Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hard Following of God

Joshua 24 [14-22]
“So now: Fear God. Worship him in total commitment. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped on the far side of The River (the Euphrates) and in Egypt. You, worship God.

“If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve—and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you’re now living. As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”

The people answered, “We’d never forsake God! Never! We’d never leave God to worship other gods. God is our God! He brought up our ancestors from Egypt and from slave conditions. He did all those great signs while we watched. He has kept his eye on us all along the roads we’ve traveled and among the nations we’ve passed through. Just for us he drove out all the nations, Amorites and all, who lived in the land.

“Count us in: We too are going to worship God. He’s our God.”

Then Joshua told the people: “You can’t do it; you’re not able to worship God. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He won’t put up with your fooling around and sinning. When you leave God and take up the worship of foreign gods, he’ll turn right around and come down on you hard. He’ll put an end to you—and after all the good he has done for you!”

But the people told Joshua: “No! No! We worship  God!”

And so Joshua addressed the people: “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen God for yourselves—to worship him.”

Romans 12:9-21

The hard following of god
“As for me and my family, we’ll worship God.”

Israel had a long history of ebbing and flowing in their devotion to God. Their on-again off-again commitment was pervasive throughout their generations. Love. Wander. Return. Repeat. Yet, here they are, having inherited the land God promised to them—his love for these people not deterred by their weakness of heart. Joshua, then, sets before them a choice:

“Choose whom you will serve. Make a choice. Plant your feet. Decide. Act. Commit. God or not God. Another god. Other gods. Just make a choice. As for me—I’ll worship God.”

We may fail time and again, but every time we make that choice to get back up, a choice is made to win. And with the right support, the right heart, we can do it. Failure is but one more stone down the path to growth, because it creates experience from which to build. Everything starts with a choice.

God’s grace is sufficient for us, his power made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Joshua tells the people they can’t do it—they can’t serve God. Their foolishness won’t allow it. Their history would agree. Yet they insist they can, they will. So Joshua charges them as witnesses against themselves. And we know from history they couldn’t, they didn’t. They fell away, they failed, they broke down. Again and again. Yet God was not deterred by their weakness of heart. He watched and waited for them to stand back up, to continue on the path one step further along. We are no different even today—we try, we commit, we fail. It is in the choice to not stand up, however, that we find death—death of our spirit. Weakness is good, because at the end of our self-sufficiency we are most useful. We must choose to commit.

Challenge // Self-sufficiency
How often do your find yourself fully confident in your abilities to accomplish a task or handle a problem? We, as a culture, highly value self-sufficiency. The American Dream, right? Home-ownership. Vehicle maintenance. Money management. We ought to be dependent on no one, but self-sufficient in everything.

But where did this idea come from? Certainly not from God—self-sufficiency leaves no room for God. If we are confident we have everything under control, we don’t need God. We don’t need to choose him, thus our faith becomes fake and shallow. We are taught to rely on no one, when, in fact, the Kingdom of God is about reliance on everyone. A community of one is weak and useless. You need not be so strong you cannot ask for help; likewise, in your strengths you ought to be ready to give of yourself freely and humbly.

In what ways are you strong?
What about weak?

Do you honestly view your strength as your own
accomplishment or the power of God made perfect in your weaknesses?

For what purposes do your strengths exist?

How do you use those strengths for Kingdom work?

When was the last time you intentionally chose to commit to God?



Ask, and God will do. Give Jesus Christ a chance, give Him elbow room, and no man will ever do this unless he is at his wits’ end. When a man is at his wits’ end it is not a cowardly thing to pray, it is the only way he can get into touch with Reality. Be yourself before God and present your problems, the things you know you have come to your wits’ end over. As long as you are self-sufficient, you do not need to ask God for anything.

Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for his Highest
August 28 

Lord, teach us to choose you in our strengths and our weaknesses. Teach us to recognize our strength is nothing more than your power made perfect in our weaknesses. We want to be dependent on you—not self-sufficient in our daily lives. We might fall down each and every day, and many times a day, but we want to learn how to get back up, how to commit to you again, how to learn from our falls and press on into you.

Jesus, teach us to use our strengths for Kingdom work. And teach us to embrace our weaknesses as opportunities to grow in you. To learn from you. To refine in us who you created us to be. We belong to you, Lord, and we choose you. We remain marveled at your love for us in our weakness—in those darkest times where we drift away. Grow our spirits, Father, to wholly and intentionally choose you this day and every day.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Commanding the Everyday

Joshua 23 [4-8, 11-13]
“Stay alert: I have assigned to you by lot these nations that remain as an inheritance to your tribes—these in addition to the nations I have already cut down—from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. God, your God, will drive them out of your path until there’s nothing left of them and you’ll take over their land just as God, your God, promised you.

“Now, stay strong and steady. Obediently do everything written in the Book of The Revelation of Moses—don’t miss a detail. Don’t get mixed up with the nations that are still around. Don’t so much as speak the names of their gods or swear by them. And by all means don’t worship or pray to them. Hold tight to God, your God, just as you’ve done up to now.

“Now, vigilantly guard your souls: Love God, your God. Because if you wander off and start taking up with these remaining nations still among you (intermarry, say, and have other dealings with them), know for certain that God, your God, will not get rid of these nations for you. They’ll be nothing but trouble to you—horsewhips on your backs and sand in your eyes—until you’re the ones who will be driven out of this good land that God, your God, has given you.”

Romans 12:1-8 [1-2]
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

THOUGHTS // Commanding the Everyday
As Joshua nears the end of his life, and we near the end of our journey with him, he calls together the leaders of Israel for one last conversation. This is not a conversation of conquest, of logistics, of strategy. No, this is conversation of life-guidance and direction. This is a conversation of purity and wisdom and hope. And in this conversation, Joshua does not plead with the leaders or request their obedience to God—he demands it. He commands of them three things: stay alert, stay strong, and guard your souls.

These three commands to the leaders of Israel remain vital for us and possess wisdom in which we ought to direct our own lives.

Joshua commands them to stay alert. The work is not done, nor is it ever really finished. We don’t write the story, thus we cannot call it complete. We ebb and flow through seasons of rest and chaos as God moves us in and out of the steps of his beautiful ideas. We become entranced with progress and tasks and productivity, when God has only ever wanted us to be involved. We cannot become idle.

Joshua commands them to stay strong. They must remain wholly committed unto God, not wandering about with other gods and beliefs. So we ought to also and yet, in a world driven by instant gratification, it becomes blurry where our commitments often lie. We can quickly become committed to things which are not good for us. We overcommit our lives and, whether good or bad, are shaped by those with which we fill our minds and our time. We must stay strong in our commitment to God.

Lastly, Joshua commands them to vigilantly guard their souls. Our faith must be organic—built wholly and naturally; pure and true. We cannot fabricate this running after Jesus. We cannot sacrifice our souls to take up the morality of others. We are God’s and God’s alone. When our hearts begin to be shaped by things contrary to the nature of God, we are no longer guarding our souls. When we stop questioning the world around us and accept anything as truth, we surrender our choice. Our choice is what makes unique—it is our choice to love that makes that our love powerful. That we must guard to the end of the earth.

CHALLENGE // Are we conversing?
Paul writes in Romans 12 that we ought to take our everyday life and offer it God for his purpose, his benefit, his joy. He goes on to say,
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”
The same conversation Joshua had with the Israelites so many generations before, Paul has with these new followers of Jesus in Rome. The same conversation we must have today. That would suggest either we do not get it, or sin is so powerful and compelling that we must continuously return to the conversation. Perhaps it is a bit of both. God is interested in maturing us through his wisdom and our life-experiences. We must remain alert, strong and vigilant to guard our souls. This world will always bring us down if we allow it—it will always strip us of our maturity and the work God is doing in us. This is the divergence of goals: God-seeking versus self-seeking.
How do you stay alert to God in your life?
What do you picture this kind of strength to be? Do you feel strong?
Are you guarding your soul from that which would bring you down, separate you from God?
Alert, strength, guard—all words associated with conflict. What conflicts do you battle?
Does your life lean more toward God-seeking or self-seeking? Does it look that way to someone watching?


THINK // Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, August 2
God does not give us overcoming life— He gives us life as we overcome. The strain of life is what builds our strength. If there is no strain, there will be no strength. Are you asking God to give you life, liberty, and joy? He cannot, unless you are willing to accept the strain. And once you face the strain, you will immediately get the strength. Overcome your own timidity and take the first step. Then God will give you nourishment— “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life . . .” (Revelation 2:7). If you completely give of yourself physically, you become exhausted. But when you give of yourself spiritually, you get more strength. God never gives us strength for tomorrow, or for the next hour, but only for the strain of the moment.

PRAY // Teach us to resist

Lord, teach us to take heart in our everyday situation. Give us strength for the troubles at hand and refine us to resist those things which threaten the maturity you work in us. Compel us to make our everyday lives a sweet and beautiful offering to you, growing each and every day in your love. Equip us, Jesus, to resist the temptations of culture to become lax. Give us wisdom and discernment to recognize those things which are not good for us and surrender them to you. We desire to stay alert, strong and vigilant in our relationship with you and in our love for others. Guide us down that path.

Monday, August 18, 2014

We are the Altar // The Week of August 18

Monday: Readings
“He knows and he’ll let Israel know if this is a rebellious betrayal of God. And if it is, don’t bother saving us. If we built ourselves an altar in rebellion against God, if we did it to present on it Whole-Burnt-Offerings or Grain-Offerings or to enact there sacrificial Peace-Offerings, let God decide.

 “But that’s not it. We did it because we cared. We were anxious lest someday your children should say to our children, ‘You’re not connected with God, the God of Israel! God made the Jordan a boundary between us and you. You Reubenites and Gadites have no part in God.’ And then your children might cause our children to quit worshiping God.

“So we said to ourselves, ‘Let’s do something. Let’s build an altar—but not for Whole-Burnt-Offerings, not for sacrifices.’ “We built this altar as a witness between us and you and our children coming after us, a witness to the Altar where we worship God in his Sacred Dwelling with our Whole-Burnt-Offerings and our sacrifices and our Peace-Offerings.

“This way, your children won’t be able to say to our children in the future, ‘You have no part in God.’ “We said to ourselves, ‘If anyone speaks disparagingly to us or to our children in the future, we’ll say: Look at this model of God’s Altar which our ancestors made. It’s not for Whole-Burnt-Offerings, not for sacrifices. It’s a witness connecting us with you.’

“Rebelling against or turning our backs on God is the last thing on our minds right now. We never dreamed of building an altar for Whole-Burnt-Offerings or Grain-Offerings to rival the Altar of our God in front of his Sacred Dwelling.”

Tuesday: We are the Altar
The Israelites built an altar--a model--after the Altar of God. It was not to replace the Altar of God, but to serve as a witness to it: a reminder of who God is and what he has done. A reminder of his salvation. We're not talking idols here, we're talking about a bridge. A means to get from point A to point B, from us to God. These particular Israelites were separated from the Promised Land, set across the Jordan and away from the boundaries marked out by God. They were aliens in a foreign world and they feared forgetting who God was or being excluded from the rest of the community.

This bridge allowed these Israelites to reach God, to worship and honor their Lord even being so distant from the Altar of God. It was not an act of rebellion, but of desire. God desires relationship with us, and in that time, relationship with God was symbolic in nature. The Altar was the place of atonement, of cleansing, of offering, of sacrifice, of redemption. It was the place to purify oneself through blood and fire, so that we could be presented to the Lord having fully expressed our desire for him. But it became legalism--a standard of motions and rules meant to bind the people and legislate spirituality. Not God's intent, but man's.

Instead, God rolls out the next part of his plan in response to our shortcomings: his son, Jesus. Sent to Earth, separate from God and his promised land, yet fully connected in Spirit. And Jesus became that bridge--that witness--to whom God is. He became that reminder and that means to reach God even when our lives seem so far away from righteousness. Christ's death, then, did not serve to replace the original Covenant, or requirement for blood and fire, but to fulfill that Covenant. To stand in the gap for us. This story is a preface to what God was doing: bridging the gap between himself and mankind through his son, expressed in love and delivered through the Spirit. The old ways are not negated, rather they set the stage for a beautiful understanding of the scope of God's grace.
Wednesday: Challenge Yourself
God's plans are far beyond our vision, understanding or even dreams. We cannot fathom the work God is doing because we are finite. It's like standing at the foot of a tower and trying to guess what lies on the other side. Until we go through it, we have only supposition. And until we have fully experienced the tower, we cannot imagine what lies beyond. Then, even if we could imagine or dream or guess, we have no foresight as to how the adventure will change us, thus altering our perspective of what lies beyond. God never hurries. And he knows the plans he has for us. Just as he painted little bits of his story for the Israelites, so he paints little bits for us. He hinted at the coming redemptive power of Jesus, and he hints at what he has for us. It doesn't matter, however, if we even see all of the hints. Until we walk the road and experience the story, we cannot understand how it will look because our perspective will continue to change.

Furthermore, through the work of the Spirit, we become the Altar of God, filled with his have and love and redemption. Full of his righteousness to bring his Kingdom to our communities. It is not by or hands that we serve our Lord but by his Spirit working in us.

What does it mean to be an ALTAR OF GOD?

Does God feel accessible to you? Why?

What in you compels you to do good? Would those traits exist without Jesus? How does God refine those?


Thursday: Reflect
What feelings do these photographs draw?

Friday: Think & Pray
Have I ever come to a place in my experience where I can say – "I indeed – but He"? Until that moment does come, I will never know what the baptism of the Holy Ghost means. I indeed am at an end, I cannot do a thing: but He begins just there – He does the things no one else can ever do. Am I prepared for His coming? Jesus cannot come as long as there is anything in the way either of goodness or badness. When He comes am I prepared for Him to drag into the light every wrong thing I have done? It is just there that He comes. Wherever I know I am unclean, He will put His feet; wherever I think I am clean, He will withdraw them.

Repentance does not bring a sense of sin, but a sense of unutterable unworthiness. When I repent, I realize that I am utterly helpless; I know all through me that I am not worthy even to bear His shoes. Have I repented like that? Or is there a lingering suggestion of standing up for myself? The reason God cannot come into my life is because I am not through into repentance.

Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for his Highest
August 22

Father, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus, who has bridged the gap between our brokenness and your righteousness. Thank you for the life lessons you teach us that remind us you are here. Father, teach us to be patient for you, to learn that you never hurry and we are the servants of your master plan, which is always bigger than our own. We thank you for redemption and grace, for transforming us into your Altar through Jesus.


Friday, August 15, 2014


Wisdom, Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Aug 4)
The bravery of God in trusting us! You say – "But He has been unwise to choose me, because there is nothing in me; I am not of any value." That is why He chose you. As long as you think there is something in you, He cannot choose you because you have ends of your own to serve; but if you have let Him bring you to the end of your self-sufficiency then He can choose you to go with Him to Jerusalem, and that will mean the fulfillment of purposes which He does not discuss with you.

Father, teach us to fill ourselves with your embrace, that we might find rest even amid chaos. We recognize that we cannot, nor should we, expect to be carefree—that does not exist in your Kingdom, because YOU always care. Someone always has a need, and your cares ought to be our own. Teach us to walk the road of rest—the unstable, frightening, beautiful narrow path that reminds us of your story and our place in it. Teach us to settle down into your embrace and see your world through your eyes, not our own.