Know What You’re Agreeing To – Joshua 9:16-18

Today’s pace, at least here in the West, is fast. Folks are moving quickly and because of this often make decisions rapidly. However, sometimes those decisions are made with a lack of proper consideration. There’s not enough time spent understanding the truths behind the decision and what the ramifications are.

At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. – Joshua 9:16-18, ESV

Joshua and the elders of Israel made a peace treaty with a group of people whom they thought were far away. They then found out the people weren’t a long way off. As we can see from the verses quoted here, they were only three days’ march away. Israel’s leadership had made the peace treaty not understanding the whole situation. Had they known that the people they were dealing with were near by, they might not have made the treaty.

To the leaders’ credit, they maintained their integrity and kept to the covenant, even after learning of the deception. However, this hasty decision would put the Israelites unexpectedly back into battle. In Joshua 10 we learn that others around these cities were worried about the alliance. As a result, they attacked these four cities. Because of the nature of the treaty, the Israelites were brought into the conflict. We see similar parallels later on in history. World War I is a great example.

As God often does, He comes through in spite of the Israelites’ hastiness. We see God do something miraculous, because Joshua 10 is where we have the recollection of how God made the sun stand still so the armies of Israel could complete the rout on the battlefield. However, the case remains that had Joshua and the elders not rushed into the decision to make the peace treaty, they wouldn’t have had to fight at the time that they did. Certainly they wouldn’t have had to face an allied, composite army without preparation like they did.

We can learn from Joshua and the elders by being careful with our decisions. We must try to have the information we need before we commit to a choice. There is often more harm than good in rushing.

Of course, there is the opposite problem, what we call “paralysis by analysis” (and various forms of that), which is when we keep wanting more and more information and we never end up making the decision. We don’t want to make that mistake, either. Therefore, we need to understand timing. Do we have all the information we need to make the decision by the time the decision has to be made? For complex decisions, that usually isn’t the case. Therefore, we need to be ready to make the choice with what we have. However, even facing the reality that we likely won’t have all the information we would want, we should still discipline ourselves to try and make as informed decisions as possible.

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We’re In This Together – Gal 6:1-5

There are quite a few reminders in popular culture that none of us got to where we are without help. Yet there is a lot of popular culture which also suggests to us that we can be mavericks and still succeed. These messages conflict. So which is true?

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. – Galatians 6:1-5, ESV

Paul gives the church in Galatia and other Christians the answer: we need each other. He points out that when someone is caught in sin, our response should be one of restoration. We are to do so gently, too. Most of us can point to times in our lives when we didn’t experience this sort of behavior. The offenders may have even been Christian. However, God’s expectation is that we help one another.

Paul drives the point home by telling us that if we think we’re something, we deceive ourselves. He says, “when he is nothing,” to remind us that we are fallible just like everyone else. We all sin. None of us escapes its grip. Therefore, to somehow think we are better than another is a dangerous lie.

But note that Paul doesn’t just leave it as, “Help each other.” He also commands us to examine our lives and our own work. After all, God is still looking at what we have done. We’re not to be folks who must constantly rely on others. We’re not to be people who go from one crisis of our own making to another. We bear a responsibility to do our best, to examine ourselves, endeavor not to sin, not to make a mess of things, and not to constantly rely on others to save the day. We aren’t helpless, after all.

These two messages aren’t contradictory like the messages of the world. God expects us to be responsible and accountable for our actions. However, He also knows that we will struggle at times. We all will succumb to sin. In those times, we all will need help. Therefore, if we are able to help restore another, we should do so. Likewise, if we’re the ones who need restoration, we would hope that another Christian comes along side of us and does just that. Remember, though we are to do our best, we are in this life together.

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The Responsibility of a New Creation – 2 Co 5:17-21

It’s the first day of a brand new year. Folks have made New Year’s resolutions in an endeavor to change themselves. Many who had a hard previous year are saying good riddance, looking forward to the year to come. In this case, we look at change in a good way. When it comes to Christianity, there is a verse often quoted about how God has changed us in a good way, too:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV

This is a reassuring verse. However, in context, it has a greater meeting. Look at the following verses:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, ESV

We aren’t just a new creation for our sakes. We were remade by God to serve a purpose: to be His ambassadors. We are charged with carrying his appeal, the message of the Cross, to anyone who might hear. We are asked to be messengers so others can be reconciled to God as well.

This is an important responsibility. However, it’s also an awesome opportunity. God has given us a chance to represent Him in order to help others. Think about that for a moment. Not only does He minister to us, but He prepares the way for us to minister to others. As you begin the new year, don’t just think about what God can do for you. Also consider who you might share with so that they, too, would be reconciled with God.

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Be Content in All Situations – Philippians 4:11-13

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that there are certain situations I can’t change. More importantly, I can’t change other people. This is the hardest truth to accept, especially because I want to get along with everyone. That’s a natural tendency for most people. These verses hit home:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13, ESV

When it comes to people, I’ve come to understand that I can provide opportunities and facts which may lead to change. “May” is the key word. Just because the opportunity is there, just because the facts as I know them are laid out clearly, that doesn’t mean a person will change. I’m a living example of that truth. There have been plenty of people who have tried to change me over the years, some for good and some for not. The reality is that ultimately they don’t change me for I change myself or God through His Spirit changes me.

Because we have so little control over situations and other people, we can become frustrated, upset, angry, or even sad. We can lament how life is completely unfair (it is due to sin, and that’s another truth), but that doesn’t change the circumstances.

I know Paul experienced these exact feelings. We can see his words in Romans 9-10 and feel the longing he had for the rest of Israel to come to know Jesus Christ and be saved. Paul was even willing to give up his own salvation so that his brethren would have theirs. Yet, it wasn’t his choice. He was a preacher and demonstrator of the Gospel. That was what he was called to do. And in that he learned to be content.

The same applies to us. Life is going to throw us major blows. We are going to see unfairness. We are going to experience disappointment, sorrow, even anger, at what happens around us and to us. But Paul, through everything, found contentment. Contentment isn’t weakness. It isn’t letting things be and doing nothing. Rather, it’s an acceptance that the way things are right now is how they are right now. We know Paul actively worked to spread the Gospel to those who didn’t believe. So contentment isn’t just passively accepting what comes and doing nothing about it.

Paul found contentment in Christ. He could accept the way things were because of Christ. But He also found his purpose and his direction from Christ. Maybe he didn’t like the way things were right then. But he had a Savior that had outlined for him how he should live his life. So do we. In following through, we will see change. We can work for the good of the Kingdom. Over time, some situations and some people will change. Not all, but some. However, if we’re railing away at the unfairness of it all, we aren’t able to make a positive step towards change. We’re stuck where we are. That’s why it’s important to be content in all things. We can only reach that state through Christ. Then, through Christ, we can move forward. That’s what Paul was trying to teach the believers in Philippi. That’s what the Holy Spirit has preserved us to understand today.

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What is the Church supposed to be like?

When I became a Christian, I was blessed to be part of a church which was highly encouraging, which looked to serve its community, and which sought to put new members into areas of ministry fitting their gifts and experience. As a result, I had a first-hand view of what a church should look like.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:23-25, ESV

First, note the reason the Church can act the way it should: Jesus. Our hope is in Him. Therefore, how we act, especially when we face opposition, is dependent on how trustworthy Christ is. We are reminded by the writer of Hebrews that Jesus is faithful. Therefore, we can act with confidence, without wavering, in the way in which we should. Keep in mind that when I say opposition, this isn’t necessarily by other people. Laziness, malaise, burnout, a lack of resources, and other things can be our opposition. Even in the face of these things, we should still act in a particular way. So how should we act?

We should consider how to stir one another in two areas: love and good works. When you consider the word for love here is “agapes” that makes a difference. This is the self-sacrificing, putting others first type of love. This is the type of love God demonstrates towards us. So as a Church, we should be spurring one another towards that self-sacrificing type of love. This isn’t just one to another. This is also to our world at large, hence the good deeds command.

We’re also to meet together. This is logical. How can I spur someone else on if I never interact with that person? I can’t. And we know that face-to-face works better than any other means. So gathering together is the best way to spur one another towards love and good deeds. We must meet together.

Finally, we’re supposed to encourage one another. While logically this also comes from the command to practice self-sacrificing love, it is explicitly stated because we all need encouragement. This isn’t to be neglected. We can’t get so caught up in things that we forget to encourage. So yes, we’re supposed to push each other forward. But we can’t forget to support one another in that effort. If I keep pressing someone else to do something, but I’m not there showing I’m supporting them and helping them when they feel down or worn out or unworthy of the task, then I’m doing it completely wrong.

This is what the Church should look like. Each individual church should act like this on the inside and should be this way towards the world outside the church. Let us be the Church that God desires us to be. The way the Church is like this is if our individual churches are like it first. And the way our individual churches are like what the writer of Hebrews described is if we are first that way as individuals. My challenge to us all this week is for us to be the people Hebrews 10:23-25 asks us to be.

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God’s Faithfulness

Our inability to live sin free lives has no impact on God fulfilling His promises. He keeps His promises not because of who we are, but because of who He is. Some folks see this as an excuse to do what they want in their lives. “Oh, I was saved when I was a kid. I know I shouldn’t this, but God forgives me.” If we love Him, though, we understand that such a view is an affront to God and represents a lack of love towards God or a lack of knowledge of who God is and what He finds acceptable. However, even if we try to live a life of full obedience, we find that we won’t. See, just as Paul struggled with sin and wrote about how he found himself doing what he didn’t want to do and not doing what he desired to do, we are the same. We sin, even when we desire otherwise. Yet God remains faithful to deliver His promises in spite of our disobedience.

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. – Judges 3:7-10, ESV

The book of Judges reveals a pattern in human behavior, especially that of those who follow after God. Things are well. People start disobeying and choosing evil. God brings judgment against the people. The people, after some time suffering under the punishment that results, call out to God for relief and help. God hears His people and sends relief. This cycle isn’t just limited to the book of Judges. We see it throughout Scripture and we see it in the lives of believers. Just because we are saved doesn’t mean we are suddenly perfect. Yes, that’s still the standard. However, we know we will fall short. We will sin. We will suffer the consequences of that sin. In the midst of those consequences we will cry out to God. We will repent and ask His forgiveness. And He will grant it.

There may still be consequences as the sin works out its effects in our lives and in the lives of others. Every time Israel turned away from God there were lasting consequences. They were made right with God, but the impact of their disobedience was never totally undone. So when God delivers us from our sin, when He forgives us, we should understand that He delivers us from the eternal results of that sin. We stand without condemnation. He will always honor that promise to save us. He does it not because He owes us for loving Him, for what good deeds we’ve done, or who our families are. He carries through because of His own integrity.

That’s a comforting thought. Even when I’ve made a mess of things, I can count on God to forgive me and to redeem me. This isn’t a license to sin but a reassurance that in spite of my sin God remains faithful. He is faithful. He is always faithful. Even when we know without a doubt that we don’t deserve it, He is faithful. Whatever you’re dealing with, He is faithful. Whatever you’ve done, He is faithful. When you sin in the future, He is faithful. Praise God for His faithfulness! Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness in spite of my unfaithfulness!

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God’s Steadfast Love

As a child I disobeyed my parents from time to time, just as any child does. Despite anything I did, they continued to love me. While as that young kid I may have lashed out with, “You don’t love me,” I didn’t ever doubt that they did. I was looking to hurt and few words hurt a parent more than those words. That’s why when we were young and our parents stood a firm line, those words were a powerful weapon at our disposal. With God, we can lash out with those same words. However, God’s love overcomes our disobedience; it covers over our sin. We may utter those words, the Enemy may cause us to think them, but they aren’t true. 

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. – Micah 7:18-20, ESV

Despite our disobedience, God continues to love us. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that while we were in the midst of our disobedience and completely alienated from Him, He went to the Cross for us. His love is a steadfast love. It isn’t dependent on what we do. His acceptance isn’t based on some sort of mythical scales weighing good deeds versus bad. His love is a part of who He is. 

As a result, He pardons our iniquities. This isn’t just a past act. Pardoning and passing over means the action is ongoing. He doesn’t just ignore them. He treads them underfoot. He has compassion on us. He will not hold onto any deserved anger. He will release that anger because of that steadfast love. Such is the promise He makes towards those who believe in His Son. 

This means we aren’t stuck in a performance test. That’s a very freeing thought. It means I can chose to obey because I love God, not because I have to do so. For most people, when there’s a choice between wanting to do and being required to do, they give better results when they want to do. That’s where God’s steadfast love places us. Life all around us may grade us, evaluate us, rank us, and try to tell us our worth by that constant “racking and stacking.” With God there is none of that. There is simply His steadfast love. There is always His steadfast love. Our worth is found in Him. We are His beloved children. That is our identity. 

Whatever life throws at you, there is His steadfast love for you. Whether you score victory after victory or face defeat after defeat today, you remain in His steadfast love. Even if your interactions with others leave you wondering how people could be so mean to each other, He still hasn’t changed in His steadfast love for you. He won’t change. That’s why the prophet Micah referred to it as steadfast. We can count on it, even if it feels like we can’t count on anything else. He loves us with a steadfast love. How amazing!

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