Women of Faith and Action

Two very unlikely women became role models for us of faith and action.  Find out why they were unlikely and what they did to merit such honor.

Today’s reading

Judges 3-5; Luke 7:31-50

Selected Verses

And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”  Judges 4:9

And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Luke 7:50

Reflections

In today’s readings we meet two women of faith (not counting a third, Deborah) from whom we can learn much. Deborah as a prophetess and judge in Israel recruits Barak to lead an army against the Canaanites who have been cruelly oppressing the nation for twenty years. Barak accepts the job on the condition that Deborah accompany him to the battle. She agrees but warns him that the glory for the victory will not go to him but to a woman. At that point the first-time reader guesses that the glory will go to Deborah but not so. It is Jael, a Kenite woman, who in God’s providence takes advantage of the opportunity to murder the Canaanite commander, Sisera, while he is sleeping peacefully in her tent.

During a meal at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, a notoriously sinful woman slips in and begins to wash, kiss, and anoint Jesus’ feet showing great love and respect for Him. Simon judges Jesus for His acceptance of attention from such a woman. Simon’s reasoning is: “Either, Jesus doesn’t know who she is, in which case, He is not a true prophet, or He knows who she is and accepts a rank sinner again revealing Himself to be no prophet.”  Neither of these options is true. Jesus does know who she is and welcomes her because of her faith. She is a sinner whom God has called to Himself and whose sin is forgiven because she believes in God’s Son who would take upon Himself the punishment for sinners such as her. Jesus rebukes Simon but exonerates and reassures the woman. “Go in peace,” He says. She is saved by faith.

Think about it

Faith drives both of these women to act. God’s word honors their faith although both went against the tide of society in doing God’s will. The glory for the victory goes to Jael who is not even an Israelite. The peace and assurance of salvation goes to the sinful but believing woman who is roundly rejected by a Pharisee.

Barak and Simon, the men in these two stories, leave much to be desired, although reluctant Barak did come around (Hebrews 11:32).  We know nothing of the outcome of Simon the Pharisee’s life.  Learn from the women of faith who understood that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

The Kingdom that Cannot Fail

The old covenant and kingdom fell short of perfection yet it did point to the need for something better and enduring. Something only Jesus could bring.

Today’s reading

Judges 1-2; Luke 7:1-30

Selected Verses

They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.  So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them.  Judges 2:13-14a

I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.  Luke 7:28

Reflections

Jesus came announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God. He demonstrated His power by healing a Gentile servant of a Roman centurion and raising a dead man (just to take the examples in today’s reading). Word spread about Jesus, and the people were both fearful and joyful. God was visiting His people.

The disciples of John the Baptist came asking for clarification. Was Jesus the Messiah? Jesus’ answer gave no doubt He was and is. So, what are we to make of the ministry of John the Baptist?

Jesus said that John was unsurpassed among all mankind. His ministry marked the end of the era of the old covenant kingdom with its symbolic priesthood, earthly temple, feast days, and sacrifices. Something new had come: the kingdom of God and the new covenant. So new and different are these that Jesus could say that the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than the one who was greatest under the old covenant and kingdom.

Our reading in Judges underscores the failure of Israel under the old covenant. The nation started badly and continued with more downs than ups. They ignored God’s commands and mixed with the pagans who had been marked for extermination. The people worshiped false gods abandoning the true and living God, Yahweh, who had delivered them from Egypt and opened the Promised Land to them.

Think about it

The old covenant and kingdom fell far short of perfection yet it did point to the need for something  that only Jesus could bring — the kingdom of God.  We must enter that kingdom by faith in Him. Charles Wesley’s great hymn “Rejoice, the Lord is King” says it well:

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n, The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n; Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Are you in?

To Love God and Enemies

Believers are commanded to love their enemies.  But does that include marrying the enemies of our God?  The Scriptures are clear on this.

Today’s reading

Joshua 23-24; Luke 6:27-49

Selected Verses

Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.  Joshua 23:11

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Luke 6:35,36

Reflections

Joshua urged the Israelites to love the Lord their God and to flee marriage entanglements with their enemies, the pagan natives of Canaan. He knew that, if they intermarried with pagans, they would be drawn away from faithful and sincere service to God. At the same time, there were notable examples of Gentiles coming into the covenant people of God. Rahab and her family were protected from destruction in Jericho and admitted into the lineage of Judah and Jesus (Matthew 1:5). So the intention of Joshua’s command was not to deprive Gentiles of blessing and salvation but to protect the Israelites from apostasy.

Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies, demonstrating godliness reflective of the Father who is merciful and kind even to the ungrateful and evil. Jesus was not teaching a relativistic view of morality in which everything that is good to you is good. He specifically showed that there is good and evil and that these are not the same. Good and evil fruits come from good and evil trees. But Jesus sent His disciples to show mercy to their enemies, the ungrateful and the evil.

Think about it

Why does God patiently pour out blessings on those who rebel against Him? Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). In due time, the evil will face the judgment of God, but meanwhile, we who believe in Jesus show our faith by an obedient, godly life including loving our enemies.

The prohibition of believers marrying unbelievers continues (2 Corinthians 6:14). Marriage is not one of the ways believers show love to unbelievers. This may be misunderstood by them, but that is the risk we must take to live a life of obedience. Of course, unbelievers are not prohibited from marrying one another.  In fact, they should marry if so inclined.

Love God. Love your enemies, but love them as God does by doing them good and telling them of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hated, Excluded, Reviled, Spurned, Blessed

What? Hated, Excluded, Reviled, Spurned, Blessed.  This is how Jesus described His disciples.  An odd group of words and an odd group of people.

Today’s reading

Joshua 21-22; Luke 6:1-26

Selected Verses

No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?”  Joshua 22:24

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.  Luke 6:22-23

Reflections

In the book of Joshua we come to the end of the conquest of the land.  The war was over and occupation had begun.  It was now time for the eastern tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) to return to their territories across the Jordan River.  They nearly set off a civil war by building an imposing altar on the western banks of the river without explaining what they were doing or what they meant by it.

Driven by fear of future exclusion from the rest of Israel and from the worship of God, the eastern tribes erected what was suspected to be an unauthorized worship site potentially leading to apostasy and the wrath and judgment of God.  The whole nation was still smarting from the wickedness of Achan that had brought God’s judgment on them (Joshua 7).  Fear on both sides of the Jordan almost resulted in war.  Diplomatic talks clarified the issue and reduced everyone’s fears.  War was averted.

In Luke today we find Jesus experiencing hatred and rejection by the religious authorities of His day.  The plotting against Him has begun.  He knows opposition will ramp up and He will soon die. So will some who follow Him, but He does not tell them how to avoid opposition that comes on His account.  He tells them to welcome it “when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil” because as they experience it, they are blessed and their reward will be great in heaven.

Think about it

Do not fear persecution on the account of Jesus Christ.  Stay calm if they accuse you of being evil.  This is nothing new.  In ancient days, the prophets suffered and sometimes died for being faithful to God.  Do not take extreme measures, like the eastern tribes, to attempt to avoid being misunderstood.  Be faithful to the Lord and the gospel.  God will bless any suffering and reward you both now and in eternity.

Note: please consult your physician before attempting to leap for joy.

 

Old Wine, New Wine, & the Problem of Receptivity

It is natural and sensible to prefer the old to the new when it comes to wine.  But this is not true when it comes to the Messiah and the Kingdom of God.

Today’s reading

Joshua 19-20; Luke 5:17-39

Selected Verses

These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation. Joshua 20:9

And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, “The old is good.” Luke 5:39

Reflections

In ancient Israel, the law of Moses included strict borders for each tribe and designated cities of refuge to protect people from retaliation for involuntary manslaughter.  There was law and order as there should be in any peaceful society.

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees taught and demonstrated careful adherence to the law as they understood it. The problem was the Pharisees found it easier to stick with tradition than to consider the possibility of some new element being introduced into their world. They accused Jesus of blasphemy when He forgave a man his sins. These religious leaders grumbled when Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. They questioned the piety of Jesus’ disciples because of their failure to fast often and offer prayers.

Jesus responded to their criticisms with explanations that showed He did not violate the law but did go beyond their traditional understanding of lawfulness. He had power to forgive sin. He came to call sinners to repentance. His presence in the world was like a wedding, not a funeral, and it changed everything.

Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that resistance to the new is natural and comfortable, but it is not always acceptable. Law and order is good, but sometimes receptivity and flexibility is needed because God was doing a new thing in sending the Son of Man. The law had only revealed the sinfulness of Man. Jesus brought the new wine of the gospel, forgiveness of sin for all who believe in Him.

Think about it

Beware of the error of the Pharisees who extended faithfulness to the law beyond its intended limits and turned it into rigid resistance to the gospel and rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  But we could also be in danger of being receptive to the latest trends of our culture that says what Jesus claimed and did is outmoded.  Faithfulness to Him and His gospel is the key.

 

Leadership Lessons from Jesus and Joshua

Leaders are frequently challenged by high stress situations and high maintenance people. God’s Word gives guidance for effective leadership.

Today’s reading

Joshua 16-18; Luke 5:1-16

Selected Verses

So the men arose and went, and Joshua charged those who went to write the description of the land, saying, “Go up and down in the land and write a description and return to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.”  Joshua 18:8

But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.  But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:15-16

Reflections

Both Jesus and Joshua model how effective leaders handle high stress situations and high maintenance people. There are two important guidelines here for effective leaders.

  1. Effective leaders empower people to solve their own problems, as much as possible. Joshua gave the responsibility to the seven landless tribes to survey the territory, to write a description of the remaining land dividing it in seven portions, and to report back to him for allotments. Earlier, Joshua told the tribe of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) to clear their land rather than asking for more territory.
  2. Effective leaders take time for prayer even during high stress times. Jesus’ ministry was becoming more widely known and the crowds came with endless needs for healing and teaching. It was not a bad thing that they saw Jesus as the one who could both heal them and teach them, but there were limits to what one person, even Jesus, could do. Jesus modeled for us the need to take time alone in prayer.

Think about it

In whatever leadership roles you fill, are you following these two guidelines as you face pressure and the expectations of others?  A mother recently told me how much joy she has seeing her young son assume more responsibility for getting himself ready for bed. In our church, we train and empower gifted people to teach Sunday school classes. This process adds quality to our classes and their members.

The biggest danger is the tendency to operate purely on human wisdom and to fail to take time alone for prayer. Evaluate your life today. Make the needed changes so that you handle high stress situations and high maintenance people in wise and godly ways.

God’s Authority against Formidable Forces

God rules over all people and all events in human history. His authority comes through in today’s readings as it does on every page of the Bible.

Today’s reading

Joshua 14-15; Luke 4:33-44

Selected Verses

So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.  Joshua 14:12

And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!”  Luke 4:36

Reflections

Remember Caleb? Along with Joshua, he was one of two adult survivors of the exodus from Egypt.  He’s back appealing to Joshua to grant him the hill country of Hebron as his inheritance in the land. Caleb, demonstrated not doubt but humility and an unassuming air, in expressing his dependence on the Lord to be with him as he cleared the enemy Anakim out of the territory he desired. The Anakim were a tall and frightening group of warriors whom the spies had met 40 years earlier when they did reconnaissance in the land. Joshua granted Caleb his request and blessed his old friend. The effort was successful because the Lord had authority over the Anakim and all the other great pretenders of this world.

Jesus controlled every kind of disease. He healed Simon’s mother of a fever so quickly and completely that she immediately resumed her duties as hostess and homemaker as if nothing had occurred. The townspeople lined up to have Jesus heal them, too. Whatever sickness they had, he graciously healed.  But his power over unclean spirits stunned them. A demonic man made a scene in the synagogue, screaming out his fear of destruction at the hands of Jesus. He even accurately identified Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” The demon threw the man down, but Jesus commanded him to be silent and come out of him. The demon obeyed. The crowd was amazed at this demonstration of authority.

Think about it

Do you have confidence in God’s control over this world? The triune God has revealed Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons who rules over the entire universe.  Through the grace of Jesus His Son, the Father gives His Spirit to live in His children.  All power and authority belongs to Him.   In Christ, you belong to Him who has power and authority over everyone and everything. Fear not. Trust Him who reigns over all.

 

The kingdoms vs. the Kingdom

Many kingdoms have come and gone.  Only one Kingdom will last forever.  Do you belong to that Kingdom?  Do you know the King?

Today’s reading

Joshua 11-13; Luke 4:1-32

Selected Verses

And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms.  Joshua 11:10

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Luke 4:5-7

Reflections

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change ”  is a statement attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Christian theology disputes that because God is constant and unchanging.  Nevertheless, to a large degree everything in our experience seems to be constantly changing, like the kingdoms of this world.

In Joshua’s day, Hazor was head of several kingdoms. Joshua, with God’s leading and power, conquered Hazor and all the kingdoms of Canaan. The scripture tells us that God hardened the hearts of those kings so that they would fight against Israel and lose (Joshua 11:20). Hazor’s  kingdoms came under the dominion of Israel until the Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C.

Clearly the devil has some control in this world, but only what God allows him. He tempts certain people with power and authority in exchange for allegiance to his evil causes and purposes.

Which people does Satan personally approach? We have at least a partial list in the Bible where we are told that the devil went after Eve, Job, Peter, and Jesus (Genesis 3:1-7; Job 1-2; Luke 22:31-34; Luke 4:1).

Hazor ruled some kingdoms. Later, Israel possessed those lands. When the devil approached Jesus to tempt him, Satan claimed to have authority over all the kingdoms of the earth. In the final analysis, these earthly kingdoms rightfully belong to God the Creator and He providentially controls them. But the ultimate kingdom is not an earthly temporal one. Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God.

Think about it

Do you serve a changing kingdom or the Kingdom that belongs to our unchanging God? Seek His Kingdom and serve the King who is eternal. He hardens hearts of proud rulers and turns hearts of all at His will (Exodus 7:3; Proverbs 21:1). Pray that His Kingdom may come in ultimate triumph soon and that we will be found in it.

 

God’s Intervention in Human History

God works in dramatic ways and in mundane ways to accomplish His purposes for His people.  Watch for evidence of His presence in your life today.

Today’s reading

Joshua 9-10; Luke 3

Selected Verses

And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.  Joshua 10:42

And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  Luke 3:6

Reflections

In today’s reading in Joshua, God was at work defeating the enemies of Israel.  Certainly, the twelve tribes saw the salvation of God from those who had defiled the land with pagan worship.  God blessed them with much victory using even hailstones and a suspended sunset to accomplish His purposes.

Luke quotes from Isaiah in introducing the ministry of John the Baptist.  John was preparing the people for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Isaiah described one who cried in the wilderness, calling the people to prepare the way of the Lord.  That prophecy was fulfilled as John literally preached in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Crowds came to John and sought baptism.  He did not soft pedal his message, but warned them of the wrath to come and the need to make changes in their lives that reflected true repentance.  Two groups were specifically mentioned: the tax collectors and the soldiers.  John’s ministry was blessed by God so much that people thought perhaps he was the Christ, but later he clarified that Jesus was the One whose worth was far above his own and that Jesus would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  Isaiah’s words came true that all flesh would see the salvation of God.

Think about it

God intervenes in human history for the salvation of His people whether through dramatic or mundane means.  Whether we see signs of miraculous intervention or not, He has promised to save those who come to Him through Christ.  None of our enemies can stand before Him.  He overcomes the sinful hearts of tax collectors and soldiers.  He destroys the unrepentant, but saves His own.  Look for His presence as you pray and walk with Him today.

 

Two Men who Saw the Light

God included the Gentiles in His plans to redeem His elect people from sin and death.  Here we meet two men who saw the light on this.

Today’s reading

Joshua 7-8; Luke 2:25-52

Selected Verses

And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law.  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 8:34-35

 Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
  for my eyes have seen your salvation
  that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
  a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.  Luke 2:29-32

Reflections

God’s focus, as we have seen before, includes not only the Israelites or the Jews but all the peoples of the earth.

Joshua renews the covenant of God with Israel by reading the entire Book of the Law of Moses. The congregation included not only the men of Israel but the women, the children, and the sojourners who lived among them. Those sojourners were not related physically to Israel, but merely living among them, perhaps as servants. How important that Joshua included them in the reading of the law and the renewal of the covenant!

Simeon, who had waited all his life for the coming of the Messiah, met the infant Jesus in the temple. His long-awaited moment had come. He had seen the salvation of the Lord. That salvation was prepared in the presence of all peoples and would be a light for revelation to the Gentiles as well as a glory to God’s people, Israel. Certainly, Simeon understood the universal offer of salvation that was being extended to the entire world.

Think about it

God deserves our praise for sending His Son, Jesus, to save all who believe in Him from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Thank Him that Joshua granted the sojourners among the Israelites the privilege of hearing the Word of God. Praise God for His grace to old Simeon who saw his dream of a lifetime fulfilled. He also gave us wise words about the work of Jesus Christ whose ministry extends to all peoples even you and me.