Follow the Leader

Joshua was some leader! In chapter 8, he takes charge of a sobered Israel, tens of thousands of “men of valor,” to defeat the people of Ai– who’d just whooped them because of their sin. His strategy is brilliant, his ability to inspire stellar, his focus steeled on his Captain. Immediately after his masterful plan is successfully executed, he ‘celebrates’ by building an altar to the LORD “and they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law. And afterward he read all the words of the law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel.” After a spectacular military victory, he takes no credit or glory for himself, but instead, leads his people to laud their God. He’s had the best of humble mentors, Moses, and it is clear God has captured his heart.

While Jesus didn’t lead military endeavors, He certainly led by example in battles of heart, thought, and broken bodies. He skillfully broke through barricades of doubt and suspicion, defeated strongholds of pride, bitter attitude, sin habits, disease, and though He did not win over those who chose to continue in unbelief, He always ministered and taught with wise, redemptive strategy. Humbly, perfectly, He never brought attention to Himself, but served His Father and His will wholeheartedly, for His glory.  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” (John17:4)

Wooded mountain path, Highlands

“March on, my soul, with might!” “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Judges 5:21; John 16:33

Captain of my soul, in any challenge, You are the Leader worthy to follow. You know my daily battles and the enemy’s wily plots. Guide me as Your soldier in strategy, priorities, bravery, and focus. As I follow You and execute Your plan, whomever I lead or influence, keep me worshiping Thee and holding out Your word of life. To You be all the glory.

What Is Man?

“O LORD, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands.” Psalm 144:3; 8:3-6

Blue Ridge sky

David’s high view and deep knowledge of his God gave him a proper view of himself: insignificant in comparison to the greatness of God, yet exalted, highly esteemed, affectionately loved, graciously redeemed because of the Lord’s bountiful heart and measureless love. Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?  And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O Lord God!  And what more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant. For your servant’s sake, O Lord, and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things.  There is none like you, O Lord, and there is no God besides you.  And who is like your people whom God went to redeem?'” 1 Chronicles 17:16-21

Today, we are taught, and our culture impresses us, to think of ourselves often and well, to do and procure whatever makes us happy, satisfied, comfortable, safe; to beware all that stings, offends, endangers, causes discomfort and hurts feelings. Even in a marriage, and in a job, ‘it’s all about me’: How can I be best fulfilled, get ahead, stay within my job description, earn the most, gain recognition? But in God’s heavenly economy, all is turned topsy turvy, and David gets this. His looking up enables him to look within with proper understanding.

In God’s providence, He ordained David to be the youngest of seven sons, a shepherd spending hours among dumb sheep under blazing sun or a galaxy of stars, alone…and He trained David in lofty thinking, early recognition that he was small and God was big. It was his high view of God that gave David his boldness, his strength, and his appeal as a leader. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:8,10)

Lord, keep me asking “Who is God?” that I rightly understand and accept “what is man.” Hone in me a divine perspective, and keep me bowing.

 

A Soul’s Thirst

David’s Psalm 143 prayer describes a soul’s thirst. It is based on God’s mercy, faithfulness, and righteousness that he knew well; only there could it be assuaged. He acknowledges his own lack of righteousness, and tells his complaint: For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. My spirit fails!” Then he recalls and meditates on all God has done since days of old. Praise focusing on Who God is awakens confession when we realize how short we fall, which stirs up gratitude for His lovingkind works. These set the table for expectant asking, and that is what David does next.

“I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, O LordLet me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me from my enemies, O LordI have fled to you for refuge.Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life! In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!” 

Waterfall, flowing water, Myanmar

In honest desperation, David’s every request is grounded in utter trust in his God and His attributes. Show up! Encourage me! Guide me! Deliver me! Teach me! Lead me! Preserve me! His ‘amen’ is confident submission: And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.”

Lord, keep me aware of how parched I am without You. Slake my soul-thirst with reminders of Your steadfast love and robust love in Your ongoing work on my behalf. I stretch out my hands to You in worship and need.

    
    

 

God’s Wide Mercy

The call to return in Jeremiah 3 is laced with mercy. Return, faithless Israel, declares the LordI will not look on you in anger, for I am mercifulI will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORDReturn, O faithless children, declares the Lordfor I am your master. Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.” 

Sunset, pale, peaceful

“God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” Romans 2:4

Grace gives us what we do not deserve, and mercy withholds from us what we do deserve. God’s wide mercy is spread out in open arms, beckoning us to come, to repent–confess our sins and turn from them to Him. It is His loving mercy that woos us to humble, rigorous, honest self-reflection, that convicts the heart and warms it toward Him, and that turns the taste of rebellion sour and the effort of self-will despicable. The peace that follows is indescribable, a loving and lavish gift from the Bestower of the undeserved.

Behold, I come to You, I return to You, for you are the LORD my God. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; Your mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Make all sin repugnant to me, cleanse my rebellion, and redeem the wasted opportunities and the favors I have scattered. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Jeremiah 3:22; Lamentations 3:22-23; Psalm 51:17,10) Thank You for Your wide mercy.

“Only Five”

I love the story of the feeding of the 5000, included in all four gospels. “Only five loaves”–which Jesus multiplies and uses to satisfy thousands. Our God is mighty and can do anything. He can accomplish His plans by any means, and chooses to use His people in order to develop us and bring glory to Himself through our transformation and exercising gifts He has bestowed.

After a long day dealing with grief over the cruel death of his beloved cousin John the Baptist, and healing great crowds of needy people, he calls on His disciples to feed the crowd of about 5000 men, plus women and children. “We have only five loaves here, and two fish.” Then He took what was offered, gave thanks, and had them distribute to the seated crowds; all were satisfied and twelve basketful were left over!

Serve God 18th century Dutch Delft plate

How often do I feel my abilities, resources, knowledge to contribute are limited, insufficient, even unworthy? Jesus invites me simply to open my hands in expectant faith and offer them, turn them over to Him. He does the multiplying, the divine work, and graciously, purposefully includes me in the actual distribution, working alongside my heavenly supervisor. He feeds me, and others, in unimaginable ways so He receives the glory.

Lord, what I see as meager, You see as possibility. What I see as “only,” You see as enough. Unfold my fingers, use me. To You who are able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to You be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

The Lure of a Beautiful Cloak

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” Luke 11:34-35

How could he? After the magnificent crossing of the Jordan and the triumphant taking of Jericho in the Promised land under God’s obvious favor, Joshua 7 recounts how Achan allowed some shiny objects to lure him from God, and Israel suffered the consequences. He’d been a select warrior among the relatively few chosen to take Ai, and knew well the command from Joshua 6:18-20: “Keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest…you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.  But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” But after a defeat at Ai, the death of 36 troops and the disheartening of Israel, the Lord explained to Joshua that Israel had sinned. When confronted, Achan confessed. “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did:  when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

How quickly a look becomes lust becomes a fall! It’s a biblical and human pattern. O be careful little eyes what you see! Tim Keller describes idolatry as “looking at something and saying, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’ An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” It is a good thing that becomes an ultimate thing, causing disordered affections in our heart. What is frightening is how effortlessly and insidiously a seemingly innocent look can distort vision and clear thinking. (Genesis 3:6; 2 Samuel 11:2-4; Counterfeit Gods)

While it may be easy for me to look on and say it’s ridiculous to give in to stealing a pretty garment and some money and bring destruction on a whole family and the reputation of your nation, but I must consider my own heart and actions. Whose reputations have I harmed by giving in to loose talk? What glory that is rightfully God’s is stolen by self-promotion? How are loved ones prevented from seeing God’s triumphs by my unwillingness to do the hard thing? To trust His sufficiency? How has deliberate disobedience and selfishness discouraged another’s faith or caused them to stumble?

Good Father, purify my eyes, expose my idolatry. May I desire You above all else, Your word and ways as my chief delight.

Stepping In

Israel finally arrived at the Jordan River, the boundary line between their forty years of desert wandering and the Promised Land. Moses was dead, Joshua now at their lead.  But the water was high, its current strong. God gave the plan: A representative from each tribe was to gather, and the priests carrying the ark were to go first and rest the soles of their feet in the Jordan. Then the waters of the Jordan would stand in a heap to let them all cross–when they stepped in in faith!

Beginning, stepping in, was the key. Indeed, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.” (Joshua 3:15-17)

I was recently reminded of fearful endeavors in my own life when a friend recounted her nervousness before a new undertaking–but once she began, the peace and joy came. When God calls, He enables–every time!

When I am uneasy at a new situation, or led to begin something seemingly impossible or at least out of my comfort zone, I can trust the One whose Presence goes before me. I experience His sufficient enabling as I obey, stepping in the brink. He holds back the waters of fear, He makes a way, He provides, and He shows Himself marvelous. He gives the what, and we must trust Him with the how.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
and to take him at his word;
just to rest upon his promise,
and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him!
How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust him more.                                                                                                    Louisa M. R. Stead (1882)

Father, lead on. Keep me following the ark of Your Presence, stepping one foot in front of the other as You command, trusting You to part the waters and make Your way clear.