Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lessons From Jericho

In Joshua chapter 6 we find the story of the battle of Jericho. Most of you know that story well and so I’m not going to go into the details much. If you are unfamiliar with those details, I recommend that you read it over so that you know how the battle unfolded.

As the Israelites walked around the walls of that great city, they must have been impressed with its size and impregnable strength. One wonders why God would make them just walk around the city once each day for six days. We don’t know that answer for sure, but I think it was to show them how humanly impossible it was to defeat the city and its inhabitants.

Many of the situations we face in life are that way. They seem to loom as obstacles that we cannot overcome. Some of the difficult situations in life involve other people. One of the things we should learn early in life is that you can’t change other people. You can’t get inside of them and turn a screw that will make them love you or make them more cooperative. They make decisions for their own reasons and there seems to be little we can do to change that.

The city of Jericho was to be conquered using God’s methods. God has given us everything we need in His Word for life and godliness. So many times we rely on our own logic or the teachings of psychology or sociology or other man-made system to accomplish what only God can do. Having said that though, we need to observe that they did not do nothing. There was a plan and it involved following obediently in the carrying out of that plan. Our problem, especially as men, is that we don’t take the time to learn God’s Word well enough to learn its principles and the spiritual guidelines for living victoriously. I suggest that if you don’t have a systematic plan to read and study the Bible, you should begin one right away.

Second Corinthians 10:4 tells us that the weapons God has given us are not fleshly and worldly, but are spiritual and are mighty through God for the tearing down of strongholds. Jericho was certainly a physical stronghold and in our lives we have spiritual strongholds. It would be a good exercise to list several strongholds the enemy has in your life and then take steps to apply God’s Word as a weapon to tear those strongholds down.

Keep in mind the purpose of the victory. It is always for the glory of God. Many times we are hoping for victory so that we will feel better or so that our relationships will be healed. But God wants to be glorified in our lives in whatever we do and we should see that goal as the supreme purpose for undertaking and winning a spiritual battle.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Spiritual Victory

Last time we saw Joshua responding to the Captain of the Lord of Hosts. When asked whose side He was on, the Captain responded, “No. I am in charge.” What is this host that He was commander of?

In 2 Kings 6:17 we read of an incident where Elisha was surrounded by an enemy and yet he says, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then his servant’s eyes were opened and he saw that the mountains were full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

There is a spiritual battle going on. Zechariah 4:6 tells us that it is not by might nor by power but by my spirit, says the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 10:4 we read that the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but might through God for the pulling down of strongholds.

We should remember that this is a real battle but it is a spiritual battle. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. Ephesians 6:4.

Many times we try to use psychology and human methods to try to solve our personal and family problems, but they are usually spiritual battles. We often try to grow our church or change people’s lives by human means. None of this produces real and lasting results. We need to know the Word and then in faith be obedient to it.

Joshua’s encounter gives us four principles. First, realize that Christ claims authority to command. Second, our response is to submit and worship. Third, we need to ask, “What is your word to us?” Then respond in obedience. And finally, acknowledge the holiness of God and obey Him.

May we as men who desire to be God’s faithful men follow these principles in our daily lives.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Whose Side is God On?

Have you ever wondered whose side God is on? Before the battle of Jericho, Joshua met a Man with a sword in His hand. It turns out that this “man” is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. This incident is recorded in Joshua 5:13.

Joshua asked Him the question we might like to ask. He asked, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”

The answer is interesting. He said “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell on his face and worshiped. (Sometimes people in the Bible fall and worship before an angel, but the angel usually says something like, “Stand up. I’m just a creature too.”) Why is “No” an interesting answer to Joshua’s question? Because God does not take sides among men. God is the one who is in charge. He is the commander. He isn’t on Joshua’s side. Joshua is supposed to be on His side.

Who is this one? He is the image of the invisible God, firstborn over all creation. By him all things were created and in Him everything holds together. In Him all the fullness of God dwells. He is the heir of all things and the express image of God. He is the captain of our salvation made perfect through sufferings. He is not ashamed to be called our brother. He has become our High Priest, holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners yet tempted in every way like we are. He entered the most holy place with his own blood once for all. By him and through Him and to Him are all things. Amen!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Leaving Defeat Behind

If you’ve been reading this blog regularly you know that I’ve been working my way through the book of Joshua with lots of detours as we find concepts that need to be pursued in greater depth. We are in chapter 5 and we have found that through all the years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelite men had not been circumcised as the law had commanded. This oversight was dealt with and immediately they were allowed to keep the Passover in the plains of Jericho. (Joshua 5:9ff)

Without skipping a beat we find that they were able to eat of the produce of the land immediately after the Passover was finished. They had been eating manna for 40 years as they wandered in the wilderness, but now they were able to eat the food that grew in the land that God was giving them.

I pick up a couple of important thoughts from this. First, as Christians we often spend a lot of our time wandering in the wilderness of defeat and compromise. When we really get serious about wanting to live the kind of victorious life that God has given us in Christ, that reproach needs to be put away. We need to confess our sins and in the process we find that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Second, we are to feed upon Christ. He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and He is our living water (John 4). He satisfies the longing soul. (Psalm 107:8, 9) He satisfies our mouth with good things so that our youth is renewed like the eagles. (Psalm 103:5) As Christians we are to desire the sincere milk of the Word (I Peter 2:23) but we are to go on to meat. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

What this means is that we are to leave the foundation of elementary principles as the writer of Hebrews discusses in chapter 5 and 6. It would make a great Bible study for you to dig through these chapters and study what’s involved in moving forward rather than staying on the basics.

The last thing I see in this passage in Joshua 5 is that they were able to feast in the plains of Jericho. What does that mean? That means in the very sight of the enemy, they were able to hold their worship celebration without fear because God was with them. Isn’t that what we find in Psalm 23? You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

Let’s rejoice that if we truly put away the soot and dirt of the wilderness life and move on to a life of claiming the promises of God, feasting on Him and His Word and worshiping here in enemy territory, we will find God’s blessing on our lives.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Living in the Spirit (2)

Continuing our thought from last time, it often seems like it’s not that easy to live consistently in the Spirit. The first step is to remember what we’ve already seen in chapter 8 and that is that there is no condemnation, we are free from the law of sin and death, and that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us through His Spirit.

We have seen that those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in them are in the Spirit, not the flesh and therefore shouldn’t live as though they were in the flesh.

Verse 10 reminds us of why all of this is very powerfully effective. Though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life and since the Spirit dwells in us, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal body through the Spirit that already dwells in us.

What this is saying to me is that as a Christian, my spirit is alive because of Christ’s indwelling presence in my life. That means that even though my body is dead or dying and the flesh is still present, the seed of life is there in all its reality. The result will be that this body will also be raised some day because of and through the Spirit that already is alive inside of me. So even though the battle sometimes seems hopeless, it isn’t. As Christians, we have God the Spirit living in us. He is called the down payment which God has given us promising that the rest will be forthcoming. He sums this up in Romans 8:23 where he says, “we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” The redemption of the body is coming, but it’s not here yet.

Because of the fact that the Spirit is in us, we are no longer debtors to live according to the flesh. Remember when a bully wanted to pick on you? If you were alone, you were vulnerable and were sort of forced into doing what he said. But if your big brother or a bigger stronger friend was with you, the bully could not get the upper hand. To me this illustrates what Paul is describing here. Because God lives in us, we don’t have to do what the flesh wants. We are not debtors to live the way it wants us to live and to cave in to the temptations that it wants us to give in to.

As Paul often does, he puts a warning along with this great truth and that is that if we live according to the flesh, we will die. However, if we use the power of the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh we will live. And then he makes this amazing statement. It is those who are led by the Spirit that are the sons of God.

All of this is a challenge to me to live the way I’m supposed to live. I claim to be a Christian and so I should live through the power of the Spirit to daily put to death the deeds of the body. It’s not always easy. But it is the God-ordained method of successful Christian living.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Living in the Spirit

We’re currently in a study of Joshua that led us to look at our death, burial and resurrection with Christ. Just as the people of Israel went down into the river bed with God and came up safely on the other side, so we too were crucified with Christ, were buried with Him and are alive in Him. That led us to look at several things we are dead to – sin, the law and the world. Even though it may not feel like it, we are to count these things as true because God says they are true.

This led us to begin thinking through the fact that there seems to be a lot of struggle in this life if we are really on the victory side of things. It might be wise for you to read back through the past several postings to get the gist of our discussion.

Last time we looked at the first four verses of Romans 8 to find that life in the Spirit is where the victory is as opposed to life under the law.

Verse 5 of Romans 8 tells us that there are two opposite ways to live. Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. That’s one way to live. The other way is to live according to the Spirit, in which case the mind is set on the things of the Spirit. I think it’s appropriate to ask ourselves which mind set is typical for us.

There are those who say that we can be a Christian and live according to the flesh. Perhaps, but I’m not so sure this passage allows for that. What do you think? In verse 6, Paul says, “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Here again there are two kinds of mindedness—one is death and the other is life and peace. The reason this is so is that the fleshly mind is enmity against God not being subject to the law of God. The conclusion then in verse 8 is that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. The question still remains. Are Christians basically able to choose one of two life-styles, either life in the Spirit or life in the flesh.

In verse 9, Paul tells us that you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. And, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

At the very least we have a strong admonition here as to why we should not choose to mind the things of the flesh. Minding the flesh is death. Minding the flesh is enmity against God. In living this way we are living like those who are in the flesh, in other words we are acting like those who are lost. The challenge to us men today is to make sure that we are living the life of who we are. In other words, as Christian men, we are in the Spirit and therefore should live like it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Victory Through the Holy Spirit

Many of us spend a lot of time struggling like Paul describes in Romans 7. The key to victory, I believe, is what he describes in Romans 8. He had described the struggle that comes by trying to apply the law to the Christian life and it doesn’t work. The way it is actually accomplished is through the power of the Holy Spirit.

There are several things I think are important to realize in applying this truth. First is the fact that for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation. We sometimes state this so lightly and yet when we realize the depth of our sin, disobedience and rebellion, we realize what a tremendous truth this is. No Condemnation! (Romans 8:1)

The second thing to realize is that we are free from the law of sin and death. This is a vicious cycle. We sin and the law condemns us to death because of it. We often feel like there is no escape. But the great news in the gospel is that we have been released from this cycle of sin and death. There is no condemnation and therefore the law of sin and death does not apply to us. (Romans 8:2)

As we studied last time, the law is weak because of the reaction of the flesh to it. When the law comes in, sin is strengthened and produces death. But Romans 8:3 tells us that what the law could not do God did. He sent His son in the likeness of sinful flesh. He was a man like we are. He was tempted in all points like we are except that He did not sin. In living a perfect life He condemned sin in the flesh. He judged sin and overcame its power by living sinlessly. My way of thinking of it is that He proved it could be done. I don’t know how theologically correct that is, but it is what I see Paul saying here. In the very place where sin seems to exert its power using the law as its strength, Christ overruled it and defeated it.

This leads to verse 4 which tells us that all of this happened so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. The way of victory is the way of walking in Spirit. Doing so fulfills the law in us. Rather than being imposed on us from the outside, which does not work, we have the law fulfilled in us by the working of the Spirit of God which does work. After all, this was the promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:33, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.”

The New Covenant promise in Ezekiel 36:27 says it this way, I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”

The promise is that God through His Spirit gives us a new nature which has the motivation and desire to work out God’s law from within because it has been written on the heart.