joshua 7:12 ESV

The people of Israel had experienced a significant victory over the city of Jericho. It was their first battle in their conquest of the land of Canaan, and God had shown up in a major way, destroying the walls of the city and delivering its inhabitants into the hands of the Israelites. But God had placed conditions and restrictions on the people, demanding that they devote everything in the city to Him. It was all to be destroyed. And all the silver and gold, every vessel of bronze and iron was to be separated out, dedicated to God, and placed in the treasury of the Tabernacle. But one man refused to play by God's rules. Achan decided to disobey God and satisfy his lustful desires by stealing a cloak, as well as some silver and gold, hiding it all away in his tent. But God knew. And as long as this sin went unconfessed, the people would be incapable of doing God's will. The sin of one man had infected the camp, turning the face of God against them. So when Joshua sent out a small contingent of men to take the much-smaller city of Ai, he was shocked when what should have been an easy victory turned into a major defeat. In his mind, they had simply been doing the will of God by taking the land from its inhabitants. But their efforts had failed. He was confused. He even asked God, “Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us?” (Joshua 7:7 ESV). But God's will must be done His way. His abiding presence and power was dependent upon Israel's faithful adherence to His commands.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The problem at Ai was not that they were a more formidable army. It was that unconfessed sin had infected the camp of Israel. Israel had sinned. Yes, one man had committed a solitary act of disobedience to God, but the entire community shared in the guilt. God told Joshua, “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” (Joshua 7:11-12 ESV). Even thought Joshua and the people knew nothing about Achan's crime, and had played no role in it, God was holding them all responsible for it. As long as this sin went undetected and unconfessed, Israel would find it impossible to do God's will. They would be not be able to stand before their enemies because God refused to be with them. It is impossible to accomplish God's will without God's presence and power. And it is impossible to enjoy God's presence and power if you are unwilling to do things God's way. Disobedience had brought the discipline of God. Now it was Joshua's job to deal with the sin in their midst.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the book of Acts we have recorded the incredible story of Saul's conversion. This man, who at one time had been a key figure in the persecution of the church, arresting Christians and placing them in prison, had met the resurrected Lord on his way to Damascus. He had a divine encounter and was left blind by the experience. When Ananias, a faithful follower of Christ, received a vision from God to go and restore the sight of Saul, he was shocked and more than a bit reluctant. He knew the reputation of this man. Ananias debated with God regarding Saul, saying, “how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 7:13 ESV). But it was God's will that Ananias go. It was God's will that Saul become “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 7:15 ESV). It was essential that Ananias do the will of God the way God wanted it to be done. In his mind, it all made no sense. It seemed ridiculous and even dangerous. But Ananias obeyed. He did as God told Him to do, in spite of his fears and reservations. Joshua had to do the same thing. He had to listen to God, assemble the entire nation of Israel, and allow God to reveal the source of their sin. Then he had to purge the sin from their midst by destroying Achan, his family, belongings, and all the treasure he had stolen from Jericho. This probably seemed like a harsh punishment to Joshua. After all, Achan had confessed. He admitted that he had sinned against God. But he had not done so willingly and without coercion. So Joshua obeyed God and cleansed the people of Israel from their sin. God's will had to be done God's way. And while Ananias might not have understood what God was doing, he had to obey what God was commanding. His obedience resulted in the restoration of Saul's eyesight and, more importantly, the beginning of Saul's ministry as God's messenger of the good news of Jesus Christ. As a result, “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31 ESV). God's will done God's way resulted in God's blessing.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Once the people of Israel had cleansed the sin from their midst, they experienced the presence of God once again. They were able to defeat the city of Ai with ease. God gave them victory. Ananias, while reluctant to do what God had revealed for him to do, did it any way and got the joy of being a part of God's divine plan to raise up Saul as His divine instrument. He got to witness the transformation of this man's life from that of a persecutor of the faith to a bold proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Doing God's will in God's way always results in the joy of seeing God's work being accomplished in our midst. We may not get it at first, but if we trust and obey Him, we will eventually see His will accomplished. Sometimes we fail to witness the power and presence of God because we simply refuse to do the will of God His way.

Father, I want to learn to do Your will Your way. Forgive me for the many times I question Your will and try to talk my way out of it. I confess that I can sometimes be stubborn and hardheaded, wanting to do things my way because they make more sense to me. I can try and twist Your will and cut corners. I can find excuses and create rationales for disobeying you. But if I want to be a witness to Your power, I must learn to do Your will Your way.  Amen