New beginnings

Today’s FDR is Joshua 23 and Acts 1:12-26

What a feast we have before us in our FDR today!

Our journey through Joshua is nearly complete and here, near the end of his life, Joshua gathers the Israelite leaders together for a final few words. He could have waxed lyrical about his role in the times spent wandering the desert, bringing down the walls of Jericho, getting hoodwinked by the Gibeonites or the shenanigans involving rocks falling from the sky… ahhhh, good times, remember when we did all that? Only he doesn’t… Instead he points to God and reminds the people that it is God who fought for them (Josh 23:3). He urges them in light of this knowledge to stay strong, to be obedient, to be singularly focussed on serving Him. In fact he says the same thing to them at least twice… and he warns them of the consequences if they transgress. Perhaps he knows their hearts (and himself) too well?

Indeed if we were to read on into Judges we would find that things slip south pretty quickly and eventually, the very thing he warns them of comes true and the land that they currently possess is taken away. Praise God that the narrative arc of salvation history doesn’t stop there! God enacts his rescue plan for his wayward people, through Jesus.

Which brings us to the opening of Acts….

At the start of this book, we see Jesus ascend into heaven and he promises the Holy Spirit which will empower them to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Now the disciples return and take the strange step of seeking suitable nominations and casting lots to find someone to fill Judas’ place (who apart from betraying Jesus, meets a rather icky end). Why was this so important? Well, there must be something important in having 12 apostles – it harkens back to the 12 tribes of Israel, a completeness which is echoed throughout God’s word.

What I also find interesting is the qualifications of those who would be considered as a suitable replacement for Judas. Specifically they had to be a first-eye witness to Jesus and have accompanied him through his ministry years. And while this is key, there is also something else, a hint that the call depends on the heart of the nominated (v24). I try not to read too much into the casting of lots as the example of all decision making – however under the circumstances this is done without pretence or suggestion that this is they way all decisions will be made into the future.

What shall we do with our scriptures today? First of all, let us give thanks for Jesus, our risen King who sends his spirit to guide and strengthen us. Secondly, let us consider our hearts before him – as Joshua did and no doubt as Matthias, Barsabbas and the early Christians did. May our hearts be renewed daily to pursue Christ more wholly and more completely. Finally, let us look forward to a heavenly future where God brings all things new and we are reunited with Christ our saviour.

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What would it take?

Today’s reading is Joshua 10

What would it take for you to know God was on your side? It can be so easy to doubt his work in our lives and his power to break through in our culture.

When Joshua went to help the Gibeonites, so many amazing things took place that give the reader a very clear indication that God is at work (those hailstones!). But it is only when the sun stands still for 24 hours that we read “Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!” It seems like this miraculous phenomena was the turning point for the Israelites seeing the hand of God at work.

It got me thinking… what do we need to acknowledge God’s hand at work? What would it take to be able to confidently say that “the Lord is fighting for us?”

Whenever my mind wanders down this track I’m reminded of The parable Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family about the torment the rich man experienced. Abraham’s reply is

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Luke 16:31

It’s fascinating in light of the resurrection of Jesus himself. Do we really need any other sign to show the Lord is fighting for us? What he has done in raising Jesus from the dead is a miraculous phenomena that speaks loudly of his goodness toward people and his total defeat of evil and death.

Let’s not be like those whom Abraham referred to who will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Rather, confident in the resurrection of Jesus be assured that the Lord is fighting for us, achieving his purposes. Whatever situation you find yourself in today, know the Lord is fighting for you.

Stones serving as signs

Our readings today are from Luke and Joshua.

Our years are filled with events that remind us of important occurrences – Australia Day, Easter, Birthdays, Wedding Anniversaries, Christmas. In part it’s so we don’t forget. It’s also so we remember what’s important.

My daughter tells the story of the time I forgot to pick her up from school. She was waiting, and I didn’t show up. She rang me (she was mid-late High School not infants) and reminded me about where I should be. I had been distracted by other things and hadn’t realised the time. I should have set a reminder, because I know I can forget things either due to distraction or just forgetfulness.

So, the story of Israel going into the promised land encourages me (no, it doesn’t excuse my action… it just makes me realise I’m not alone). Having witnessed the incredible miracle of the parting of the Jordan River, and crossing through it, 12 representatives (one from each tribe) go back into the river and take 12 stones from the middle of the river to make a monument that would be a sign to Israel (Josh 4:1-9).

Why grab these stones unless they are needed? Why would they need reminding of the parting of the Jordan except that they would forget? How could they possibly forget what the Lord had done on that day? Yet God knew they could, and he knew they would. The stones were erected and the people instructed to use the memorial stones as a sign and reminder of how the Lord had cut off the flow of the Jordan.

In God’s plan of salvation, this entry into the promised land was very significant. It was important for the people to remember.

What are the “stones” that you use to remember God’s action in your life? What are the “stones” you use to remember how he brought you into his promised land?

I have a number of memorials that I have collected over the years to remind me of God’s goodness. A railway nail, photo’s, carvings, drawings… and even some stones. In part, they are scattered around various places to make sure I don’t forget his loving kindness. But more, they are there to reminded me of the priority, significance and importance of his great love and goodness in my life. In a world that bombards me with so many messages, while I may not forget his love, I can easily be distracted away from its immense significance and importance.

When God parts the river for you, don’t forget to grab a stone 🙂

A country in sin, people in confusion.

Today’s (Sa 15/08/2015) readings are Ezra 9 and  Matthew 8:23-34

Ezra 9

Yesterday we learnt of the preparation Ezra made before returning to Israel from Babylon in Chapter 8.  Acts before God such as fasting, prayer and ensuring there were priests with them, and setting aside sacred items for the Temple.  Also making faith decisions about their protection so that this too might bear witness to those around them.  In this case especially to the Babylonian King.

Now after their arrival the sacred items are delivered, the sacrifices are made to God and the letters delivered to the government.

Now that the formalities are over the truth comes out about the behaviour of their fellow country men and women. While instructed to keep themselves apart from their neighbours, who would lead them to lives apart from God and therefore into sin, they have been intermarrying with the peoples surrounding them.  By this means offending God by not keeping themselves as a nation set apart as the chosen people of God.

Ezra is recorded in verse 10 as responding “But now, our God, what can we say after this? . . .”

Here he immediately responds on behalf of the whole people.  Beseeching God in his dismay and self abasement on behalf of all.

So I must ask, Do you and I have a role such as this when we encounter widespread sin in our own people and country?

Matthew 8:23-27

These four verses disturb me because they accurately describe the brittleness of my own faith.  Along with Jesus, the disciples set out boldly to get into a familiar form of transport, a boat, to go to another place.  Yet when challenged by a storm that is fierce enough and can tip them into the sea and send them to their death, the individual’s faith in a God of eternity, of a protector, turns to mush!  Yet the Son of God is still physically with them?  (And me too.)

 Matthew 8:28-34

Even the demons in these two men recognise Jesus and His place in time and in God’s plan for the world.  (v29)  They quickly submit to His authority and seek an alternate outcome, of being transferred to the herd of pigs, rather than eternal punishment.

Here is proof, not only of the power of Christ, but also of the intersection of our earthly world with the divine world as represented in Jesus.  He is both able to heal these men and deal summarily with their demons.  Regardless of whether it was in the demons expected time frame, God’s timing is enacted.  (v30-32)

Quickly word spreads to the local town about the formerly very powerful demonic men having their demons transferred and then drowned.

And yet “the world follows the money”, as a cynical mate of mine would say, and the townspeople ask Jesus to go elsewhere. (v34)

So I am challenged to ask, “Do you and I respond in these worldly ways to Jesus Christ and our omnipotent God’s call to us to serve Him?  How is God challenging us now?”

It as times like these when I feel I want to shrink from what is before me that I am reminded, sometimes too late, of these words in Joshua 1:9:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’

 

Monday

Judges 14
Colossians 3:1-17

The thing that stands out most to me about Samson is not that God chose to work through a hot-headed man with a weak spot for beautiful women. It is the supernatural strength that emerges from a life fully invigorated by the Holy Spirit.

It is hard to miss the Spirit’s presence in this narrative. Consider verse 6 “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands” and verse 19 “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men”. To the reader it is both simultaneously awe-inspiring and frightening. Have you ever experienced such a power within you? Who could withstand such ferocity and passion? Yet God works for good. Praise God.

In the New Testament we also see the power of the Holy Spirit at work, but not so much as to destroy as to regenerate. In fulfilment of Ezekiel 37, God’s Spirit now works within the hearts of Jesus’ followers to bring life to the death that would otherwise reign within us. Once Jesus resuscitates the life of a man his Spirit continues to bring life, renovating his character to conform it to the likeness of Christ. And God knows we need it. Without God’s power we can scarcely understand the seat of our own motives let alone attain godly virtues (Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 7:15). The natural (fallen) state seeks after sin and death, but by God’s grace I can live the supernatural life. By His grace and Spirit within me I can put off sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). I can put on the new self just as God created me to be: with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (v.12). With God’s supernatural power I can have a change of heart.

Recalibration is in order. I wonder if what we regard as “natural” should be regarded “sub-natural” when mankind sought to live without God? I wonder if what seems supernatural was sometimes God’s original design for “natural”. Romans 8 seems to support this especially verse 6. To be sure God works mighty wonders at various times in particular places to usher in his Kingdom, but a part of me wonders if that Spirit-driven life full of joy and power, life and peace is the state Our Father created us to live in normally – that is “truly human”?

Matthew

Reference – NT Wright, 2007, Surprised By Hope.

Priests, Peace and Praises

Joshua 21:1-42

Take Special Care of the Poor Clergy! 

The heading is a quote from a commentator’s explanation of what is recorded in the chapter.

The calling of the Priests and Levites was to serve the community by serving the Lord who was the Lord both of the Land and of the community.

The possession of the Priests and Levites was the Lord himself: not land but the Lord. However provision needed to be made for their accommodation and maintenance and God’s people, by provisions like these and by their share of the sacrifices, were to care of those who ministered in the sanctuary.

The arrangement of the cities of the sons of Levi forms a general likeness to the way the members of tribe were situated around the tent of meeting in the wilderness.

As has been observed before, these were God’s people in the land God had chosen to be His and the Tent which marked his Presence stood at the centre: at that time in Shiloh.

The Cities of Refuge, havens for unintentional killers until their matter could be judged, were allocated as God had commanded.

Perhaps we can draw from this passage a couple of important lessons for ourselves.

Initially, we might remind ourselves that whether under the Old or the New Covenant God is to be at the centre of the life of the believing community. When the people of God gather together, they gather around God as His people. Their primary responsibility is to honour him with their praise and prayers, with their faith and love for His word, with their submission to his will, and with their love for one another. In short, they are to worship Him as the Lord in their midst.

Perhaps too, it is not improper to notice the responsibility that falls upon the people of God to maintain appropriately those who serve the Christian community in the things of God.

A humorous remark used to circulate about the fervent prayer of an old Church Warden as he contemplated the coming of the new minister: “Lord you keep him humbly and we’ll keep him poor!” May the Lord indeed keep his servants humble but churches have no license from God to be ungenerous towards those who serve their spiritual wellbeing in any capacity.

Joshua 21:43-45

God Gave Them Rest

Theses verses end this major section of Joshua. The notion of rest is an important one. It is an expression that God has fulfilled his promises which this small section directly asserts.

Hebrews chapter 4 takes up the idea of “rest” and ought to be read in conjunction with this passage. We should take heed to the encouragement from Hebrews to “hold fast our confession” and to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”.

Philippians 1:12-18

“In that I Rejoice”

Paul’s source of gladness was that whether by kind friend or jealous antagonists the gospel of the grace of God was being made known even in the ‘praetorium’ or governor’s residence.

The message of Christ, and of God’s free and abundant grace, in him is a joy to those who depend on Christ alone for their salvation. Their joy is increased when, by whatever means, that saving truth invades the life of others enabling them to enter into the same experience of blessing.

Paul would teach the Ephesians that God had chosen them in Christ before the world began with the purpose that they should be holy and blameless before him in love. That blessed condition was realised when they heard of Christ and his saving work on the cross and in his resurrection and believed in it for themselves.

It is when we are moved by God’s Spirit to see the wonder of God’s salvation and spontaneously rejoice in it, that we are the most moved to help others to see what we have been led to see.

The joy of Paul in Jesus is spelt out in all his letters as he unfolds the sovereign, full, and free salvation into which God draws sinful people by His Spirit through the gospel message.

It my opinion the best way to stir the flame of evangelistic zeal is to see and to embrace in mind and heart the wonder of a salvation that takes someone dead in trespasses and sin, pardons them, sets them apart as God’s possession, liberates them from Sin’s dominion and the clutches of Satan, places His Spirit within them as his seal of ownership, and undertakes to present them faultless in His presence with great joy. In that I too rejoice and will continue to rejoice throughout eternity.

What’s growing in your garden?

Readings: Joshua 16 , Proverbs 30:18-33

My mind is drawn to Joshua 16:10 “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labour.”

Canaan was a grandson of Noah whose family was cursed (Genesis 9:22, around 3,000BC). By the time of Moses (around 1450BC) the Canaanites had drifted from worshipping the true God to worship a multitude of gods with practices that were increasingly degenerate. They and the emerging Israel were on a collision course.

How can a righteous, loving and merciful God require the Canaanites to be conquered? I accept the truth behind the question Abraham asked of God just before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). We are certain that the Israelites were no more righteous for as Deuteronomy 9:5 shows, “It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”.

The Israelites conquered the territory, but some Canaanites lived on. So the Israelites made slaves of them.

Were Manasseh and Ephraim “… strong and courageous” in faith as they were directed to be (Joshua 1:6)? Or did they lack the commitment to the Lord resulting in the Canaanites not being driven out? I cannot judge them, for in my life there are many failures. Perhaps we are slaves to those unhelpful habits we have not conquered. Do we need to pay more attention to Hebrews 12:1, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”.

Our garden continually needs attention. If we’re not alert the weeds take over! When they do it needs more work than if we had got to it as soon as we noticed them sprout. Is this the same in our Christian walk? We have a natural bias towards disobeying God’s word – which makes it important to get rid of sinful inclinations or distracting practices as soon as God’s Spirit reveals them to us. This is persevering in the race God sets before each of us.

Turning to the proverbs, verses 18-20 concern four “amazing things”. These seem to be about hypocrisy because they are things that leave no trace behind them. Maybe it’s like us when we cover our tracks so that we won’t be “found out”. If this is so, it doesn’t take into account our omniscient God. Hebrews 4:13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”.

The three things that “cause the earth to tremble” (vs 21-23) are examples of people who are in a position they are not suited for. They act as if they are God, determining what they are going to do and when they are going to do it. They make decisions but they forget God. James 4:15 is the antidote.

Four things are “small, yet they are extremely wise” (vs 24-28). If God has given insects such wisdom through instinct, how much more will he give us who have the added ability to reason?

The three things that have “stately bearing” (vs 29-31) live confidently because of their position. If we “walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8) it does not mean that we are to feel inferior. Because of our faith in Jesus Christ we can be confident since God has made us one of his children. As James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”.