The Red Words #13 March 12, 2019

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and having set her in the midst of the courtyard, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard this, they began to go out, one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone and the woman, where she was, in the center of the courtyard. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord’. And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.’  John 8: 3-11

In this account in John 8, Jesus confronts a band of cold, self-righteous religious leaders and a woman who was guilty of sexual sin, and He handles both with such wisdom and grace that we marvel at Him.

While some scholars argue over this passage, how much more important it is to meditate on ‘the Red Words’.

He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?

I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.

It is clear the Pharisees and Judges of the Law felt that they have Jesus trapped by this; they have an airtight case, this “let’s get-Jesus” committee!

You cannot read this, however, without asking yourself, “Where is the man in this adulterous union?” They had been caught “in the very act,” and yet only the woman is brought before Jesus. Some of the commentators suggest that perhaps they knew the man and let him go. We do not know. But this indicates that a double standard was very much in effect in those times just as it is today.

These scribes and Pharisees referred to the law in the book of Leviticus in which God, speaking through Moses, had said that adultery was to be punished by stoning. They knew that Jesus was “The Friend of Sinners,” that He was always on the side of the unfortunate and that He spent His time, not with the righteous, the wealthy or the respected, but with publicans and sinners. They obviously expected Him to forgive her and the minute He did, they would accuse Him of contradicting the law of Moses. They were sure they had Him trapped.

What he did was to stoop down and begin to write with his finger on the ground. Wouldn’t you love to know what He wrote?

Some have suggested that perhaps Jesus wrote a verse from Jeremiah: ‘O Lord, the Hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.’   Jeremiah 17:13 .  This could be but we don’t know for sure.

Whatever he wrote, the scribes and Pharisees apparently misunderstood him. They thought he was stalling for time, and they kept pressing him, asking him again and again to answer them. So, standing up, Jesus looked them right in the eye and stunned them when He uttered these famous words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Actually the word he uses is “sinless,” “let him who is sinless…” This is the only time Jesus ever used this word.

Jesus does not minimize the seriousness of the sin, but He refuses to align Himself with the harsh and arrogant attitude of the Pharisees toward the sin. What He says, in effect, is, “You are no better than she is. Your hearts are filled with murder and hatred.”

adulterouswoman

The haughtiness and hatred for Jesus that was evident in their eyes and demeanor clearly revealed that they were willing to use this woman in order to ‘get’ Jesus.  They really cared nothing about her sin; she was a convenient means to their evil agenda.

Jesus saw right through them and addressed the corruption of their hearts.  When He stooped down to write, could it be that He quoted from the book of Daniel? “You are weighed in the balance and found wanting,” (Daniel 5:25-29).

Whatever it was that He wrote, it utterly derailed their carefully laid out plot.  One by one, they started walking away.

And you know the rest of the story.  With no one left to condemn the adulterous woman, Jesus uttered these remarkable words: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’

Notice how Jesus calls her attention to the fact that she has no human accusers. He has dismissed the jury; their own malice disqualified them to judge her.

As the only Sinless One, Jesus alone fulfilled the qualifications to stone her. But He did not do so because He clearly forgave her.

Without forgiveness, justice must be satisfied. God never dismisses sin as trivial. His own truth, his law, his holy character, demand that any deviation from righteousness be punished. Justice must be satisfied — unless sin is forgiven. So it is clear that the basis on which our Lord said these words is that he had found a way to forgive this woman her sin.

A legalist will protest, “How could he do this? There was no basis for it. In fact, she doesn’t even confess her sin, or repent of it, or even say she’s sorry. Didn’t Jesus himself go about preaching, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? What do you say to that?

The answer is, “Yes, there must be repentance.” God is not a grandfatherly type who says, “That’s all right. Forget it. I won’t hold it against you.”  There must be repentance. Even God cannot forgive sin which is not acknowledged.

But when you say, “Yes, I did it. It’s wrong. I agree with you,” that is repentance. Then forgiveness can come. “But where does this woman do that?” someone may ask.

The answer has to be, “Within her heart!” Remember we are dealing with One who knows the hearts of men. He knows what is going on in the inner thoughts. He knew her heart. Somewhere in the course of this incident she had to have repented.

Perhaps it was when she saw how Jesus handles this crowd of hypocritical judges, and she sensed the mercy and love that was in His face. Perhaps it was then, in His presence, that she realized how wrong she was, that she had sinned, and she repented. When she did, Jesus forgave her, obviously anticipating his death upon the cross for her.

The cross is always an eternal event in the mind of God. In anticipation of that cross, Jesus forgave her sin. The proof of it is in the words he next said, “Go, and do not sin again.”

If we have acknowledged our guilt, and received God’s forgiveness, the Lord is saying to us, “Go, and do not sin again.” He could never have said that to this woman unless something had happened within her.

This amazing scene speaks to all of us. When our sins are forgiven it is to free us that we might begin to live a different lifestyle; never to go back to the things that we have left behind. Forgiveness is always designed to set us free. That is why it is given.

Mark this truth: When Jesus forgave this woman that is what he did: He set her free to be a different kind of person than she had been before.

He does the same for you and for me. Sin is sin; it will always be sin and the only remedy we have is to sincerely repent, receive God’s forgiveness because of what Jesus did on the Cross of Calvary and re-commit ourselves to the Lord and to His Word.

I love the chorus written several years ago by Bill Gaither:

Something beautiful, something good,
All my confusion he understood.

All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.

Perhaps it was a sentiment like this that lived on in that woman’s heart for the rest of her life.

If we have found forgiveness from the Lord, remember always that we are forgiven so that we, too, might “Go, and sin no more!”

Thank God for His amazing love!

Snippets from My Journal #5 9/4/18

April 15, 2016

The topic that never stops demanding from us……forgiveness.

Forgiveness2

A young Joseph, the darling of his father, is betrayed by his brothers, thrown in a pit and then sold to slave-traders.  To add insult to injury, he is later falsely accused of sexual impropriety at a time when life had just gotten better for him.  The false accusation lands him in prison for several years.

Finally he is vindicated and not only that, but raised to the second highest position in the land.  Life is really good now – a palace to live in, a new wife to love, an authority to exercise over the nation.  His wisdom is the talk of the town; his administrative decisions are followed to the letter.  Famine is coming and he prepares the nation for survival.

Then one day travelers show up from the nearby land of Canaan.  Joseph recognizes them immediately – his brothers, the very ones who betrayed him. They have no clue who he is for no son of Jacob would ever be expected to look and dress like an Egyptian.

Fast forward to the day that Joseph is revealed himself to his brothers.

Joseph put everybody else out of the room so there was no one with him when he revealed his true identity to his brothers.  (Gen. 45:1)  He let his brothers save face.

Do you suppose the Joseph was immune to the temptation to take revenge – or at least to embarrass his brothers in front of the Egyptians? Do you suppose that Joseph never had the thought of ‘getting even’ go through his mind?  Of course he did – he was human. But through his years of suffering he had learned a few things and we get the benefit of seeing what it’s like when a servant of God has a sanctified tongue.

Our flesh is inclined to get even with those who have hurt us by destroying their credibility.  We can’t stand to see people who’ve hurt us be admired by others.  The flesh wants to make sure that they “feel guilty” and are “very sorry” before we forgive them.

Joseph had plenty of reason to feel that way but he chose to protect the self-worth of his brothers instead.  He did not shame them in front of the Egyptians.

As if that was not impressive enough, he took it a step further and even protected their dark secret from his father.  He would not let them tell Jacob what had really happened.  (Gen. 45: 9-11)  And he provided for them all – they and their families – throughout the remainder of the famine.

Total forgiveness says I no longer hold this against you, I will not keep bringing it up and I will not going around telling everybody what you did to me.

Too difficult?

Think of it this way.  Has God ever tattled on you to someone else?  Or does He forgive you when you repent, wash away your sin and promise to ‘remember it no more’?

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.  Matthew 5:12

Joseph is a great example of total forgiveness, but there is an even greater One – the Lord Himself.

Why do you think He included that verse in the Lord’s prayer?  Because He knew that we would get hurt.  It’s part of life! It just happens.  Many times it’s not deliberate and other times it is.  That’s not the point with Jesus.  He just says, ‘Forgive as you have been forgiven.’

If you’re struggling today with a hurt or an insult whether it was recent or happened years ago, give it to Him. Let Him take it, heal you and set you free from the prison of unforgiveness.

It may be the greatest thing you do for yourself this Tuesday.

 

 

 

The Presence of God #8 July 17, 2018

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are you ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9

I have learned that God loves to show up in unpredictable ways. He is always the same God but manifests His presence in a multitude of ways, including some that surprise us. He has His reasons for doing so.

Godshowsup

If God showed up the same way all the time, no faith would be required of us to accept His ways. We might even take Him for granted.  Once He presented Himself as the fourth man in the furnace with the three Hebrew boys.  Another time He shut the mouths of lions to save Daniel’s life. In Hebrews 11 we read that ‘some were sawn in two…slain by the sword’ but others ‘escaped the edge of the sword’.  But God was with both groups – giving abundance of grace for martyrdom to those who were slain and abundance of grace to those who escaped.  As opposite as these two experiences are, both were accomplished through faith. His presence was as real to the martyrs as to those who escaped martyrdom and it is His presence that strengthened them all.

Believe it or not, if God showed up the same way all the time, we might get bored. Just look at Numbers 21:5 when the Israelites got tired of the manna falling from heaven every day. Think about it:  they were being nourished supernaturally every single day and they got tired of it!!!

God can do anything He pleases and may show up in our lives in a variety of ways but one thing is sure – every manifestation of His presence will be consistent with His Word in one way or another.

Is there a difference between the way Adam and Eve experienced His presence and how we do?

Adam and Eve ‘heard the sound of the Lord God’. it says in Gen. 3:8 Have you ever wondered what that ‘sound’ was?  It seems from the context that it was His voice for God called out, ‘Where are you?’ (vs. 9)  Was His voice angry? Was it sad?

Though they had walked with Him before, this time they hid themselves.  They felt shame for the first time because they knew they had sinned.  What made them conscious of their sin? The Presence of God.

Isaiah had a similar experience. In Isaiah 6 the prophet had a magnificent vision of the throne room. ‘I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.’ vs. 1  Almost immediately the prophet cries out, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined. Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’  vs. 5  The manifest presence of God convicted Isaiah of his sinfulness.

In Luke 5, Peter had been fishing all night and caught nothing, but when Jesus came on the scene,  he hauled in a boat load of fish. What did Peter say? ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ Luke 5:8  Did that ever strike you curiously? He didn’t burst out in praise for the large catch of fish which is what we might expect him to do.  Peter instead acknowledged his own sinfulness when confronted with the Presence of the Lord.

The greatest saints in church history saw themselves as the greatest sinners.  Yet in our day, we hear so little preaching about sin.

The presence of the Lord also manifests as joy.  ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy,’ David wrote in Psalm 16:11.  Nehemiah told the people of his day, ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Neh.8:10

God gets our attention by convicting us of sin but quickly forgives and restores us when we repent, which brings joy. Listen to David once again: ‘Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.  Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones you have broken may rejoice.’ Psalm 51:3, 7-8  Forgiveness and restoration always being joy to the soul.

His presence may also introduce fear – the fear of the Lord which is completely different from human fear.  The fear of the Lord is both joyful and scary.  There IS a heaven and there IS a hell. God is merciful and He is also just. The fear of the Lord is a deep respect and awe for Who He is accompanied by a revelation of who we truly are in light of His transcendent glory.

Part of the fruit of Pentecost was that ‘fear came to every soul.’ Acts 2:43  When Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead, ‘great fear came on all those who heard these things.’ Acts 5:5  The early church knew the presence of the Lord in its various manifestations.

Another manifestation of His presence is in healing sick bodies.  There is something called ‘a healing presence’ that accompanied the ministry of Jesus and still manifests to this day. Luke 5:17 And the power of the Lord was present to heal the sick.

Many a disciple has sensed the presence of the Lord in their private prayer times, as well as in community worship. It is always such a blessed gift from heaven when God shows up in our worship services.  The more we praise, the more His presence is released to us, for God ‘inhabits the praises of His people.’

Perhaps one of the most thrilling experiences of the presence of the Lord is when He illuminates a passage of scripture to us. It may be something we’ve read 48 times but the 49th time, it leaps off the page and we ‘see’ in the verse that which we never saw before. Insight into His Word can come at any time.  I’ve had ‘light bulb’ experiences driving down the road or washing dishes. He can show up anytime for He is always with us. Grasping a deeper meaning of scripture than we previously had is one of the most exciting experiences with God and He often does it at the most unusual times.

His presence will also surprise us at times.  Remember when Peter and John were on their way to the temple in the afternoon? As they passed by a disabled beggar, the Spirit of the Lord stopped them and Peter said to the man, ‘Look at us.’ Then he added, ‘Silver and gold have I none, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ Acts 3:4-6  The beggar was instantly healed. I rather think that Peter was amazed.

Application:

By His wonderful presence God directs us, gives us inspiration, understanding and wisdom; He shares His joy with us and assures us of His love. There is nothing like the comfort that His presence brings.

May we each recognize His presence as it manifests in our lives and embrace it with our whole heart.

The Power of Words #3 March 20, 2018

In the book of James, chapter 3, verse 2, we read these words: We all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. NASB

The Passion Translation renders this verse like this: We all fail in many areas, but especially with our words. Yet if we’re able to bridle the words we say we are powerful enough to control ourselves in every way, and that means our character is mature and fully developed. James 3:2 TPT

This verse from the book of James reminds me of Proverb 18:21: Death and life are in the power of the tongue and those who love it will eat its fruit.

words3

As I ponder these verses, I find myself deeply grateful for the promise in Lamentations: The Lord’s kindnesses indeed never cease for His compassions are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! Lam. 3:22-23

I need His grace every day for life, for health, for patience, for perseverance, for every thing I will encounter during each day and most certainly, I need His grace every day to to keep my words pure and right in His eyes.  The tongue is something we must use every day.  How we use it has a great deal to do with the course of our life. One day at a time, as disciples of the Lord Jesus, we are called to have dominion over the words of our mouths.  Therefore, success in controlling our tongues is something we need to pray for daily.

It is the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each born again disciple of the Lord, who can teach us and train us what to say and what not to say, when to speak and when to keep silent. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that we would give an account of ‘every careless word’.  We need the daily cleansing of the blood of Jesus every day, don’t we?  I John 1:7

It is in our everyday conversations that we succeed or we fail to live up to the standard Jesus set before us.  Not only should we show some self-control in how much we say – lest we wear people out with our non-stop talking – but also in the words we choose to use with family, friends, co-workers and people we run into from time to time.

Can you bridle your tongue when your heart is under pressure? That’s how you show you are wise. An understanding heart keeps you cool, calm and collected, no matter what you’re facing.  Proverbs 17:27-28 TPT

For example, think about the prophet Samuel. He went to the house of Jesse at God’s bidding in order to anoint the next king of Israel.  In ancient Israel, the firstborn always received double the inheritance so it should come as no surprise that when Samuel saw Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, he assumed that Eliab was the likely candidate.

He looked on Eliab and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me.’  I Sam. 16:6  Imagine how Eliab and Jesse must have felt to hear the prophet of the Lord make that statement.

But Samuel was wrong in what he said. God quickly stepped in to correct him. ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart. I Sam. 16:7

The respected prophet of Israel had just made a big mistake.  His tongue had gotten him in big trouble!  Samuel had to walk back his comments, admit he had been wrong and go through all of Jesse’s sons until he saw David, the youngest and heard the Lord say, ‘This is the one. Anoint him.’

It is not easy to admit that you’ve been wrong. Nothing challenges our big egos like being smacked in the face with evidence that says very plainly you blew it. You misread a situation or misjudged a person and SPOKE IT aloud.  We die a thousand deaths when that happens, don’t we?

Yet, my dear friends, though it hurts our pride and may even cause others to question our judgment in the future, the inner peace that comes from the Holy Spirit when we are honest about our failures more than compensates for the humiliation of ‘walking back’ what we have wrongly said.  When a prophet of God of the stature of Samuel is willing to humble himself and repent of his failure, he sets an example for all of us.

Perhaps David remembered this scene later in life after he had sinned with Bathsheba and was confronted by the prophet Nathan.  If you will read the account in 2 Samuel 12 David sets the same example that Samuel did.  When made to stare squarely at what he had done, David makes no excuses, he offers no rationalization.  When Nathan declares, ‘You are the man.’ David repents immediately, does not deny his guilt and accepts the humiliation.

We generally find it very difficult to recognize our own self-righteousness.  We are quick to judge others but very slow to see the same sin in ourselves.  As in David’s case, our own sins have a way of blinding us to our own truth, and we fail to see obvious shortcomings within ourselves.  That was David. And it’s all of us.

The only man in all of the Bible who is called ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (I Sam. 13:14) committed one of the most shameful sins a man can commit. Yet, as soon as he saw what he had done from God’s perspective, he said – out loud – ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ 2 Samuel 12:13  We cannot lightly dismiss this confession for we’re talking about the king of a nation.  His admission had huge repercussions for his reputation.  A cloud of shame hung over him for a long time in the eyes of the people.

But God wasn’t finished with David and it was this David who wrote Psalm 51, the most amazing declaration of sin, guilt, forgiveness and restoration.

Application:

Perhaps we have repented for words we should never have said. Perhaps we’ve forgotten some for which we have never repented.  The cleansing power of the Blood of Jesus is available to us right now.  He is willing to cleanse us from every sin, including every word we’ve spoken that was displeasing in His sight.  Let us repent from our hearts for every word that was out of character and/or opposed to the standard of integrity Jesus set before us.

He’s a forgiving God to those who repent but He also adds, ‘Go and sin no more.’

Yet if we’re able to bridle the words we say we are powerful enough to control ourselves in every way, and that means our character is mature and fully developed. James 3:2 TPT

Joshua, the Man & the Book #15 January 30, 2018

In chapters 15-19, Joshua along with Eleazar the priest and the elders of the tribes apportion to each tribe the land which is to be theirs.  As chapter 20 opens, we read:

Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, Designate the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, that the manslayer who kills any person unintentionally, without premeditation, may flee there  20:1-2

Citiesofrefuge

What were these cities of refuge?

According to the Torah, in the the case of deliberate murder, the Law permitted the Avenger of Blood to exact punishment, essentially a life for a life. But to guard against a miscarriage of justice, Cities of Refuge were designed to provide Divine protection for the manslayer, making a clear distinction between premeditated murder and unintentional manslaughter.

There were six cities of refuge, based on the geography of the area. To be of any use, a city of refuge had to be accessible. For this reason, three were placed on either side of the river Jordan. There were good roads leading to each city, which provided the easy access for all of Israel.

A man’s blood could be shed in two ways – on purpose or by accident. If someone was killed on purpose, it was murder. But not all men kill with intent. What was to be done for them?

To guard against a miscarriage of justice, Cities of Refuge were established where the accused could flee so that his case may be properly considered free from the emotionalism surrounding the death of the person in question. So the accused manslayer had to stand before the tribunal of the people. By doing this, two principles were achieved:

  1. The accused’s life was not put at risk by the arbitrary actions of the avenger of blood. The question of intent could be decided in an impartial court, so that the interests of the slain man’s family could also be safeguarded, for the cities of refuge were never intended to harbor murderers. But even if the manslayer was found innocent of the crime and was vindicated he did not get off completely. He had to stay within the city of refuge for the rest of the life of the high priest. The other way was if he died himself.
  2. If the avenger of blood were to defy the law and take the manslayer’s life either inside the city of refuge, or outside it after the high priest’s death, then he would himself become a murderer. But if the avenger of blood found the manslayer outside the city of refuge before the high priest’s death, and took his life, then the dead man had brought about his own downfall, and the case was closed.

The provisions made for the innocent manslayer does have a spiritual significance.

Look at Numbers chapter 35 and verses 32 to 33.

And you shall take no ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to dwell in the land before the death of the priest. 33 So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. (Numbers 35:32-33)

It is saying in verse 33 that blood will defile the land. Whenever blood was shed, the sin which had contributed to the man’s death, and was represented by his blood, was absorbed by the land which was defiled as a consequence.

Whenever life was violently terminated, even accidentally, the law had particular requirements so as to demonstrate a spiritual principle. God wanted to show that sin also leads to death. So the Torah’s treatment of a life terminated by another can show that in a similar way sin can also terminate a life. As a result, some sort of  compensation or amends was needed for the death.

A killer put himself on the side of sin, by killing someone. For even if he had killed someone accidentally, he has still taken someone’s life which is strictly the prerogative of sin. He had put a man to death, which normally only sin can do. So his actions had made him “sin” even if only accidentally.

The manslayer was to stay within the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. This concept indicates that the high priest represented all who sought refuge, and bore the iniquity of the spilled blood to his own grave. By doing this he released the manslayer from the burden of accountability.

This is appropriate for two reasons:

1. The high priest was head of the tribe of Levi. All the cities of refuge were Levitical cities. The activities of the cities of refuge therefore came under his responsibility.

2.Even more importantly, the high priest, as spiritual leader, represented purity and freedom from sin. One of his roles was to atone for innocently shed blood.

Application:

It is not difficult to recognize God’s redemptive plan in the account of the cities of refuge. While the LORD does distinguish between premeditated, deliberate sin and sins of weakness, keep in mind that SIN is SIN, and there must be repentance, forgiveness and atonement.  Since all mankind has sinned how comforting it is to know that in our times of falling short, He Whose mercies are new every morning, awaits our repentance that He might forgive us and restore our relationship with Him.

He also expects that we set our minds and hearts to learn from our failures and not continue to repeat them.

 

 

Joshua, the Man and the Book #9 December 19, 2017

In Joshua chapter 7 the children of Israel were defeated because of sin in the camp.  As we go on into chapter 8 this week, we are reminded that making up for lost ground is always difficult. For the football team that falls behind or the student who procrastinates too long, catching up is hard to do.  However, it is in those moments or situations that we are reminded that the Holy One of Israel is the God of second chances.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the King of Ai, his people, his city and his land.  Joshua 8:1

Ai

The Israelites had sinned, and that sin lead to fear. The people were hesitant to continue their attempt to capture the Promised Land. Their failure led to their lack of confidence. God gave them His plan, which depended fully on their willingness to live by faith, not by fear. When previous failures provoke fear, anxiety and a loss of confidence to face future situations, it is faith that moves us on.  Like the little child learning to walk who falls down repeatedly, our failures are meant to propel us to future victories.  Faith knows that, faith gets up and faith goes on.

We can only imagine the disheartening effect of the failure at Ai. These people who had lived in the victory of Jericho were now tempted to wallow in the defeat at Ai. However, God told Joshua to take the entire army to Ai. Everyone was involved; no one was left out. They set the ambush and prepared to fake a retreat so that the people of Ai would be convinced that, once again, they were running scared. Isn’t it just like God to take us back to the place where we last failed in our obedience to Him in order to restore our confidence?  As the men of Ai pursued the fleeing army of Israel, hidden Israeli soldiers entered the city from behind and destroyed it completely. Ai was defeated, just as God had promised.

No defeat is greater than God’s ability to strengthen and equip us for the next challenge. Therefore it behooves us to look to Him and journey on rather than waste time bewailing our failures.  When failure occurs, God’s formula is: ‘Repent quickly, receive forgiveness, get up and press on.’

The Israelites then took the 30-mile walk to Shechem in the beautiful valley area of Israel between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. We read in verses 30-31 that Joshua led the people of God in worship. They built an altar according to Moses’ specifications and offered sacrifices as a sign of their thankfulness to God for His victory.

It’s too easy, even tempting, to start celebrating after a victory and to forget Who is ultimately responsible. Ai was defeated not because of the cleverness of the children of Israel but because of God’s promise. By obeying His command, they were assured of victory.

Developing an attitude of gratitude is one of the best habits we can acquire in our walk with God.  Big victory or small – for everything, He is worthy of our thanks and our praise.

Besides offering a sacrifice, Joshua also pointed the people to God’s Word.  Verse 32 says that Joshua “copied on stones the law of Moses” and then read it to all of the people. While it is desirable and commendable that we should read from God’s Word every day, it is particularly important to do so when we are smarting from the sting of a failure.  Turning to the revealed Word of God renews our faith, strengthens our commitment and guards against self-pity, unwarranted depression and a debilitating self-loathing.  Nursing anger at ourselves for failure guarantees future failures!  Joshua rightly led the people to worship the LORD and to renew their minds by reviewing the Torah with them.

The real story of this chapter is not that Israel regained the city of Ai.  No, the real story is that the children of Israel renewed their faith and their commitment to their God.

Application:

Just like water, our human tendency is flow downhill, mentally and spiritually. We are so prone to look at the negative, to feed on the negative.  We need to be reminded constantly, in times of challenge and in times of victory, that our real strength and our true source of everything is God and God alone. That is why taking time to worship Him daily and to feed our spiritual life by reading and meditating on the Scriptures restores faith, empowers commitment and protects us from discouragement.

 

Joshua, the Man & the Book #8 December 5, 2017

Joshua 7 comes as a bit of a surprise.

The children of Israel under Joshua’s leadership have just witnessed the tremendous defeat of the city of Jericho and they are still basking in the glow of that great event. But, verse 1 tells us that God was upset with the people. Israel thought that everything was all right. They thought that they were standing on the edge of a great string of victories that would see them conquering the entire land of promise. Yet, what they didn’t know was that there was a problem in the camp. There was one in their midst who was causing a problem for the entire family of God.  Because of that, the nation was about to suffer a painful defeat.

In vs. 2-3 of chapter 7, Israel is a confident people. They looked at Ai and felt like that little town would be no problem for such a great army, but their confidence was misplaced. Israel did not realize it, but they were living through one of the most dangerous times of life. You see, the time just after a great spiritual victory is a dangerous time. Often, like Israel, we will be over confident and believe that we can handle any battle that comes our way.When we have that attitude, we are vulnerable to suffer our greatest defeats.  Why? Because we are trusting in ‘OUR’ achievement, rather than in the grace of God.

When Israel, without consulting the LORD, set out to conquer Ai they suffered a terrible defeat and 36 of their number were killed. Shock waves went through the camp. How could this happen?

Achan

Joshua, as commander, takes responsibility and goes before the LORD in prayer with a broken heart, v. 6. However, he also displays a hint of anger and accusation against the Lord.  Joshua is about to learn that prayer is the correct recourse in a time of trouble, but that prayer will avail nothing until sin has been dealt with, Psalm 66:18! Joshua wonders why Israel was powerless in the battle. He learns that the answer wasn’t to blame God, or to dispute His will. The answer was within their own camp.

When our decisions bring unpleasant consequences, it is not the time to play the ‘blame game’.  It is also not the time to accuse God of anything. We need to look within and see where the problem is.  When there is a lack of power in my life, the problem is not with God, nor is it with others, the problem is always with me!

While Joshua and Israel try to figure out what is going on, God in Heaven already knows and tells Joshua all about it.

The answer is quite simple: there is sin in the camp of Israel.

The LORD makes Joshua to understand that this sin that is hindering His power and is the cause of their defeat. Further, the LORD gives Joshua instructions on how to discover the guilty party. In these words to Joshua, God gives us some insights into sin, insights worthy of our attention.

1. God knows about our sins – vs. 11 (Proverbs 15:3)

2. God hates our sins – vs. 11 (Proverbs 6:6-19)

3. God has a plan for our sins – vs. 14-15  (Psalm 32:5)

4. Sin affects those around us – vs. 11-12

5. Sin must be dealt with; it cannot be ignored. vs. 13

Essentially, God makes clear to Joshua: Either you deal with the sin in the camp or I will. Either way, sin must be confronted.

God knew who was guilty so why didn’t He just tell Joshua who they were looking for? In my opinion, He was giving Achan time to repent and to confess his sins voluntarily. In any case, Achan was identified as the culprit.

In verse 19, Joshua speaks to Achan with love in his heart. He knows that Achan is condemned, but Joshua still cares for this man who brought so much trouble to Israel. In the next verses, Achan finally confesses his sin but grudgingly. Don’t believe for a second that Achan truly repented! He, like some others in the Bible, only confessed his sin after he got caught, when it was impossible to hide it any longer!

God’s way is for His people to throw the covers off their sins and tell God the truth that He already knows. He blesses the person who handles sin the Biblical way. However, the person who tries to hide his sins will never prosper, but will face God in judgment.  Our sins will be exposed in one way or another. You can confess them sincerely and be forgiven, or you will be forced to confess them when you face the LORD in Judgment. Either way, you will confess your sins.  Far better to be a quick repenter like David, than an unwilling repenter like Achan.

The following verses give us the sad conclusion to this tragic tale. Achan and all that he had were taken out and stoned to death by the people of Israel. It didn’t have to end this way! However, these verses demonstrate the horrible end of all sinners who refuse to repent.

Application

No human being is perfect or sinless.  But God in His great mercy and loving kindness, before we were ever born, had already made provision for us to return to Him after sinning: REPENTANCE.  And what is repentance? It is the decision – made sincerely – to approach the Holy One of Israel with humility to acknowledge what we have done wrong and to ask for His forgiveness.  It is coming to Him with no pretense, no hypocrisy, no mental excuses or rationalizations regarding what we have done, but to simply acknowledge the truth: I have sinned, I sincerely regret having offended You, My God, You, who have blessed me with so many blessings. I ask for Your mercy and forgiveness.

Knowing from His written Word that He is faithful to forgive us when we repent, we then thank Him for that forgiveness and pray for grace to refrain from repeating that sin again.

If Achan had only taken this course of action, his entire family would have been spared.

A sobering thought…

Shadow of Things to Come — #19 September 19, 2017

We come today to our final lesson on the life of Joseph.  We have journeyed with him since he was a young teenager, full of zeal and lacking in wisdom, but truly called of God for a mighty purpose. We empathized with his suffering and were encouraged with God’s grace upon his life, granting him favor and spiritual gifts in keeping with the divine call on Joseph’s life.

As the book of Genesis comes to a close, Joseph buries his father in Hebron and then faces one last challenge with his brothers. With Jacob gone, the brothers fear that perhaps Joseph was good to them only because their father was present.  They concoct a plan to persuade Joseph to continue his kindness toward them.  Joseph’s response is a brilliant testimony to the lesson we learned last week: total forgiveness.

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To their fears, Joseph replies: ‘Don’t be afraid of me.  Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.”  Gen. 50: 19-21  His assurance that there was no play acting in order to impress Jacob, but rather his forgiveness of them was sincere and furthermore, he recognized the hand of God operating behind the circumstances that were painful.

It takes a certain maturity to recognize God at work when we are suffering or discouraged.  To do so, presupposes a living relationship with the LORD and a consciousness of His presence in one’s life.  It also reveals a heart that has learned to be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit of God accompanied by a readiness to obey.

Joseph has come a long way and I pray that we have, too.  Joseph continued to live in Egypt along with his brothers and their families.  At the age of 110, Joseph died after seeing three generations of his descendants.  His final request mirrored that of his father.  He asked his brothers to take his bones back to Israel when the LORD would restore them to their land.  Years later, Moses did exactly that, carrying the bones of Joseph to the Promised Land.

So what have we learned during these weeks?

We’ve learned that God can speak to a young person, immature though they may be, and impart a dream, a vision, a direction for their life.

We’ve also learned that with God’s call comes a time of preparation.  Joseph wasn’t ready at seventeen to see the fulfillment of his dream.  It took years of refining and maturing.  It still does.

We’ve learned that the journey towards the destiny of our life make take unusual twists and turns but at every step of the way, God is personally involved.

We’ve learned that it is foolish to waste our suffering and profoundly wise to profit from it.  Each trial or challenge is an opportunity to grow spiritually and draw closer to God.

Finally we’ve learned that unconditional and total forgiveness is a powerful force for good – not just for the forgiven, but for the forgiver.  Total forgiveness is what God grants to us when we repent and that same God commanded us ‘Be holy as I am holy.’  Lev. 11:44-45  Part of fulfilling that commandment is that we imitate Him by forgiving one another as He forgives us.

It is fitting that we conclude this series just three days before the Festival of Trumpets, Rosh Hashanah.  Four days later we observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  It is a season dedicated to repentance as we prepare our hearts for the LORD’s appointed feast (Leviticus 23) and all that it prophetically signifies.

RoshHashana

If there was ever a time to make sure that we hold no grudges and harbor no bitterness, it is now – right now.

If there was ever a time to make sure you have forgiven anyone at all who has hurt you or offended you, it is now – right now.

If there ever was a time to make sure you’ve forgiven yourself, it is now – right now.

May this holy season bring you peace and joy in the knowledge of God’s eternal and unconditional love for you. And may all we learned from Joseph’s life remain with us and enrich our spiritual walk.

God bless you and keep you, make His face to shine upon you and fill you with the awareness of His everlasting love.

Thank you for being part of this study.  We will resume our studies after the Festival of Succot (Feast of Tabernacles) which ends on October 12th here in Israel.

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come #18 September 12, 2017

Jacob spent the last seventeen years of his life in Goshen, the best area of Egypt at that time, being provided for by his son, Joseph, the Prime Minister of Egypt.  During those years, the Bible tells us that Jacob’s family acquired property and had many children.

At the ripe old age of 147, Jacob understood that his days were numbered and death approached.  He called Joseph to his tent and asked his favored son to swear that he would bury Jacob, not in Egypt, but take his body back to Canaan and bury him with his father and grandfather in Hebron, where Jacob’s tomb can still be visited to this day.  Having been assured that his request would be granted, Jacob had peace.

It was not long afterwards that Joseph received word that his father was ill.  Quickly he took his two sons to Jacob’s tent in order that his father might bless the boys that had been born to Joseph there in Egypt.  The scene is dramatic and profound.

Israel collected his strength and sat up in the bed.  Then Jacob said to Joseph, God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and He said to me, ‘Behold I will make you fruitful and numerous and I will make you a company of peoples and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.  Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are min; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.  But your offspring that have been born after them shall be yours; they shall be called by the names of their brothers in their inheritance.  Gen. 48:5-7

Jacob then proceeded to bless the two boys but something unusual happened. Normally the right hand of blessing was laid on the head of the oldest son and the left hand on the younger one.  Jacob did just the opposite, indicating that the blessing of the Firstborn would fall to Ephraim (the younger boy).  Joseph was dismayed and tried to correct his father, but Jacob held steady. In reply to Joseph’s attempt to move his hands, Jacob said, ‘I know, my son, I know; he will also become a people and he also will be great.  However his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.’  Gen. 48:19

With this blessing, Jacob assured Joseph that his descendants would be many, so many that multiple nations would come into being because of the generations of Ephraim.  The depth of the prophetic significance of this act of Jacob, is beyond the scope of this post but it has a great deal to do with the restoration of the two Kingdoms – Israel and Judah – back into One People – a topic for a different time.

What grabs my attention here is the relationship of Joseph and his brothers after the entire family had settled in Goshen and were able to interact on a regular basis with the brother they had betrayed so many years earlier. Surely the issue of forgiveness had to be in operation big time!

forgive

Joseph had to persuade his brothers that he had truly and thoroughly forgiven them.  He demonstrated that in a number of ways during the course of the narrative.

We read in Gen. 45:3 that the brothers were “troubled at his presence” when they initially realized who the Prime Minister of Egypt really was! If you remember, when he was ready to reveal himself, he commanded every Egyptian to leave the room. (Gen. 45:1) He refused to humiliate and shame his brothers in front of his servants and assistants.

This is the first of five principles that reveal what true forgiveness is.  An unforgiving spirit wants other people to know how we were hurt. Joseph, on the other hand, acted just the opposite. He protect his brothers’ reputations before those who knew nothing about what had happened.

Secondly, he did everything in his power to make them feel at ease in his presence.  He held no grudge.  When we want the offender to feel uncomfortable around us, we betray our own lack of forgiveness toward them.

Thirdly, Joseph didn’t let his brothers entertain anger against themselves.  He said, “I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt.  Now therefore be not grieved or angry with yourselves.  It was not you who sent me here but God in order to preserve life.”  Gen. 45:4-5  Joseph had learned to see the hand of God beyond his feelings and the behavior of his brothers. Seeing God’s involvement freed him to forgive his brothers from a sincere heart.

Fourth, he made it easy for them to forgive themselves when he urged them ‘Do not be angry with yourselves.’  He does not deny his hurt at their betrayal; he rises above it so successfully that he is able to help the very ones who hurt him to forgive themselves.

Fifth, he did everything he could to help them save face; to protect their reputation.  It appears from the scripture that Joseph went so far as to make sure that Jacob, their father, would never know what had really happened.  He covered for his brothers.

That, my friends, is a picture of total forgiveness.

It is also a picture of how God forgives. The prophet Isaiah tells us that God removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west and He remembers them no more.  That promise is His response to our repentance – what a compassionate, gracious God He is!

Application:

All of us have made mistakes – some big, some small. Have you experienced the gracious forgiveness of God toward you?  If you have, the next question is, have you forgiven yourself?  It is irrational and prideful to stay angry with yourself when your Heavenly Father has already forgiven you.

All of us have been hurt – it’s part of life.  Have you forgiven? Are you able to let it go and not talk about it to others? Do you have the maturity and grace to ‘cover’ for the one who hurt you?

Let us all ponder these five principles of total forgiveness we see in Joseph’s behavior and ask God to help us in our relationships with others to forgive as He forgives us.

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come #15 August 15, 2017

In last week’s lesson the brothers of Joseph prepared to return to Egypt for more provisions, this time taking Benjamin with them.  When Joseph saw his younger brother, the scripture records that ‘he was deeply stirred’.  He quickly left their presence for he did not want to weep in front of them.  He invited them to dinner at his own home and as portions of food were distributed to each of his brothers, he ordered that five times as much should be given to Benjamin.

After the meal he commanded his house steward to ‘Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the mouth of his sack.  Put my cup, the silver cup, in the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and the money for his grain.’ Genesis 44:1-2  Joseph arranged yet another test to see how his brothers would react.

They had hardly left the city when Joseph sent his personal house steward after them to accuse them of stealing his silver cup.  When the brothers, horrified, protested vehemently that they would do no such thing, the steward starting examining the sacks til he found the silver cup in Benjamin’s. Their protests turned to shock and panic.  Hurriedly they made their way back into the city and to Joseph’s presence.  Keep in mind they still don’t know who he truly is.

Judah steps up and stands before the “Egyptian” to intercede on behalf of Benjamin for their father’s sake.  In response to the accusation, Judah confesses, ‘What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants.  Behold, we are my lord’s slaves both we and the one in whose sack the cup was found.’  Gen. 44:16

It is very important to note the word ‘iniquity’ in Judah’s confession.  There are three words used several places throughout the Torah and the Prophets: sin, transgression and iniquity.  Each has a specific meaning.

SIN means literally ‘to miss the mark.’ The Greek counterpart to the Hebrew word means ‘to miss the mark and not share in the prize’. So SIN causes man to lose a portion of the inheritance intended for him. SIN starts in the mind, in the motives, even before a physical action takes place.

TRANSGRESSION means to revolt or rebel, to break away from just authority; it implies a soul ready to pursue more and more evil; to step over the boundaries, cross over the lines into wickedness.

INIQUITY is of a different nature. Iniquity speaks not of a behavior or an individual sin but refers to the results of sin in your bloodline. Just as you inherit physical features from your ancestors, so you also inherit spiritual tendencies and inclinations.  The Scripture is very clear: ‘You shall not bow down and serve them for I, the LORD your GOD am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.’ Exodus 20:5-6   Notice very carefully, that it is NOT the sins or the transgressions of the fathers, but the INIQUITY – the ungodly tendencies and character traits that are handed down from generation to generation from ancestors who did not know God and/or did not repent of their wickedness.  To give a simple example: how many of you have heard someone say,  ‘I know I’m stubborn; everybody in my family is stubborn. It’s just the way we are.’ That is INIQUITY – an accepting and agreeing with something the Bible calls sin and considering it instead as a ‘family’ characteristic with no intent to change it.

Keeping this understanding in mind, look at what Judah said to Joseph: God has found out (or exposed) the iniquity of your servants.  Judah is declaring that a recurrent sin in the family line has met its ‘waterloo’.  What was that iniquity? The family tendency that has gone unchecked? The practice of covering up the truth – deception.

Abraham lied about his wife, not just once but twice.  Years later, Isaac did the same thing though he was not even born when Abraham had lied about Isaac’s mother! Jacob used deception in his relationship with his brother, his father and Laban.  The brothers deceived their father into thinking that Joseph was dead.  Do you see the line of ‘iniquity’ from generation to generation?

The time had come to stop it. How? By confession and repentance.  From verse 18 to verse 34, Judah comes clean on behalf of himself and his brothers and offers to remain as a slave of Joseph in place of Benjamin.

Standing there listening to his brother’s confession and seeing the terror on the faces of the others, Joseph could not control himself any longer.  He was now convinced that their repentance was sincere and therefore, he put everyone else out of the house.  Weeping he declared to the eleven men before him, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’

Gen45

He drew them closer to him and explained everything that had happened since that fateful day when they sold him to the Ishmaelites. But here are the most important words he spoke to them in that moment:

‘Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life…God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant upon the earth and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.  Therefore it was not you who sent me here, it was God…’ vs. 5-8

We learn from Joseph certain characteristics of true forgiveness.

First of all, Joseph put everyone else out of the room before confronting his brothers with the truth of who he was.  He did not humiliate them in front of the Egyptian servants.

Secondly, he made NO reference to the pain he had personally endured, but instead focused on what he had learned through it; namely, that God had a purpose and a plan for sending him to Egypt and therefore he did not blame or condemn his brothers even though what they did was deeply hurtful to him on a personal level.

Thirdly, he ‘rewarded’ their betrayal with good! In verses 9-13 Joseph instructs his brothers to go quickly and bring their father down to Egypt.  He promises to care for them and provide for them for the rest of his life.

Application:

Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers was expressed with kindness, protectiveness, and blessing.  Not a shred of self-righteousness or retaliation came out of his mouth.  The years of suffering had turned him into a man of God.  His message to us is loud and clear: Don’t waste your sorrows!  Let God use them to mature you, refine you and perfect you into the man or woman He created you to be.