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Joshua 23
Part 6 of 6

When someone has marked our lives, their last words to us are forever fixed in our minds. We remember vividly what a special person has said to us in their retirement, their death or their departure. It means a lot to us when those final words are a charge to us and our choices and behavior.

Joshua was an amazing leader for Israel. This historic moment of this faithful general to his leaders has a piercing impact on his hearers. Everyone receives, understands and initially embraces this direction from their leader.

Loyalty to their leader, however, is not the primary basis of their life of obedience. Instead, Joshua points out what they themselves had experienced. They were eyewitnesses of God’s great favor and blessing in their lives. Each of the leaders saw God’s provision and miraculous intervention for the nation with their own eyes.

Do you remember God intervening in your life? How did that make you feel at the time? Has that attitude faltered over time? Is your life a life marked by obedience or by compromise?

Immerse yourself into God’s Word. Then, as you see Him active in your life, resolve to live a life of immediate and complete obedience to Him. Do not just remember His Words, live His words.

Thanks for joining me on this journey of living the Scripture

Joshua 23
Part 5 of 6

Joshua makes a bold but perfectly acceptable promise. With the LORD on Israel’s side, no one will be able to stand against her. This is kind of faith and trust that should lead the nation to step out boldly in precise obedience to God’s Word.

It is, however, not just God’s promise of His powerful presence that should move Israel to immediate obedience. Their love for the LORD their God must be their driving motivation. It is not a matter of a military pact. Rather it is a relationship of love that is at the core of this arrangement.

Any compromise on Israel’s part will exclusively be her responsibility. God will not shrink back on His love for the nation or His devotion for her. The only way that God will not provide for Israel is her own choice to turn away from God.

It is true for modern days as well. If we walk with God He will be faithful and provide for us. When we love Him and obey Him, He keeps on guiding our steps and leading us in the way in which we should go.

Joshua gives Israel a baseline for her confidence. God has fulfilled every promise that He has made to Israel in bringing them to the Land. This is without exception and should give the people confidence to respond in love and obedience as well.

More later…

Israel 2014 IFL 396Some of the sites in Israel are splendid to the eye.  The Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee are like that kind of tourist highlight.  Most likely the Valley of Jezreel that is guarded by Megiddo should also be included in this.

Those who are fortunate to make it down to the Red Sea and relax at Elat would chime in for that location as well.  Swimming in those crystal clear waters or lounging on the sea-shore with many recreational guests taking advantage of the water and sun would nod in agreement.  Elat is a resort for modern-day Israelis.

Then, there are historic and prophetic sites.  The Western Wall or the Wailing Wall is such destination.  My soul is always stirred when I walk to the Wall.

Every year that I have help to guide a group to the Holy Land, someone always asks for an explanation of the significance of this place.  Yes, the wall itself is remarkable, showing the different historical seasons of occupation in this land.  Others point out the quality of its construction and longevity of this kind of engineering feat of massive stones cut and then placed without the benefit of power equipment. There is much more, however.

The Temple was located on the other side before it was destroyed.  That means that the Holy of Holies was located near that place as well.  This would mean that the ark of the Covenant was near this place.

The ark was where God met the nation of Israel.  On the cover of the case surrounded by two angels God accepted the blood sacrifices of the nation of Israel.  Thus, it is not the wall that is special but the location of the wall that gives worshipers a special reason to come here.

If you stand close to the wall, then look  immediately to your left, there is an arched opening.  Archaeologists have been uncovering more of the wall.  Inside there is an approach to a massive stone in the wall that is believed to be adjacent to where the Holy of Holies was situated.

It is a huge stone standing out in comparison to all of the other stones in the construction of the wall.  How it was ever moved to the location let alone moved into place is a marvel of engineering and craftsmanship that remains a mystery.  Nevertheless, let your worship spontaneously express itself at this very special wall.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Joshua 21,22
Part 6 of 7

 

The 2 ½ tribes build an imposing altar en route to their Lands on the East side of the Jordan River.  Word of this action reaches back to the rest of the Israelites.  Nothing is said of who brought the news or why they interpreted the news the way they did.  That is often the case in misunderstandings.

 

Israel reacted out of fear, surprise and assumption.  They jumped to a conclusion because their own sensitivity to their history of violating God’s law.  Further, they acted out of fear that if any of the tribes got out of line God would judge the entire nation.

 

The majority tribes were intent on war.  There was a prejudgment to hurt those that they had already judged as guilty.  Condemnation was embedded in their questions: “How could you break faith?  How could you turn away from the LORD?”

 

None of this was true.  However, their accusations had already concluded that they were right and the 2 ½ tribes were wrong.  They were guilty before being proven to be so.

 

A moment of respite happens that is not frequently repeated in our modern days.  It can be easily traced back to the common declaration that all of the tribes announced as their commitment.  Right at the precipice of disaster, the nation rights itself as what is most important rises to the surface.

 

More later…

 

Joshua 21,22
Part 5 of 7

 

Before the tribes separate, they openly declare their devotion to specific convictions.  This is not merely a religious rite but a declaration of allegiance to truth.  It is what is most important to them.

 

They vow to keep the commandment and the law.  Together they announce their love for the LORD their God.  In unison they declare their intentions to walk in all His ways.  As a nation they will obey His commands.  They will hold fast to Him.  As a people they will serve him with all of their heart and soul.

 

If those of us who follow the LORD will do likewise then oddities like misunderstandings and human biases will be dramatically lessened.  Instead of churches splitting and Christians ending fellowship, the Spirit will win over human limitations.   Humans clinging stubbornly to their self-centered position that they are right will humbly defer all righteousness to God where it belongs.

 

This stirring national statement of spiritual commitment may have saved Israel from an unnecessary civil war.  Today we who live in the focus of God’s grace have too often been a part of separations that never should have been allowed to fester into something exclusively human.

 

More later…

Joshua 18-20

Part 5 of 6

 

We are not the nation of Israel.  Those in our family are not like the tribes of Israel.  There is no spiritual parallel of a direct nature between the nation of Israel and us today.

 

However, we serve the same God.  That God has the same heart of love and understanding for us frail and often error-ridden humans.  He takes care of us who have experienced an error that was not a matter of our intentions.

 

It is more than bad luck.  There is no such a thing.  God providentially directs our steps and provides for all of our needs, even the need for encouragement through tough times.

 

We live in a world that is corrupted with sin.  The consequences of sin in our lives by our own actions and the world infected by original sin makes for lives needing God’s mercy.  He continues to generously fill our lives with these measures.

 

More later…

Israel 2014 IFL 354The pace that our trip to the Holy Land was maintaining pushed the limits of our human ability to retain the overload of information.  It is a challenging task to decipher what our pilgrims can receive and how much we can push them to give full value to their once-in-a-lifetime tour.  While it might seem strange, giving them a respite helped increase their capacity to take in more.

Along the journey a momentary glimpse of something unique could seal the faith of a pilgrim with a visual reminder.  Constantly we were looking at this or seeing that.  Yet, a moment of beauty from a single window bringing in the sunlight from the outside into the dark dingy cavernous stone cathedral was captivating.

God’s created sunlight lit up the ceiling of an ancient architectural wonder like only a postcard could do.  It happened between moments of our guide giving one of his many lectures.  The crowd of people were being directed to another location.

As we waited for our turn to file out, I glanced up.  The arches of the ceiling and roof were reflecting the physics of structure and the aesthetics of design.  God lit up the shades of stone and the strength of engineering to give one of those beautiful moments when faith not just felt but also seen.

Israel 2014 IFL 360Stepping out into the sun was a reward.  Inside the building sunlight was relegated to a single portal.  Now, it was the dominate attraction in the sky.

Floods of sunlight showered on the foliage around me.  A tree burst out in yellow blossoms.  Each was reflecting the radiant light of the stellar ball of fire.

The pedals captured the rays of light.  Brilliant puffs of color decorated our canopy of shade.  God was reminding us that this was the Land that He promised His people.

If we would live by faith, we too would enjoy His fulfilled promises.  There was nothing that the God of creation could not do.  With faith everything was possible.

Israel 2014 IFL 364The powerful light was too much.  I looked down.  There my eyes rested but found another amazing delight.

The symbol of our faith was there.  Representing the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave grew up by my feet.  Easter Lilies blossomed just at the right spot on our tour.

My mind was contemplating the reality of my faith.  The beauty of my faith was there for my eyes to stroke.  Faith is a saving reality and beauty to behold.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 366When I was invited to serve as the professor on one of the Insight for Living buses during a tour of the Holy Land, I was ecstatic.  It was an honor and privilege to teach people what it meant to be in the Land of the Savior.  During my early morning hours before work and late night moments after coming home from work, I poured over the itinerary and studied the Scriptures pertinent to the journey.

Then, in the mail my wife and I received a list of names.  These would be the pilgrims who would be travelling with us on Bus #11.  We were designated the Caramel bus.

We scanned the names on the list.  Also, we noted the cities and states that they called home.  During our initial exposure we tried to guess families and individuals by their last names.

There was not much information to go on as we formed in our minds who these travelers were and what they would be like.  Since we had no pictures or descriptions we did what we could do.  We prayed for them.

Everyone needs prayer.  Few people turn down that service by others on their behalf.  Besides when we pray for others we start to remember their names.

Then, the date of meeting arrived.  We were in the hotel at Tel Aviv.  Our team had been there a day in advance.

Hotel hospitality, tour company personnel, bus shepherds and bus professor couples lined up at the entrance.  Guests arrived by the bus load.  We greeted our pilgrims with smiles, handshakes, delicious beverages and sweets.

Most of those who entered were a bit shell-shocked.  They were surrounded by mostly strangers.  These were friendlies but strangers, nevertheless.

Many conversations and introductions were filling the quiet air with laughter, enthusiasm, stories and hopes.  Endless questions were scattered in those moments and answers were plentiful.  We achieved our goal to orient everyone to the next steps and get them situated comfortably in their hotel rooms.

Dinner was exciting.  The travel team expertly had everyone’s attention.  Musicians and worship leaders were brilliant.

The anticipation of a well-run, sharp and spiritually minded lead team was firmly established in all of our minds.  Now, it was off to bed.  A few night owls kept the rumble of new-found conversations and the beginning of new friendships flourishing.

Now, half way through the tour, we knew each others names.  We easily expressed our awe at the places we visited.  Tears, smiles and teasing we now common since we had been transformed from strangers to friends.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Joshua 15-17
Part 4 of 6

In contrast to Caleb’s securing his borders and expanding his territories, Judah is not as successful. The description for the large tribe is disheartening. Here the Scripture simply says “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.”

Some may sympathize and justify Judah’s effort as being their best. Yet, the lingering consequences of this failure impact Israel’s future. Jerusalem as a city is impacted for generations.

The subtle truth is that Judah could not dislodge the enemy. A stubborn enemy is not overcome by our own efforts but how we depend on God to work through us to achieve His objectives. If Judah had come before the Lord and sought His strength instead of depending upon their own strength, the outcome would have been different.

Failure in faith is contagious. What we choose not to do or overlook in our faith efforts discourages others from trying. Remember those who are watching and depending on your initiatives to exemplify faith living.

More later…

There was a day when Jesus was walking with His disciples.  They were going to Jerusalem for a festival.  This company entered the city through the Sheep Gate, near the pool of Bethesda.

Five covered colonnades near the pool marked this distinguishing site.  A man was there who was born blind.  Jesus engages him in a conversation.

Many who are disabled crowd around these waters.  Those who are blind, lame and paralyzed make this location their daily routine.  The expectation of a miracle is on everyone’s mind.

Israel 2014 IFL 349The man talks with Jesus but has no idea who He is.  Instead, he only talks about his predicament.  When the waters are stirred, he is frustrated because there is no one who can help him into the waters.

Jesus asks the man the obvious, “Do you want to get well?”  Even the man does not pick up on this query.  He answers with his predicament.

Then, Jesus declares that the man is healed.  He orders the man to pick up his mat and walk.  The healed man does so.

Everything about this  miracle is immediate.  There is rehabilitation.  No transition time is necessary.

Although the man has never seen since he was born blind, his mind can process people and he can negotiate his physical locomotion.  The miracle is total.  Yet, the mystery that surrounds it linger.

But there were sour legalistic people around.  Some took the rules of living to the extreme.  They criticized the healed man for carrying his mat.

Israel 2014 IFL 348In their perspective it was work and no one who was serious about their Judaism worked on the day of rest.  It is ludicrous to understand the rationale of this encounter.  Nevertheless, this extremism speaks to the unwillingness of people to see their own sin and stubborn refusal to humbly come to Jesus and believe in His message of grace.

The man who was healed kept on expressing a simplicity of his faith.  He simply told his critics that he was just doing what the man who healed instructed him to do.  When challenged to identify Jesus, the man honestly responded that he did not know who He was.

Later, in Jesus’ quiet way he met the man who He had healed.  He told him to go and sin no more.  Bad things happen to those who sin.

This is the message at the pool of Bethesda.  God’s mercy comes to those in need.  When it does, then humbly obey with simple faith.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

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