Posts Tagged With: obedience

God Is With Us Always. V: Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6–9).

Moses anoints Joshua (holding spear) as his successor. Image by illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648-1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The previous few articles in this series looked at worship as one of our responses to God’s continual presence with us. However, God does not want us to merely sit in church singing hymns or kneel in a corner reading the Bible and praying. As important as these are, God wants us to go where He leads us. He is with us always because He is everywhere. It is up to us to walk with Him. If we practice the presence of God wherever we go, He is still with us.

He wants us to go. He wants us to advance His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. When Jesus ascended to heaven, He commanded His apostles to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), not to sit around together reminiscing about their time with Him. They were to bring His message to those who did not meet Him.

Centuries earlier, Moses had led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. Near the end of his life, he commissioned his servant, Joshua, to complete the work of bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. In Joshua 1:6–9, God gave the same command to Joshua three times: “Be strong and courageous.” Moses had given that instruction to Joshua earlier (Deuteronomy 31:6–7), along with a similar injunction: “The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Fear is the opposite of faith. It keeps us silent. It discourages us from doing what God commands. It may tempt us to commit other sins. Sometimes, it disguises itself as another emotion, like rage or anger.

God’s command to Joshua was grounded in His promises to the Israelites and His presence with Joshua. Joshua had served Moses for many years: as a personal assistant, military leader, spy, etc. Eventually, Joshua and another man, Caleb, were the last two men alive who had escaped Egypt as adults. (See Numbers 13 and 14 to see why this happened. Joshua and Caleb were part of a 12-man mission to spy out the Promised Land. The then other spies believed that the Israelites would be destroyed if they tried to enter the land. Joshua and Caleb believed God would give them the land. Since the Israelites sided with the pessimistic spies and did not trust God. they were sentenced to 40 years of wilderness wandering until only Joshua and Caleb were left.) Joshua and Caleb had endured 40 years of God’s discipline because of the faithlessness of their 10 colleagues.

Joshua accompanies Moses down Mt. Sinai after receiving the Ten Commandments. Image by illustrators of the 1890 Holman Bible. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Joshua had followed Moses through the Red Sea. He had seen all the miracles God wrought throughout their journeys. But, he had also endured decades of disappointment. After 40 years of trusting Moses to hear from God and give them direction, suddenly everybody was looking to Joshua for guidance. He had seen how often the Israelites rebelled against God and Moses in the wilderness. Would they rebel against him? Would God change His mind and not lead the Israelites into the land He had promised to give them? Joshua could be guided by God’s promises or by past difficulties.

It takes courage to break free from the past. It takes courage to embrace second and third chances when God gives them. It takes courage to serve God. It takes courage to trust God’s leadership, wisdom, and power when the situation looks impossible. Joshua would need that courage.

To build courage and strength, Joshua would need to remind himself continually about God’s presence, promises, and precepts. This is why God repeatedly juxtaposed His commands to be strong and courageous with injunctions regarding His Word:

  • “{B}e careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.” Know God’s Word so that you can do God’s will.
  • “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth….” Keep speaking God’s Word every chance you get.
  • “{Y}ou shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it….” Let God’s Word fill your mind so that you know what to do in every circumstance.

God calls us to be strong and courageous. If we want to receive God’s blessings and see His perfect will in our lives, we must obey His will. We have to be strong and courageous to do so. If we want to gain strength and courage, we must know that God is with us, that He has promised us abundant life in Jesus’ name, and we must know what He wants us to do. Boldness, wisdom, courage, and strength are all necessary if we wish to experience the blessings of God’s presence and power in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer, which is recited at many Twelve-Step meetings, says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Let us seek courage from God so that we can change the things He is calling us to change.

Do you have any thoughts about God’s command to be strong and courageous? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Majestic Attributes, Omnipresence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nothing Will Be Impossible: Trusting God With the Difficult

“For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

The angel Gabriel said these words after explaining to Mary how she could bear the Son of God, even though she was a virgin. I can imagine Mary’s perplexed look as Gabriel pronounced the news that she would bear the Son of God: “Okay. I know God sent angels to tell women in the Scriptures that they would have great sons, but they were all married. You’re making this sound like I’m going to get pregnant any time now. How can this possibly happen?” Thus, the angel replied:

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).

I still imagine Mary looking confused. “What do you mean, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you,’ and somehow that’s how I become pregnant? That’s not how Mom told me babies are made!”

It is easy for us, after 2000 years of hearing the Gospel and seeing Christmas pageants, to overlook how radical—how insane—how illogical—Gabriel’s announcement must have sounded. The Virgin birth and the truth of the Incarnation—that Jesus Christ is the immortal God who has become a mortal man—are so central to our faith that we can easily forget that they were at one time radical incomprehensible mysteries, and that ordinary people like Mary had to live those mysteries, not merely ponder them.

Omnipotence—that divine quality that means He is able to do all things—emphasizes this truth: that “nothing shall be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) and its corollary, “All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Science and centuries of human experience tell us that virgins do not get pregnant. Mary recognized this. She could sense that Gabriel was leaving her fiance, Joseph, out of the equation. “How can this be?” “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Mary’s response was the purest statement of complete faith in God:

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38).

Mary still had to tell her parents what was going on, but probably could not even begin to explain how it happened. Nevertheless, she trusted God, so she obeyed Him, even if she could not understand what was happening.

“The Annunciation,” by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is our responsibility as children of God, to trust and obey, even if we cannot understand what God is doing. Even when circumstances seem impossible, we trust and obey. When life forces us to believe in the impossible, the child of God must do so, because nothing shall be impossible with God.

As I write this article, residents of New York State are urged to stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The New York City metropolitan area has been called “ground zero” for the disease’s outbreak in America. Some people are afraid. “Will I get sick? Will I die? Will I run out of toilet paper? Can I pay my bills?”

New Yorkers and millions of other Americans are worried about the difficult. Life will be difficult. People will get sick. Some will die. Most of us will survive, but we will face difficult challenges over the next few weeks and months.

Even after the disease dissipates, difficulties will arise, just as they always have. People will continue to battle cancer and other life-threatening diseases, just like they did before and do now. People will face economic hardship. People will lose jobs. Families will endure conflict and chaos. These difficulties happened before, they are continuing alongside coronavirus, and they will remain after the disease has disappeared.

The difficulties are real, but they are not impossible to face or overcome. God has promised us that nothing will be impossible for Him. Can we trust Him with the difficult, when He has already told us that nothing will be impossible for Him? Can we trust Him with the difficult-but-apparently-possible, when He has told us that we can trust Him to accomplish what reason, science, and experience tells us is impossible?

Child of God, trust and obey Him. His Word promises that we can trust Him to do the impossible. Let us at least trust Him with the difficult.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Current events, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Divine Sovereignty. II. Ruler of the Nations—Whether You Like it or Not!

In the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated). The words are so familiar that we rarely think about what they mean. A good paraphrase may be, “May Your kingdom come and your will be done—to the same degree it is done in heaven, let it be done here on earth.” By extension, perhaps we should add, “Since I’m praying for Your kingdom to come and Your will be to be done fully on earth, let it be done in my heart and life. I’m on earth, but let Your will be done in me just like it is in heaven!”

When we speak of divine sovereignty, we acknowledge that God is King, Lord, and Ruler. We acknowledge that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). He hold all rule and authority, and that includes in our own lives.

God’s Word tells us that He rules over our lives:

“The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

This rule extends not only to individual people, but even to all nations—even those that refuse to acknowledge His authority:

“Sing praises to God, sing praises!
    Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
    sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne” (Psalms 47:6–8).

God is in control and He holds all authority. Are we willing to believe it, accept it, and submit to it?

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Even when we think that we are in control, God has the ultimate control. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that people often make their own plans, but God has a way of overturning them. A friend of mine used to paraphrase this verse by saying, “Man makes plans but God laughs.” I have a small mini-plaque on my desk that reads, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.” Much of what we call coincidence, luck, chance, etc., is really God acting behind the scenes. Sometimes, He acts in spite of our decisions. Perhaps you can recall a time when you planned to do something, but then some unexpected event kept you from completing it. I think of people I know who worked at the World Trade Center, but called in sick or missed their morning train on September 11, 2001. “Coincidence” or “luck,” in the form of illness or unexpected lateness, saved these people from the terrorist attack that day. God was in control of their fate.

Even when we choose not to follow God’s will, He has the final decision. He is not hindered by our disobedience or unbelief. Whether we are Christians or unbelievers, faithful or faithless, God is sovereign over our lives. The only differences are that those who follow Him reap the blessings of God’s rule, and those who believe in Him will recognize when He is involved in their situations.

When Psalms 47 said that “God is the King of all the earth” and “God reigns over the nations,” it did not draw a distinction between faithful and faithless nations. In the Old Testament, “the nations” usually referred to the Gentile nations who did not believe in Israel’s God, those who worshiped idols and did not follow His laws. “All the earth” covered all nations, not only the tiny Israelite region. While God was recognized as the Great King in Israel, He was also the Great King over those nations who rejected Him or never even heard of Him.

God is the King—whether you acknowledge His rule or not. God reigns over the nations—whether you obey Him or not. God’s kingdom will come, and His will shall be done, whether you want it or not. Believe Him, trust Him, follow Him, and worship Him. He will be King, God, and Sovereign Ruler of your life whether you follow Him or not; but, if you follow Him, His rule will be gracious and bring blessing to your life.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God will accomplish His perfect will. Will it work together for good in your life or not? The choice to follow Him is yours to make.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, divine sovereignty, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: I. Meditating on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com, under Creative Commons CC0 license.

As I was meditating on Joshua 1:8 this week, my wife emailed me a link to an article entitled “If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling Them to Study the Bible.” The author observed that the Bible rarely mentions studying Scripture. Instead, it tells us to “meditate on” or “delight in” God’s Word. Some readers may say, “Wait: Doesn’t 2 Timothy 2:15 tell us to ‘Study to shew thyself approved….’? Doesn’t that command us to study Scripture?” Probably not; that wording in the King James Version is not the most accurate. The Greek word translated “study” in that verse, σπούδασον, is translated “be diligent” or “do thy diligence” wherever else it appears in the King James Version. The KJV also misleadingly translates the word ὀρθοτομοῦντα as “rightly dividing” even though a more accurate translation is “to cut straight.” Just as a carpenter building a house has to cut straight while preparing wood, a man of God has to display proper mastery and expertise in handling God’s Word. Modern translations like the ESV are much more accurate:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

We will look more closely at this passage in a forthcoming post. However, let us note for now that God wants us to meditate on His Word.

Joshua 1:8 and 2 Timothy 2:15 share several common features. One feature is that they are both instructions given to men of God in their roles as leaders of God’s people. 2 Timothy 2:15 particularly instructs the young pastor about his role as a teacher of God’s people. Joshua 1:8, on the other hand, guides Joshua in his work as a military commander. The Old Testament verse may be more relevant to most believers than Paul’s instruction to Timothy. Most of us will not be pastors or bishops. We will have to serve God in very secular careers.

Even in that “secular” career as a military ruler of God’s people, Joshua needed God’s guidance to succeed. While God gave His laws to Moses and would give other messages to later prophets, He usually gave Joshua military strategy, administrative guidance, and organizational insight. The same is true for us. God’s Word will tell us how to fulfill our roles as editors, teachers, doctors, restaurant workers, etc. Before you think your career is for some reason detached from God’s call upon your life, consider what God told Moses about a man named Bezalel:

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft’” (Exodus 31:1-5).

This is the first time the Bible speaks of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit. Think about that: a craftsman, not a prophet or priest, is the first person God speaks of as being filled with His Spirit. God wants us to know and do His will even when our careers seem mundane, routine, nonspiritual, or boring.

As Joshua would meditate on God’s Word, he would need to remember God’s promises, wisdom, and rules. God had promised to be with him. God had promised the land to the people of Israel. God’s laws provided wisdom about how Israel should treat other nations, both enemies and foreigners who wished to live peacefully in their land. He also gave them laws which, if violated, would have serious consequences (Joshua 7).

We need the same wisdom Joshua needed. We fact challenges, circumstances, and crises on a regular basis. God offers us the same wisdom. He offers great and precious promises to us. Let us meditate daily on God’s Word, so that we may be careful to do all that He commands and enjoy success and prosperity.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Walking in Faith or Reacting in Fear—Numbers 20:10–13

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy (Numbers 20:10–13).

poussin2c_nicolas_-_moses_striking_water_from_the_rock_-_1649

“Moses Striking Water from the Rock,” by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

You would think the Israelites had learned by this time. God had parted the waters of the Red Sea to guide them safely out of Egypt. He had miraculously provided food and water before. Somehow, with each crisis, God met their need. After a few difficult situations, the Israelites should have realized that they merely had to point out their need to Moses, ask him to pray, and wait for the miracle. Instead, they would complain, regret their decision to leave Egypt, threaten to return to Egypt, blame Moses, and so on. God was trying to teach them to walk by faith, but they continued to react in fear.

This was a repeat occurrence. Almost immediately after they crossed through the Red Sea, the Israelites threatened to stone Moses, since there was no water. God told him to strike a rock to bring forth water. This was the first miracle of divine provision after the escape from Egypt (Exodus 17:1–7).

However, that event began a pattern from which the Israelites did not seem to learn. They had a need; they complained; they blamed, accused, and threatened Moses; Moses prayed to God; God provided.

This time, though, the pattern took a tragic turn. Instead of following God’s instructions fully, Moses obeyed halfway: God told him where to go to receive the water, but Moses chose to vent his frustration. God gave him simple instructions: Take his staff, walk over to the rock, and command the rock to give the people its water. Moses decided to change the instructions a little: Take the staff, walk over to the rock, insult the crowd, and then beat the rock with the staff.

In spite of rebellion, God still provided. God’s blessings are based on His mercy, not on perfect performance by His people. However, Moses would suffer the consequences. Not too long before this, the Lord had decreed that almost the entire adult generation that left Egypt would die before reaching the Promised Land. They would wander for 40 years until all, except for Caleb and Joshua, had died; then their children would inherit the land. Until now, Moses had every reason to expect that he would enter with them. But now, God decided that Moses’ failure was serious enough to exclude him from the Promised Land.

We often overlook an important part of the story. Shortly before this incident, Moses’ sister Miriam had died. It would be tempting to make excuses for Moses’ behavior. “He’s in mourning. It’s been a rough time for his family. God understands. He sees the heart.”

God understands, but He also requires obedience from His children. He expects us to uphold Him as holy in the sight of the people.

As I reflect on this passage, I am reminded that this is not merely a story about Moses. In a very real way, it is about me too. Perhaps you see yourself in it as well.

We should have learned by now. God has met our needs and answered our prayers so many times. We should know the correct response: Realize there is a problem, bring our problem before the Lord in prayer, and expect Him to meet our needs. How often do we choose instead to complain, gripe, or blame the nearest scapegoat for our problems? How often do we act like God is not paying attention? How often do we blame God? How often do we obey God halfway, while venting our anger and frustration on others? How often do we make excuses for ourselves and others when obedience to God is lacking?

When will we learn?

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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