And the commander of the LORD’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Joshua 5: 15

 

This is a great moment; an amazing moment that is much like the time that Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai. Here Joshua stands before a great and fortified city that is filled with people who stand in opposition to him and to the mission that God is sending him out upon. This would be a time when anxiety and nerves were running high and where the excitement of entering into the coming contest would also be peaked. So, as Joshua seeks to get his emotions in check, his plans fully developed, and the army that he was leading set to engage in siege and conquest, he runs into a mysterious figure, who seems to just appear before him. Yet, the appearance from nowhere is not the strangest aspect of this encounter, for the response of this stranger is even more off-putting for Joshua. It is then that Joshua realizes that he is standing in the presence of the Lord of Hosts, and the presence of God on this soon to be plain of battle makes all of the difference.

 

Joshua’s experience of Christ in the conduct of the affairs of his calling to serve God, in the course of living out life on this earth, seems extraordinary and unusual. This is a very special moment in the narrative of the establishment of God’s people on the earth and in the world. Yet, I question why this is so? Why do we, in this day and place in the history of God’s relationship with people, find it amazing and even miraculous that the Lord would appear and speak to one of us? For Joshua, in his times, this was a different situation than it is for us in ours. Christ has come and dwelt among us on the earth, and when He departed from that in-the-flesh aspect of dwelling here, Christ sent His Spirit to continue to reside in our midst and within people of faith. As we travel through life, we are always in the presence of the Lord, and as we do so in the community of the church, we are going about the Lord’s business in the company of the Lord of Hosts.

 

My challenge in this is that I just don’t fully appreciate that presence. I don’t recognize the Lord when He is with me in all that I do and within all of the interactions that I have in this life. For a follower of Christ there is no aspect of living in this world that does not contain His presence. We may not always see this, and we may not always actually think that we desire it, but the Spirit is here for every step of the journey. We are traveling through life in the company and under the direction of the Lord, and this reality should make a true and a profound difference in the way that our lives are lived out. In Christ, we dwell at the foot of the great walls of this world’s Jerichoes. We are entering into new lands to conquer for our Lord with almost every step that we take. He wants to show us the path to follow so that we can be victorious over the forces that oppose Christ in our world. The Spirit will direct our steps so that we do not stumble or fall as we transit the rough ground before us. So, here we are, ready for a new day, and the place where each of us is standing is truly Christ’s holy ground.

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For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

1 Thessalonians 1: 4, 5

 

If you thought that the last commission-based salesperson that you encountered was persistent, you have seen nothing until you consider the way that God goes after people. The Lord does not stop appealing to us until breath stops flowing into our lungs. He wants to close the deal with each of us before that final day comes, and He would prefer for it to happen much sooner than that. God’s motivation in seeking after people is very different too. He wants to be in a relationship with people in a manner that is deep, personal, and transformative for each of us. Christ also desires to work with and through us to bring love, truth, and peace into our world.

 

So, Christ’s tools of persuasion are powerful and compelling. He sends people who know Him out into the unknown of this world to care about the lives of other people and to share the profound importance of entering into a relationship with Christ with the people who they encounter. Yet, God does not just send people with words of unsupported personal experience, He also goes along in this journey of faith in the personal presence of the Holy Spirit within each of Christ’s people and by way of the Spirit’s own testimony to the truth of the gospel message of salvation and transformed lives by and through Christ. All of this presents a powerful expression of the relentless love that God pours out upon the people who populate His Creation.

 

Christ wants to know each of us, and He also desires that we would know Him very well. As we do come into that ever deepening form of knowledge and understanding of the Lord and of His heart, we will become ever more fully aware of His desire for each of us to be people who share the love of Christ with others. The Lord sends us all out into the numerous places in our world where He is not known, and He commissions us to live out and to speak forth His gospel message of salvation in those places and to the people that we encounter there. This desire to share the truth of the salvation from sin and the transformation that Christ is working within us is fueled and driven by the conviction of our hearts and minds that life and freedom are found in a relationship with Christ. This is the message that the Spirit within implores each of us to carry with us throughout the days to come.

 

 

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13: 20, 21

 

There are a remarkable number of really cute videos available on-line that feature animals that have been trained to do amazing and remarkable things. We have skating cats and dancing dogs, horses that lay in a lap like a puppy, and even a pig that plays soccer and spells words with block letters. Yet, in this entire wide and wild array of video, I cannot think of a single instance where the animal involved is a sheep. I would guess that they are not very easy to train to do anything that is not by nature sheep-like. Sheep are sheep, and they behave like that regardless of the input given or the effort and talent of their human handlers. The nature of sheep is probably an important part of the reason behind their use by the various writers of the Bible as examples of the way that people act and behave. We are stubborn and set in our lost ways.

 

However, there is something critically different in the nature and the character of the shepherd who God has sent to engage with us human sheep from the earthly pictures of that sheep to shepherd relationship. Jesus, our shepherd, has the ability to bring about profound change in the sheep that He tends. This change is extraordinary and unique in all of the world. Christ does not train us to be doers of simple or of even complex tricks, as do the people who train the cute animals. The presence of Christ in our lives brings about transformative change in our nature that leads to a new way of viewing and engaging with our world. Christ is the source of all of the good that is granted to us as a gift from God, and He brings about the ability to use that goodness for the benefit of others and for the redemption of this world from its sin-induced death spiral.

 

Christ is the shepherd who does not attempt to control His sheep. The success of His day is not defined by how many of us stay close to home and do nothing that could place us in harms way or cause the world around us to take notice of our presence. Our Lord and Shepherd places within our hearts and minds a desire to follow Him into the work of sharing the truth of the Gospel message of radical love and transformative grace in every corner of the world. His Spirit grants to us the strength and the courage to place ourselves and even our lives on the line for the sake of justice and in the cause of love and care that is poured out from God upon those around us who have no place and no voice in our society. We bring glory to Christ when we live openly and boldly in our world as His chosen sheep who, unlike the natural sheep of our world, are transformed and reformed by our Shepherd Jesus Christ into a new type of creature who does amazing and even miraculous things in our world and for our culture in the power of Christ and for the sake of eternity come to dwell among us.

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,

for he will speak to his people, to his saints;

but let them not turn back to folly.

Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,

that glory may dwell in our land.

Psalm 85: 8, 9

 

Have you ever noticed how the nature of a mother’s voice changes when she is talking with her baby? The tone softens, volume decreases while clarity seems to improve, and there is a warmth present in the inflection of the words. This is the sound of soul-deep love that is being poured over the object of that God-ordained human relationship. This is the closest image that I can think of to relate to the way that God desires to speak with each of His children. So, for me, the most important thing that I can do is to listen and act upon what I hear Him say. I do not mean to say that God’s words to me are always a sweet lullaby or are intended to placate me or put me to sleep. Most of what God says is oriented to thinking, to doing, and to dwelling well in the land where He has placed me.

 

The language that God uses and especially His tone in delivering His words of life bring about a sense of peace in my heart and in my mind. In my case, unlike what happens between a mother and her baby, God’s words of truth do not put me to sleep; instead, they put my anxieties and fears to rest. The writer of this psalm knew that God did speak to His people. Although I have never heard an audible voice that I could identify as belonging to God, I know that He does speak to me. The pages of the Bible are alive with God’s expression of his character, desires, and will for the way that people will live. The Spirit does engage with me, and His voice of conscience and of guidance comes from deep within myself and out of the mouths of others as well.

 

In truth, the fullness of God’s voice is heard and understood best in the company of other people who know Him and also desire to hear Him well. That is not to say that there are not times when each of us needs to be on our own, alone with the Lord, but it is important to live life in the fellowship of faith and the company of God’s faithful people. This body of Christ oriented relational living is the best way to prevent that return to foolish thinking and actions that the writer here warns about. God speaks peace and He breaths out salvation from the sin that continues to assault us so that each of us will know our Lord well and live out His truth in a manner that speaks the glory of the Lord in our land.