Friday, 30 April 2010

Those who honour me I will honour

Therefore the LORD God of Israel says: 'I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.' But now the LORD says: 'Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. – 1 Samuel 2v30

God had told Eli that he was to be His man. His family were to be used by God ‘forever.’ What an honour to be chosen by God to serve His am an even greater honour to have a family which was also called to serve God through the generations. I know for a fact what a blessing it is to have children who have a desire to serve the Lord.

But something went wrong for Eli. His two boys, Hophni and Phinehas were a disaster. God called them vile. They did not know God. They abhorred His sacrifice. They had combined sex with their religious practices. They despised God in everything they did. God was not going to continue to honour them when they ignored Him.

So God did not use them. Eli’s family had a chance to ‘walk before God forever’ but Eli’s boys blew it. God is holy. He cannot honour those who make a mockery if His holiness. These guys did not know God – they did not honour Him. They took their honour for granted. They made a big mistake.

A lot of folks think that because of their family or heritage they are going to be blessed by God. They could not be further from the truth. To be honoured by God one must honour Him.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Let Him do what seems good to Him

Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, "It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him." – 1 Samuel 3v18

Poor old Eli. Once again I can almost feel for the guy. Samuel had just told him all the bad news about his downfall because of the sins of his sons that had gone unchecked. Eli had to have known that eventually this would happen. He knew his family was a wreck, he knew things had not gone the right way. And surely He knew that the Lord would not be pleased. His sons were ‘vile’ and he had done nothing to stop them.

So judgement was coming. How could Eli respond? How can we respond when God acts? How can we respond when we can’t understand why God does what He does? How can we respond when we do know?

Eli may have blown it, but he did get one thing right. ‘It is the Lord, let Him do what seems good to him.’ Maybe this was some kind of sarcastic defeatism, I don’t know the heart behind the words. There is however, wisdom in the words spoken.

Whether Eli’s words were words of faith or sarcasm, for us may they come from the heart when we face the challenges of life and realise – ‘it is the Lord, let Him do what seems good to Him.’

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Your servant hears

Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel answered, "Speak, for Your servant hears." - 1 Samuel 3v10

This is one of those bible lessons that too often is relegated to the Sunday school class for younger children. I can see the beautiful little flannel graph or the Sunday school paper of an adorable, pale faced, angelic little Samuel in his striped pyjamas in a cosy little bed with spotlessly clean white sheets sitting up in response to the voice he is hearing in the night.

It is a nice story for kids. It is a great picture of how God can use even a young child who is willing to listen to His voice. It may be relegated to the young Sunday school class, but it is certainly not wasted there. (Though I do often wish the material were more realistic, like not using western ideas of what a child looks like, but that is for another time. J )

There is a lesson here for all of us. Despite all that was going wrong with Eli’s life and family he did have a few things right. I sometimes feel sorry for Eli. He seems like a guy who started out with a desire to really and truly serve God but allowed things to go off the rails.

Anyway, back to Samuel. Most of us know the story. Samuel was serving and living in the middle of the night he heard his voice and ran to check with Eli. Eli told him that he was not calling him and to go back to bed. This happened a couple of time before Eli copped on and told Samuel, ‘Go back to bed. The next time you hear the voice say ‘speak Lord, your servant hears.’’

Samuel did what he was told. He did not question, he just did it. Pretty soon the voice called out again, ‘Samuel.’ This time Samuel got it right and said ‘Speak Lord for your servant hears.’

What a beautiful, simple, childlike statement of faith.

Isn’t it interesting how often child are set up as examples? Remember what Jesus said about a child and faith? Unless we have the faith of a child we cannot see the kingdom of God. Here we see that not only salvation, but our service is also based on child-like faith.

As this new day starts are we willing to say ‘Speak Lord for your servant hears?’

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Over and above

And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile the child Samuel grew before the LORD. – 1 Samuel 2v21

I have enjoyed this little look at Hannah’s life and her beautiful praise psalm. This closing comment about her life is one of those little blessings that we can miss if we are not careful.

‘And the Lord visited Hannah…and [she] bore three sons and two daughters.’

Hannah had a problem that she did not know how to deal with. Her answer was to go to the Lord with her need and trust him with the results. When God gave her the desired son she gave him back to her with a joy filled heart. When that was all said and done God blessed her with another child, and another, and another.

God has more in store for us than we can imagine if we would learn to trust Him. It may not always be, as it was in Hannah’s case, that we have our specific request answered the way we want, but God has more in store for us that we could possibly ask for or even think about.

Thank God that He works over and above what we could hope for.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

He will guard the feet of His saints

He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. "For by strength no man shall prevail. – 1 Samuel 2v9

I like the reminders in God’s word about the fact that it does not really matter how strong we are when it comes to serving the Lord. I recently spoke on David and Goliath on one occasion and Caleb and the mountain on another. Both times I mentioned a few passages that reminded us in other place about how God works. God uses the weak, foolish, and base things of the world. We live not by our strength or might, but by His spirit. The Lord can save by many or by few. The battle is not ours but the Lords. Great passages that stir my heart even this morning, but here we have yet another example that I don’t think I have noticed before.

‘For by strength no man shall prevail.’

What a wonderful truth that is. I like the first part of the verse as well when it reminds us that God will guard our feet. That reminds me that though the path might be slippery and at times it may seem that I am about to slip and fall and hurt myself God is always there protecting my feeble efforts, because I can’t prevail by my own strength anyway.

He will guard our steps today. We can’t prevail over the opposition on our own. The giants are too big, the enemy is too strong for us to do anything, so why not just trust Him?

Saturday, 24 April 2010

He lifts the beggar

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. "For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, And He has set the world upon them. – 1 Samuel 2v8

I don’t know that I have ever looked at Hannah’s praise psalm in such detail before. It really is a blessing to see the detail with which she praises God. There are a couple of great truths in this verse alone, but I am only going to focus on the first one.

‘He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap to set them among the princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.’

Isn’t that an amazing truth? In a way it seems to give us a picture of the gospel, doesn’t it? Even if Hannah did not mean it that way, it is wonderful to see that her words would be totally fulfilled in Christ.

It is obvious that not everyone on earth is equal, the American Declaration of Independence not withstanding. Some are rich and some are poor. Some live in splendour and some live in garbage dumps. Despite the loftiest dream and aspirations of man, all men are not created equal here on earth.

But that is our earthly view of things. It is tragic and as the children of God we clearly have a responsibility to help those who are in suffering and misery. The poor are our responsibility. Sadly, we can only do so much however.

In Christ it all changes. There is hope, if not here at least in eternity. As Hannah so eloquently put it He will lift up the poor from rubbish dump and the beggar ash heap. Not only that He will set them among the princes and give them inheritance in the throne of glory.

Praise God that our salvation is not based on our status at birth. It makes no difference if we were born with into great riches or abject poverty. There is hope in Christ that by faith in Him the beggar in their ash heap and the royalty in their palaces can both inherit the throne of glory.

Friday, 23 April 2010

By Him actions are weighed

"Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the LORD is the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed. – 1 Samuel 2v3

Every government has a department that oversees weights and measures. Their job it to make sure that a gram is a gram and an ounce is an ounce. In the old Imperial measure days there was a legal pound and legal foot which set a standard. A metre was originally one ten millionth of the distance between the equator and the North Pole. Now it is legally the distance between two marks on a platinum iridium bar at 0 degrees Celsius.

Weights and measure are important. The Bible tells us that a false balance is an abomination to the Lord and that He delights in just weights. Can you imagine the chaos is every shop could determine how much a kilogram was or every country decided how long a mile was? The old Irish mile caused mass confusion to visitors because it was not the same as an English mile. For a long time here driving time was hard to gauge because distances were in kilometres and speed limits were in miles per hour.

Anyhow, back to our topic. How do we apply weights and measures to our spiritual lives?

Hannah knew that the Lord was the only true standard for weighing our actions. It is too easy for us to be the weighers of our own actions. Sometimes we allow others to be the weigher of our actions. There can be as many standards of weight and measures as there are people, but there is only one true standard. If we weigh our actions by our own standards we will always skew the results to make sure the balance works. If we weigh our actions by the standards of others we will be forced to change constantly.

I have a situation that describes this well. I hold to a particular view based on the teaching of the Bible that I am totally convinced is the truth. A whole crowd of men I know used the hold the same view, but a vast number of them have changed their view. All of a sudden, I am the one out of balance because they changed.

God is the weigher of our actions. May we compare our lives to His standard and find our balance there.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

None beside You

"No one is holy like the LORD, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God. – I Samuel 2v3

‘There is none like You, no one else can touch my heart like You do, I can search for all eternity Lord and find, there is none like You.’

As soon as I read Hannah’s words this morning my thoughts went to this Christian song which is very popular today. It is a simple little song that expresses faith and an absolute trust that Hannah would easily identify with.

We are studying the Apostles’ Creed in our Bible study on Sunday nights. Matt is using the phrase ‘I believe in God, almighty…’ to look at the attributes of God. It is an excellent study and we are being blessed at seeing His uniqueness as seen in His attributes. He alone is all powerful. He alone is all knowing. He alone is everywhere at once. He alone is unchangeable. He along is eternal. He alone is self existing and self sustaining.

There is indeed none like our Lord. Try as we might and search as we might for all eternity we are only going to find that there is none beside Him in His holiness and strength and love and power and so much more.

In that light it is interesting to note that we still seldom seem content with Him alone. We are constantly seeking for more and better. Isn’t it a shame that that we don’t have the simple faith that Hannah had?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

I smile at my enemies

And Hannah prayed and said:" My heart rejoices in the LORD; My horn a is exalted in the LORD. I smile at my enemies, Because I rejoice in Your salvation. 1 Samuel 2v2

Hannah was a quite a woman. Her attitude when she gave her son back to the Lord is quite an example of faith and trusting Him. I love her phrase at the start of her beautiful hymn of praise, ‘I smile at my enemies.’

Sad, I know, but when I think of this I think of Hulk Hogan. He was a professional wrestler in the WWF (yes, I know it is fake, but I used to really enjoy it J ). A classic Hulk Hogan moment would be when he was just about beaten. He was down and all but out. The countdown would be almost over. There was going to be a new champion.

But suddenly he would rise from the mat. He stood up and his opponent would hit him and slap him, but Hulk would just grin. He would be hit again and he would just keep smiling. Finally he would rip off his torn shirt and quickly subdue his opponent. The victory was his.

I am not of course trying to compare Hannah to Hulk. That would just be wrong, but I do see a similar attitude at opposition. God had answered her prayer. Her despair and defeat was replaced with joy and victory. She followed though on her promise to God and gave Samuel back to him, and she could do so with joy. Those who mocked her for being barren now had nothing to say.

Smiling at our enemies…what a wonderful concept!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A special personal passage

Then she made a vow and said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head." – 1 Samuel 1v11

I am using this passage today only because it has such a personal meaning to me. Most of us know the story of Hannah. She could not get pregnant. It was a terribly troubling thought to her. She begged God to give her a son and He did. In her prayer she committed any son God gave to the Lord’s service. It is a beautiful story of devotion and commitment, despite her husband’s very ‘man’ comment during her stress – ‘Why do you want a son? You have me!’

God gave her a son, she gave him back to the Lord, and he went on to serve the Lord.

The reason this passage touches my heart begins way back in the autumn on 1954. My mom and dad were stationed in far off Fairbanks in Alaska. It wasn’t even a state yet. My mom was not married long, but she was a little older and immediately began praying to get pregnant, which she did. While pregnant she read the story of Hannah and prayed that God would give her a son and that if He did she would commit her son back to Him as a preacher. When I was born, they named me after two preachers, the pastor who married them and their pastor in Alaska.

This was all well and good and the years passed on. I grew up and went off to college to join the army. All I thought about for the future was the army and politics. God had other plans. I ended up at a Christian college getting a degree in education. A few years later Mary and I moved back to Huntsville to teach in a Christian school. Full time Christian service, but not the preacher she had hoped and prayed for.

Fast forward a few years to 1991. The school closed and God worked in a marvellous way to direct our hearts to church planting in Ireland. Our church ordained me to the gospel ministry. Then, and only then, about 37 years after Mom prayed her prayer, she told me this story.

Monday, 19 April 2010


But Ruth said: "Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me." – Ruth 1v16-17

Here we have a passage which is often used at weddings for a wife’s commitment to her husband. Though that is not the Biblical context it does remind us of a character trait that can be so lacking when we focus on self and our own needs.

Naomi with her husband and two sons moved to Maob from Bethlehem. Her sons married Moabite women. Her husband died, then later her two sons. She was left with her daughters-in-law and suggested that they go back home to their families.

We can read this passage and forget the passage of time that takes place. I look at Mary and our two daughters-in-law. I don’t even really like that term because we see them, like our only son-in-law, as our children. In the relatively few short years that they have been a part of our family Mary has grown to love them deeply. If I was to die, and Matt and Jay were our only sons and they died, it would be very hard for Mary to do the right thing and tell Michelle and Holly to go home to their families. Yet that is just what Naomi did. One daughter-in-law did go home, but Ruth replied with the beautiful and now familiar words that we read above.

I am not sure why, but I love this picture of devotion. Ruth, though born in Moab, decided to go back to Bethlehem with Naomi.

What a sweet picture of devotion and dedication. I am not sure I can even make a really spiritual application of this, but I am touched by this young woman’s devotion to her mother-in-law. She was not focused on herself and her own needs, but was concerned about Naomi going back home alone. God would honour her devotion by letting her be the grandmother of King David.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

No such deed

And so it was that all who saw it said, "No such deed has been done or seen from the day that the children of Israel came up from the land of Egypt until this day. Consider it, confer, and speak up!" – Judges 19v30

As they say on television, if you have small children you might want to send them out of the room for a few minutes.

We look around us today and we read of horrible acts going on around us. There is no need to recount them here. We read our papers and watch our televisions and browse the internet and pretty soon it becomes obvious that cruelty and violence are rampant. Sometimes we might think that things are so bad today that nobody ever could have been like this in the past.

Or, some may argue the opposite, that man is not really so bad. We were interviewed on the radio a few weeks ago and one of the questions asked was about why we had such a focus on man’s sinfulness. My response was simple – ‘look at our track record!’

And yet, here in the time of the judges, when there was no king in Israel, we have a situation. It was so bad that the Bible tells us that no such deed had been done since Israel left Egypt. Here is the story in a nutshell.

A certain Levite had a concubine who had proved herself unfaithful. She has wandered off so he went off to get her and bring her back. As night fell they found themselves in Gibeah, in the land of Benjamin, where an old man convinced them to spend rhe night in his house. A little while later the men of the city came and demanded that the Levite be sent out so that they could have sex with him. Instead the old man offered his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine. The attackers didn’t like it, but the Levite threw his concubine to them. The men raped her to death and she made her way back to the doorstep where she was found the next morning. The Levite was so angry that he cut her body into twelve parts and sent one part to each tribe of Israel to stir up anger against the men of Gibeah and to prompt retaliation against Benjamin.

Pretty sickening isn’t it. There is so much wrong with this story that I am not going to dig into it. It is enough to say that we would not be shocked to read this story in our newspapers. It is sad that this sounds almost normal after our diets of CSI and Criminal Minds and any other number films and programmes that are rampant today. What draws us to this? What makes this kind of lurid story so fascinating?

There is no one that does righteous, no, not one. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. There is no one that does not sin.

Praise God for our Redeemer, for mankind would surely never find deliverance for himself.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Superstitious ‘faith’

Then Micah said, "Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!" – Judges 17v13

Micah was really missing the boat. He had hired a priest and assumed that because he had a priest God would surely bless him. He had totally forgotten about the need for a personal thriving relationship with God. Instead of allowing God into his life he hired a priest and his idols to come and live in his house and now everything would be fine and he would be blessed.

Pretty foolish, huh? How could anyone be so stupid, right?

You would think so. And yet, how many times do we get caught in the same trap? How often do we think that if we go to the right church or read the right Bible or do the right things or don’t do the wrong things or wear the right clothes or have the right haircut or listen to the right music then we surely must be okay with God? We may not hire priests or have visible idols, but we have our idols nonetheless and we think that the Lord will surely be good to us because we do it right.

Micah had it totally wrong, that is obvious to us. It is not so obvious though when we do the same thing. Micah should have thought more about doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly before his God.

So should we.

Friday, 16 April 2010

In those days there was no king

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 17v6

This verse always brings back my teaching days. I taught a ‘key verse’ for each book of the Bible and I tried to use innovative methods to help the students to remember them. This was the key verse for Judges and we sang a song that went like this. ‘In those days there was not king, was no king is Israel. And every man did that which was, which was right in his own eyes. No king to rule them, no king to rule them, no king to rule them. No king in Israel.’ We sang this to the tune of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and all these years later I can still sing it. I wonder how many former students still can J ?

Judges was a difficult time. With no established leadership the people just went about their own way. They did whatever was right in their own eyes without regard to God or any human leadership. There are some truly morbid stories to evidence just how bad man can be when left to his own devices. We see it here in the book of Judges and we see it in everyday life today.

Sadly, too often our own eyes can become our standard. We can make choices based on what makes sense to us instead of what our King says about it. We act like we have no king, even though we do. We think somehow that our King is not really aware of our actions so we pursue that which is right in our own eyes.

How often do our own eyes guide us?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

One more time

Then Samson called to the LORD, saying, "O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!" – Judges 16v28

Samson did not have the best record. Though conceived with divine help and called by God from before his conception to deliver Israel he had quite a life. He killed Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. He destroyed crops by tying torches to foxes tails. He killed a lion bare handed. He ate honey from the carcass of that lion. His life would make a great film!

Problem is most of us would not go see the film because he had a life long problem with women. All it took was a ‘pretty face’ to turn his head and affection. He got himself in trouble several times with women. Finally he falls for a gal named Delilah. This was a problem because she was a spy for the Philistines, but judging from the rest of his life I don’t think even if he knew he would have cared.

Her job was to find out the reason for his great strength. She asked him a couple of times and he lied to her, but eventually her tears and ‘womanly wiles’ won out and he told her. She shaved his head accordingly and the Philistines captured him. They bound him, blinded him, made him a slave, and used him for their amusement.

Gradually his hair grew back and he must have remembered what he was supposed to do. We know the story. He was taken to the great temple of the Philistines so the people could laugh at him. Once there he asked a boy to lead him to the main support pillars.

He found the pillars and called out to His God. ‘Lord, just this once, give me the strength I need.’ Even now his motivation was not totally right because his goal was to get revenge for being blinded.

Still, God’s plan was about to be accomplished. He was going to deliver Israel through Samson. Even though Samson never seems to have fully understood His purpose God knew His purpose.

God will get his work done even with imperfect vessels. Samson’s flaws are obvious to us with history and perspective, but our flaws are there to.

Praise God He can use me in spite of my flaws.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Too many soldiers

And the LORD said to Gideon, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, My own hand has saved me. – Judges 7v2

Gideon had quite a job ahead of him. Though greatly outnumbered God called him to go out to battle and defeat the Midianites. He already felt insufficient for the task, but he was ready top go.

The God says something that must have shocked him. ‘You have too many men Gideon. If you win now you might claim that you did it. Let anyone who wants to go home leave.’ And they did twenty two thousand of the thirty thousand soldiers left.

Poor Gideon. Two-thirds of his army gone before they even started. But God said his army was still too big. God tested the army by having them drink water. All those who would drink carelessly were to be sent home. I can’t even imagine how Gideon felt when all but 300 men failed the test!

Now they were ready. Three hundred men against a massive Midianite army. If the victory were to be won now it would indeed be by the hand of God.

God did just that. He provided a total victory by three hundred men over many thousand Midianites. There could be no doubt that the victory was His and His alone.

God knows our human nature. He knows that if left to our own devices we would take whatever credit He could. We will not win but might or strength, but only in Him. It is up to Him to save by many or by few. He uses the weak, base, and foolish of the world to accomplish His work so that no man can take any of the glory.

So when it seems that all the props and supports are being knocked out we should take courage in the fact that He may be getting us ready for His victory!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


So Gideon built an altar there to the LORD, and called it The-LORD-Is-Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. – Judges 6v24

I think most of us can identify with Gideon. Here he was minding his own business tending his father’s ship way out in the middle of nowhere. He seems happy enough to do that. Israel was subject to the Midianites, but chances are that his life was not greatly affected so he could just carry on.

But God stepped in. He knew that Gideon was the man for the task of delivering Israel from the Midianites. God sent the ‘Angel of the Lord,’ very possibly a pre-incarnate Jesus, to tell him the task that lay ahead.

Gideon was stunned. Surely he could not be the man for such a task. He was the least of the men in the least of the families in the least of the tribes of Israel. He tried to beg off of the task. He demanded signs from God before he proceeded, but when it was all said and done he was the man for the job.

The angel told him ‘Be at peace. God is with you. You will not die.’

It seems that Gideon was finally convinced. Right after that he built an alter and called it ‘Jehovah-Shalom’ meaning ‘The Lord is my peace.’

The work still had to be done. The battle still had to be fought. It was not going to be easy, but he had a promise. He had something to cling to. The Lord would be his peace.

Where do we find our peace today? Certainly it is not to be found in circumstances. The peace is that God will be with us in the circumstances.

Jehovah-Shalom does not promise that life will always be peaceful. He will be our Peace no matter what comes our way.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Like when the sun comes out

"Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD! But let those who love Him be like the sun When it comes out in full strength." So the land had rest for forty years. – Judges 5v31

As I sit here in my office at about 7.00 in the morning the sun is just about to come out. It is going to be another bright and warm day. There is nothing like springtime in Ireland. We have had a long, cold, wet, dark winter. In other words, it was a normal Irish winter. We had started to think that we were going to miss spring.

Then, about 3 days ago, and just in time for Ronnie and Beth’s wedding ceremony, things changed. The sun came out in all its springtime brilliance. All of a sudden everyone was happy. People were out walking. Smiles abounded and cheerful spirits took control. The doom and gloom was suddenly gone, if even for a few days. The wedding was beautiful. The pictures are fantastic. All of this happened just because the sun came out. What a difference it makes when that happens!

I had never noticed this picture before today. As we noted yesterday Israel was trapped in this horrendous cycle of sin. In the middle of this we find a ray of hope in Deborah’s victory song. At the end of that song we get this wonderful word picture. ‘Let your enemies perish Lord, but let those of us who love You be like the sun when it comes out in full strength.’

I can’t help but to compare that with the effect of the sun coming out in full strength in Ireland. It turned everything around. Everything changed in just a matter of days. I have to ask myself if that is the kind of impact I have around people? Do we, his people today, impact the world like the sun when ‘it comes out in all its strength?’

My heart is challenged. As we head out on at least one more beautiful Irish spring day I trust that I can be like the sun as its brings hope and joy to a cold dark world.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Round and round...

They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for calamity, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed. Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the LORD; they did not do so. And when the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way. Then the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel; and He said, "Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the LORD, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not." Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua. – Judges 2v13-23

When I taught Bible in a Christian high school this was one of my favourite sections to teach. I learned this pattern at a seminar by Terry Hall. I was impressed from the very start at the picture presented by this historical period of Jewish history.

Here it is. Israel had no king. I think we find a clear pattern that in the absence of a leader of some sort people quickly lapse into sin. That is why we have spiritual leaders even today. With no leader the people fell into sin. When they fell into sin they were weakened and some nation came to rule over them. After a time the people would call out for deliverance. God would send someone to deliver them from the enemy. Then there would be a period of silence before they fell into sin again. This cycle was repeated seven times in the book of judges. It was the same pattern over and over again.

These cycles of sin are something that we too have to deal with. Terry Hall used these words and drew them in a cycle pattern: Sin, slavery, supplication, saviour, silence repeated by sin, slavery, supplication…well you get the point.

The explanation is simple and I think it is something we can all identify with. We go along in relative quietness. We let our guard down and fall into a sin. Eventually that sin gets control of our lives. We realise it and call out to God. He gives us deliverance and we go into a period of relative peace and normality. Then, if we let our guard down, the same or another sin will creep into our lives. It gets a foothold and gains control, and the pattern repeats itself.

The problem is that we have an answer if we would just apply it. We, unlike Israel, are not ‘kingless.’ We have a king and we have the victory. We knowingly and volitionally allow sin to come in and reign. Sin has no power over us and still we get caught in this horrible vicious cycle.

There is no excuse for the cycle of sin to control us. We find our answer in Romans 6. Realise that we are dead to sin and reckon or account it to be true. Don’t let sin get a foothold it has no power to take.

Christ empowers us to break the cycle of sin. The only question is whether or not we really want the cycle broken.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The children of Israel did evil

Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. - Judges 2v11 -12

Man’s proclivity to evil is amazing, isn’t it? When Moses went up to the mountain they sinned. Now Moses’ successor, Joshua is dead. God has led them through the wilderness. He has given them victory in the Promised Land. They are living in the land ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ They should surely be content. They had all they could ask for.

But no, as soon as Joshua died the people of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord. They served the false gods. They forsook the Lord who had done so much for them. They followed other gods instead. They bowed down to the gods that were all around them. They provoked God to anger.

What a tragedy. Any yet it is a pattern we see all the time in the word of God, in history, and in our own lives.

Why is that? Why is it so hard to keep on following God? I think part of the reason is seen in this passage in the phrase ‘the gods of the people all around them.’ Most of our reasoning in following God is future focused. Life is tough here, and though we see many of his blessing the present practical results, the greatest blessings are to come.

We look around and we see all that the world has to offer. We see the gods that other going running after. For most of us they are not physical statues and images. For most of us the false gods are gods of sport, entertainment, fleshly pleasure, carnality, popularity, and such. Everyone else, most of those around us, serve those gods and we can be drawn to follow them instead of directing them to follow us.

We are not exempt from the troubles and temptations that drew Israel at Joshua’s days. By the grace of God and in dependence on Him may we avoid their fall.

Friday, 9 April 2010

We will also serve the Lord

And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, even the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We will also serve the LORD; for he is our God. And Joshua said unto the people, You cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. – Joshua 24v18-19

It seems at first glance that Israel had it figured out. Joshua gave them a choice, and they said that they would also serve the Lord. It looks like their ‘also’ might mean that they were agreeing with Joshua, but something was still not right.

It appears from Joshua’s next comment that the people meant that they would also serve the Lord along with the other gods. Joshua told them that they could not serve the Lord because He is a holy and jealous God who demands total worship.

Perhaps his words were just a challenge to remind them of what serving the Lord involved. It cannot be a partial light hearted attitude. Serving God is not a partial commitment. It means that we are giving ourselves wholly to Him.

When we say that we are going to serve the Lord it is a total commitment. We cannot have one foot in and one foot out. We can’t add Him to our other gods. They must be totally removed or we, as Joshua said, cannot serve the Lord.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." – Joshua 24v15

It’s all about choices. Every day and in so many ways we deal with choice after choice after choice. So often our circumstances and situations are a result of our choices.

After the great conquest of the land Joshua spoke to the people. ‘Now is your chance. It is time to choose who you are going to serve. Will you serve the false gods which your fathers served? Will you serve the false gods here in this land? My family has made a choice, we will serve the Lord.’

I like Joshua’s words and his choice. They had already decided. No matter what came their way they were going to serve the Lord. When trials came they were going to serve the Lord. When hard times came they were going to serve the Lord. When opposition arose they were going to serve the Lord.

With that kind of determination the daily, minor choices should be mostly sorted. My choices today should be based on my decision to serve the Lord. All of my choices should be focused on serving Him.

‘As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.’ We may have made that choice. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are living it.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

All came to pass

Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass. – Joshua 21v45

God does what He says He will do. He always keeps His promises. We can always trust what He says. He sets that pattern all through His word.

Can you imagine serving a capricious God whom we could never trust? Can you imagine serving a God who did not do what He said He would do? A huge major of our faith comes from the fact that God does what He says He will do.

When word first came that Israel were to occupy Canaan it must have seemed almost impossible. 10 of the 12 spies sent on the reconnaissance mission thought so. Only Joshua and Caleb believed God could do it. It was so bad that that whole nation was persuaded that it could not be done.

Yet Joshua and Caleb were proven right. At the end God did not fail in one single word that He spoke. He did what he said He would do.

There are times in our lives when getting through them seems as impossible as conquering Canaan. There are times when the giants are so strong and the mountains so tall that we are tempted to say ‘there is no way.’

God has not changed. He does what He says He will do. His promises are sure. He will not fail one good thing that He has promised.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Give me that mountain

Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said." – Joshua 14v12

I am really grateful for all the churches in which we have had a chance to serve. One of the early churches where we served and were trained was the East Chattanooga Baptist Tabernacle. We were there from 1979-1983. It was a wonderful place. Preacher and Granny Haynes were great mentors and teachers. They had an exciting music programme there, especially when I took over as song leader. We sang a lot of old fashioned southern gospel music. One of those songs sprang to mind when I read this morning’s passage. Pardon me as I have copied the whole thing here. ‘I Want That Mountain’ by Bill Harvey.

I saw the Giant of Prayerlessness upon the mountain high;

He laughed so hard at my unbended knee.

No longer in the Wilderness I'll stay, and so I cry:

I want that mountain, it belongs to me!

There was a Giant of Laziness who said I wouldn't go

And witness for the One who set me free.

I'll come from out the Wilderness, I'll witness now I know;

I want that mountain, it belongs to me!

The mountain that my Lord has given me.

One faithless Giant upon the crest of Hebron's lofty height

Has vowed that he's the one to make me flee.

I'll climb from out the Wilderness! and trust Jehovah's might!

I want that mountain, it belongs to me!

The mountain that my Lord has given me.

Let ev'ry Giant of Distress and Unbelief and Sin

Get ready now to vacate, for you see:

I've come from out the Wilderness! I know I'm going to win!

I want that mountain, it belongs to me!

I want that mountain! I want that mountain!

Where the milk and honey flow, where the grapes of Eshcol grow,

I want that mountain! I want that mountain!

The mountain that my Lord has given me!

I think this song really captures the spirit of Caleb when he sought the land he saw 40 years earlier. He saw the giants like the weak faithed spies did, but rather than be put off he saw them as opportunities. Finally he was able to enter that wonderful land he had seen, and the giants weren’t about to put him off.

Where did his faith and desire come from? His faith in God’s word gave him confidence – ‘The Lord will be with me and I will be able to drive them out!’

I have always admired Caleb. He was not a leader like Joshua. We don’t hear much about him except at the first and second visits into Canaan. In both cases we see his unreserved faith in God to be with him and to do what He said. The giants did not bother him because he knew that his God was more powerful than any giant.

How do we deal with our own giants of prayerlessness, laziness, faithlessness, distress, unbelief, and sin? Do we quake in fear, or do we have the confidence to say with Caleb, ‘I want that mountain!’

Monday, 5 April 2010

There is still a lot to do

Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And the LORD said to him: "You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed. – Joshua 13v1

We read a lot about retirement. Governments talk about raising the retirement age before pensions can be paid. People look forward to a nice quiet retirement. Until about 100 years ago the concept of retirement was unknown. It all started when Otto von Bismark attempted to free up jobs for younger men by paying those over 65 a small stipend to quit work. Of course, that was not a big problem because not many men lived to that age. In 1935 jobs were once again at a premium so the American Social Security Administration had legislation passed that paid those over 65 to quit work and give the younger guys a shot. It seems like in the beginning it was simply a way to retire older people to pasture and employ younger more vibrant workers.

It is anything but that now. People have learned to expect an entitlement. They are shocked at the prospect of governments or companies raising the retirement age. The relatively modern idea of retirement has crept into our thinking, even those in the church. We somehow have adopted the idea that old age is for rest and relaxation.

God made it clear to Joshua that this was not the case. I think there is a principle here that we do well to heed. ‘You are old, Joshua, but there is still a lot left to do.’ I am not being legalistic or harsh here, but I don’t see any Biblical support for the concept of quitting God’s work just because we get older. My good friend Mille lives in Connecticut. She is well into her 70s now. When she visited us a few years ago she had taken on a ministry of driving old people to their appointments. She was already in her 70s then! Some of the old people she drove around were younger than she was!

The Bible is full of old people doing great works. History is full of old people doing the same. Our possible lifespan is growing everyday. Unless we get sick or injured we have a lot of years left to serve.

Many years ago I heard a saying which may sound ‘bumberstickerish,’ but I think the principle behind it is sound. ‘I don’t intend to retire, I intend to refire!’

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Finish the job

As the LORD had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses. – Joshua 11v15

I remember being a child. I really do, even though that would have been WAY back in the 50s-60s. I remember when our children were young. And now we have grandchildren running around the house.

I remember one frustration (of many) my mom had with me, that we had with our children, and that they have with their children. I think we could probably go back as far as we wanted and still have the same problem. When my mom gave me a job to do I would, sometimes, do it. The problem is that rarely would I do it all the way. There would always be something I missed. My kids did it. Now, when the grandkids are around we get them to tidy up, but after they are gone there is always something they missed.

No problem. They are children and we don’t expect them to get it perfect because they are children. The problem comes when we don’t grow out of that. When, as adults, we have a hard time finishing what we start. That goes for practical and spiritual things. We can have a hard time heeding the words of the children’s song.

‘Finish the job, finish the job, get it done. Finish the job, finish the job, then have fun.’

Joshua was faithful to the end, he did all the work that God had told Moses and that Moses passed on to him. He was not only a starter, but he was also a finisher.

I can’t help but be reminded on this Easter morning of another Finisher. The one who said from the cross – ‘It is finished’ as He paid the price of my sin once and for all and rose three days later it total victory! Jesus is the one who is both the Starter and the Finisher of our faith. He is the one who calls us today not to quit part way through the race, but to see Him at the finish line.

Come on folks. On this Easter morning may we let Joshua remind us of the importance of staying at the task. One day it Will be worth it all and I can only imagine what it will be like when we see Him!

Stay at it, may we leave nothing undone for Him!

Hallelujah – He is risen!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

They did not seek counsel of the Lord

Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the LORD. – Joshua 9v14

The Gibeonites were sharp. Residents of Canaan they had heard about the power of Israel and the victories that they were having over the other people in the land. They had heard that Israel were going to conquer all of Canaan and therefore feared for their existence.

The Gibeonites hatched a plan to stay alive. The purposefully aged their provisions and their clothing and marched out to meet Joshua. ‘Look at us,’ they said, ‘We started out with fresh food and brand new clothes and now everything has gone off and worn out. We have heard about you and your army and just want to be your servants.’

How could that be bad? So they agreed to a treaty. They would let the Gibeonites live if they would serve Israel.

They finally discover the deceit and learn that the Gibeonites only lived three days away. It was too late though because they had made a promise. The consequences would be severe as they had to deal with the Gibeonites from there out.

My mind heads in a couple of directions here. The first is obvious, the second maybe not quite so obvious and maybe only a personal observation.

First, the problem that Israel had is that they did not seek God’s counsel, but acted on their own. That is juts asking for trouble. Whatever decision we face, even if the answer seems obvious, we need to remember to seek God’s wisdom and His way. To head off on our own is simply bull headed and foolish. There are always consequences to face when we, like Israel, do not seek His counsel.

The second point is just a personal point so take it or leave it. Sometimes we use Canaan to picture living the Christian life. There are indeed a lot of similarities. We too face many enemies in our life with Him. As we live our Christian lives we should totally vanquish our spiritual enemies, the things that get in the way of total victory. If we don’t defeat those enemies, but instead compromise with them, we too are going to face struggles. There is no room for signing a peace treaty with our spiritual enemies, no matter how tempting the offer.

Friday, 2 April 2010

I saw, I coveted, I took

When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it." – Joshua 7v21

It took Joshua a while to pin down who was guilty and why Israel suffered defeat. He called the whole nation together to find the guilty party.

First he called out the tribe of Judah. This would still leave a huge number of people so the guilty one would not have been too nervous. From them he called out the family of the Zarhites. Okay, still not too bad for the poor guy who had caused the problem. Then Joshua called out Zabdi’s household. I would guess that now the man knew he was sunk. Finally we have the man, Achan called before Joshua.

It is almost like a scene from Murder She Wrote or CSI. ‘Okay Achan, we have you, you might as well confess.’

‘I have sinned, said Achan. I saw amongst al the stuff a beautiful garment. I wanted it. So I took it.’ Achan knew he should not take it, but he did. He knew there would be consequences, but he still took it. How could anyone be so stupid?

Let’s be honest, shall we? Do we not do the same thing every time we sin? We see something that catches our eye. We look at it and the more we look the more we want it. So finally we go for it and take it.

It makes no difference if we know the consequences. It makes no difference if we know that our sin displease God. It makes no difference that we know our God is holy. At that moment our lust wins out and we just do it anyway.

Next time we see something that catches our eye we need to remember Achan and turn away then. Even if our eyes linger and the desire grows we can still turn away. We have all been there. We all know what I am talking about. We have a choice to stop the pattern before it progresses. Will we exercise it, or will we follow Achan’s rotten example?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Why are you laying there?

So the LORD said to Joshua: "Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? – Joshua 7v10

Poor Joshua was in a state. After the great victory at Jericho the nation suffered a smashing defeat at Ai. The men had rushed in with just a small contingent and were caught in ambush resulting in the deaths of thirty-six men.

Ai was not supposed to be the hard battle. It was only a small city compared to Jericho. The battle at Jericho was so east surely Ai could not be hard. The surveillance team reported that there were only a few people there so a couple of thousand men would be plenty!

When the defeated army came back the people we all upset. Their hearts melted and ‘became like water.’

Joshua, their new leader, took it to God and laid the blame at his feet. To parrowphrase his ‘prayer’ he said, ‘Why are you doing this God, don’t you know you are going to embarrass yourself and us?’

Imagine that kind of attitude. Can you imagine any child of God blaming Him for the way things are going?

Don’t worry, God sorted him quickly. Please pardon another parrowphrase – ‘What are you doing there crying? Get up and sort this out!’ God went on to tell Joshua that the reason they lost at Ai was because someone had sinned and stolen forbidden goods. Joshua had to get up and sort things out.

It is far too easy for us to blame God for the mess we get ourselves into. Our troubles are not always as a result of us messing up, but it does happen and when it does the only solution is to quit crying about it and get things sorted!