Sin silent isn’t sin conquered

I recently preached the second half of Joshua 10. The text is one of those that preachers might be tempted to ignore and hearers tempted to dismiss. On the surface, these verses amount to little more than a war report.   Personally, I don’t believe that God waste words and whether it is obscure laws about donkeys, war reports, or genealogy, all Scripture was breathed out by God to strengthen our faith in God (2Tim 3.16; Rom. 15.4).

Knowing that, verse 33 in chapter 10 is very interesting. In the middle of this list of battles is a city named Gezer, just West of Gibeon.  Apparently, the King of Gezer decided to help Lachish.  And though there is an account of the defeat of the King and his army, there is not ever an account of Israel taking the city.  33 Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish. And Joshua struck him and his people, until he left none remaining.  So though their battle was successful against the King, they chose not to capture some cities completely.   Perhaps they felt Gezer wasn’t a threat or that it was “basically” defeated.  This report matches what we later read in Joshua 16.10, as well as Judges 1.29, where the city of Gezer is identified as a place where the Israelites failed to dislodge the Canaanites. 

If the Exodus is a picture of man’s redemption then Joshua is a picture of man’s sanctification. Quite simply, Jesus saves us (justification), then Jesus changes us (sanctification).  Legalists, moralists, and all around self-righteous fools get those out of order.  We fight FROM our righteousness not FOR it…but we fight.  We only thing we contribute to our justification is our sin.  Sanctification, however, is that active fight, motivated, empowered, and accomplished by God whereby we love Jesus more and love sin less.

Looking at the Southern campaign of Joshua (where the cities were silent) and Gezer specifically, then we see that  just because sin is silent, doesn’t mean that it is conquered.  Moreover, there are no little sin or insignificant compromises. Though it is wise to pick our battles, it is not so wise when we are talking about sin.  Every battle is necessary and important.  We need not and cannot be perfect in ourselves, but must be vigilant in pursuing Christ’s perfection—even the smallest sins have consequences.  Though we might not start well, we must finish well. Sin never takes a vacation, but it certainly follows it on ours, so we can never relax our hold on the cross.  Proverbs 6.10-11 says, A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

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How to pray or not…

I preached Joshua 9 last week about how Israel was deceived by the Gibeonites into signing a treaty.  Joshua and his leaders asked all the right questions, but they failed to ask the right person.  Verse 14 identifies their mistake not as a failure to test, but a failure to pray: 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.

I often forget to pray. It seems that my default mode is to assume that sin hasn’t really impacted my intellect, emotions, even perceptions of experiences.  My gut is deceptive though it is the best friend I depend on most.  He’s a bit unreliable and his advice can easily be confused with bad Thai food.   My flesh can’t be trusted, as a cursory examination of the last 30+ years of decision-making would prove.  Alas, perhaps short-term memory is also the result of the fall.  I could do a lot worse than spend a more time reading the Bible, seeking godly counsel, and asking God directly about decisions, big and small.

If that isn’t enough to make me despair, I’ve realized that I often pray the wrong way. There is a wrong way.  Growing up our parents, and our pastors, tell us just to “talk with God.”  If the conversations I have with God are anything like the ones I have with my friends, I’m certain God isn’t impressed.  Not that I need to impress him (though I’ll admit that I am often tempted to “preach” as I pray publicly to impress others). When Jesus is preaching the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5.1-7.28), he takes a minute to warn his disciples not to practice righteousness, give, and pray the “wrong way.”  Then, he proceeds to teach his disciples the “right way” by teaching the Lord’s prayer.

What doesn’t make sense at first is that, right after telling his disciples not to fill the air with “empty phrases” and “many words” (Matt. 6.7), Jesus provides what sounds like an empty formula to recite.  At least, that is what I thought for many years.   But, if the prayer is taken less as a road map with street names and more as a compass with direction to walk, it makes much more sense.  Martin Luther did a fine job explaining how to pray when his barber asked him that same question the disciples asked Jesus.  He wrote, “A Simple Way to Pray.” In it, Luther explains how to pray the Lord’s Prayer beyond simply reciting it, as well how he prays through the 10 Commandments.

And while many might find his practice a bit too liturgical, I have found it to be a helpful grace to develop the discipline of prayer in my life.   When I need “emergency” prayer for an unexpected decision, it’s nice to not feel like God is someone you just found on Facebook after not seeing him since High School.  Without doubt, the wrong way to pray is to not pray at all.  It is wrong to pray without engaging the mind and to start blabbing like some little junior high girl with unlimited cell phone minutes. And while it is not sinful to pray in a way that, “what works for me”, it can be if the majority of time “how” we pray isn’t aligned with instructions Jesus gave (He probably knows what he is talking about).

I guess I had to take a few hundred words to say that it is not only important THAT we pray, but it does matter HOW we pray.  And exactly HOW isn’t something that any ONE person can work out for another, but it is something that EVERYone has to work out.