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.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matthew 9: 36

 

Jesus knew the people; He was very aware of what they were like and how they were living. This was true because He spent significant amounts of time in their company. He didn’t stand back or remain aloof and separate from the crowds. Jesus wanted to get up close to the full spectrum of humanity, and He was willing, even desirous, to connect personally with the dirty and unwashed, the angry or demented, the poor and oppressed, and the well off and powerful. They were all to be counted among the lost and wandering sheep of this earth when it came to these encounters with the Savior. Each and every one of them was in need of the truth of the Gospel and the love of God.

 

So, Jesus traveled along their paths of wandering as He went where people in need were located. Christ did what God had done from the beginning of His relationship with us in that He came after us. Jesus did not sit back, station Himself in a suitable place to conduct His business, and wait for the people to come to Him. He went out into the world, took the risks that this act involves, and He reached out His hand of mercy, love, and truth to everyone that He encountered along the way. Jesus knew that He held the answer to the challenges that all people face in this life. He was fully aware that direction and purpose and the empowerment to enter into them are all provided to us by God and through His Word. He brought that Word of Life to the doorsteps of the world in His flesh. He carried God’s salvation to the paths of destruction that people had taken in our shepherd less states of being.

 

Jesus conducted Himself in this compassionate manner, and He desires or us to do the same sort of thing. Christ has left each of His followers with His Word of truth to cherish and to utilize in understanding and engaging with life. However, that same word is a living and a dynamic document as well as a Spirit-engaged testimonial to God’s grace, mercy, love, and redemption. We are, in fact, to be the workers in the fields of harvest that the Lord speaks about. Christ sends us out from our homes, our churches, and our comfort into a world where directionless existence is the normal state of affairs. He guides us and counsels us in this journey of faith, and Christ, Himself, does the actual work of convincing and convicting people of their need for Him. We are to be people who act in faith as we are yielded to Christ’s compassion for others. As we journey into our world, we will encounter these lost sheep to love and to share the truth of life with, and the compassion that we show to them will reflect that of our Lord onto the landscape around us.

Declare his (the LORD’s) glory among the nations,

his marvelous works among the peoples!

Psalm 96: 3

 

The writer of this psalm has stated that God’s people will declare their relationship with God by singing; in fact, they are commanded to do that. I understand that song is powerful and that singing touches us in ways that simply saying words does not. Singing reaches into our emotions and sets our hearts into motion, and it seems to reach deep inside both the singer and the hearer of the song to engage places and to bring about responses that are unique and profound. Yet, I doubt that the actual intent in these words was to turn life into a musical play style of existence where messages, at least the important ones, are delivered by choruses made up of ordinary people going about their daily lives. This sort of thing makes sense on the stage or in film, but causes genuine confusion and even chaos when it happens on city streets.

 

Yet, the ideas here are important ones, and they are the sorts of things that matter to God. He wants for us to be people who desire to sing out about our relationship with Him. He engages with us and with all the rest of creation in a manner that is more than worthy of the highest praise possible. The presence of Christ in me and His involvement with my life is such that He is the source of all joy, peace, and goodness; thus, my Lord is the reason that there are songs for me to sing. Still, I think that the songs here have a different form so that their nature is made up of an alternative type of melody and lyric to those of traditional music. The writer is telling us that our lives are songs and that the content of those lives, when lived in service to God’s will, is itself a poem that has been set to the eternal music of heaven.

 

When Christ brings about this sort of expression in us, we move beyond the boundaries of place, culture, and language and into humanity’s common ground of love, care, and relationship. The Lord is calling to His people to specifically and deliberately take the expression of our joy that comes out of our relationship with Him out into the world around us so that the hymn of praise that naturally comes forth from us will be on view for all around us to see and to hear. This should lead to questions about this unnatural response to a life that does not always go as we would desire or plan, and these questions provide the opportunity for us to tell about the love of Christ, the redemption that comes through knowing Him, and to invite others to join us in the chorus of praise that we have been declaring openly as we travel through the day.

 

He who goes out weeping,

bearing the seed for sowing,

shall come home with shouts of joy,

bringing the sheaves with him.

Psalm 126: 6

 

This Psalm is about restoration and new growth. In it there is hope and there is the promise of God’s blessings that will come to His faithful workers. But there is also something else going on here. As the workers who are committing themselves to working in the Lord’s fields prepare for their calling, their demeanor is not at all what I would have expected. I would anticipate that they would be joyous and filled with the high energy of an athlete who is ready to step out onto the field or the court to seek after a win. There would be confidence and strength on display as the training and the hours of practice that have preceded this moment are now going to be put to good use.

 

This is not what we are given in this account. The workers who are ready to step out to begin the work of seed planting in the fields that are God’s intended land for harvest of souls are setting out with weeping. Although the writer of this psalm does not give us much more by way of reason for the tears, I would like to speculate on this a little. This world is not an easy place to dwell as a follower of Christ. The truth of God’s Word and the moral and ethical decisions that adhering to it demand will not be met with popular acceptance. Even the love of Christ is rejected and labeled as controlling, discriminatory, and irrelevant by many of the people that we might attempt to care about in His name. Sharing biblical truth is often unpopular and can be dangerous in many ways.

 

So, part of the cause for the weeping here is the natural response to going into the harsh environment of our world with the intent to plant seeds of hope in Christ. Yet, I think that there is more going on here. Each of us was once lost, and we are still traveling along a road where sin causes us to stumble and to fall down so that Christ’s grace and love are required to pick us up and to again set us out on that road of His calling. God is saying to me that I should enter into the work of sharing His truth in my world with a heart that is sorrowful and repentant for my own sinfulness and for the way that rebellion against God is causing people to live in separation from their source of true hope, peace, and joy. This is a very different attitude from that of the athlete or the warrior preparing for the battle of the game.

 

A repentant heart is a humble one, and it engages with people out of the humility and the grace that is Christ. A sorrowful heart feels and appreciates the pain of the cross. As God’s tears flow from my eyes, I see the people of my world in a new manner. Their own pain, struggles, and grief are brought into clearer focus, and Christ speaks the truth of their needs to my heart in ways that can make His message of life clearer and more relevant to each person who I meet. This time of weeping is a time of preparation for the true work of service to Christ. It removes me from the front of the effort and places the Lord in His rightful place as the voice of love that I speak while planting His seeds. Then the tears of repentance and sorrow will be replaced by the shouts of joy when Christ’s harvest of souls is completed.

 

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

Ezekiel 18: 23

 

A lot of people think that God simply does not like them. They believe that He is angry with their life choices, with their attitudes, or simply with them. They stay as far away from God and from anything that is related to Him as is possible. This is understandable for people who don’t know God. It is easy and often natural to have an unclear and a distorted view of the Lord’s character and intent toward people when He is only known about and not known in an intimate way.

 

Sadly, God’s own don’t always help the cause of understanding, either. We lash out in angry words and actions against people who can’t be held to a standard of righteous behavior since they don’t hold the key to righteousness. We approach a discussion about life and lifestyle in a manner that points to the bad behaviors of others and heaps guilt upon their heads. This is not how God does the same things. Behaving as if we are angry with people does not show them the face of God; instead, it pushes them away from Him.

 

The Lord is very concerned with the way that we live, and He sets very clear standards for people’s behavior. Still, He knows that living up to His standards is impossible for people who don’t know Him. God cares about the relationship that people have with Him. He wants all people to know Him personally. The Lord directs His children to show others the truth about Him and His character and to help them understand the reality of the love that God has for everyone. The answer to the evil that is rampant in our world is not anger, and it is not separation leading to isolation. Rather, it is found in loving those who don’t know Christ; it is found in connecting with them and in understanding their needs. God’s response to lost people is demonstrated by his attitude of sadness at their lack of hope, and He commands us to share this concern and to act upon it by sharing the love of Christ with others. The evil of this world needs to be confronted with the soul saving truth of God’s grace, restoration, and love.

 

I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and He answered me;

Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Let’s start with the premise that no one and no situation is beyond redemption. Most Christians would say that this is true. Yet, based upon our words and actions, we don’t seem to really believe it. Jonah’s situation was based upon a sort of double portion of doubt and desperation. He doubted that God’s sending of him to Nineveh was going to serve any good purpose. In fact, he thought that going there would result in nothing more than his own injury and death. Now, as Jonah cries out to the Lord from inside of the big fish’s belly, he was certain that death was the best outcome that he could anticipate. Still, if we examine this story well, isn’t the fish actually an agent of literal salvation? Without God’s appointed fish Jonah would have been drowned. Now, inside of that same fish, he had been alive for three days longer than he deserved.

 

As an aside, there is absolutely nothing normal about the story of Jonah. This entire book is strange, unbelievable, and even otherworldly; and that might be the main point. God’s view of this world is quite different from ours. His approach to things can take us along paths that we would never have selected for ourselves. The Lord is rather singular in His purposes, and I admit that my view of things tends to become divergent from His. This is especially true when the Lord’s desire is for me to say or do something, or go somewhere that I believe to be threatening or that makes me feel uncomfortable. This was Jonah’s problem. God desires that all people would come to know Him in the deepest way possible and that He, in the person of Christ, would rule all of Creation. As we people were given temporary control and management of this world by God, if Christ is to rule it in these in between times, we need to allow Him to rule in our lives.

 

Essentially this is what Jonah was sent to proclaim to the people of Nineveh. He was sent to the most unrepentantly sinful place on earth to speak the truth of God’s righteousness to them in order to grant them the opportunity to surrender to the Lord of their salvation. Jonah was sent to speak the painful truths that could, if accepted and followed, set these people free from the death grip of sin. God knew what Jonah feared. God sent him to care for and to love those people who Jonah despised in order to bring those Ninevites into the presence of the Holy King and to bring Jonah to his knees in humble submission to and total trust of His King. All of us who live in this world can identify Nineveh in our midst. It seems to me that God might be doing with us exactly what He did with Jonah. Christ is sending His people into those fearful places in order that His love, grace, mercy, and truth would be proclaimed. The Lord wants us to set aside our concerns and reluctance and allow His heart of salvation and redemption to speak of His glory through our mouths into the lostness of our world. As I said at the beginning, in Christ’s view there is no one and no situation that is beyond His redemption.

For the earth will bring forth its sprouts,

and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,

so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise

to sprout up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61: 11

 

The promise of spring is a part of the hope that makes the dark days of winter a little easier to handle. We know that it is not too long until new life will begin to sprout out of the cold, dark ground. I know that my mind can already see that day when all of the trees start to take on a greenish glow as the buds of summer’s life open for the year. God’s creative design has devised this cycle of renewal and rebirth in the order of our natural world. He has also promised this same potential to the people of His creation.

 

There will be a day when the newness of a fully redeemed creation will be the unending existence of this world. The day of Christ’s return and the unbroken state that He will restore to all of creation is near. Yet, it does not seem as if it is today. There are aspects of God’s desire and intent that are not completed. There is something to be set in place before that final cleansing and the restoration that will follow are set in motion. In that light, one of the things that God has been very clear about is that He desires that every person on the earth should have had the opportunity to hear and to respond to His Gospel of love, truth, and redemption in Jesus Christ.

 

The Lord calls each of His people to engage in the process of making this happen. He sends us out of our comfort and ease and into the world around us. Every one of us who know Christ is granted the honor and the responsibility to represent our Lord and King in all that we do and to take the story of our new life in Christ out to those corners of the world where He is not known. Some of us will travel far and live a long distance from our places of birth and some will go and talk with our next-door neighbors. We may use profound words that come from God’s word of truth while others of us will speak in acts of love, respect, and justice. Yet, in all of this, we are planting the seeds that the Lord will tend and cause to sprout into the beautiful life of His redeemed garden.