Courage


So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

Joshua 11: 23

 

This is a bloody and gruesome chapter in the recitation of a series of similar events during the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. There is simply no escaping the brutal nature of these events except perhaps by considering all of this as some form of allegory, but I believe that this is a rendering of historical events. This is what actually happened. It is only from that perspective that I hold that there is also an allegorical application to it all. These were battles that God sent His people out to fight against others who were extremely hardened in their attitudes toward God. They were going to resist the Lord with all of their beings and for as long as time would run. These events occurred in a specific time and place, and they are not at all indicative of how God works in our world today.

 

The Lord has not ordered anyone or any group of people to go forth and wage war against others. The wars that we fight, whether we can justify them or not, are the result of the sort of sinfulness in our world that the Lord was directing the Israelites to eradicate from their land in the time of Moses and Joshua. All violence in our world has its source in the evil that has attempted to overcome God’s perfect plan of creation. Depending upon how an individual views things in this regard, there may be times when a violent response to an aggressive act or the intent to commit one is justified and is even Godly. I am not entering into a discussion of these ideas; however, I am saying that in God’s original creation plan and in His restored one at the end of time there is no violence, no war.

 

So, it seems to me that discussing briefly how this passage is allegorical might be worth taking on. There is a harsh reality to our world today that is very similar to the one that the Israelites faced, for God is opposed by people, both individually and in organized groups, throughout the world. There is almost nowhere that we can go where this is not true. As followers of Christ we are, like Joshua, called upon and tasked by Christ to go forth and to wage a fearless campaign for the reclamation of the world around us. We do not fight with swords but rather with love, grace, mercy, and truth. Christ doesn’t direct us to drive people out and to eradicate the record of their existence; rather, He sends us out to befriend people whose beliefs are different from ours, to share life and the truth of the Gospel of Christ with them, and to seek peaceful means of resolving our disputes and conflicts. In Christ we have God’s complete and total plan for the restoration to salvation of our world. This is the battle that our Lord is calling upon us to fight every day of our lives.

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Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 20: 7

 

Let me take a wild guess here, and state that very few of us use the word consecrate on a regular basis. This is simply not something that we think much about doing in the course of our days. Yet, it might be one of the most important things that any of us who desire to know and to follow God could do. To consecrate means to dedicate or to commit to something. It is usually used in religious settings so that the person or thing that is being consecrated is being committed to service in that setting. This idea strikes me as being very formal and even as rather archaic in light of the way that we live in the presence of Christ in our lives and with service to Him being something that we can do outside of the formal setting of the temple or the physical place that we call church.

 

Yet, when the Lord inspired Moses to write down this directive to the Israelites, I believe that God had something in mind that was much bigger than the formal aspects of religious practice. This simple, proverbial statement is embedded in a series of very strong comments on sinful behaviors and the direst consequences that were to be related to them. For the Israelites and for us, living a life that is holy, that is set apart from our world and from its rebellion against God’s righteousness, is the way and the means for us to escape the pain of those consequences. Even more important than that, it is the way that we can dwell in this world while bringing honor and glory to our God as we serve Him and reach that same world with Christ’s Gospel of truth and life.

 

So, this action of consecrating is something that each of us can and, I submit, should do. It is a mindful and purposeful endeavor on the part of each of us to step outside of the influence of the forces around us in our world, away from self-interest, to renounce nationalism as a religion, and to set aside all other forms of false religious allegiance and practice that we have adopted. Consecrating or purposefully setting ourselves apart is the first step, and it is followed by living out this deep commitment to Christ by means of thinking, speaking, and acting as a clear and outwardly visible follower of Jesus. This is not so easy to do if approval and acceptance by the world around us is of great importance. However, as we set aside the world’s concept of worth, power, and significance and enter into God’s view of the same things, we are empowered by Christ to live out our days as His consecrated workers who labor with holy hands in His fields of harvest.

Blessed are they who observe justice,

who do righteousness at all times.

Psalm 106: 3

 

What is justice? It might be the thing that all of the law-breakers in our world deserve, and that is absolutely true, for granting punishment and reward based upon a person’s actions is a part of the definition of the term. It is a system whereby our society is compelled into conformity with a set of rules that we call law so that reasonable order has a better chance of prevailing over our natural bent toward chaos and self-serving actions. Yet, as lofty and valuable as these concepts of justice might be, it is elevated to a higher plane when it is combined with righteousness as its outward or active expression.

 

It seems to me that God’s form of what constitutes justice is actually grounded at a very basic and fundamental level. It involves the care and the nurture of those who are defenseless or without real resources and power. It sets aside personal gain or benefit and even sacrifices these aspects of life in order to value all people and the entirety of creation as what they are, which is God’s carefully crafted handiwork. Justice surrenders excess and even gives well beyond the point of comfort in order to elevate the lives of all people, and it does these things with a special emphasis on those who are foreign or different from us. This thing called justice flows out of the heart of God, and it is fully formed upon Christ’s cross of sacrifice; thus, it is truly expressed when we enter into the freedom that only comes as grace and mercy overtake our lives so that we start feeling, thinking, and acting as Christ in all aspects of life.

 

This is the point where righteousness takes over the concept and the ideal that is justice and turns it into the approach that we take to actually express Christ in and to our world through the actions of our days. This takes place as we surrender to Christ our fears, concerns, self-centered desires, and other aspects of being the old person that we were before Christ so that we can allow the Spirit to work within us in ways that effect real and even miraculous transformation upon our hearts and minds. It is righteousness that puts an arm around the impoverished traveler and offers up a warm place of shelter and a place to eat at one’s own table. It is Christ who takes us away from the comfort and the safety of our normal path and offers up a listening ear, an understanding spirit, and the possibility of redemption to the outcast soul. So, as we respond to our world’s needs and its needy people with love, care, mercy, love, and grace we are entering into the Lord’s blessing upon our lives and covering the places that we touch with His righteous justice.

And Joshua captured all the kings and their land at one time, because the LORD God of Israel fought for Israel.

Joshua 10: 42

 

We all engage in battle. Seldom are they as dramatic, violent, and far reaching as were the ones that the Israelites under Joshua fought on this particular day. As for me, I have never needed the sun to stand still until it was all accomplished, which was an accommodation that the Lord granted to Joshua; in fact, there have been more times when I wished that the hours would go by more quickly. The point is that Israel’s experience here did involve the miraculous and was facilitated by the hand of God working on their behalf, and our own experience of life’s struggles may not seem to be the same. However, I submit that there is more similarity of our days to Joshua’s than we might think and more than we do appreciate.

 

Israel was following God’s instructions and entering into the outworking of the Lord’s plan. In this instance, they were doing things exactly as God dictated, and they were granted great success in the process. Our battles are different, the tools that we use are not the same, and victory is defined in ways other than in conquest and death. Still, we have God’s direction to lead us, prayer to encourage and to help us to focus, and the Spirit with us to explain and to direct it all. Like Joshua, we are called to go to war against powers and forces that desire to control the territory around us. We are engaged in an on-going contest with these forces of the world for the most precious real estate that there is in the hearts, minds, and souls of people. There is nothing more significant for us to do than to enter into Christ’s calling to bring His Gospel to everyone that we encounter.

 

This work can be very hard and takes us into the harsh terrain of deception, deeply held beliefs, and angry opposition. We may find that there are times when all of our companions and supporters seem to have disappeared into the background so that we feel totally alone. Yet, this is never the case, for the Lord is committed to us and to the campaign that He has called us to wage, and He never leaves us truly alone. In fact, Christ is the one who is doing all of this fighting for us, and He is the source for all of the strength and the courage that we need to enter into the struggle. As followers of Christ we will encounter the hostility of a world that is fighting against God’s righteous truth with all of its might and vigor; however, in Christ, we already have His victory, and we go into each of these encounters with the Lord leading the way and His loving grace, truth, and heart of redemption as our strong weapons.

Godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment.

1 Timothy 6: 6

When considering the state of my personal fortune, it seems important for me to check the right ledger for my true account balances. During my life, I have put a lot of energy into growing my income, building up my worth, and caring greatly about the things that I own. Unfortunately, most of this has had little lasting positive effect, and there have been a number of negative ones. Earning a living, even earning a good living is fine in God’s eyes. After all, He designed us with a drive to do so, and He is the provider of all of the aspects of our ability to work, our drive to succeed, and the need for gainful employment. It’s my attitude toward all of this that matters.

From the Lord’s perspective, the ledgers and the accounts that matter are covered with attitudes, spiritual growth, and healing. As Christ invested totally in people and in their relationships with God, so we are called to do the same. Gain in our world is an interestingly elusive thing. One day we can be substantially ahead of where we were; then, suddenly, it can all disappear. When our investments are in people, a really similar thing can happen, for some people just stop responding or they turn to follow a different voice. So, this is why contentment is vital in this form of investment. The contentment that God wants us to enjoy doesn’t come from what we accomplish or from how good we are at the task; rather, it comes from the growth in our personal relationships with God that comes through these efforts.

There is great gain to be had from following Christ, and some of it may even be financial. However, God promises us that we will receive a form of riches and wealth that is beyond the levels of our most aggressive investment plans if we do truly follow Him. The Lord asks us to trust Him with all that we have. That is all of our time, money, assets, ego, fears and concerns, inhibitions, lack of training, fear of rejection, and anything else that stops us from investing in making Christ more real in our world. When we commit and enter in fully to God’s investment plan, the Lord of the Universe promises that He will bring us gain beyond our ability to dream, and a form of contentment for our souls that defies all human logic and reason.

Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10: 43-45

 

Many people spend a great amount of time and considerable effort in developing themselves. I know that I have and continue to do this very thing. It actually is good to have knowledge and skills. These are useful. Even the positions of leadership and influence that these acquired abilities support are valuable and worthwhile in both human and in Kingdom of God terms. So, I don’t think that Jesus was speaking against His people becoming leaders in our world, community, or other areas of life. It seems that His point is focused on how we conduct ourselves in life and on the way that we view our responsibility to all of the others that we meet as we travel through our days.

 

In other words, Christ wasn’t saying that we should seek to occupy only the lowliest of positions in our culture because positions of greater authority and responsibility will always corrupt the holder of the office. He is saying that the attitude that we need to have as we go about living life is one that we can see from His approach to His life among us. Jesus is God. He is the rightful and appointed King over this entire world. Yet, He agreed to set aside all of His position and apparent authority in order to live with and among us, to teach and demonstrate righteous living to us, and to sacrifice Himself for us. Christ was willing to serve all of humanity in a manner that was unknown before His life with us and that remains elusive to this day. His sacrificial service knew no limits or limitations. He cared for those who were close to Him and for those who despised Him and brought Him harm. Christ did this without regard for any of the distinctives, points of reference, or divisions that we routinely consult in placing value on others.

 

Jesus calls upon His people to follow Him. He meant that in absolute terms. There is nothing that He would have us hold back, and there are no people that He grants us permission to treat differently than He would. This is one of those areas where life as a follower of Christ gets hard, for I think that Jesus is telling me to repent for my attitudes of superiority and self-righteous pride. He says that I must stop viewing any others as lesser beings. So, I must submit myself to serving the needs of all others, and in Christ’s view, the greatest of those needs is for relationship with God. Jesus is calling upon us to love others without concern over their acceptance of our love, to bind up the physical and the emotional wounds that we see around us, and to give all that we have in order to bring the presence of Christ into the darkness of our world. Jesus is telling me that the best place for me to view the Kingdom of Heaven is while on my knees in humble submission to His will as I wash the feet of the stranger, the foreigner, the sick and the weak, and those who might angrily reject me.

 

And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.”

Joshua 6: 2

 

Whether the walls are made of stone, or they are formed out of the harsh and craggy barriers of anger and distrust, we all encounter barriers in our journey of following Christ in the world. The obstacles will be there, and that is something that God has actually informed us about in advance. The simple truth is that much of this world stands firmly in the way of God’s redemptive desire and His related calling to His people to be servants of the Gospel of Christ. After we have engaged in a few encounters with the forces of this world and probably gained some bruises and perhaps even come away with some blood dripping from our wounds, it is easy to be apprehensive about the next encounter and to have our confidence shaken. There is nothing quite like a sharp rebuke or the loss of a relationship to bring about the need for caution, and there is truly nothing to compare with real physical peril in the process of dampening zeal.

 

If we seek to do the Lord’s bidding in our lives and attempt to do it on a regular basis, we will crash into the walls of disbelief that are surrounding many of the hearts and the minds of people that we will encounter. There is no way to avoid this aspect of serving Christ. Although the Lord comes with love as His message and an offering of grace and salvation as His gift, He also demands that we face into the truth of our sinfulness and repent from the direction that it has taken our lives. This is challenging and very hard for many people to do. Humanity has created elaborate systems, institutions, and arguments that are all formed with protection and defense from Christ’s Gospel as their ultimate objective. So, when we go into our world with that same message of redemption through relationship with Christ, we are going up against well-developed and powerfully constructed defensive fortifications.

 

There is only one reasonable way for us to approach all of this, and that is in prayerful submission to Christ and in the power of His Spirit. That is the place that Joshua found himself. His walls were made of stone, and the opposition was armed with spears and swords. Ours may be constructed in these ways, but they will probably be fashioned in some other manner. Yet, the opposition that we face in our day is as real and as potentially terrifying as was Joshua’s, and like it was for him, the Lord is with us and does go before us into each and every one of the contests that we will be facing. For Joshua, the walls were still standing, the angry shouts of the Canaanites could be heard clearly from within those walls, and the glint of the sun off of the swords was flashing in his eyes; yet, he knew that the Lord had already defeated the opposition. Satan is now fighting a futile and final campaign, and Christ’s ultimate victory is coming very soon. Today we can look up at the wall of doubt and disbelief that stands before us and enter into a contest for the souls of the people that we meet in our journey with the full knowledge and confident faith that Christ is fighting the battle and that He will topple over the walls that stand before us.

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