The Foremost Boast

Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’” “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:31; Galatians 6:14

Does anyone like a boaster? Who swags through life a coaster? Who thinks he is the moster? And everyone else a loser? There are some qualities that make people difficult to be around, and one is boasting, calling attention to self in a myriad of ways– ideas, accomplishments, credentials, possessions, performance, appearance. By nature, such boasting diminishes others, and elevates self in awkward puffery that aggrandizes momentarily but often does not hold up under scrutiny. When a brag gets too loud, too full of hot air, it pops, and its powdery glitter dissipates into nothing. The scriptures denounce such boasting, saying praise of ourselves should be up to others, and prescribe only one kind that exalts our God, and that is boasting in Him. While subversive thinking in a culture that inflates individuality, when we take credit for anything ourselves, we are necessarily stealing credit from God. (Proverbs 27:1-2; Isaiah 16:6; 42:8; 1 Corinthians 4:7; 5:6; 13:4; James 4:13-16)

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So in a world where we are taught to look out for number one, and convinced we have a right to the best, and cajoled into any variety of self-serving experiences, these words can strike deep. After all, we have access to unlimited knowledge, we are trained and conditioned to be strong, we are media-driven to amass resources and advised to establish financial security. If these efforts are all-consuming, aren’t they what we would talk about and project to others?

How different is the flavor of a life when it is geared to knowing God, when its trajectory is to understand His character and ways, and to practice love, justice, and righteousness as He does. Pursuits take on a different compulsion; motivations are elevated; perspective takes on a new, broader dimension; attention and energy is spent not on the temporal, but the eternal; endless efforts to be approved by others are instead focused on the divine; lust for the world is swallowed by affection for the Savior; fear of God replaces fear of man.

The secret to this counter-cultural way of life is the cross of Christ. It is only in Jesus that the world and its patterns of thinking and doing are crushed and defeated. It is only in the cross where our prurient and selfish desires are crucified, and we are freed to boast in our Savior’s victory and appropriate His life. To boast in Jesus is to know Who He is, to grasp what He has done for me, to exhibit His personality and live out His praise in the here and now.

Oh Lord, adjust my inmost being that my words, meditations, and actions boast only in You. (Psalm 139:14)

 

Divine Boundary Lines

The lot of the tribe of the people of Benjamin came up, and the territory allotted to it fell between the people of Judah and the people of Joseph. On the north side their boundary began at the Jordan. Then the boundary goes up to the shoulder north of Jericho, then up through the hill country westward, and it ends at the wilderness of Beth-aven. From there the boundary passes along southward in the direction of Luz, to the shoulder of Luz, then down to Ataroth-addar, on the mountain that lies south of Lower Beth-horon. Then the boundary goes in another direction, turning on the western side southward from the mountain that lies to the south, and it ends at Kiriath-baal. The southern side begins at the outskirts of Kiriath-jearim. And the boundary goes from there to the spring of the waters of Nephtoah. Then the boundary goes down to the border of the mountain that overlooks the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is at the north end of the Valley of Rephaim. And it then goes down the Valley of Hinnom, south of the shoulder of the Jebusites, and downward to En-rogel. Then it bends in a northerly direction going on to En-shemesh, and from there goes to Geliloth, which is opposite the ascent of Adummim. Then it goes down to the stone of Bohan, and passing on to the north of the shoulder of Beth-arabah it goes down to the Arabah. Then the boundary passes on to the north of the shoulder of Beth-hoglah, and ends at the northern bay of the Salt Sea, at the south end of the Jordan: this is the southern border. The Jordan forms its boundary on the eastern side. This is the inheritance of the people of Benjamin, according to their clans, boundary by boundary all around.” Joshua 18:11-20

Not knowing the map of ancient Israel well, it intrigues me how detailed the descriptions of the tribes’ geographical boundaries are. Just as their inheritances, their mountains and valleys and views and bodies of water, were specific and measured, so are the boundaries of our lives. Every aspect of our experience– life-source, exhilaration, sorrow, relationships/neighbors– is fashioned and doled out by our all-knowing, benevolent God. While our lives intersect with others’, each has his own unique content, edges, and perspective.

Fallow fields w mountains, clouds, Queensland, Australia

There should be great comfort, and hope, and satisfaction, in recognizing the hand of our sovereign LORD in determining our lives’ boundaries. He orders every change, battle, deficiency, heartache, conundrum, adjustment, and ecstasy, that right where we are, we would seek, know, and delight in Him. “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God.” Rather that resist our place, or what comes our way, we can, in this knowledge, rest in where He has us. (Acts 17:26-27)

Do I complain, chafe, covet, compare? Looking only unto the Lord, will I instead say with conviction, The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”? (Psalm 16:6)

Good Father, may I honor You by taking joy in the boundary lines You have fixed for me.

Tenacity in the Take

Then the people of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, ‘Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the Lord has blessed me?’ And Joshua said to them, ‘If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.’ The people of Joseph said, ‘The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.’ Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, ‘You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.’” Joshua 17:14-17

In the allotment of the land, Joseph’s double tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, felt they did not have enough, according to their size, and asked Joshua for more. Their sage leader said, ‘You take it. If you are large enough to need it, you are capable of doing what it takes to possess it.’ This was not a dismissive ‘Do it yourself and stop whining,’ nor was it a misguided ‘You can do anything you put your mind to, be anything you want to be.’ Joshua was a leader extraordinaire who knew God’s sure promises and depended on Him for the insight and skill both to seize them and to dole them out. He genuinely ‘encouraged’ his people, instilling divine courage based on his Lord’s word to them.

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What are chariots of iron and numerous men’s strength against the power of the Almighty? “You are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Do we get so delusional in our perspective, so immersed in the horizontal world, that we trust in our man-made chariots and horses over the omnipotent Name of the LORD our God? (1 John 4:4; Psalm 20:7)

Where am I whining, ‘This is too hard, another’s fault, another’s responsibility’? “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Or where, if I am zealous to take the land, am I so enamored with myself that I trust my smarts, my plan, my efforts, without weighing in on God’s wisdom, direction, and supply? Have I slipped into thinking everything is up to me– the success of my work, the salvation of my loved ones, the changing of hearts, maturing of minds, provision for others’ needs, progress of my intentions? Will I step back and take thought with my Lord, seek His guidance, rely on His strength, and go forth at His command alone?

Lord, keep me tenacious, and wise, in taking hold of Your promises. May I never shirk my responsibility in possessing, delighting in, and sharing the gifts You bestow.

Initiating the Take

The people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb said to him, ‘You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, “Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.” And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old.  I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.’ Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb for an inheritance. Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel… And Caleb drove out from there the descendants of Anak.” Joshua 14:6-14; 15:14

Faithful Caleb had spent over half his life patiently looking to God’s promise, trusting it to be true, and at the right time he requested its fulfillment. This is a beautiful picture of faith exercised, unwavering over the years, and now grasping what was assured him.

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The scriptures are full of promises to us that we let lie fallow, out of either ignorance, lack of faith, or an over-consumption with self and our own efforts at winning and achieving our own successes. I am inspired by Caleb in that he never lost sight of the land committed to him, and was willing to wait to possess it– the promise was as sure as accomplished, and kept him steady through the decades, taking one step at a time, tuned in to God’s perfect timing. As his physical strength had not waned, neither had his zeal for God’s gift to him.

Do I take time to search the scriptures for God’s rich promises to me of strength, wisdom, guidance, provision, peace, hope? And then, do I claim them in grateful, expectant prayer, thus honoring the trustworthiness of the One Who offers and delights to give? Am I willing to let go of my stubborn control and penchant to make things happen myself, to exercise faith by deliberately, actively trusting God to bring about what He says He will? (1 Chronicles 29:12; Psalm 32:8; Proverbs 3:5-6; Matthew 6:33; 7:7; John 16:33; Romans 15:13; Philippians 4:6-7)

Lord, You are bountiful, able, and trustworthy. Grant me faith to possess all You have promised to give, that You alone are magnified.

Riven Rock

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken,  smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “The other disciples told [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’ Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” Isaiah 53:4-6; John 20:25-28

Captivated by the ragged scar on the rock face, wondering at its cause, my mind turns to the nail scarred hands. The closer we climbed, the more angles of light that exposed the jagged edges of riven rock, I could not help but think of my Rock of ages, cleft for me, the immovable Rock upon which my faith is established, the Rock and Redeemer Whose side was split for me, His blood and water washing my sins away and freeing me from the tyranny of transgression, temptation. What a Savior! (1 Samuel 2:2; Psalm 18:2,46; John 19:34; 1 John 5:6)

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So why do I shrink from pain that brings scars? Do I choose soft quilted cushions over the fray, unwilling to bear shame and agony my Savior bore for me? Do I retreat from speaking or defending truth to hide behind a protective curtain of ignorance or acquiescence? Am I above identifying with Him? He Who holds me in His nail-scarred hands is He Who is sufficient for all things, including pain and suffering. He redeems every sorrow, making beautiful every scar to reflect His mercy and glory. (Isaiah 49:16)

“Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?”  ~Amy Carmichael (1867-1951)

Good Master, free me from a penchant to love softening things, easy choices, weakenings,’ anything that would promote a ‘silken self’ over being a warrior for Thee who welcomes scars that share the marks of my Savior.

 

The Difference Between What and Who

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept. What do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Matthew 19:16-22

Isn’t this our natural bent, to think we can earn God’s favor? In the flesh, we want to ‘do,’ and by doing so control our destiny, define our standing with God Almighty. We want to contribute to the ‘extravagant enough.’ Jesus puts this wrong thinking to naught by answering the inquisitive, prideful man’s question with another question, and turning his conclusions inside out. Eternal life is not based on a ‘what,’ but a ‘Who,’ and only when this rich man understands that giving up all he has amassed and held onto, yielding his methods to the Savior’s way of sacrifice, will he grasp the true cost of this gift of grace. Salvation is won by the Who of Jesus, not the what of man. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Church crosses, Fairplay, CO

Where am I placing too high a view of my works, my offering, before the Holy One? It is not that we are to neglect God’s commands, as Jesus says here, but the danger is when we think they notch us up a bit before Him, and when pride seeps in, before others too. A mind that comprehends all is of His grace, that the work of life is the work of the Cross, is one whose resulting actions are performed in humble gratitude, out of lavish thankfulness and adoration; the difference is obvious to the observing eye. When we go away sad, thinking we’ve been put down because we weren’t quite enough, or we smugly take credit for our generosity or time given on another’s behalf, either is a position of thinking too much of ourselves, and draws attention to me. But, when we are caught up in the Savior’s ultimate gift to us of Himself, every breath, every response, is a luxurious offering to Him; the focus and heartbeat of our lives is the great Redeemer. (Romans 12:3)

In the way I go about my days, the words I use, the conversations I entertain, am I lifting high myself, or Jesus? Will I surrender my whats into the nail-scarred hands of my glorified Who?

“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world adore His sacred Name. ~George William Kitchin (1887)

Sufficient Savior, hide my works in Thee. May my living be a reflection of Your life and death for me, to the praise of Your great name and grace.

Every Choice Consequential

“About three thousand men went [from Jericho to Ai]… and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water. Then Joshua said, ‘Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us?’ The Lord said to Joshua,.. ‘Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. Get up! Consecrate the people.’

Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the Lord. Tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.’ And Achan answered Joshua, ‘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…’ And Joshua said, ‘Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.’” Joshua 7:4-5,7,10-13,19-21,25

‘Just a beautiful cloak- what difference could that make? Oh, and a little (5 lbs) silver and (20oz) gold. But we took care of the people and captured the city; I did what you said.’ Yet Achan’s impulsive decision to transgress God’s clear command to “destroy the devoted things” and place any silver and gold as holy to the LORD into His treasury, by keeping some of Jericho’s treasure for himself, brought death to three dozen of his brothers. By taking these things in secret and hiding them, Achan assumed his choice was harmless, invisible, but God sees all and knows the rebel heart. He uncovers deceit and will not stand for sin that pollutes His people. (Numbers 32:23; Joshua 6:17-19; Jeremiah 2:19; Hebrews 3:13)

Clouds of summer, heavy w rain

Do my choices exalt God, or not? Do my expenditures, advice, leisure activities promote His will, or mine? Are there decisions I’m ashamed to reveal, and try to bury under a calm facade, a devious explanation, a meaningless excuse, or blaming another? Where has my neglect, hurry, flippant untruth, or deceit diminished my resolve and become the example emulated by those I influence, for their detriment? How have my careless words, disdain, or criticisms hurt others, harmed a relationship, broken a tender spirit, or stained another’s reputation? Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God, when he led you in the way?” How thoughtful am I before making intentional choices of word and deed? When we and others do suffer from lingering consequences of earlier, forgiven sin, we can trust God to heal over time and to use the hurt for ultimate good. (Jeremiah 2:17)

Father, I repent of my ungodly choices that have adversely affected me, others, and Your great Name. May I thoughtfully bring all I do and say to You, and work and serve always as unto You, for Your renown and glory. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Colossians 3:17,23-24)