Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 17: Extending Trust

I was about 17 years old, and sometime in February, I was driving home late from a baseball game. Now from my school to my home it was about a forty-five minute drive. I got done with the game about seven, and by the time I was about twenty minutes from my house it was completely dark.
At that point on the road, there were very few people out. It’s a really peaceful drive, with no lights whatsoever, because it’s all farms. As a came around a curve and down a hill, I saw a car with it’s flashers on. Being the courteous person I am, and a little naive at the same time, I pulled over to help. I pulled in front of the car, so I wouldn’t startle whoever was in it. But as I around the car, I realized it wasn’t your run of the mill stranded motorist, instead it was a sheriff. Once I pulled over, he flipped on his lights and order me out of the vehicle. 
He asked me what I as doing, to which I replied, pulling over to see if I could help. In a very gruff and angry voice, he told me that he didn’t need any help, and to get home. 
I spent the rest of my drive home upset at the guy. To me all I was doing was trying to be courteous, and all I got was a rude reaction.

And it’s a similar situation of someone trying to do good, but only getting a rude response in return, that brings us to our passage in the book of Joshua chapter 22, verse 1 today.

Now we’re almost done with the book of Joshua. In fact, next week, we’re going to wrap up this series. But let’s get a refresh, to bring us up to speed to where we are today.

For the last five weeks we have been going over eight chapters. First talking about Joshua’s belief that God has fulfilled all this promises, then talking about three responses from the people as Joshua divides the land, and finally the fact that God seeks justice and not revenge from his people.

But to understand where we’re at today, we have to go all the back to the very first chapter of the book of Joshua. It’s in this first chapter that we talked about Joshua’s first day on the job. God called him to be the leader of the nation of Israel after the death of Moses. And not only did God call him to take over a very important position, but he also had Joshua deal with a potential split within the nation.
See Moses had already given land to two and half of the tribes of Israel. This land was on the east side of the Jordan River. It had been conquered and the people that now claimed the land were ready to relax and stop fighting.
Joshua told these two and half tribes, that they needed to fulfill their vow of helping their brothers and sisters claim their land allotments on the west side of the Jordan. It was there that we talked about how, the nation could have split, with the two and half tribes telling the rest, that they had their land, and they didn’t need to do anything else.
But they didn’t. Instead, the two and half tribes, were willing and ready to fulfill their vow of helping the fellow Israelites and they did just that. 
Which brings us to where we’re at today. This is the end of their story in the book of Joshua. So let’s start reading in Joshua chapter 22, starting in verse 1.

1 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh 2 and said to them, “You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. 3 For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. 4 Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Joshua’s announcements to these people to return home, is about 35 years after their call to fulfill their vow in chapter 1. That’s how long it’s been since Joshua called the two and a half tribes to come with the rest of Israel to go into the land of Canaan. For almost 35 years, these two and a half tribes have been working to fulfill the calling of God on their lives. That’s a long time to be away from your family. Because from what we learned in the very first chapter when Joshua called these two and half tribes to come with him, they had left their wives, their children and their possessions back on the other side of the Jordan River.
These two and a half tribes have missed their families for a long time. They have missed celebrations, they have missed the growth of their children, they have missed loved ones who passed away. And yet through it all they were faithful, as Joshua puts it, doing “all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obey me in everything I commanded…”
What kind of selfless drive do you have to have, to be willing to give up on missing decades of events for the prosperity of another person?

But, have you ever done a good deed and a bad thing happened? Like the old saying, no good deed goes unpunished. Well, that’s what happens to the two and a half tribes. Even though they spent about 35 years working for the good of their fellow Israelites. Even though they have missed the important moments in their families lives. Even though they have done everything that was required of them. Their loyalty and focus on God gets called into question.

Let’s drop down to verse 10.

10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. 11 And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, 12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.

So the two and half tribes return home, and after doing so, they build an really grand alter. Which must have matched very closely to the one that was on the other side of the Jordan, with the rest of Israel at Shiloh. And this throws the rest of Israel into a a frenzy, where they prepared to go to war with their fellow Israelites on the east side of the Jordan. Why is that? Why would the Israelites on the west of the Jordan River, get so upset with the Israelites on the east of the Jordan building an alter? 

Well, we’re told why. In verse 16 we’re given the reasoning for war. It says…

 “The whole assembly of the Lord says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? 17 Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord! 18 And are you now turning away from the Lord?
“‘If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. 19 If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God.

So what was the Israelites west of the Jordan’s reason for wanting to go to war? When the people east of the Jordan built the alter that matched the one on the west side, the people on the west thought that they were straying from their belief in the God of Israel. See the tabernacle, the place where God would meet with Israel, was on the west side of the Jordan. It was at this place that they conducted the ceremonies that God instructed them to. It was there that the alter on which sacrifices were made on behalf of the people and their sin was located. So by the people on the east side building their own alter, the people on the west side, interrupted it as being a rejection of the God of Israel.
The reference to Peor is a reference to a situation in which someone was practicing idolatry. Which is the worship of man made things instead of the Living God of Israel. For the westerner Israelites, this isn’t some small offense, but rathe ra rejection of everything they have endured for the last 75 years. It’s like someone saying their your friend, and acting like it, and then turning around and stabbing you in the back. 
So I can see where the people on the west side are coming from. God had done so much for everyone, and now their fellow Israelites seemed to be rejecting him. And they didn’t want God’s wrath to come down on them because of it. They didn’t want to stand by and allow evil to happen, so they prepared themselves for war.

But we quickly learn that this whole thing is a misunderstanding, because as the elders of west Israel come to confront those on the east, the people on the east explain their situation. Let’s pick that explanation up in verse 22.

22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day. 23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account.
24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.
26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’
28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’
29 “Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle.”

So, the reasoning behind the alter being built was to solidify the relationship between the two sides of the Jordan, and not to cause division.

But a misunderstanding of the purpose behind the alter, almost led to a civil war between the two sides. 

And the reality is, everyone, at one time or another, falls into this trap of misunderstanding. Someone says a word, and we miss hear it. Someone shows up late, and we think that are being disrespectful to our time. 
There’s a great meme, that shows a husband and wife in bed looking in opposite directions. In the wife’s thought bubble it always says, “I bet he’s thinking about another woman.” Then you read his thought bubble which is always different, sometimes saying ridiculous things like, “If two people on opposite sides of the earth drop a piece of bread at the same time, that means that the world briefly becomes a sandwich.”

But misunderstandings happen all the time, and it’s because we put motives to other people that assumptions. In the case with the Israelites on the west, they attributed the motive of rejecting God to the people that had fought and died for them for the last 35 years. When in reality, the motive was to bring together the people, and honor God.

So instead of miss attributing motive to people, thereby creating a misunderstanding, God desires us to find out if something is true or not. Instead of assuming something, we need to find out what the reasoning is, before me make a judgement. In other words, we need to wait to fight, until there’s a reason to do so.

And how do we do that? We start with giving people the benefit of the doubt. One of the complaints I have received throughout my time with the youth is that when a rumor happens I don’t simple believe it. Instead, I ask the person of whom the rumor is about, if the rumor is true. Sometimes I get a yes, sometimes I get a no. And when I get a no, sometimes is truthful, and sometimes it’s a lie. Either way, I try to give the person the benefit of the doubt. And when someone lies to me, the relationship gets hurt, because now I can’t trust that person. But I would rather the relationship be broken by someone else, rather than for me to not give them the benefit and the relationship get broken by me.

If I treated everyone as if they had ulterior motives, what does that do for me? Doesn’t it cause me to be judgmental with no basis? Doesn’t cause me to believe lies over truth? Doesn’t it cause me to break relationships more often than not? And doesn’t cause me to always be looking for a reason to not trust, rather than trust? And when we start attributing ulterior motives to people, it eventually transfer that same attitude over to our relationship with God. We start believing that he doesn’t have my best interest at heart, but rather just wants to hurt me. And that is the farthest thing from the truth. 

This is why Paul says this about love in 1st Corinthians 13, “6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails…”

My challenge for you this weeks is to evaluate a relationship in which a misunderstandings has or might occur, and then ask for forgiveness if you have caused a a lapses in trusting someone without cause. Allow trust on your side of the situation to extend to others, and if you are lied to, then allow God to deal with that situation. Like we talked about last week, God desire us to seek truth and justice, and not revenge.

Let us be people who don’t seek to attribute false motives to people, but rather seek to build trust and truth with the people that God brings into our lives. So that we may trust him more, and buried stronger relationships with each other. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 16: Becoming a City of Refuge

Do you remember being a kid and playing games with safe zones? You know, like a place like in tag where if you reach it, then you can’t be tagged? In some variations of hide-and-seek, one of the strategies is to reach the home base once the seeker has left it. 
We play a game with our teens called French and Indian War. In the game, the room is  divided into two areas. Each team gets one of these areas, and as long as you stay your side of the dividing line, you’re safe. But once you cross that line you’re fair game to being tag. If you are tagged, then you go to jail, until you are either released by the Game Master, or one of your fellow teammates comes and tags your hand. If your teammate tags your hand, then both of you get to walk back to your safe zone without the threat of being tagged by your opponents. There’s more to the game, like the fact that you can pull your opponents across the dividing line in a human tug-o-war situation.
But it’s this idea of having a safe zone you can go into that I find interesting about kids’ games. In fact, for kids, these safe zones are so important that I’ve watched random ones pop up out of nowhere when one kid is chasing another. In fact, I’ve been a safe zone when kids are playing tag, because the tagger was about to tag the other kid, and they needed a place to call safe, and I was it.
Why is it so important that a kid have a safe zone? Isn’t it because, a safe zone can let you get your breath? You can reevaluate what’s going on so far? And most importantly, you can escape the person that’s after you?

Well it’s this idea of a safe zone that brings us back into the book of Joshua today, where will be coming to chapter 20 and looking at verses 1-9. And as we come back to Joshua chapter 20 verse 1, let’s catch up with where we’re at in the book so far.

Four weeks ago we looked at chapters 13-21 as a whole. In that week, we talked about how God used Joshua in his old age to do more work with the nation of Israel. God had Joshua divide the land between the tribes, and make sure that everyone was content in what they got. It was important for Joshua to do this, because he had the respect of the people for all the years he had fought on their behalf in the land of Canaan. And when Joshua was done with dividing the land, he recognized that God had fulfilled all his promises to the nation of Israel, even though there was still some work to be done. We walked away from that week with the understanding that we need to continue in the work God has for us, as he fulfills his promises in our lives.
Then for the next three weeks, we went back into those eight chapters and talked about three responses to Joshua dividing the land. 
The first came from Caleb who was willing to face down the conflict that was ahead, and because of that, God gave Caleb’s land peace. It was from Caleb’s response that we talked about how we need to face conflict as early as possible to experience the peace of God as soon as we can. 
The second response came from the Levites who understood that their inheritance wasn’t one of land, but rather a unique relationship with God. We learned from the Levites that we must accept the situations God has given us in this life, because they’re meant to bring us into closer relationship with him.
Then last week we talked about the people of Joseph, the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Even though, combined, they were the biggest tribes and they got the biggest allotment of land, they complained about the land being too small, and with too many difficult enemies. From their complaining response, we talked about how we need to not fall into the mindset of desiring an easy life, rather we need to embrace the life God has for us.

And with that, we’re caught up to where we’re at in the book of Joshua, with this week being the last week that we’re in that eight chapters that we covered four weeks ago. 

So let’s finish up these eight chapters, by jumping into Joshua chapter 20, starting in verse 1.

1 Then the Lord said to Joshua: 2 “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. 4 When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. 5 If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. 6 They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”
7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8 East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. 9 Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.

This is one of the shortest chapters in the book of Joshua and it talks about something that I think we might gloss. God has Joshua set up six Cities of Refuge for a purpose. In chapter 13 we see God setting up the political boundaries of both the nation of Israel as a whole, and the tribes of the nation individually. It’s interesting that the nation was confined to these political boundaries, because if God wanted to simply have a conquering empire, then there would be no reason for these boundaries in the first place.
But God’s purpose here is not to bring about a nation that was going to conquer the world, but rather a nation that was going to be set a part as a people uniquely following him. So in chapter 13 we see God constrain Israel’s boarders.
Then after God sets up the political boundaries, his first act is to institute one of the judicial practices that would be found in Israel. Now God doesn’t give us the details of all judicial practices for the nation of Israel here, because he has already done this in earlier books. Instead, he is focusing on the land and what it represents. The six Cities of Refuge represent the just system of law that God wants the people to follow.

Think about it. These six cites are placed with two at the the northern end of the nation, one on both sides of the Jordan River. Two in the middle of the nation, one on both sides of the Jordan River. And two on the souther end of the nation, again, one on both sides of the Jordan River. In other words, there is a City of Refuge within everyone’s reach. Meaning, everyone has access to these cities. 
Even the cites that are set aside are interesting, because of which ones they are. Each of these six cites are not only geographically accessible, but they are also the cities that are controlled by the tribe of Levites. This implies that these cities would have the Law of God in their walls, and be a place where the Law of God would be most honored. 

But why would God even need such cities in the first place? Why have specific cities set aside so that accused murders would have a place to go and hide out? Well let’s think about it in our own lives. When someone commits a detrimental action against us, don’t we tend to say we want justice? But really, when we say we want justice, what we really mean is we want vengeance? 
Now some people think that the two are the same, but the motivation behind them is what sets them apart. Justice is the desire for the truth to come out, and equal punishment to the crime be dealt to those who are truly guilty. Vengeance on the other hand, is a desire to inflict punishment onto someone else to satisfy a pain that has occurred to us.
These cities represent the need for a just hearing of the accused. The stated purpose of these cities is for a person who accidentally kills another to have their case heard by an unbiased jury. If these cities were not available, there could be a temptation to have biased people convict an innocent person. So these cities echo God’s desire to have just judgment happen between his people.
In this case, a person seeking vengeance against another who acted innocently, will not be able to enact the punishment they want. Because if they found that person who killed their love one without intention, they would be adding to the tragedy, rather than allowing justice to work itself out. The person seeking vengeance against the innocent person who committed the killing, would now be the true murder.
This is why God sets up a place where impartial judges could weigh the situation and give a just judgement. Now if the jury finds the person did in fact murder the victim, then they can turn that person over to be justly dealt with. But this jury was to be impartial, and therefore able to make such a decision.

So by God setting up these Cities of Refuge, God is curtailing the desire we have for vengeance, so that justice will happen instead.

And it’s this idea of needing vengeance that God speaks to on several occasions; the most known is from Deuteronomy 32:35, which the Apostle Paul references in the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Romans.

Paul recognizes our desire for vengeance and he tells us that God has a deeper desire for justice instead. And it’s by justice that we are to live. So Paul takes the opposite approach to vengeance and calls us to a life of seeking good to those who would hurt us. 
Listen to what Paul says in the seventeenth verse of chapter 12 in Romans. “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Paul is echoing God’s desire that we seek justice and allow punishment to be given by the only person who can rightly do so, and that’s God himself. Because even when we think that we have 100% of the information needed, we still cannot fathom every possibility that there is. And yet, we tend to take vengeance at the drop of a hat. When we hear our reputation has been tarnished. When we hear that someone has gossiped and slandered us. When we’ve done something good for another person, and that person stabs us in the back. Our first reaction is to seek vengeance against them. And yet, all that leads to is self gratification, and destroyed relationships.

The exact opposite of why Jesus came. Jesus came to restore, not only our relationship with God himself, but with each other as well. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God with everything, and to love others as ourselves (Mark12:29-31). How many of us, when someone accuses us of something or drags our name through the mud, want our side of the situation to be heard? We don’t want our name, our reputation, our lives destroyed by lies. And so we seek to hurt the person that has hurt us. 

This past week, I heard that someone has been spreading rumors about the youth ministry. Telling parents that they shouldn’t let their children come to our church because we let the teens do whatever they want. Sex, drugs, running amok, you name it, we let it happen. Now my first reaction was indignation, because this person has never been to a teen wreck night, so they wouldn’t know what goes on anyway. And all the thoughts about how I could get back at this person flooded my mind. But then the Holy Spirit reminded me that God has called me beyond this type of reaction. I am not to seek vengeance, but rather to allow God to work. 
See, vengeance says, I want my self gratification, but God calls us away from vengeance and ourselves, to doing good when evil is done to us. 

Jesus’ words on the cross were not ones of vengeance, but ones of reconciliation, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)”

God is calling us to this same attitude of refuge. Of turning away from vengeance and and turning towards forgiveness.

And how do we do this? How do we begin to move away from vengeance and into forgiveness?

We start with the understanding of sin. When Jesus was dying on the cross, he was able to forgive, because he understood the depth of sin that had it’s hold on the people. And instead of it driving him to enact vengeance upon the people, which were specifically told he could, he spoke forgiveness.
When we understand how easily it is for sin to control people’s lives, then we will begin to move away from vengeance and begin to live in forgiveness. And the best place to start understanding sin, is to recognize it in our own lives. 
We need to become honest with the sin in our lives, we need to be honest with the struggles and failings that we deal with. We need to be honest with the times we cause trouble in other people’s lives. Because when we open up about our sin, and we’re truthful about how we struggle, when someone else sins against us, we understand that they too are dealing with sin’s control over their lives. When someone gossips and spreads lies about me, it’s because they have not dealt with their sin, and it’s in control of them. And when we recognize this, the compassion of God will begin to fill our hearts and minds, and we will begin to leave vengeance behind.
But until we are willing to confront our own sin, our need for vengeance will always be a struggle will have. And instead of cities of refuge, we will be cities of violence and injustice. 

So today, as we sing the song, “Judge of the Secrets”, I want us to take a moment and be honest. What sin are you struggling with right now? What injustice have you done in another’s life. Or what injustice has been done to you, that you are wanting to take vengeance on? 
I want to challenge you to write it down on a piece of paper and bring it to the table and throw it in the bowl (If you are reading this, take it and throw it in the trash). And when you throw it in, pray, “Lord, let me be ever mindful of my struggle with sin, that I will not be led into vengeance, but to extend to others the forgiveness you have extended to me through Jesus. Amen.”

Let us be a people that repay evil with good, and love instead of vengeance. Amen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 15: Being Content to Experience God

This past Wednesday, my family was driving up to Lake Havasu for several eye appointment for the kids. At some point our oldest makes the comment, about how her life isn’t fun. She says that, once in a while it's fun, but not all the time. And when she said this, I have to tell you that it kind of annoyed me, because this little girl has experienced more extravagant fun in her short life than I had as a kid. She’s been to almost every western state, she goes on many road trips both to her grandparents homes and when I have to travel. At least once a year she goes to Chuck E Cheese either for an adoption celebration or because her grandparents take her. And thanks to her grandparents she has experienced several trips to Disneyland and one trip to Hawaii.
That’s a lot for a kid that just turned ten this year. And at first, I started to get really upset, because I realized how much she has experienced and how little she appreciates it. But then the next day, I began to realize when I was a kid, I always dreamed about having more than what I did. I used to think that my parents were actually really rich, and that one day they would reveal it to me. And I would dream of all the cool things I could buy with my new found wealth. I wanted more than what I had, because for a kid, all you want is fun. Just like she said her life wasn’t fun, I realized that though I might not have said it like that, I always wanted more fun too. But then I had to do un-fun things, like mow the yard, or clean up after the dogs, or go to school. And since my parents didn’t have a lot of money, we didn’t go on the expensive trips that I thought I needed. I wanted the easier life where I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and have as much fun as I could.
And instead of getting easier as an adult, when you think that with freedom from your parents everything is going to be easier and more fun, you realize that it’s even harder. Because now you have more responsibilities and less time for fun. That easier life that you thought you would get from leaving your parents’ home, actually becomes harder.

And it’s this idea of having an easier time that we want both as children and as adults that brings us to Joshua chapter 17 verse 14 today. Which is a part two of sorts from last week. 

So far in the last two weeks we’ve been talking about the reactions of the people of Israel to Joshua dividing up the land of Canaan just as God had instructed him. The first response we talked about was from Caleb. The man who originally went with Joshua into the land over forty years prior to the events of the book of Joshua. In the land God promised Caleb, Caleb faced the conflict that was ahead of him because he knew God was with him, and peace came out of it. From which we talked about how, we to need to face conflict early so we can experience God’s the peace more often. 
The second response we talked about was from the tribe of Levite. These people were never going to get the land allotments that their fellow Israelites were to get. Instead, they received a few cities and pasture lands for their cattle. Rather than gaining large swaths of land like the other tribes, God set them apart to work for him. This made them unique among the tribes, because it brought them to a different place of relationship with God. From the Levites we learned that we need to accept the situations God gives us, because through them he is bringing us closer in relationship with him.

This brings us to the third response to Joshua’s dividing up the land between the tribes of Israel. We’ll pick this third response up in Joshua chapter 17, starting in verse 14. Where Joshua is giving the half tribe of Manasseh and the of Ephraim an allotment of land where the Canaanites are being exceptionally difficult to deal with.

14 Then the people of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the Lord has blessed me?” 15 And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” 16 The people of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” 17 Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, 18 but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.”

First off, we need to understand that Manasseh and Ephraim are not a part of the original twelve sons of Israel. They were the two sons of Joseph, Israel’s 11th son. God gave them a special blessing and used them to represent both Joseph’s allotment and Levi’s (Genesis 48-49). This is why they are called the people of Joseph when they approach Joshua, because they are Joseph’s decedents.

Secondly, we need to understand that when they come before Joshua, they give him two reason why the land that is given to them is not acceptable.
First, it’s too small. Let’s consider what all of the tribes allotment look like and roughly how many fighting men were in each tribe. (If you are reading this, click here to see a map - https://www.biblestudy.org/maps/division-of-promised-land-to-twelve-tribes-israel.html) In Judah there were 76,000 fighting men; in Dan there were 64,400; Issachar had 63,300; Zebulen had 60,500; Asher had 53,400; Benjamin had 45,600; Nephtali had 45,400; Reuben had 43,730; Gad had 40,500, and Simeon had 22,200. We need to know this because when Ephraim and Manasseh come to Joshua, their two tribes are sitting at 85,200 fighting men. That means that they had more than any of the other tribes. 
Secondly, they said that the land that they had been given contained some of the most battle ready enemies that were in Canaan. We’re told that the Canaanites that lived in this area of land had iron chariots. Which was one of the most advanced military technologies for this time period. These Canaanites are not going to give up easily, because they’re ready for battle. 

It’s for these two reasons that Manasseh and Ephraim told Joshua that their land wasn’t acceptable. They had too many people for the land, and their enemies were too powerful. 
These two tribes’ reaction is the exact opposite of both Caleb and the Levites. Not only are they given more than that of the Levites, who have just a few cities, but they have more land area than any other tribe. In addition, combined, they have more fighting men that of Caleb, who also faced overwhelming odds in his enemies.
So instead of being thankful and willing to fighting whatever lies before them, like the first two tribes we saw did, these two tribes complain about the land being too small, and the enemies being too big. 
Even if we separate these two tribes out into what their allotted lands actually were, the half tribe of Manasseh is still the sixth largest tribe, with still the first or second largest land area.

So why are they complaining? I think we can glean why through Joshua’s words in verse 17, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, 18 but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.”

Joshua’s words are an encouragement, because it seems to me that these tribes have forgotten who is giving them their allotment and who will drive out their enemies. Caleb understood God would drive out the enemies, the Levites understood it was God who gave allotments. But these tribes have forgot both, and it seems like it’s because they wanted more. They weren’t satisfied with the land dimensions, even though it was one of the largest, and they weren’t happy with the caliber of enemies, even though they were one of the largest tribes. 

And I think it stems from this belief that we as humans can cultivate in our lives that thinks that God should take us down easier roads. That because I follow God, I deserve an easy life. That I should have the best house, the biggest bank account, the funnest life. In fact their are people who profess to be Christians that teach others this exact thing. They teach things like, “If you give God money, he’ll have to bless you. If you have tell God to do something God enough times, he has to do it. God wants you to have an abundance of material things and have most prosperous life.”

The reality is though, God calls us to a different life. Jesus says in Matthew 16:24-26, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

In Luke 12, Jesus tells a story of a man who had it made to the easy life. Jesus says this, “…The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (14-21)

When two of Jesus’ disciples wanted to sit at the two sides of greatest power and authority in his kingdom, this is what Jesus said to them in Mark 10,  “You don’t know what you are asking,…Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with…” (10:38-39)

This cup and baptism that Jesus was referring to a cup and baptism of suffering that he was about to go through on the cross. And indeed both these disciples did drink from a cup and be baptized with suffering. The disciple James had stones thrown at him, and when that didn’t kill him, they clubbed him to death. The other disciple John was boiled in oil, and when that didn’t kill him, they exiled him to an island to die. (https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/whatever-happened-to-the-twelve-apostles-11629558.html)

The way of God is always the harder way. And for Christians ,we’re told to embrace it. The book of James, not the disciple we just talked about, but another guy with the same same, says this in his book from the second verse, "2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

If we have put our faith into Jesus as our Savior, we need to get past this desire for an easy life and embrace the life that God has for us to live. Being content in what God gives us and rejoicing when the hard parts come.

It’s one of the hardest realities to accept in our walk with Jesus, because it goes gains everything that we desire, and what the world tells us we should have. 

So how do we get the mindset of God and rejoice in suffering, and not desire the easy life?

First, we need to understand our situation compared to our fellow believers around the world. Open Doors USA reports that 1 in 9 Christians are being persecuted in an extreme way right now. Every month, 105 churches are attacked, either being destroyed or highly damaged. Every day, 11 Christians are killed for their trust in Jesus as their Savior. (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/christian-persecution-by-the-numbers/?/?initcid=19SRP4&initpkg=19SRP4-0&cid=7010b000001kd4HAAQ&pkg=a150b0000045WY6AAM&keyword=christian%20death&b&g&327341371673&1t1&c&1674535876&61124779090&gclid=Cj0KCQjw5MLrBRClARIsAPG0WGyaIU_kMqh3tEDtFG6jvVUYpU5wh_IweTcbSZPrFpUnXm75zzye__4aAi13EALw_wcB)
The BBC reported that Christian persecution, in the world outside of western countries, is at genocide levels. (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48146305)
We need to realize how good we have it. Ephraim and Manasseh forgot how good they had it. They were the largest both in land and in numbers, they had more than anyone else, yet they forgot the key that others didn’t, it was the life God called them into. We need to remember that God has called us into this life, and we need to not discount that, because others are called into much harsh lives than us.

Second, we need to thank God for what he has given us. 1 Thessalonians 5 says, “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (16-18)
That means, that were not just sending up quick prayers of thank you, but rather prayers that convey an acknowledgement of the things that God has brought into our lives that are intended to bring us closer to him, and we are thankful even in the hard parts.
And if you ever wonder what God’s will is for your life, it states it here. God’s will is that we rejoice, pray continually, and give thanks in everything.

This week I want to challenge you to do two simple things. First, pray for Christians around the world. Pray for peace, pray for strength, pray for what you could do for them. This will remind us of what God has brought us into, and it will put our situation in perspective. Second, thank God for the life he has given you, rejoice in it, even if it’s hard. And ask him to bring you closer to him through it.

Let us become the people who move forward with thanksgiving in whatever God brings into our lives, so that we may experience the great work he has for us. Amen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 14: Grateful for Where God Has Put Us

A word of advice, if you don’t want upset or whiny children on your hands, never buy something for one child, and not their sibling.
I learned this lesson early one with our kids. If you buy something for one child, their sibling will want the same thing. Even if you buy them both the same thing, if that thing is the not the same color, one will usually want what the other has. This happened several times when our kids were younger, and every once and a while the opportunity will come come up. Just the other day our family was up in Havasu and it was really, really hot. As I checked out of one of the stores we were visiting I thought it would be a good idea to buy some Gatorades for the family. But I knew that a fight could happen if I didn’t buy the kids all the same one. So They all got blue ones, while the adults got white ones. There was no fighting, and no whining children. 
But then, on Saturday our boy Izzy was helping me with a project for Marika’s birthday. I got him a drink like I usually do when one of the kids helps me. While we were at the checkout stand, an older lady start to talk with Izzy. He was looking at the little scorpion suckers that they have for sale, and for some reason, without his prompting mind you, she bought him one, which he saved it until he got home. 
The first thing out of our youngest’s girls mouth was, “I want one,” in this high pitch whine.  There it was, she was upset because Izzy got something she didn’t and she felt like she deserved the same thing. 
But why would they get upset over something so trivial as not getting the same juice or a sucker like their sibling? It’s because they think that their sibling is getting a better deal than they are. They think, for some reason, that they’re not getting the best, and someone else is. And they want the best for themselves.

It’s this idea of thinking that someone else might be getting something better than us, that brings us to where we’re at in the book of Joshua chapter 13 today. And as we get into the book of Joshua chapter 13, let’s quickly go over what we’ve covered in the last two weeks to bring us here.

Two weeks ago we covered eight chapters in the book of Joshua, where we talked about how God was calling Joshua to a trust that kept working while it waited for God’s work to be done. Joshua was coming to the end of his life, and though God had accomplished a lot of great things through him, there was still a lot to do. That’s when God assured Joshua that he would take care of the Israelites after Joshua had passed away. But before Joshua died, God still had work for him to do. And it’s in the place where Joshua had seen many things done, and yet there was still work to be done, that Joshua wrote that God had accomplished everything he said he would. Because Joshua’s trust in God was built on the fulfilled promises of God. And so, as we wait for God to fulfill what he has promised, we need to be doing the work he has already given us to do.
Then last week we returned to the eight chapters that we covered, where we said we were going to look at three responses to Joshua dividing up the land of Canaan. Last week we covered the man Caleb, who was willing to face monumental odds in battle, because he knew that God had promised him the land. We talked about how Caleb was willing to face conflict and because of that, the land experienced peace. So just as Caleb was willing to face the conflict with the goal of peace, we too need to face down conflict in our lives, so that the peace of God can reign.

This brings us to this week, where we will see a second response to Joshua’s dividing up the land among the nation of Israel. 

Now as we get into this week, we are going to be jumping four times through these eight chapters, because the people’s response we are dealing with, only gets small mentions through these eight chapters. So I’ll give you a brief explanation of which tribes are being talked about, and then we’ll read the passage of the people we are focusing on. 
The first section starts in chapter 13, where we’re told about the two and a half tribes of Israel who received their land on the east side of the Jordan River. So let’s start in verse 14 of chapter 13, where it reads, 

14 But to the tribe of Levi he gave no inheritance, since the food offerings presented to the Lord, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as he promised them.

Following this verse, we get a more in-depth look at these two and a half tribes’ land area, and we’re told again in verse 33, 

33 But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them.

Moving into chapter 14 verse 3, we again read the same thing about the tribe of Levi,

3 Moses had granted the two and a half tribes their inheritance east of the Jordan but had not granted the Levites an inheritance among the rest, 4 for Joseph’s descendants had become two tribes—Manasseh and Ephraim. The Levites received no share of the land but only towns to live in, with pasturelands for their flocks and herds.

Now from chapters 14 to 20, we’re told of all the land that gets divided between the nine and a half tribes of Israel. And nestled in there in chapter 18 verse 7 we get another reference to the tribe of Levi. Verse 7 of chapter 18 reads, 

7 The Levites, however, do not get a portion among you, because the priestly service of the Lord is their inheritance.

Now, let’s stop right there, because there might be some questions that we need to answer here. First we have 13 tribes. When referencing the tribes of Israel there are always 12, so why now is there 13?
This goes back to the book of Numbers chapter 18, verses 23-25, where God says, “23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting and bear the responsibility for any offenses they commit against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’”

So God was very specific that the tribe of Levi would not receive an inheritance like that of the other tribes of Israel, i.e. the land. But God had promised that the land would be divided up between twelve tribes. He accomplishes this through the blessing of Jospeh’s two sons in Genesis chapters 48 and 49. This blessing made them half tribes and gave them the twelfth portion of inheritance God promised to the nation of Israel.

But why did God not give land as an inheritance to the tribe of Levi? Well, it was due to the role that the Levites played in how God organized the social and religious structure of the Israelite nation. The Levites were the priests; they were set apart from the other tribes to do the work of taking care of the things of God. Such as the tent of meeting where the leaders of Israel interacted with God, and eventually, the temple that would be built.
God in turn gave them the tithes and offerings from the people to do this work, since God himself didn’t need the physical things. 

This is why in the verses we read, we saw phrases that talked about how the Levites didn’t get an inheritance, because their inheritance was God himself. 

But God did give them places to live. If we jump over to chapter 21 and read through it, we find out that God did supply them with towns to call their own, and land to cultivate. 
In fact, each one of the tribes gave the Levites cities and the surrounding land of those cities. In doing so, God provided work, stability, and safety for this tribe in the time between when they served God directly on behalf of the rest of the nation. 

And this is what I find interesting about the whole situation. As the tribes are being given their land, the Levites are sitting there, fully knowing that they are not included in this monumental occasion. For 500 years, Abraham’s decedents have been waiting for this day. For the last several decades these Levites have experienced the same loss, and victories that their fellow Israelites had.
Now, even though they know they are not to have any land of their own, they don’t demand to be included because they understand what their inheritance was. But that inheritance doesn’t seem to be much compared to their fellow Israelites; a few cities and the land around them isn’t really comparable to the large swaths of land the other tribes are getting.
And I could easily see a grumbling start to happen, because they didn’t get the best like their brothers did. I mean if we remember, it was the Levites that had to go into the Jordan River as it was still flooded, not knowing that it would recede. It was the Levites that were on the frontlines of Jericho as they marched around the city. The Levites were in the middle of battles, and now it could seem that they are getting the short end of the stick. And if that was in their mind, this whole situation could have turned out different. Because we as humans have a tendency to want the best for ourselves, and when we see someone else get something we believe to be better, we tend to allow it to make us bitter. Both to what we have and to what others seem to have.

But God gives us what is best for us. And that’s really the key here. God specifically set the Levites apart with a unique inheritance that the other tribes didn’t have. Because God doesn’t give us what’s best for someone else, but rather what is best for us. 

I get the question a lot, why did God put me in this situation? The simple answer is, because in that situation you are meant to learn to trust God. Your relationship with him can grow in that situation, so he has allowed it to happen to bring you closer to him. 
Now sometimes that can be in the easy things, like a small inconvenience. And sometimes it can be hard things, like the loss of a loved one. But what we cannot get into, is this mindset that God is giving someone else a better time than me, and therefore I reject what God has given, desiring something else instead.

  The Levites could have rejected God’s promised inheritance in order to gain what their fellow Israelites had, but instead, they trusted that God was giving them what was best.

And it’s this idea of receiving what God has for us knowing that it is for our best, that carries over from the nation of Israel to the Church in the writings of Peter and Paul. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

And then in 1st Corinthians 2:9 Paul says, “…What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him.”

Paul speaks to the mindset that what I have isn’t good, by going to the extreme and saying, that even when we suffer, it isn’t comparable to the future things God has for us. No matter how bad our situation seems, we can rejoice that God has put us here, because it is where he wants us to be. And this situation we are in, is bringing us into the inheritance that he has for us.

Peter looks to this future inheritance that God has in store for his people, in his first chapter of his first letter. “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,”

This is what God is calling us into. He is calling us into the mindset that accepts whatever he gives us, because through it, we will experience our inheritance that is beyond imagine. 

The Levites didn’t get large swaths of land, but what they got was incomparable to what their fellow Israelites got. The Levites were set a part for the work of God. You and I, when we accept Jesus as our Savior, have been set a part for the work of God. That means we will not necessarily get the things that the world sees as the best. But our inheritance is even greater because it is rooted in what God is doing to bring us closer to him.

And if we have accepted Jesus as our Savior, we have the first taste of this inheritance in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Ephesians 1:13-14 reads, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

We have just begun to experience the inheritance God has for us. So my challenge for you this week is to wake up each morning and thank God for the circumstances you find yourself in, whether good or bad; asking him to bring you into closer relationship with him through them.  And when you get into bed each night, thank him for what happened during the day that was meant to bring you closer to him, whether good or bad. 
Let us have the same attitude of the Levites, that waited patiently for their inheritance, not grumbling because others had greater than they did.

Today, let us embrace the circumstances that we have been given, knowing that God is working in them to bring us into the fully experience of the inheritance he had for us. Amen.