Weak Excuses Reveal the Heart

By Pastor Jim F

This week at Damascus Road Church we tackled two chapters, Joshua 16 and 17. These two chapters lay out the portion of land given to the people of Joseph, the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh. They are not content with their portion. As a matter of fact, their discontentment leads them to voicing a complaint with Joshua, and ultimately with God. The root of their complaint is being more comfortable with their own limited perspective than that of God.

Joshua is not swayed by their justification of their unhappiness, and tasks them with using their many blessings to act toward the possession of the land. Joshua calls them to do what God has commanded them to do (and promised that He will show them success in): purify and subdue their inheritance. He is calling them to be stewards, but specifically to steward as God has commanded. Instead, they make excuses and, in the end, just ignore him.

We fail in the same ways that the people of Joseph did. We rely on that which we ‘know’ rather than what God has told us He will do, or what He tells us to do. In the end, it is a lack of trust on our part. The reality is we don’t really trust God, or His promises if we don’t actually ACT on His commands. Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2.17). So what are we supposed to do? Ephesians 1 gives us a great description of our inheritance, and the promises, and the commands that proceed from it.

Trust the Promiser

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1.11-12

We have a God who works all things according to the counsel of his will. In other words, nothing happens outside of His divine control. We have a God who is in control of all things and promises that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28). We can have confidence then, if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8.31). We are on God’s team and He has promised, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20b).

Trust the Promise

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1.13-14

The Holy Spirit has been given to us as the fulfillment of a promise (Luke 24.49), but also as a promise. The Holy Spirit has been given by us to encourage us as we wait for the fulfillment of our inheritance (glorification at death/second coming). The Holy Spirit gives us the power to fulfill the cultural mandate (Genesis 1.28) as we are sent to fill the earth and subdue it, to the praise of his glory.

Act out of the Promise

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.  ­Ephesians 1.15-23

Jesus is the means by which we receive the inheritance, but He is also in Himself the inheritance. In Jesus we receive eternal life, which is glorious because it is WITH HIM. This inheritance is sealed with the Holy Spirit, who opens our hearts and minds to the wonders of the gospel and the hope to which we are called. Our inheritance becomes complete when we enter into His eternal presence, but Jesus has power over everything RIGHT NOW. So what are we supposed to do between now and glorification? We are to be His bride, the church. We are the hands and feet to what Christ is the Head. We are to work IN HIS STRENGTH to spread the good news of what it means to be saints. We are to reflect HIS LOVE in how we relate to one another. We are to fight the good fight of the faith against sin, so that we can reveal HIS POWER over sin in our lives (similar to the signs and wonders in Acts to give credibility to the ministry). The church is God’s chosen means to display Himself to the world.

Are your actions revealing the fruit of the inheritance? Are they building up the church? If not, what is your excuse?

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God-made vs. Man-Made Boundaries

I haven’t found too many sermon series based on the entire book of Joshua.  That could be because, after Joshua 10, most of the narrative reads like 2,500 year old land survey recording the dividing and distribution of the promised land (not the most invigorating of devotional content).   Joshua 15 is no exception.

Joshua 15 describes the boundaries surrounding the inheritance allotted to Judah. Within the first 12 verses, the word “boundary” is used 19 times.  Though we may find reading Joshua 15 tedious, the people of Judah listened carefully every precious word as this was the physical description of God’s gift to them–every mountain, river, hill, city, was special.  For us, as I preached in Joshua 13, we are again reminded that not only are the portions given by God, but their exact shape and size is determined by God. In other words, we’re not talking about boundaries in our lives that YOU or I need to put up or remove in order to live responsibly.  We are talking about the different BOUNDARIES that God has laid out so that there is no mystery about we’re responsible for and what we’re not. The truth is God has placed us in a time, a place, given us a personality, a family history, a set of experiences, perhaps a marriage, a job, different relationships, a neighborhood, and a church community.  The boundaries provide a fence around are garden-like portion we’ve been given, reminding us what we are expected to do (to the glory of God), as well as to protect us from doing what God has not commanded us to do (to the glory of God).

Most of us, because we still struggle within our sinful flesh, resist God-made boundaries.  For one reason or another, we choose man-made boundaries over God’s.  Sometimes this is the result of ignorance, other times it is the result of rebellion, all times it is the result of sin.   In truth, our boundaries are usually either too big or too small. (*Note:  I am not talking about relationship boundaries build to preserve healthy relationships with “unhealthy” people, rather, more of the different roles and responsibilities we have been given that will also relate to our relationships with others.)

Are my boundaries too small? When our boundaries are too small, we don’t do all that God has commanded us to us do. Some of what we have been commanded to do is unique to our portion (e.g. a single man doesn’t have the responsibility of being a husband, but does a man).   Whatever our God-given “lot”, as a Christian/missionary, a man/woman, a husband/wife, mother/father, etc., we can easily shrink our boundaries down to what we personally deem as a priority.   Unfortunately, if these personal preferences do not include God’s own boundaries, then we have a problem.  For example, you can have someone that understands their role as a providing husband but not as a loving one.  Or, you can take your responsibility as a Father seriously, but fail to live out the command to be a “brother” in a church.  Ultimately, the individual with small boundaries ends up pitting one responsibility against another(even self-righteously so), wrongly choosing role “A” over role “B” when true answer is  role “All of the Above.”  In the end, their idolatry is revealed as they make something “good” (family, provision, husbandry, etc.) more important than God.  They commit idolatry.

Are my boundaries too big? When our boundaries are too big, we do more than God has commanded us to do.  Perhaps it is better said to that we extend the boundary of portion beyond what God has given us–at the expense of what he has.  The extension of our boundaries is usually a way to find some sort of validation apart from God.  Whether that be a pursuit of wealth, power, or regard, if it is outside of your God-made boundary, it is sinful. Boundaries that are too big get so when people are discontent–they are not satisfied with what God has given them.  Most often, men and women know where the God-made boundaries are for their lives but it’s simply much easier ( or more rewarding) to focus on other people’s land.  They dismiss their own God given responsibilities and instead focus on the needs of others.  The hard part is that this person appears like an incredible servant and is often quite a help to others.  Unfortunately, their own life is a mess and invariably they make a mess of those they love without even knowing it.

How do we protect our boundaries? The truth is, some boundaries aren’t even close. At least when your boundaries are too big or too small, you have some things figured out right.  Some people are raised without a clue about God’s boundaries.  What they know about being a man/woman, husband/wife, even Christian, is learned from the weak examples in their lives or in culture.   What results is a set of boundaries completely different than God’s.   This blog entry isn’t written from some guy who has it all figured out or who knows where his boundaries are perfectly.  I don’t.  But you can’t hope to protect God-made boundaries if you don’t know where God made them.  That is why Judah’s boundaries were written down.  There was on guess-work involved, no confusion, no conflicts about borders between.  All was resolved when they opened their Bibles.

Protecting my boundaries, living fully in my responsibilities, with joy, is a difficult and ever-aligning process.  But it is a process that begins with the word of God.  If we don’t BEGIN with Scripture and constantly REVISIT Scripture as the definer of our lines, we will invariably be make new lines according to our sinful desires.  Without God’s Word as a guide, we will change our borders (moving them away from God’s) in response to emotion, intellect, experience, or a sense of self preservation.

God intends for us to enjoy what He has given us.  He has given us His borders for His glory and our Joy.   If you are living according to our own man-made boundaries, you are not living according to faith, and you cannot please God.

Without promise, without guarantee (Josh. 14)

Caleb is one of the studliest men in Scripture.  There is not a ton dedicated to Caleb, but the short narratives in Numbers 13/14 and Joshua 14 provide a convicting picture of faith for any Christian.  If Joshua is the example of a faithful General and leader, Caleb provides us an example of a faithful soldier and disciple.  SOME OF US will be called to be Joshua’s, but ALL OF US are called to be Caleb’s.

We first read about Caleb well before he was a battle-hardened 85 year old; when he was a young sprite of 40 in the wilderness on the edge Canaan.  He was among the 12 men chosen by Moses, representing the 12 tribes, to spy out the Promised Land for 40 days.  He represented the tribe of Judah.  Joshua also went to represent the tribe of Ephraim.  When the group returned, a faithless majority reported that, though the land was FLOWING WITH MILK AND HONEY (As God had said), Canaan was also FLOWING with giant men (Sons of Anak) who looked too big and powerful for them to conquer (Not as God had said).  As verse 7 says, Caleb brought a report from his heart.  In Numbers 13, we hear Caleb’s minority report: 

“Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” (Num. 13.30). “

Though Caleb expressed a fear the power of God, the majority convinced Israel to fear the power men.  And again, a faithful Caleb speaks to all Israel saying:

8 If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them” (Num 14.8-9).

Israel responds to his public descent by picking up stones to kill him.  The only thing that stops them is God showing up. He tells Moses he is going to kill everyone and make a great nation with him.  Moses intercedes and God relents, promising judgment for the entire generation, namely, that they will die. Then he tells Moses about Caleb:

24 But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it (Numbers 14.24).

There are many things that can be said about Caleb’s different spirit.  But I’d like to consider the fact that he took a stand.  I realize that when I say, “take a stand” we all get delusions that being different like this means proselytizing at every opportunity, speaking at every lunch table, or preaching on every street corner.  For those who have genuinely encountered the gospel in a transformational way, a different spirit is not something we try to obtain–it is something we possess.    And that spirit moves us to live a differently.  We take a stand because we believe in Jesus.  And if we truly believe in Jesus, we have a different Spirit dwelling in us.  And that different spirit COMPELS us to pursue different marriages, different finances, and different work ethic; to hold to a different view of suffering, different purposes, a different source joy and different source of hope.

What is most intriguing is not that Caleb WAS different, but WHEN he chose to be.  We will often take stands when are convinced that we will benefit from doing so–or if the benefits of NOT doing so outweigh the alternative. In other words, we’ll take a stand if by doing it we will gain something materially, whether that be the approval of men or, better yet, the approval of God.  But Caleb had not been promised jack-squat and the only guaranteed “benefit” would be isolation, hatred .from his brothers, and potentially death.    Caleb took a stand for God’s Word (not his own opinion, perspective, or personal regard).  And though God later promised a blessing for Caleb, that is not when he actually took a stand.  Caleb didn’t stand for God’s Word because of some expected benefit to himself–but rightly to uphold the glory of God’s name and the trustworthiness of His Word.  The moment he took a stand, God had not promised him anything.  Without the promise of blessing or guarantee of success, without the assurance of security, he followed God.  Faithfulness is not following God’s Word when you can point to the immediate fleshly benefits.  Faithfulness  is following God’s Word when you can’t.

Read, Listen to Sermon on Joshua 14

When God Holds His Breath

I recently preached on Joshua 11. Tucked into the last chapter detailing the violent warfare in Joshua, is an obscure couple of verses describing God’s sovereignty.  In describing why the Canaanite armies fought against Joshua, the Bible says:

18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.  Joshua 11:18-20

Without doubt, the passage is disturbing.  If it isn’t, we either don’t understand what is said or we don’t believe it.  Scripture teaches time and time again, that God is Sovereign, even over the sinful choices of men they willingly make.  Men are responsible for and make choices according to their sinful desires that result from their sinful nature which came through their Adam back in the garden.  God hardened their hearts, but God did not make hardAfter the fall, there was no such thing as a SOFT heart. Because of sin, ALL MEN resist God.  Scripture speaks to the condition of sinful men, describing them as dead, hostile toward God, refusing to seek God, knowing the truth and yet exchanging it for a lie.  The Bible uses the heart as a metaphor for the core of who we are intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.  It is the control center of our lives.  Jesus says in Matthew 15.19 19 … out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  The prophet Jeremiah (17.9) says that the 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  In other words, man’s heart is already HARD—and the prophet Ezekiel describes it as a STONE.  Scripture teaches that God makes the HARD Canaanite heart HARDER—he makes their hearts  “heavy” and increases their resistance to God. After I preached the sermon, a friend in our church asked a great question I thought I’d share.  He asked, “What do you think is the mechanism for hardening?  How does it work?” (I am probably screwing it up).  We talked a while about the possibilities as the Bible leaves this somewhat of a mystery.  But my friend has a great image that I thought I’d share:

He suggested that the world was like ONE BIG FREEZER.  It wasn’t always cold, mind you, at one time (before the fall) it was perfect temperature.  Everything inside the now freezer stayed fresh and looked good.  But when sin entered the world, things grew cold.  So cold that, if left alone completely, it would freeze and be destroyed completely (but not before growing weird-looking icicles all over and tasking like cardboard).  By God’s grace (common grace that is), God “breathed” on the contents of the freezer and it was able to maintain a warmth that preserved it.  It didn’t get HARD. Yet, there were a few pieces of whatever, that God decided he wanted to hard and, withhold is grace from or not show mercy to (however you want to look at it).  It was for these items in the freezer that God, held his breath.  The warmth of God’s grace did not reach the _________ and, as a result, it hardened.

Images like this are helpful, but may not be all together powerful enough to convince someone to believe the passage means what it plainly says.   Instead of dismissing this as the Old Testament version of God or, twisting what it clearly says to make it easier to swallow, perhaps we need to accept that God is bigger than the small box we had him in.

Jesus would play Halo

I got an X-Box for Christmas from my in-laws.   My bride despises video games because it seems to have the power to bring out the worst in my two boys.  There is some truth to this.  When we got a Wii a few years go, our oldest son quickly became known as the “Wii-wolf” because of the darkness of his video game playing persona.  So despite my bride’s protests and my son’s history of outbursts, we received an X-box.  One might think the new fangled “Kinect” would be the hit of the party.  No, the real draw for me and my two warriors, is HALO.

HALO is your typical shoot-em up, kill everything, kind of game.  Mom wasn’t real happy about the violence, believing that much like food–you are what you eat.  I had seen my sons pour out violence after playing Super Mario brothers.   The truth is, boys are violent.  They make guns out sticks and grenades out of balled up socks.  They punch each other in love and laugh when they kick each other in the junk.  That is what boys do because God made them to be warriors.  But, as far as “violent” games go, I appreciate HALO more than some of the more realistic military games because you’re killing ugly aliens instead of slitting the throats of men.  And though the Wii-wolf rears his head every now and then, we have thoroughly enjoyed fighting together on the imaginary planet Reach.  So, what does this have to do with Jesus?

The Wii-wolf and I were studying the gospel of John recently.  The study asked us to empathize, or at least understand, how the “radical” ways of Jesus must have really made the Pharisees VERY uncomfortable.  Much of their discomfort was rooted in how Jesus rocked their traditional beliefs, ones they held for centuries.  The Old Testament had proven that God was serious about his laws–the ones that were given with Thunder and Fire.  The ones that when broken cost people their lives.  The ones that they would do anything to not break.  Dishonoring the Sabbath, for example, was serious.  Jesus didn’t seem to care at all about their traditions (he didn’t) and such sacrilege could cost them their lives.  His point was that the image of Jesus John provides is SURPRISING.

Back to HALO.  When my son and I were discussing this, I asked him what he though Jesus might do today that would surprise us.  Of course, the traditional answers for adults are that Jesus would be hanging out in bars or casinos, you know, with the “sinners”.  The boy couldn’t come up with anything really solid, so I asked him if he thought Jesus would play HALO.  Without hesitation, he said, “No way.”  When I asked him why, he didn’t know exactly, but he had never view Jesus finding HALO fun (at least that is not the Jesus mom taught!).

I told him I thought he would, because it would be the very thing that would surprise us.  Yes, Jesus is dirtier than we think.   It seems we like to talk about the radical nature of Jesus, as long as it is the radical Jesus of “back then.”  We don’t seriously expect or want Jesus to surprise us (it might reveal our own self-righteousness).  If Jesus played HALO, I can guarantee there would be protests from all kinds of certain Evangelical groups, decrying Jesus’ example of what Christians do.  In the process, they would end up denying the savior who revealed himself “dirtier” than the clean-cut version they had built in their mind.  And just like the Pharisees, they would miss the point of it all, and crucify Him all over again.