So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.

Joshua 9: 14

 

This is one of those strange moments in the story of the conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. In fact, this is a point where the story seems to take a sort of left turn into the realm of Theater of the Absurd. The story tells us that this one group of people from within the land sent representatives to Joshua in order to act out a drama in which they convinced the Israelites that they were actually from far away. So, the Israelites entered into a covenant with these Gibeonites that they would not harm them. It was only after this that it was learned that the seemingly road weary, worn down and dusty travelers standing before them were actually skillful actors who were dressed in costumes and were using stage props in order to convince Joshua of their sincerity.

 

The true point in all of this is found in this simple statement. Although God had been consistently providing wisdom, guidance, and counsel for Joshua and for the people for a very long time by now, they chose to make this decision on their own. In the overall scheme of things, this was not a very big deal. These were a few people who could do little harm, and they told a very convincing story. Yet, history has demonstrated that small decisions and little events can have extraordinary and ever-lasting consequences. Consider what impact a few deceptive words from a serpent had on us all after Adam and Eve acted upon them. This bit of grand theater that was carried out by the representatives of Gibeon is very similar in tactic to the way that Satan deceived our ancestors in the garden. Also, in both instances, the answer to the problem at hand would have been easy to discern by simply taking a few moments to turn to God and seek out His counsel and wisdom.

 

There is universal truth to this human dilemma and failing. We want to take charge of our lives and to make our own decisions along the way. Yet, we also know that God is in life with us and that He provides us with multiple sources for His ageless and universally applicable wisdom. So, we determine which issues and under what circumstances we will go it on our own or seek out the Lord first. This is what Joshua and the Israelites did here, and for them this self-directed decision would haunt them for generations to come. There was a better way for them to proceed, and there is a better way for us to engage with life also. The Lord provides us with His Word of truth to guide our journeys through this world. His Spirit also speaks wisdom to us, and the body of faith surrounds us with people who are similarly informed. God intends for His people to turn to Him and to trust Him to lead us through all of life. His counsel is ours, and it brings life, peace, and righteousness to our days. So, why would we ever join Joshua in saying, “Never mind, Lord; I’ve got this one handled?”

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For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3: 11

 

We people are a very creative and an industrious bunch. We devise various systems of belief and work hard to craft them into something that seems to be solid, tangible, and lasting. In the end, many of us do stake our eternities on these belief systems that we have created for ourselves. The fact that the nature and the character of the life that we live now and also that what becomes of our souls after this life is resting on what we believe in this life, should be a powerful motivator for us to consider these decisions carefully and thoroughly. For me, it seems to be most reasonable to look to the foundations of all that is for the source of such a great decision. There is one singular point wherein all of what we know began, and there is only one author and creator of it all, too.

 

God, in the entire manifestation of who and what He is, is that singular point and Creator. When I say God in this instance I am making reference to all of our understanding of His person and identity; so, I am speaking of the presence and the involvement of the Father, of Jesus Christ the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in all that took place before the creation of the universe, during its crafting, and in the time that followed wherein it was all settled and humanity’s existence began. The true foundation of our world is set and settled in the totality of God, and the platform upon which humanity is intended to operate in this world is also established by God and made effectual through relationship with Him in totality.

 

So, if we claim to know God but deny the existence or the validity as God of any of His three persons, we are entering into a very dangerous area of belief and faith that is crafted by people for our own purposes and that goes against those foundational truths that form an eternally valid understanding of relationship with our Creator and Lord. Even Paul, as great a worker for God and His kingdom as he was, could only build up people in a faith that was founded upon the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, and as fully God. We too enter into the fullness of God’s presence in us and in our lives as we surrender ourselves fully and completely to Christ so that He can take us into the presence of the holiness of the Father and grant to us the counsel of the unceasing engagement of the Holy Spirit within us. So it is in and through Christ that we set our feet upon that foundation of truth that God established from the beginning in order to grant to His creation secure and eternal relationship with God.

What is man, that he should be pure, or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?

Job 15: 14

 

The answer to this ancient question is that we humans are neither pure nor righteous. These are not the characteristics and the qualities of the creature that we are. This state of affairs is not the product of upbringing and it is not the result of the conditions that we live in. It is who we are, and we are defined by a very stridently self-absorbed and God denying existence. The human animal made a determination to leave the orderly place that God had designed for our safety, nurture, and pleasure; then, we stepped defiantly out into that broken land of our own choosing where danger, starvation, and pain are the community’s welcoming greeting.

 

Despite our efforts to distance ourselves from the righteous rule of God, we just can’t seem to shake His presence. When all appeared to be desperately lost; when humanity had reached the point of collapsing under the weight of its own depravity, God sent Himself into this world. He came not as an avenger of His rule of law, but rather, He came as the lamb of love that brings life to all. Christ the perfect and the pure came to live as a member of this human race, and we will never be the same. People can now relate directly to God, our Creator and Lord. We can now live in the possibility of pure love and grace.

 

In our old humanity, Job’s question has nothing except negative answers. In the state of our births, we can never be pure and righteous; so, we can never draw near to the glory of the all-righteous and holy God. However, through Christ and in His grace, we are brought out of the old and transformed into a new form of humanity. This is one that enters into the possibility of who and what we are and that recognizes that God crafts it in His perfect image. Purity and righteousness can now be our normal state. Selfless love and fearless grace can be the characteristics that mark and measure our days. In Christ, the answers to those questions shout out, “Yes, I am pure, for my Savior has made me righteous!”

Violence shall no more be heard in your land,

devastation or destruction within your borders;

you shall call your walls salvation,

and your gates praise.

Isaiah 60: 18

 

In the light of the horror that is at the center of our news these days, the ideas expressed here must be a dream, a fantasy that the weary mind concocts while precious sleep insulates us from further exposure to life’s harsh reality. How can there be such a time and this sort of place? We live in an environment wherein violence is far too close to us to consider what it might be like to be without its presence. As it must have been in Isaiah’s days, so it is in ours. Death and destruction, hatred and fear, angry words and harsh shouting, and proliferation of personal and national weapons of war are the instruments that are playing the discordant symphony that presides over our world.

 

This dream-like vision is not as fanciful and as illusive as it might seem. It is God’s promise for the future when Creation is returned to its true and original design wherein sin and its death are abolished and Christ reigns in His rightful place as Lord and King. According to God’s Word this sort of peace will come after a time when the world will have devolved into the sort of chaos and upheaval that is very real today. I am not a prophet and do not pretend to know God’s plans or to be able to predict what is to come, but I have no doubt that the way that our world is going now is in keeping with God’s revealed truth about the force and the effects of evil in our world, and it is in line with the sorts of things that do precede Christ’s return and final victory over all that is evil.

 

Until then, we can still live in hope and be fearless despite all that is happening in our world. We can enter into the presence of Christ here and now so that His assurance of peace can be ours today. This is a gracious gift that God has granted to anyone who believes in Jesus, the Christ, as Lord of life and as Savior for now and all of eternity. A relationship with Christ does not remove any of us from the world where we live, but it does provide us with a form of hope that transcends the nature of this place and that adds the perspective of unceasing love and grace to our vision of the landscape around us. Christ removes His people from dwelling in the realm of darkness that pervades the world, and He transforms our lives into ones that are lived out in God’s Kingdom come to earth so that the spiritual walls that surround us are truly formed out of the timbers of the cross of Christ which has brought about salvation. Thus, we can sing out a new chorus to fill the ears of the earth with something joyous and that is infused with Christ’s hope as we lift up our experience of redemption in thanksgiving to be heard throughout the land.

There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.

Joshua 8: 36

 

This event might not look the same in our times as there is little probability that any large gathering of people, much less that any nation of people would gather together in this manner. Here the sum total of the people of Israel had come together across one great valley and its adjoining mountain sides in order to worship God in celebration of the Lord’s redemptive work in their military victory over the city of Ai. The centerpiece of this celebration was the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, and the priests were the ones who were leading the nation in both substance and in the form of this great victory party. Yet, as they transition from focusing on the tactics and the methods of war and return to the task at hand of settling the land, the people are reminded of the true power that was behind their success and of the basis for all that defines their national and individual character.

 

They are a people who have been given their identity by God, and they have gained their understanding of morality and of justice through God’s Law, His Holy Word. There is nothing that stands before this recitation of God’s will in the law of the land or in the ordering of their society. This was a special time and place in the history of the world, and it has really never been duplicated since. Even under Joshua’s strong and Godly leadership, the people were very quick to depart from the Lord’s way and to set out upon their own course of thought and action. Today the best that we can hope for is an off-handed reference to God or a quote from His Word, but our nations seldom express any real interest in following the Lord or in even hearing and utilizing His truth as counsel or as direction to be followed. It is as if God were now an irrelevant part of ancient history and His Word is granted the status of troublesome and obscure literary fiction.

 

None of these modern attitudes can possibly be pleasing to God. He is not amused by our self-reliance and negation of His wisdom and direction. Although a modern day turning to God on the parts of people, our leaders, and nations might not look exactly like that assembly in a natural amphitheater at Shechem. Yet, the location is not really the point. The idea is that the entire collection of people were giving praise and honor to God as their one true King, and as they did this they engaged in group recitation of God’s Word in its entirety. They left out nothing; so, they made no editorial or cultural changes to the message of that word. In sharing it in this highly public manner, they were also affirming its priority as their singular point of guidance for their moral, cultural, and spiritual lives. Thus, they were affirming that the Lord was the singular and final authority over all aspects of life and over its conduct into the future.

It seems to me that this might not be such a bad idea in our world. There is an aimlessness to the way that our nations and our leaders are going that might find focus and valid purpose in God’s Word. The degree to which the people of this earth have become self-reliant and absorbed in actions and enterprises that we think will benefit ourselves primarily and that often work against the well-being of others must be troubling to the God of justice and peace. God’s design for this world works, and our redirection of it has not. Although I am not so naïve as to think that the leaders of nations or the people of those countries would actually do what the people of Israel did on that day, I do wonder what effect such a turning to God would have on us all. So, how might our world be different if each of us began to do the sort of things that Joshua led them into as they centered their day upon worship of God, devoted themselves to reading and to sharing His Word, and gathered openly in a universal fellowship of faith? What might that world look like?

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5: 21

 

God is the creator of all. There is noting that exists in the universe that comes from outside of His touch. Now there are certainly aspects and elements of the world around us that have gone radically off track from the Creator’s design and intent, but the initial work and crafting were engaged in and completed by God. As He is both the force and the intent behind all that is in our visible world and in the unseen realm of the spiritual, all that was set into existence by God’s hands was good and perfect in its inherent state of being. When things have gone astray, it is because of the brokenness that our sinful departure from God’s will, law, and rule over our lives has caused. Our ancestors listened to the seductive voice of evil, it spoken by a created being that chose to depart from God’s way for one that seemed to offer personal glory. Then they likewise determined that their true fulfillment was to be found in a self-determined path.

 

As we know from the narrative of all that followed, this was a disastrous decision. A life that was lived out in the ongoing presence of God and that was situated in the perfection of a lovingly crafted world had been granted to them, but then, after their rebellion against the one who loved them perfectly, they were forced into a separation that placed distance between people and our God and that brought about death where life had ruled. We are all born into this new reality where life is tenuous and too short and wherein our years a filled with the hard labor that existence demands. There is no other option that we are given except to endure it all and to live out our days in the isolation from our Creator that this beginning of time decision demanded. Yet, God did not desire for it to remain so. Even from those first moments when humanity was estranged from Him and from His holy presence, the Father set out His plan for redemption.

 

First of all, God did reengage with His children. He sought us out and He determined to continue to do this for the rest of time. The Father is a loving pursuer of our souls, and He is relentless in doing this. He also sent His Son, Jesus, into our world to dwell with us and to provide a complete and a perfect answer to the separation that sin had formed in our relationships with God. As the Father is the creator of life and holds it as His unique and total possession, so He has also granted this authority and power to the Son. Thus Jesus, by virtue of His sacrifice on the cross and His overcoming of death in the resurrection, has become the way and the means for all people to know life again. As we come in faith to Christ, we are redeemed from the death that grips our souls and that leads to an unending separation from our Creator. Christ utilizes the authority over life that the Father granted to Him to impart a form of life that transcends the duration of our earthly bodies. He grants to us the touch of eternity in this life, and in Christ we are also given the gift of life that continues beyond our days here into an unending future that is enjoyed in the presence of the love and the glory of the Lord.

Blessed be … the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4

 

Discomfort is a term that people in the medical field often use to describe sensations that can range from the mildly annoying all the way to knock you to your knees disabling pain, and this same concept seems to apply to the things that produce what we call discomfort in the rest of life, too. The things that cause us to become uncomfortable can be as minor as a paper cut or a serious as a terminal illness, and they will be simple to fix like a lost button, and totally challenging like a lost relationship. In any and in all of these situations there is only one place to turn in order to gain real perspective and to gain the sort of healing calm that comes from a heart that is at peace and has confidence regardless of what is happening. This is when we need to look to the source of all comfort, God.

 

The Lord wants to place His loving hands on our shoulders and help us gain the sort of perspective that comes from the truth of His Word and through the interaction of His Spirit. Additionally, He wants to engage with us in all of the situations in our lives where we find ourselves stressed out, frazzled, fearful, angry, or dealing with any of the other emotional states that tend to get us off track and make us less functional as people whose primary calling in this world is to bring glory to God. Since most people don’t like to admit that we don’t have a satisfactory plan for handling all that comes our way and that we don’t possess the resources that we need in ourselves, it requires real strength and courage to take all of our concerns and challenges and turn them over to Christ; yet, He does have and will provide everything that we do need.

 

Like the rest of God’s relationship with us, He wants to give comfort to us. However, it doesn’t stop there; for, the Lord wants us to get our feet under us and to understand and trust Him so that we can, in turn, become people who help others understand where and how to find this same sort of life-changing perspective and the deep peace that comes out of it. We need to allow God to open our minds and our hearts to the pain and to the hurting people around us; for, when we comfort others, we bring God’s presence into their lives, and we express our blessing to the Lord.