Different Ways

The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’”
Judges 7:2 (NIV)

History is filled with stories of military deceptions. In World War II, the U.S. created an entirely fictitious army group so that the Germans would think that the invasion of Europe would be focused on a different part of the French coast far east of the beaches of Normandy. They even used inflatable tanks and vehicles so that German reconnaissance planes would verify the misinformation that had been fed to spies and planted in radio communications about the “First U.S. Army Group.” The Germans were so convinced by the deception that when the invasion finally did happen at Normandy, they kept reinforcements at the false invasion point for seven weeks, allowing the Allies much needed time to resupply and bring in more reinforcements.

Today’s chapter is a classic case of military deception allowing a smaller force to rout a much larger enemy. Before the battle, God purposefully whittles down the army Gideon has gathered to fight in Midianites from 20,000 to just 300. Using the powers of illusion to stoke the Midianites’ fear, the enemy is thrown into chaos and begins to flee, believing that there is a much larger force about ready to attack.

So, on one hand, today’s chapter is just one in a number of great stories about military deception. What’s fascinating to me was the fact that it was God who was leading Gideon. It was God who told Gideon to get rid of 19,700 of his troops and attack with just 300. Today’s story is one in which it’s very easy for me to focus on the event and lose sight of the context.

At this point in the Great Story, we’re still in the toddler stage of human civilization, and God is trying to teach His people to trust Him and to follow Him. God has a motivation in reducing the fighting force. He knows human pride and hubris. A giant army defeating a similar or smaller force requires little faith, just good tactics. A force of 300 routing an enemy of thousands? Well, that requires a considerable measure of faith.

Throughout the Great Story, God reminds me again and again that the Kingdom of God does not operate like the Kingdoms of this world:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8

So [the angel] said to [Zechariah], “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.'”
Zechariah 4:6

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the ways that the kingdoms of this world operate. How ironic that government, media, social media, big tech, and the corporate world are all worked up about misinformation, disinformation, and fake news. Illusions, deceptions, and talking heads, it all begins to feel a bit chaotic to me.

So, as a Jesus follower, I shift my focus from the chaos of this world. I take captive my thoughts, opinions, fears, and anxieties. I consciously choose to direct my thoughts toward love, joy, and peace, and the things Jesus calls me to do as a disciple. I’m to make people my priority. I’m to love the person I’m with, even if that person happens to be a stranger in an elevator or a check-out guy at the gas station. I’m to look for opportunities to serve others and then do it. I’m to be kind. I’m to be generous. I’m to forgive.

God wanted Gideon to see what He could do with just 300 men. Jesus wants me to see what He can do through me if I will trust, follow, and love well.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Willingness

Willingness (CaD Jud 6) Wayfarer

That same night the Lord said to [Gideon], “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
Judges 6:25-27 (NIV)

I recently read the story of Angie Fenimore’s Near-Death Experience (NDE). Her body died and she descended to a hell-like place. This is an excerpt of her story:

I knew that I was in a state of hell, but this was not the typical fire and brimstone hell that I had learned about as a young child.

Men and women of all ages, but no children, were standing or squatting or wandering about on the realm. Some were mumbling to themselves. The darkness emanated from deep within and radiated from them in an aura I could feel. They were completely self-absorbed, every one of them too caught up in his or her own misery to engage in any mental or emotional exchange. They had the ability to connect with one another, but they were incapacitated by the darkness.

But worse was my growing sense of complete aloneness. Even hearing the brunt of someone’s anger, however unpleasant, is a form of tangible connection. But in this empty world, where no connections could be made, the solitude was terrifying.

Then I heard a voice of awesome power, not loud but crashing over me like a booming wave of sound; a voice that encompassed such ferocious anger that with one word it could destroy the universe, and that also encompassed such potent and unwavering love that, like the sun, it could coax life from the Earth. I cowered at its force and at its excruciating words:

“Is this what you really want?”

Suddenly I felt another presence with us, the same presence that had been with me when I first crossed over into death and who had reviewed my life with me. I recognized that he had been with us the whole time, but that I was only now becoming able to perceive him. What I could see were bits of light coming through the darkness. The rays of light penetrated me with incredible force, with the power of an all-consuming love.

I had to ask, why me? Why was it that I could see God while the vacant husk of a man next to me could not? Why was I absorbing light and being taught, while he was hunkering down in misery and darkness?

I was told that the reason is willingness.

Read or watch Angie’s complete story.

In today’s chapter, we have the beginning of the ancient story of Gideon in which God calls Gideon to lead the Hebrew tribes against their enemies. What struck me as I meditated on the chapter was the structure of the interchange between the Angel of the Lord, and Gideon:

  • Gideon expresses doubt that God is even around.
  • Gideon expresses doubt that God would call him, since Gideon is from the weakest clan in Manasseh’s tribe and Gideon is the “least” in his family.
  • Gideon asks for a sign.
  • God provides a sign and Gideon builds an altar in response
  • God tells Gideon to tear down his Father’s altar to the idol Baal and the idolatrous Asherah pole next to it, and then sacrifice a bull on the altar Gideon had built to the Lord.
  • Gideon does it, but for fear of his people, he does it at night.
  • When called out by his people for this deed, the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon and he calls his people to rise up against their enemies. Despite his doubts and fears, his people answer favorably.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.

Last year when I was making this chapter-a-day trek through the Psalms, I discussed the fact that the ancient Hebrews loved to plant metaphorical structure in their writing. In the Psalms, the central theme to the song lyrics is often at the very center, with corresponding or contrasting themes before or after.

Today’s chapter has similar symmetry if you outline the chapter. There are two episodes of Gideon’s doubt and a request for a sign that God answers. There is a command to tear down his father’s idols and offer a sacrifice to God, which Gideon does, despite his fears. Then God miraculously raises Gideon to a position of leadership and his people agree to follow. Then there are two more episodes of Gideon’s doubt and request for another sign.

In other words, the only thing that Gideon brought to this story was his willingness, despite his fears, to tear down the idols and make a sacrifice to God. This made me think of God telling Angie that the reason she was able to see His light in the darkness, and all the poor souls around her could not, was because she was willing to see Him.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think of myself and my own fearful doubts about the things to which God has called me. I am no different than Gideon. My journals are full of letters I’ve written to God expressing doubts, focusing on my weaknesses, recalling my many shortcomings, and asking for signs. I want to see the signs before I believe. God always reminds me, ironically, of “doubting Thomas” who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw the nail holes from the crucifixion and the place where the Roman spear pierced his side. to whom Jesus answered his doubts as he did Gideon’s before saying, “Blessed are those who never see the sign, but still believe.”

And that is where I find myself standing at the beginning of this, a new day in the journey. Am I willing to step out in faith and pursue the things to which God has called me? Or, will I stand still, distract myself with other things, and wait for a sign?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Deborah, the Leader

Deborah, the Leader (CaD Jud 5) Wayfarer

Villagers in Israel would not fight;
    they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
    until I arose, a mother in Israel.

Judges 5:7 (NIV)

Wendy and I just returned from spending a few days at the lake with our youngest daughter and her husband. It was so good to catch up with them. As always, the slow pace of life at the lake allowed for a lot of great conversation.

One of the topics of conversation was about struggles that each of them had with their own local gathering of Jesus followers. To their credit, they scheduled a meeting to share their feelings with leaders rather than continue to sit and stew in their frustration.

Our daughter shared her frustration with the lack of opportunities that women had in leadership. As she discussed her feelings, she referenced the strong female leaders she’d grown up with and the positive impact that they had on her and others. In contrast, what she was experiencing felt like suppression; She knew from experience the advantages and blessings of having gifted women leaders.

I couldn’t help but think of those conversations as I read today’s chapter, which is a victory song that Deborah and her colleague Barak sang after their victory over Sisera and the Canaanite forces. Deborah, “mother of Israel,” arose to lead them to victory.

Along my own life journey, my own thoughts and perceptions have been transformed, as God has surrounded me with strong, gifted women. There are clear waypoints along my path in which my own errant thinking has been brought to light. I’ve been so blessed by women who have led me in various ways and taught me things about God, life, and myself. And, listening to our daughter’s story, they have also been role models to her.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminiscing and picturing some of the amazing women who’ve impacted my life, who have capably led me, and for whom I am so grateful to call teacher, director, boss, pastor, partner, and friend. I love the story of Deborah and the 3,000-year-old example that God provides me of the strong, capable leadership of a woman.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Joshua (Mar-May 2022)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Joshua published by Tom Vander Well in March, April, and May of 2022. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Joshua 1: Succession

Joshua 2: “That Woman”

Joshua 3: Pivotal Moments

Joshua 4: Memorials

Joshua 5: Upstaging

Joshua 6: A Different Way

Joshua 7: Life-Long Lessons

Joshua 8: Awareness and Ego

Joshua 9: Shrewdness

Joshua 10: Evolution of Conversation

Joshua 11: Facing the Giants

Joshua 12: We are Family

Joshua 13: My Inheritance

Joshua 14; Dense Fog Advisory

Joshua 15: Family Patterns

Joshua 16: Small Things, Big Consequences

Joshua 17: The Land of Entitlement

Joshua 18: Go!

Joshua 19: The Reward

Joshua 20: Justice Then and Now

Joshua 21: A Good Place

Joshua 22: The Fear Factor

Joshua 23: Success(ion) and Failure

Joshua 24: At Your Service

Women and Prophets

Women and Prophets (CaD Jud 4) Wayfarer

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.
Judges 4:4 (NIV)

One of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter epic is poor Professor Trelawny, and not just because my sister is a dead ringer for Emma Thompson’s portrayal of her. Professor Trelawny teaches divination at Hogwarts. The problem is that she’s terrible at it, and none of her prophesies come true. Only once had she uttered a true prophetic word, a critically important prophecy about Harry and Voldemort, but she didn’t even know or realize that she’d uttered it. Dumbledore hires her in case she ever has another one (which she eventually does). The students are stuck with a poor teacher who is terribly inept at her subject.

Prophecy has a bit of a mysterious role in the Great Story. In the law of Moses, God said that He would raise up prophets and gave instruction on discerning if they were truly a prophet of God or not. In the ancient Near East, prophets were common across religions. Kings and Pharaohs had official prophets on their courts. Interestingly enough, in Mesopotamia, the profession was predominantly held by women.

Today’s chapter is one of the most unique in all of the Great Story. In what is a predominantly patriarchal culture, God uses two women to respectively lead and deliver the Hebrew tribes from their enemy. The chapter opens with Deborah, a prophet, leading the people. When she prophetically tells a man named Barak that God wants him to raise an army and march against the Canaanite army he agrees, but only if Deborah will accompany him. She agrees but prophetically tells him that because of his lack of faith, the victory will go to a woman.

That woman was Jael. It’s hard for a modern reader to understand just what Jael had done. She invited a man (the fleeing general of the Canaanite army) who wasn’t her husband into her tent. This was a huge social taboo. By killing him, she broke a covenant her husband had made with the general’s superior which would have brought shame on her husband, another cultural no-no. She also invited him into her tent, and he was therefore her guest. To this day, Near East culture has strict cultural rules that place honoring guests, even above one’s own children. Jael’s assassination of the Canaanite general was a blatant violation of multiple cultural rules.

But Deborah’s prophecy was true.

Before Jesus, prophecy just was. It appears in the story with little or no explanation. God raised up prophets and utilized prophets, but there’s no understanding of how that exactly happened. After Jesus, the spiritual gift of prophecy is recognized as one of the important gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on certain followers of Jesus. Paul even hailed it as being the spiritual gift of prime importance.

Both Wendy and I have, along our spiritual journeys, had the experience of receiving prophetic messages. We even have some fairly dramatic experiences of God speaking prophetically through others. I also have a number of prophetic words given to me that might as well have come from Professor Trelawny. Along my spiritual journey, I’ve learned to be discerning. I listen carefully. I hold it loosely. If it means something, I’ll know. If it doesn’t, I let it go.

As I sit and ponder today’s chapter in the quiet, the larger lesson for me is the fact that God raises up and uses women to get the job done. This is one of several examples within the Great Story in which God uses unlikely people for His purposes. It’s a reminder to me 1) never to prejudge a person since with God, all things are possible, including using unlikely tools and means. It also reminds me 2) never to think or say “God could/would never use me.” God did, after all, speak through Balaam’s ass. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. You can read it in Numbers 22:28, btw).

I also see in Deborah and Jael a foreshadowing of what Jesus will do in raising the status of women within the early Jesus Movement. Paul writes to the believers in Galatia: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

And so, I enter another day of the journey with a couple of good reminders. I’m afraid I have no prophetic word for you. It’s not my gift. When it comes to prophesy, I’m afraid I’m about as capable as Professor Trelawny.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The “I” in “Idolatry”

The "I" in "Idolatry" (CaD Jud 3) Wayfarer

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.
Judges 3:7 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, the author of Judges makes it clear that the Hebrew people committed idolatry with the gods Baal and Asherah. Because these popular regional gods would compete for the attention of the Hebrew people for centuries, it’s important to understand a little bit of the context of who these deities were. Part of the difficulty is that one diety might have different names in different cities or regions as well as differences and nuances in the myths and worship practices.

The Mesopotamian region had an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses that prefigures the Greek and Roman gods with which we’re more familiar in Western culture. In the mythology of the era, Baal was the big dog, like Zeus. Asherah was Baal’s wife and the mother of 70+ other gods. Survival in the ancient world was hard. Death rates among infants and children were staggering. Famine was common and severe. It was a violent world in with local warlords constantly making themselves rich and powerful by conquering and pillaging neighbors. Survival was highly dependent on fertility. Families needed children to be born and survive to help with the daily necessities of survival. People needed crops to grow, survive, and be harvested so they would have enough food to survive.

Baal and Asherah were both gods of fertility, and as we all know, human fertility depends on people having sex. Thus, the worship of these fertility gods commonly involved sex. Having sex with the sacred prostitutes was a common form of worship. In some cases, children were ritually sacrificed. If life is the most precious thing, what is the most sacrificial gift one could give the gods? I can begin to appreciate that God wanted His people to avoid these things for their own spiritual, mental, and societal health.

The systemic cycle of Judges I wrote about yesterday always begins with the Hebrew people breaking the numero uno command and worshipping Baal, Asherah, et al. So what does this have to do with me sitting in my home office on this early Thursday morning in the 21st century?

A couple of thoughts I’m pondering in the quiet:

It’s easy, perhaps too easy, to think about Baal and Asherah and think that idolatry isn’t relevant in my life today. At its heart, idolatry is the worship of something else rather than God. Jesus said that the greatest command was to love the Lord God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. To what do I give my heart, soul, mind, and strength? It may not be Baal and Asherah, but it might be the accumulation of wealth, a life stuffed with the latest gadgets, a social media profile with lots of followers and influence, a closet full of the latest fashions, a life of being high and having no responsibility, the endless pursuit of more pleasure or a stronger adrenaline rush, or any number of distractions to which I channel my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Idolatry is about the fidelity of spirit. Where do my time, energy, money, strength, and mind share get spent each day?

Some things never change. Over 3,000 years have passed since the events in today’s chapter but we’re still dealing with the core issues of life and death, fertility, survival, and power struggles between groups of people. In a few minutes, I will go down to read the news and I know what it will be. Conflict over terminating the life of infants in the womb. The desire to have sex without restriction and free of the consequences of human fertility. The struggle for power over culture, thought, and speech. There will be stories of people killing other people because they disagree. There will be stories of zealous warlords and emperors of business. There’s a likelihood of there being stories of people killing, burning, looting, and raping as crime rates soar in American cities.

So, what has changed exactly?

Once again, I find myself back at the point of thinking about the human condition…my human condition. As a follower of Jesus, I’m told to start by asking myself what it is I treasure. Where do spend my heart, soul, mindshare, time, and resources? What do I do with what I control? I am the “I” in “idolatry.” I am the “I” in “idolatry.” It’s not if I will have my personal idols, but in what or whom will I invest my heart, soul, mindshare, and resources. I’m going to spend them somewhere. Where am I spending mine?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“This Chain that I Must Break”

"This Chain That I Must Break" (CaD Jud 2) Wayfarer

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10 (NIV)

He came up to me out of the blue. I was just sitting with Wendy when he tapped my shoulder and asked me to pray for him. “I’m drunk,” he said to me as I stood and put my arm around him. I didn’t really need him to tell me this. He reeked of it. It was a rather unconventional state to be in at a mid-morning worship service.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Bob Dylan’s Every Grain of Sand. It’s a song about those waypoints on life’s journey when I find myself utterly broken; That moment when I’ve hit rock bottom and I know that something has to change. And, it’s about the life-changing grace that is found in those moments. One of my favorite lines from the song says, “Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.”

That line popped into my mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. The author of Judges continues his introduction to the book and introduces me to a chain of events, a systemic pattern, a repeated behavioral sequence that I will find recycled over and over again in the stories of the book of Judges.

Along this life journey, I have repeatedly found myself in negative cycles of both thought and behavior. I’ve faced trials along life’s journey that stemmed from difficult circumstances that were not of my own making. The truth, however, is that many of my rock bottom moments occurred because I put myself there.

That’s the overarching theme of these stories of the ancient Hebrew tribes and the period of their history known as the time of the Judges. They may be ancient stories, but they resonate with very immediate and personal lessons for me today. Civilization and culture may have changed in 3,000 years, but human nature has not. Bob Dylan sees himself in the story of Cain. I see myself in the stories of the Judges.

This brings me back to my new, intoxicated friend. I honestly wasn’t shocked by his drunken state. I immediately recognized that a man has to be at a rock bottom moment to show up for a worship service intoxicated and ask a complete stranger to pray for him. I was so glad he was there. I prayed for him and over him right there. Then I hugged him. With my arm still around him, I told him to look out over the group of people gathering in that room. I explained that we’re all broken people no different than himself, including me. I’ve had my own rock bottom moments when something needed to change. I welcomed him, and I encouraged him to keep joining us.

In the quiet this morning, I hear the lyric poetry of Bob Dylan in my head and heart:

I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Git ‘er done!” (or not)

"Git 'er Done!" (or not) [CaD Jud 1] Wayfarer

The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.
Judges 1:21 (NIV)

As we approached the end of my sophomore year in high school, my English teacher called me up to his desk. He had his grade book on his desk in which he wrote down the grades of all the assignments for every student in class for that semester.

“Your grade this semester is right on the line between an A and a B,” he said. He then pointed to a blank box on the grade book. “You never turned in your third book report this semester.”

He was right. I didn’t really learn the joy of reading until late college and after. I was a terrible reader when I was younger. I didn’t like reading.

“You’re right,” I told my teacher. “I didn’t do it.”

“That’s all you have to say?” he asked.

I had only been a follower of Jesus for just over a year at this point, but I knew what Jesus expected of me was honesty.

“I could stand here and make up an excuse like ‘the dog ate my paper,” but the truth is that I simply procrastinated the assignment and didn’t get it done. I’m sorry. If that means that I get a B instead of an A, then I get that you have to give me a B. I understand that’s the consequence of my not doing it.”

Looking back, that was kind of a small step forward in a larger spiritual journey for me, the journey of honesty, transparency, and confession. A journey I’m still on, for the record. I’m further down the road on that one, but I definitely haven’t arrived.

Today’s chapter kicks off the book of Judges which comes right after the book of Joshua which we just finished. It’s a continuation of the story, so it feels right to keep going. The Hebrew tribes conquered the Promised Land, divided the land, and settled into their allotted territories. Joshua is dead.

But the assignment isn’t finished.

Joshua’s conquest took control of the largest and most strategic cities and peoples living in the region. The Hebrew tribes were dominant in the area, but the inhabitants still remained in smaller areas, cities, and villages. It was now up to each tribe to finish the task and drive the remaining inhabitants from their tribal lands.

The author of Judges begins the story with a record of which tribes succeeded at this assignment, and which did not. Judah and Manasseh were the two largest tribes with the largest fighting forces. They had some early successes, but their campaign stalled.

Whenever I’m reading a chapter of the Great Story and I notice repetition, I always try to pay attention. Here’s what I noticed today:

  • “but they were unable to drive the people from the plains”
  • “The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites…”
  • “But Manasseh did not drive out the people of…”
  • “…they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely.”
  • “Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer…”
  • “Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron…”
  • “Nor did Asher drive out those living in Akko…”

There are even more, but you get the picture. The tribes failed to complete the assignment, and that’s exactly what the author of Judges wants me to know because everything else I’m going to read in the subsequent stories is the consequence of this very fact.

There is a formal liturgy used by both Catholic and Protestant institutions called the Litany of Penitence. I occasionally use it in my personal time with God. It opens with this line:

I confess to you and to my brothers, and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what I have done, and what I have left undone.

In a moment of spiritual synchronicity, I also read James 4 in the quiet this morning, in which James tells followers of Jesus:

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

Some mornings, Holy Spirit makes the lesson quite clear. Procrastination comes easy for me. Part of it is the way I’m wired to go with life’s flow. There is a part of it, however, that is much more than that; Its willfulness, laziness, and a nasty habit of not finishing what I started. Unlike Larry the Cable Guy, I often fail to “git ‘er done.”

Ironically, my high school English teacher gave me an A for that semester, and that’s why I still remember the story. That teacher (who was, ironically, Jewish) has always been a reminder to me of a gracious and forgiving God who says, “if you confess your sins, I am faithful and just, and will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

In the quiet this morning, I once again confess that I’ve still got a ways to go in both honestly owning my own shortcomings, and faithfully finishing tasks on my list.

And so, I enter another day in the journey. Time to get to work on the task list.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

At Your Service

At Your Service (CaD Jos 24) Wayfarer

[Joshua said] “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been studying James‘ letter to Jewish believers who were scattered by persecution. I’ve been spending a lot of time in it in recent weeks. One of the major themes of James is that being a follower of Jesus is not simply a mental assent to belief in Jesus. James makes it clear that real faith generates and motivates action. He’s riffing on a word picture that Jesus used when He told His followers to pay attention to the fruit a person produces in their life and relationships. He said that one can tell what is in a person’s heart by the fruit of their actions.

Today’s chapter is the conclusion of the book of Joshua. The conquest of the Promised Land was successful. The land had been allotted to the twelve tribes. The people had settled. In the final act of Joshua’s leadership, he calls the tribal assembly together. Joshua reminds them of their family’s story, starting with Abraham, and how God had led their ancestors to this particular moment of time. Joshua then acknowledges that in the land that Abraham left, and the land that they just conquered, there are many dieties worshipped. He reminds them of commandment numero uno in the Top Ten commandments God gave them: serve God alone.

Joshua then calls for a commitment. It’s a fish or cut bait moment. He tells the tribes to choose whether they will serve the God of Abraham and Moses, or if they are going to serve the plethora of local idols and dieties worshipped by other peoples in the region and around the world. Joshua then makes his choice public: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The thing that struck me as I read this call to commitment was that Joshua didn’t ask the people which god they would believe. He asked them whom they would serve. The Hebrew word used can also refer to the act of tilling the ground in preparation for planting, growing, and harvesting. In a way, Joshua’s question lays the foundation for Jesus’ word picture: For whom will you labor? Who’s fruit are you going to produce?

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about my own journey. When I was a kid, I took a class, assented to a statement of beliefs, and got a certificate making me a member of a church. A couple of years later I realized that this had nothing to do with the person I was. I may have believed in God, but I was serving only myself. The fruit of my life was sour grapes. It’s when I chose to step out onto this faith journey, to actually follow Jesus, and to serve Him that the seeds of good fruit got planted.

Which brings me back to James, who writes:

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? James 2:14-17 (MSG)

It’s not about what I believe. Its about who I serve.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Success(ion) and Failure

Success(ion) and Failure (CaD Jos 23) Wayfarer

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”
Joshua 23:14 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I was part of an organization that had enjoyed strong leadership for a number of years. In fact, it was one of the strong leaders who invited me to participate. It was obvious that over time the organization had grown, enjoyed repeated success, and became increasingly influential. I learned a tremendous amount in my first few years. Some of the lessons have helped me throughout my entire life.

Then the senior leadership left the organization.

It was one of the first experiences in my journey (there have been others) in which a change in leadership completely changed the system for the worse. In this case, the new leadership was tragically unprepared for the role they’d been given. Over the course of a few years, I watched the entire system implode.

In today’s chapter, we’re reaching the end of Joshua’s life. Since Moses showed up to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, the tribes have benefitted from having a strong leader in charge. Moses led them out of Egypt to the Promised Land then Joshua led them to conquer the land and settle in it. Having finished the task, Joshua knows that his earthly journey is nearing its end. He calls the nation together to deliver a final message to them.

We’re on the verge of a massive change in leadership.

Joshua structures his message to the people as nations in that day structured treaties with one another. In presenting this treaty, Joshua assumes the role of God’s representative who is making a treaty with the nation. The people are reminded of all that God has done for them, reminded of God’s command to have no other gods, and warned that failure to keep those commands will have disastrous consequences. Just as God has kept his promises, Joshua explains, He will also make good on His warnings should they fail to keep their end of the covenant.

There is a major issue looming in the background as we approach the end of the Joshua administration. There’s no succession plan.

The fledgling Hebrew nation is made up of millions of people, scattered into twelve tribes, each made up of numerous family clans. Think of it as the 48 contiguous states in America with no central federal government. What’s going to keep them together? What happens to the small tribes when there are no checks and balances on the power and influence of the larger tribes? How do you keep tribal relationships from breaking down into feuds and civil wars?

Humanity is still in the toddler stage of development and relationship with God. Today’s chapter reads like a parent laying down the law with a three-year-old: “Do what I tell you because I know what’s good for you and have your best interests at heart. If you don’t do what I tell you, there will be consequences you’re not going to like.” Having parented a couple of three-year-olds, I can tell you confidently that eventually there will be willfulness, disobedience, attitude, stubbornness, and tantrums. There are always tantrums.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling some of the best leaders I’ve worked with along my life journey and the things I learned from them. I’m whispering prayers of gratitude for all that I’ve learned through both relationship and example. As I have trekked along this life journey, I have learned that for the good of the group I’m leading, it’s important to try and have a succession plan, whenever I knew I would be leaving a leadership position. I’ve experienced both success and failure in that department.

And, I’m thinking about the Hebrew tribes, about to lose their central leadership with no succession plan. The next stage in their national development is not going to be pretty.

There will be tantrums.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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