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


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


The Movement of God.

Joshua 5-6, Acts 8

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. ­– Joshua 6:20 ESV

The Bible gives us a glimpse into the history of God's interactions with man. It reveals moments in which God intervenes and interjects Himself into the affairs of men, revealing His divine presence and displaying His incomparable power. When it was time for the people of Israel to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan, God showed up in the form of the Captain of the Host. Joshua found himself face to face with the Lord Himself, dressed for battle and with drawn sword in hand. Joshua, not immediately recognizing who this individual was, asked Him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13 ESV). In other words, Joshua wanted to know if this warrior and His army were friends or foes. Did the Israelites have two enemies to contend with, or was this an unexpected ally? But the Lord's answer was basically, “Neither.” He simply replied, “No, but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14 ESV). And Joshua immediately bowed down and worshiped Him. We know that this was no ordinary man, because of what He instructed Joshua to do next. “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (Joshua 5:15 ESV). These were the same words God spoke when He appeared to Moses in the burning bush years earlier. This was a sacred encounter with God. He had showed up and was letting Joshua know that His presence was going to have a dramatic impact on what was about to happen. The conquest of the land was not going to be done conventionally or by human means alone. It was to be a movement of God. It was going to have the fingerprints of God all over it, so that the people of Israel would know that their success was due to Him, not themselves. God's instructions to Joshua regarding the siege and fall of Jericho had to have sounded farfetched and a bit ridiculous. But Joshua's obedience brought victory. His willingness to do God's work in God's way resulted in God's will being done.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It is so easy for us to question the will and the ways of God. We sometimes wonder and question why God does things the way He does. In reading the story of the spread of the church in the book of Acts, it is difficult to understand why Stephen had to die a martyr's death. It is hard to comprehend why Saul had to persecute the church, dragging off men and women to prison. But the movement of God is not always recognizable to us. Luke records the events just as they happened. He makes it clear that “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3 ESV). But even this was a work of God. It was all part of the plan of God. Because at this point, the message of the good news of Jesus Christ has been confined to the city of Jerusalem. But Jesus had told His disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8 ESV). The gospel was to be preached around the world. So God moved in the midst of men, bringing about a persecution that would result in a dispersion of the people of God so that they might spread the message of Christ. “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4 ESV). God moved and so did the people. And Luke makes it clear that Philip went down to Samaria, exactly where Jesus had instructed His disciples to go. And because Philip was forced to leave the safe and familiar confines of Jerusalem, many of the Samaritans heard the good news of Jesus Christ and believed. God moved and the Spirit of God came upon all those who believed. He put His seal of approval on the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus. Philip even got the opportunity to share the gospel with an Ethiopian – someone who represented “the end of the earth.” Philip would end up traveling through Judea and settling in Caesarea, a busy trading hub on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The good news was spreading. This was clearly a movement of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Mankind has always needed a movement of God. If you take Him out of the story of human history, it would be a bleak and hopeless affair. God's movements among men have always resulted in powerful and significant outcomes. He moved at creation and brought mankind into existence. He moved again and brought about the destruction of virtually all mankind because of the prevailing presence of sin. But He moved in the life of Noah and provided a means of salvation. He moved in the life of Abraham and brought about the creation of the people of Israel. He moved in the life of Moses and delivered His people from captivity in Egypt. He moved among the Israelites, providing them with provision and protection all the years they wandered in the wilderness. He moved at Jericho, and the walls fell. Mankind desperately needs to see God move. But God almost always moves through men. He used Noah. He used Abraham. He used Moses and Joshua. He used Stephen, Peter, and Philip. God used the people of Israel to march around the walls of Jericho, but it was God who caused the walls to fall. God used Philip to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people living in Samaria, but it was God who caused His Holy Spirit to fall. The movement of God among men always uses men of God. Simon the magician failed to understand that fact. He wanted the power for himself. He thought he could purchase the ability to display power like God possessed. But the movement of God is reserved for God alone. It can't be bought, replicated, or manufactured by human means.

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

As a child of God I should long to see the movement of God in my life and in the world in which I live. The lost among whom I live don't need to see my handiwork, they need to see God at work in and around my life. When the nations living in the land of Canaan got word about how God had miraculously dried up the waters of the Jordan River, allowing the people of Israel to cross over, the book of Joshua records, “their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel” (Joshua 5:1 ESV). They knew that the people of Israel had a powerful God who moved on their behalf. He displayed His power in practical and unprecedented ways. He moved and the world took notice. When God moves, it is always difficult for the world to ignore, explain or understand. They may try to discount it or deny it, but a true movement of God among men is usually undeniable and unavoidable. When God moves, men notice. We should long for a movement of God among us. As the people of God, we should pray for and expect God to move on our behalf and in our midst. When God moves, things happen. In Jericho, walls fell. In Samaria, the Holy Spirit fell. God wants to move in our midst. He is still the Captain of the Host, ready to fight on our behalf and defeat the enemies we face.

Father, I want to see You move today. We desperately need a movement of God in our midst. Sometimes I don't always understand how You work. I don't always like how You choose to move, but I recognize that when You choose to move among men, it it always obvious and undeniable. That is what we long to see. You are here. Let us see You move.  Amen


Godly Leadership.

Joshua 1-2, Acts 6

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. ­– Acts 6:3 ESV

Moses was gone, but the people of God still needed someone to lead them. So God chose Joshua the son of Nun. He had spent most of his adult life as the personal assistant to Moses, so he was not a novice when it came to leadership. But he was going to be thrust into the spotlight and given the responsibility of leading the people of God as they began their conquest of the land. It was not going to be easy. Joshua knew the people of Israel well and had watched them repeatedly give Moses a run for his money, bucking his leadership and disobeying the revealed will of God for their lives. But Joshua was God's man for the task. And three different times during His commissioning of His new leader, God told Joshua, “Only be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7 ESV). In the face of what had to look like formidable odds and saddled with leading a people who had proven themselves unwilling to follow, Joshua was told by God to be strong and courageous. But how? Because God was going to be with Him every step of the way. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV). Joshua's main responsibility to recognize his need for God, to never doubt the presence of God, and to faithfully obey the will of God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The book of Joshua is really not about a man, but it is about the God who chose and led the man after whom the book is named. Joshua was an instrument in the hand of God to accomplish His will regarding the people of Israel. It was essential that Joshua be a man of God, in touch with the will of God and faithful to the Word of God. He had to know what it was that God wanted done and faithfully execute God's will, in spite of any opposition he might face – within or without. Even in the New Testament, as the church began to grow, it was as a result of God's Spirit working through the lives of ordinary men and women. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they boldly proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ and spread the word regarding the free gift of salvation made available through His death and resurrection. The gospel was being preached and literally thousands of people were coming to faith in Christ. This influx of individuals into the church was creating a tremendous need for teaching and discipleship. New converts required careful instruction in the teachings of Jesus. There were all kinds of people coming to faith in Christ from all kinds of economic, social and ethnic backgrounds. This created a whole host of other problems for the leaders of the church as they had to deal with various disputes and differences among the quickly growing congregation. So God lead the apostles to look for additional men to help handle the load of leadership. But they were not to settle for any kind of man. They knew that they needed “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3 ESV). They would need to be men of God if they were going to work on behalf of God. Their qualifications were spiritual in nature, not secular. They were to be Spirit-filled, wise, and men of integrity, whose reputations within the community were impeccable. One of those chosen was Stephen, who Luke described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5 ESV). He was known for his faith and recognized for being filled with the Spirit of God. Those are the kinds of men God chooses to use. Luke goes on to say, “Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 8 ESV). He had been chosen to help handle an apparent oversight in the care of some of the widows within the church. He had been appointed to help serve, so that the apostles could spend their time preaching and teaching. But because he was a man of God, he didn't limit his actions to his assigned duty. He was ready, willing and able to do whatever God had for him to do.

What does this passage reveal about man?

God's choice of Joshua was based more on his useability than his abilities. Joshua wasn't chosen because he brought innate leadership abilities to the table that would be an asset to God's cause. He was a man who had a heart for God and had proven himself obedient to God. God has the uncanny ability to be able to look into the heart and see characteristics an qualities to which the rest of us are blind. When the prophet Samuel was looking for someone to replace Saul as the king of Israel, he found himself swayed by the external characteristics of the men he was considering. He was looking for a man who looked like a king. But God warned him, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV). To be an effective leader for God a man must first have a heart for God. As human beings we are far too easily impressed with the outside. Resumes and accomplishments can too easily replace the need for faith, integrity, and character. We can find ourselves choosing self-made men rather than Spirit-filled ones. Stephen was a man filled with the Spirit of God who exhibited the wisdom of God when he spoke. For a man to be used by God, he must be dependent upon and controlled by God. He must be a willing instrument in the hands of God, pliable, teachable, and useable.

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

Am I a man "of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom?” Would I be characterized as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit?” Would people say of me, he is “full of grace and power?” The inner qualities of my life should be reflected in my outer countenance and directly impact my reputation among men. I should be known for who I am because of Who I serve. Too often, we are known by our talents, abilities, and accomplishments, many of which are purely of human origin. But Joshua was chosen by God, not because he was going to be useful to God, but because He was willing to be used by God. Stephen was chosen by God, not because he was a natural-born leader, but because he was a Spirit-filled servant who had a reputation for wisdom, grace, and godliness. That is the kind of man I want to be. That is the kind of leader I want to be. But it all begins with my willingness to be used by God, not seeing myself as somehow useful to Him. He doesn't need me. He can do His will without me. But God wants to use me. He wants to accomplish His will through me. But like Joshua, I must remember to “be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV). My usefulness to God is solely based on the presence and power of God in my life. Godly leaders are Spirit-filled, God-dependent leaders – full of the wisdom, grace, and power of God.

Father, I want to be the kind of man You use. Not because I bring anything of value to the table, but because I recognize that I am useless without You. I want to be dependent upon You and fully useble by You. May my life continually reflect Your presence and be marked by Your power. Amen

When Good Intentions Are Not Enough

Joshua 24

So honor the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone. ­– Joshua 24:14 NLT

I think they meant well. The Israelites that is. They had been challenged by Joshua to serve God and serve Him alone, and their response was a strong affirmative. They all gave Joshua a thumbs up and said, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods." (Joshua 24:16 NASB). Twice in chapter 24 they swear to worship God alone – even after Joshua somewhat pessimistically warns them, "You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and sins" (Joshua 24:19 NLT). But they assure him that they will. And I think they meant it. They sincerely wanted to serve God alone. But the problem was that they still had idols they were worshiping in place of or in addition to God. I think it is interesting that they never seem to come right out and say that they are willing to worship GOD alone. While a few of the translations add this word, it does not seem to appear in the original manuscripts. So the people seem to conveniently leave out the word "only" or "alone" when assuring Joshua that they will serve God. They seem to be leaving themselves an out – a way to keep their existing gods while assuring Joshua that they will serve Yahweh as well.

Joshua seems to sense this when he tells them to, "destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel" (Joshua 24:23 NLT). He knew that they were going to have a hard time giving up their idols, their substitutes for the one true God. They wanted both. They wanted the freedom to worship God, but also keep their alternative gods carefully tucked away in their tents – just in case. It's kind of like us saying that we will trust God to provide for us, but all the while we keep checking on the status of our 401k or mutual fund, just to make sure that we have something else to fall back on in case God doesn't come through for us. Sure, we'll worship God, but we want to make sure we have other options when it comes to meeting our daily needs.

Joshua warned the people that God is a holy God and a jealous God. He doesn't like to play seconds. He doesn't like being an option. He wants His people to serve Him wholeheartedly, in sincerity and truth, totally committed, showing loyalty and not allowing anyone or anything else to compete for our love or attention. But we allow so many things to stand as replacements for God. We put all kinds of things in His place, turning to them for comfort, assurance, hope, help, power, rescue, joy, contentment, and a sense of peace. God made it clear in the opening verses of this chapter all that He had done for the people of Israel. Over and over again He said, "I gave," "I sent," "I brought," "I delivered," and "I destroyed." From the day He had called Abraham out of Ur, He had been leading, guiding, protecting and providing for them in incredible ways. He deserved their sold-out allegiance, their non-distracted commitment to Him and Him alone. But they would struggle with faithfulness for generations to come. Just as we do. James gives us a powerful warning in his letter about allowing anything to come between our love for God. He is as jealous for us as He was for the people of Israel. "You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful?" (James 4:4-5 NLT).

So are you friendly with the world? Is your aim to enjoy this world and all it has to offer? If so, then James says you can't be a friend of God. Sound a bit harsh, doesn't it? But God jealously longs for us to be faithful and He knows how easily it is for us to become distracted by the things of this world. Maybe its time for a reality check. What ARE we worshiping other than God? What are the idols in our life? Are we willing to remove them?

Father, I say I worship You and You alone, but the truth is, I have so many things that compete for my love and attention. They show up as the things I worry about, think about, stress over, and spend my time with. In giving them my valuable time and attention, I am in essence worshiping them. I am giving them something of value that I should be reserving for You. Give me the ability to recognize the idols in my life and the strength to remove them. Amen


Cling to the Lord.

Joshua 22-23

But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. ­– Joshua 23:8 NASB

Joshua is growing old. The people are in the land, but have yet to take possession of all that God has given them. Several times in these two chapters Joshua refers to the land "which remains." God had given them enough land to take over as their numbers grew. He had taken into account their future as well as their present needs. But because they had not yet occupied all the land, there were still other nations remaining in those areas. Joshua warns the people not to grow intimate with these people. "So be strong! Be very careful to follow all the instructions written in the Book of the Law of Moses. Do not deviate from them in any way. Make sure you do not associate with the other people still remaining in the land. Do not even mention the names of their gods, much less swear by them or worship them" (Joshua 23:6-7 NLT). Joshua knew that the people would be tempted to not only allow these other nations to remain, but to grow comfortable with their presence and even learn to accept their ways and their worship. So he strongly warns them of the consequences of their actions.

Joshua spends a good part of his address to the people reminding them of all that God has done for them. The Lord had given them rest from all their enemies on every side. It was the Lord who had been fighting for them all this time. God would continue to give them victory over their enemies as long as they remained faithful to Him, keeping His commands and expressing love to Him through their obedience. God had remained faithful, but He expected Israel to do the same.

"If Israel does not do her part, then God will not do his. Here is the danger of freedom. God seeks man's free response of love. God does his part to deserve and receive such love. God does not force his attentions upon man. But the man who ignores God's claims finds God's punishment." – Trent C. Butler, Joshua

Because we live in a dispensation of grace, we sometimes fail to realize how serious God is about faithfulness in His people. We relish His grace and count on His constant forgiveness. We love the idea that our future salvation is guaranteed and we can't do anything to screw it up. But that assurance can lead to a kind of complacence. We can become casual in our obedience and a little too familiar with this world. Joshua warned the Israelites of how dangerous this would be for them. But is it any less dangerous for us? No, we will not lose our salvation, but we can miss out on all that God has promised for us. John warns us as believers, "Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. or the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world." (1 John 2:15-16 NLT). Jesus Himself prayed on our behalf, "I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They are not part of this world any more than I am. Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth." (John 17:15-17 NLT).

We are not to grow cozy with the world in which we live. We are not to take on the characteristics of this world system. Instead, we are to be set apart. We are to be in the world, but not of it. We are to be agents of influence, not the influenced. Like the Israelites, we are to be God's representatives in a land where He is not worshiped or esteemed. We are to be His people, living according to His will and illustrating what it means to walk according to His way. No, we need not fear His cursing of us, but we should fear living outside of His will. Falling in love with the world should be the farthest thing from our minds when we consider all that He has done, is doing, and has promised to do for us in the future. Even in the midst of all the temptations and influences to be unfaithful, we should cling to the Lord. He is our help, our hope, and our faithful God.

Father, I want to learn to cling to You. But instead I tend to cling to the things this world offers up as replacements for You. Forgive me for my lack of faithfulness and my complacency. I have become far too casual in my relationship with You. I don't want Your love for me to cause me to lose my respect and awe of You. Never let me grow so casual that I become complacent. Amen


The Faithfulness of God.

Judges 20-21

Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. ­– Joshua 21:45 NASB

Sometimes we fail to recognize the faithfulness of God. In fact, we oftentimes doubt it and complain that God is not doing His part. We take a look at our circumstances and determine that God has not done for us what we assumed He could or should do. If we find ourselves going through difficulty, we assume that it is NOT from God, and therefore He has dropped the ball and inadvertently allowed the difficulty to take place. At other times we may feel like God is nowhere to be found. He is absent or preoccupied with other things and too busy to help us. Or perhaps we think that God is angry with us and has decided to punish us for something we have done or haven’t done. In all these cases, we fail to understand the unfailing faithfulness of God. The end of chapter 21 of Joshua is a welcome reminder that we serve a faithful God who never fails to follow through on His promises.

Joshua reminds his readers that God had done all He had promised to do. “So the Lord gave to Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could stand against them, for the Lord helped them conquer all their enemies” (Joshua 21:41-44 NLT). Now the reality was that they had not yet occupied ALL the land. There were not enough Israelites available to take possession of all the land that existed. But they had taken possession of great portions of the land, and as the previous chapters indicate, they had divided up the land between all the tribes, including the Levites. Now it was up to the Israelites to do their part. God had done His. In verse 45 Joshua seems to be illustrating the fact that God had been faithful to His promises up to that point in time. He had promised possession of the land, rest on every side, and victory over enemies. And the truth was, Israel had experienced all of these to some degree. God had been faithful to the “good promises” He had made to them when they had prepared to cross the Jordan (Joshua1:1-9).

God had been faithful and would continue to be so. The only reason the Israelites would not take possession of some of the land would be due to their own infidelity, not God’s. Any future conflicts with their enemies in the land would be their own fault, not God’s. God had given them the land and victory over their enemies. It was up to the Israelites, by faith, to make it a reality. But they would prove to be unfaithful. Just like we tend to be. We don’t lack peace and joy because God is unfaithful to provide it, but because we turn to anything and everything else to get it, other than God. It is ours for the taking, but we will only find it in Him. Chapter 21 tells how the Israelites gave portions of their land and cities to the Levites, the priestly family. This assured that priests were close by all throughout the land. The priests were to instruct the people in regard to the Law of God and help them keep it. In Shiloh, the tabernacle was erected, the place where God’s presence dwelt. Shiloh was in the middle of the Promised Land. So God’s presence was always in the middle of the people of Israel. God’s priests were always close at hand. They had no excuse for not following God. But they would do so any way, and on a regular basis. But so do we. God has given us His Word, He has provided us with places of worship and ministers to instruct us in His Word. But we still turn to other things for comfort, happiness, and significance. God has been faithful to us, but we regularly reveal our unfaithfulness to Him. If only we could open our eyes and recognize His presence and power in our midst. He is there. He is faithful.

Father, help me grow in my awareness of Your unfailing faithfulness. I have no reason to doubt You. You are a constant presence in my life – whether I see You or not. You are there and You care. Your promises are as good as fulfilled. Even your promise of eternal life. It is a done deal. Nothing can change it. Thank You. Amen


Possess the Land.

Joshua 18-19

How long will you put off entering the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? – Joshua 18:3b NASB

The land had been promised by God. Now all they had to do was take possession of all that had been given to them. Without doing so the inheritance would remain unofficial. It had to be received, possessed, and appreciated. But seven of the 12 tribes still stood around waiting to take what had been given to them by God. The land had been subdued (Joshua 18:1), but unoccupied. So Joshua confronts the remaining tribes and asks them a somewhat uncomfortable question: “How long will you put off entering the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? (Joshua 18:3b). “What are you waiting for?,” he seems to ask them. “Why are you procrastinating?” “What’s keeping you from enjoying what God has already given you?

Those same questions could be asked of you and me today. Like the Israelites, we have incredible promises made to us by God. We are heirs of God with access to everything from peace and joy to abundant life and contentment. We have the promise of His constant presence through the indwelling Spirit. We have the promise of His power. We have the promise of His provision. Yet we fail to take advantage of all the promises of God. We live like paupers instead of princes in the land. There is so much waiting for us, yet we seem content to settle for less. We have learned to accept a weak and powerless brand of Christianity that is far from what God has promised. That may be why so many of our lost friends, neighbors, and co-workers are turned off by what we offer up as the “good news” to them. There is far more at our disposal than we are taking advantage of. We have become satisfied with a steady diet of beans and weenies when we have a sumptuous banquet right at our fingertips. We have put off entering the land.

It’s interesting that right in the midst of all this, we read about the tent of meeting or tabernacle being set up in Shiloh. The name literally means, “place of rest.” God had given His people the promise of His abiding presence. And His presence was to dwell wherever the tabernacle was erected. So when they set it up in Shiloh, the place of rest, there seems to be a not-to-subtle reminder that God’s presence and rest go hand in hand. The sanctuary of God was to be right in the middle of the people of God. So they set up the tabernacle in the central hill country – smack dab in the middle of the land allotments to the various tribes. The presence of God should bring the peace and rest of God. He is with us. He will never leave us or forsake us. He is there to empower us.

When we fail to “possess the land” we fail to enjoy the full extent of His presence and peace. We live in weakness and fear. We fall prey to the powers and the worries of this world. He is there, but we do not sense or see Him. He is with us, but instead of the peace of His presence, we suffer from a feeling of aloneness and emptiness. Both of these we attempt to fill with other things. But God is offering us a place of rest. He is offering us the power of His presence. He is offering us joy in the midst of the battle. But we must take possession of what He has given us – in faith.

Father, forgive me for failing to take possession of what You have already provided. I don’t enjoy Your peace. I fail to live with a sense of contentment and joy. I don’t recognize and utilize the power You have made available to me through the Holy Spirit. I live too often like a pauper instead of a prince. I act like a squatter in the land instead of an heir of the king with the full rights and privileges that come as one of Your sons. Help me to step out in faith and take hold of all that You have put at my disposal. Let it begin today. Amen


When Almost Isn't Enough.

Joshua 16-17

But the descendants of Manasseh were unable to occupy these towns. They could not drive out the Canaanites who continued to live there. Later on, however, when the Israelites became strong enough, they forced the Canaanites to work as slaves. But they did not drive them out of the land.Joshua 17:12-13 NLT

They couldn't drive out the Canaanites. That little statement speaks volumes. Their inability or unwillingness to completely exterminate the Canaanites from the land would come back to haunt them. It didn't really matter that they would occasionally make them slaves. They were supposed to purge them from the land. And they didn't. However big or small this remnant of Canaanites was, they would continue to have a negative influence on the people of Israel. It would be like attempting to break a nasty drug habit all the while keeping an assortment of drugs in your pantry. The likelihood of you remaining "drug free" would be minimal at best. The same was going to prove true for the Israelites. They would find themselves constantly harassed and negatively impacted by the presence of these people. No matter how much Israel may have felt that they had the Canaanites conquered, their presence would prove to be a continual problem.

What a reminder to you and me about the sin in our own lives. We can learn to tolerate it and live with it – rationalizing it away. But sin is sin and its presence will have consequences. That is why it is so critical for us to deal with it seriously and often. Which is why John encourages us, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9 NASB).

Father, forgive me for the many times I have allowed the "Canaanite" toremain the land. Help me see the seriousness and the danger of sin in my life. Don't allow me to grow complacent of comfortable with it – no matter how small I may think it is. Help me to see it, acknowledge it, and confess it on a regular basis. Give me the strength to remove it from my life with Your help. Amen


Dripping With Devotion to God.

Joshua 14-15

Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt with fear; but I followed the LORD my God fully.Joshua 14:8 NASB

Remember Caleb? He was the one, who along with Joshua, went in to spy out the land more than 40 years earlier. Twelve men were sent by Moses to check out the condition of the Promised Land prior to them taking possession of it. But ten of the spies came back with a bad report. They said there were giants in the land. Their report scared the people so badly, that they refused to go in. "Where can we go up? Our brethren have made our hearts melt, saying, 'The people are bigger and taller than we; the cities are large and fortified to heaven. And besides, we saw the sons of the Anakim there'" (Deuteronomy 1:28 NASB). The result was that God condemned them to wandering in the wilderness until that generation died off. Caleb and Joshua were the only two spies who recommended that the people obey God and enter the land – in spite of the presence of the Anakim or giants. These two men trusted God and now, more than four decades later, Caleb is coming to Joshua to claim his inheritance. God had said, "Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and to his sons I will give the land on which he has set foot, because he has followed the LORD fully" (Deuteronomy 1:36 NASB).

The amazing thing is that Caleb is now 85 years old! But his faith and determination have not weakened over the years. In fact, he claim, "I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then" (Joshua 14:11 NLT). Not only does he want to inherit the land God had promised, he wants to occupy the land of the Anakim – the giants whose presence scared off the first generation 40 years earlier. At 85 years of age, Caleb is ready to take on the Anakim and their fortified cities. He says to Joshua, "So I’m asking you to give me the hill country that the LORD promised me. You will remember that as scouts we found the Anakites living there in great, walled cities. But if the LORD is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the LORD said" (Joshua 14:12 NLT).

Caleb got his wish. He was given the city of Hebron and the hill country surrounding it as his inheritance. But he still had to go out and conquer and occupy it. Which he did. Then after all that, Caleb would willingly give the city he fought and won to the Levites as a city of refuge. He would then live in the pasture lands surrounding it (Joshua 21:12).

What a picture of devotion to God. Caleb is the epitome of what we should look like when it comes to our love and devotion to God. He followed the Lord FULLY. That word is rich in meaning. It conveys the idea that he was wholehearted in his devotion to God. He gave himself totally to God. In other words, he loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His was not a wishy-washy relationship with God, but a totally sold-out, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of relationship that flowed from every pore of his body. His devotion to God didn't diminish with age, it got stronger. Years of wandering and waiting in the wilderness didn't staunch his passion, it increased it. One of the possible meanings of the word "fully" is that Caleb was literally "dripping with" devotion to God. He was soaked through and through. He was brimming over with his commitment to and love for God. Nothing would stand in his way when it came to following after God. And that's exactly the kind of mindset we need today. God is looking for more Calebs – men and women who are His fully devoted followers – sold out and dripping with devotion to Him. Age, income, education, upbringing, talent – none of it matters. Nothing stands in the way of someone who is willing to follow God FULLY. Their devotion to God is full, drenched, running over, complete, wholehearted, and overflowing. Does that describe you?

Father, I have to admit or confess that my devotion to You is far from full. I am not dripping with devotion to You. I find that it is sometimes in short supply. Circumstances, time, and the cares of this life take their toll. I find myself devoted to a lot of other things, including my own agenda or my own comfort and convenience. But I want to be a Caleb. I want to follow You fully, not half-heartedly. I want to be defeating the giants in the land when I'm in my 80s, not resting in some retirement home or driving golf balls into the high grass in an attempt to wile away the waning days of my life. Give me the heart and passion of Caleb so that I might give all that I have to You. Amen


Still Work To Be Done.

Joshua 12-13

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the LORD said to him, "You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed."Joshua 13:1 NASB

Joshua is probably 80 years old at this point in time. Since entering the Promised Land, he has been a busy guy. He has led the people of God in their conquest of the land and helped them defeat 31 different kings. But they are far from done. After seven years of fighting the people of God occupied very little of the land. "Very much" of it remained for them to possess. Now it was going to be up to the individual tribes to finish what Joshua has begun. There would be no more large-scale battles involving the combined forces of Israel. Instead, each tribe would be responsible for the lands allotted to it. While the major cities and military threats had been taken care of, there were still going to be serious work required to purge the land of its remaining inhabitants. The goal was not to completely eliminate other people groups from the land, but to ensure that Israel was in control and had eliminated all remaining threats to its rightful possession of the land.

The next chapters are going to relate the dividing up of the land to the various tribes. That was the easy part. Now the real work would be the actual taking possession of the various territories by each of the tribes. This was going to require real faith. The people of God were not to be content with the conquests of Jericho and Ai, or the defeat of the 31 kings mentioned in chapter 13. They had much more to do. This is all about the inheritance that God had promised them. He had given them this land, but they were the ones who would have to conquer and colonize it with God's help.

"Resisting the temptation to skip over this section of Joshua [chs. 13—21] can result in an appreciation of important features of God's covenant with Israel. Beyond the obvious detail of the content of these chapters and the means by which God blessed those who remained faithful in the conquest of the land, this passage also addresses the question why the land formed so significant a part of God's promises to the patriarchs and remained a key feature of the covenant." – Richard S. Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary

Eleven different times in chapter 13 the word "inheritance" is used in speaking of the land. This land was God's gift to His people, but they had to take possession of it. They had to conquer it. They had to colonize it. This was going to require effort on the part of the people. It would not be easy. The inhabitants of the land did not roll over and play dead. They were going to put up a fight. The same is true for us as believers. We have been promised abundant life, not just in the future, but now. But to experience and enjoy it requires that we "take possession" of it. We must purge our lives of the remnants of sin that remain.

"…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception." – Ephesians 4:22 NLT

"Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices." – Colossians 3:9 NASB

"We know that our old man was crucified with him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." – Romans 6:6 NET

"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." – Galatians 5:24 NIV

"So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires. Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry." – Colossians 3:5 NLT

For most of us, "very much of the land remains to be possessed." We are not experiencing the fullness of life promised by God and made possible by Christ. Why? Because we have allowed a lot of our sinful habits to remain. We have not remained faithful to work alongside the Holy Spirit allowing Him to purge our lives of our old sin nature. Like Israel, we have failed to finish the task at hand. "But the Israelites failed to drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah, so they continue to live among the Israelites to this day" (Joshua 13:13 NLT). Let's allow God to finish what He has begun.

Father, You are not finished in my life. But I can easily become content with where I am. I can grow complacent in my faith journey and become perfectly fine with the status quo. But You have called me to more. You have promised more. Never allow me to remain satisfied with less than Your best for me. Amen


War Before Rest.

Joshua 10-11

So Joshua took control of the entire land, just as the LORD had instructed Moses. He gave it to the people of Israel as their special possession, dividing the land among the tribes. So the land finally had rest from war.Joshua 11:23 NLT

The Promised Land turned out to be one tough place. The original spies were right. It was a land filled with formidable enemies. From the first day Joshua and the people had set foot in the land, it had been one conflict after another. God had given them a miraculous victory over Jericho, but then it had become one war after another. They had been routed at Ai, then turned around and returned the favor after having purged the sin from their camp. Next, a group of Amorite nations form a coalition against the cit of Gibeon, because they had made a covenant with Israel. Joshua is forced to defend the city because of the treaty he had made with them. God miraculously destroys the armies of the coalition and then Joshua and his forces destroy their cities in a clean-up operation. The move from city to city, destroying everything and everyone. In spite of the Lord's presence, this would have been a wearying endeavor. They were having to march across vast amounts of land to accomplish their task. But Joshua and the people were able to capture all the kings and their cities because the Lord, the God of Israel, was fighting for them (Joshua 10:42).

But their victories led to more battles. The kings of the northern cities of Canaan heard about Israel's conquests and formed a coalition against them. And the size of their combined armies was massive. "All these kings responded by mobilizing their warriors and uniting to fight against Israel. Their combined armies, along with a vast array of horses and chariots, covered the landscape like the sand on the seashore" (Joshua 11:4 NLT). The Jewish historian, Josephus said that the northern armies had 300,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and 20,000 chariots. That's some army! Yet we are told, "the LORD gave them victory over their enemies. The Israelites chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth–maim, and eastward into the valley of Mizpah, until not one enemy warrior was left alive" (Joshua 11:8 NLT). Joshua went on to capture every city within the enemy coalition, destroying, burning, and plundering them. Joshua and his forces march throughout the land, from city to city, fighting and taking the land into their possession. It wasn't just handed to them. Yes, God was involved and performed significant miracles to make their job easier, but the people of God still had to do their part. They even went on to destroy the Anakim, the giants who had terrorized the spies more than 40 years earlier (Numbers 33). Joshua and the people conquered the entire land and its inhabitants. In doing so, they were being obedient to the call of God to Moses. But it required hard work and determination. We are told that "Joshua waged war a long time with all these kings" (Joshua 11:18 NASB). We tend to read these condensed versions of these stories and lose the significance of the energy and effort expended in order for victory to be accomplished. Taking the Promised Land had turned out to be hard work. Even dangerous at times.

But all their effort turned out for the best. Their obedience resulted in rest. Because they had done what God had commanded them to do, "the land had rest from war" (Joshua 11:23 NASB). There was a time when the battles ceased and the people could rest. Their efforts were rewarded with rest. The fighting stopped and they could enjoy the fruits of their labor – without fear of attack. So what does this have to do with you and me? Well, we have to realize that we too are in a battle. We live in the midst of a spiritual war where the enemy is attacking constantly, trying to destroy us every chance he gets. John 10:10 records the words of Jesus warning us that the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan is out to annihilate us. We, like the Israelites, are invading his land. He wants to stop the advancement of God's people and His kingdom. And he will do everything in his power to make that happen.

But we want rest. We want peace. We want to enjoy ourselves and have fun. We have lost sight of the reality of the spiritual war in which we find ourselves. This is NOT heaven. We do have God presence and power available to us, but we are also under attack. Which is why we are encouraged to put on arm ourselves for battle. It is why we are admonished to fight. Paul encouraged Timothy to "fight well in the Lord’s battles" (1 Timothy 1:18 NLT). Paul reminds us that, "We use God’s mighty weapons, not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NLT). He also warns us to "Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong" (1 Corinthians 16:13 NET). Why? Because we are at war. We live in difficult days. This is no time for the feint-hearted. We fight for the Lord. We are part of His army and represent His kingdom on this earth. We are part of His invasion force, taking back what rightfully belongs to God. We have a job to do. Rest will come. But first we must do the work He has called us to do.

Father, forgive me for wanting rest before I've even fought the good fight. I have a peacetime mentality in a time of war and nothing could be more dangerous. The enemy tries to convince me that there is no war. He wants to make peace with me like the Gibeonites did with Joshua. He attempts to deceive and delude me. Open my eyes to the reality of the war being waged all around me. Give me the strength I need to fight the good fight of faith. You've promised me rest, but that does not mean I don't have to fight and do my part. Amen


Taking God For Granted.

Joshua 8-9

So the Israelite leaders examined their bread, but they did not consult the LORD.Joshua 9:14 NLT

Once the Israelites had purged the sin from their camp, they easily defeated the city of Ai – mainly because purging of sin had restored the presence and power of God. He was with them once again and He gave the city into their hands. Word of their subsequent defeat and destruction of the city of Ai, coupled with their victory over Jericho, had gotten around. A group of Canaanite nations joined forces to fight against Israel. They had seen what had happened to Jericho and Ai, and knew that their only hope was in an alliance against the people of Israel.

The Gibeonites, another Canaanite nation, took a slightly different approach. They decided to use deception. They used the "if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them" approach. They sent a group of emissaries to seek peace with Israel, but they dressed them in worn-out clothes and gave them old provisions and dried-out wine skins to carry. They were to tell Joshua that they were from a far-off country and head heard of the power of Israel. Their goal was to seek a peace treaty or covenant with Israel. It was perfectly acceptable for Israel to make covenants with distant cities, but they had been commanded by God to destroy ALL Canaanite cities. The city of Gibeon was just 6.5 miles from Ai!

Joshua and the leaders of Israel took the bait. They bought the lie. And the writer of the book of Joshua makes it painfully clear why they were so easily deceived. They did not seek the counsel of God. They just assumed He was with them, so they didn't bother to ask Him. This is especially odd considering all the times Joshua had seen Moses ascend the mountain to talk with God. He should have known better. He should have realized that no matter was too small to consult with God about. It was never safe to assume that God's input was unnecessary. Joshua had even been given clear instructions how to seek the will of God in any matter. "When direction from the LORD is needed, Joshua will stand before Eleazar the priest, who will determine the LORD’s will by means of sacred lots. This is how Joshua and the rest of the community of Israel will discover what they should do" (Numbers 27:21 NLT).

I see two truths revealed in this chapter. First of all, the enemies of God's people will always align themselves against us. They will join forces in an attempt to defeat the kingdom of God. But they will also use deception and alliances to get us to accept them as they are. They will make peace treaties with us and encourage us to allow them to live with us in the land. Which is exactly what Joshua did. He failed to seek God's will and so he bought the lie of the Gibeonites and made a covenant with them. When he discovered his mistake, he attempted to correct it by making the people of Gibeon slaves of Israel. But while this sounds like a fitting punishment for their deception, it allowed the people of Gibeon to remain alive and infiltrate the nation of Israel. Their presence would have long-lasting influence over the people of Israel. This allegiance would lead to future problems for the people of Israel. Years later, King Saul would attempt to wipe out the Gibeonites as part of a purge. In doing so, he would violate the covenant. The result would be famine in the land. "During David’s reign there was a famine for three consecutive years. So David inquired of the Lord. The Lord said, 'It is because of Saul and his bloodstained family, because he murdered the Gibeonites'" (2 Samuel 21:1 NET).

God tells us, "Good advice and success belong to me. Insight and strength are mine" (Proverbs 8:14 NLT). We are to seek His counsel about any and all matters. But it is so easy to assume that some things are just up to us. We can easily fall prey to the idea that we can make decisions on our own, without seeking His advice. The world is out to deceive us. It is constantly trying to trick us and cause us to make false alliances with it. Compromise is a constant threat to God's people. Which is why we need to seek His face. We need His counsel each and every day for each and every circumstance. It is when we get comfortable making decisions without Him that we are in real danger.

Father, I confess that there are so many times I do not seek Your counsel. I either don't think I need it or I just don't want to take the time. I also probably fear that if I ask Your advice, You will contradict the decision I have already made. But it is clear that living my life apart from Your input is dangerous. I am easily deceived. I am prone to make decisions that will have long-lasting implications on my life. Teach me to seek Your face in all things – big and small. Amen