Facing a Giant? You’re Not Alone!

photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc
photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc

A very real problem for all of us is that we tend to profess a depth of faith in God that we do not actually possess. Faith is easy on the mountaintop. The battlefield trenches of life are an entirely different matter. A football team may spend a lot of time practicing in preparation for the first game of the season against their arch rivals, but it isn’t until they step onto the field of play that their true abilities become evident.

All too often, our version of the gospel speaks only of God’s forgiveness in light of our sinfulness, of the efficacy of grace as opposed to our impotent works, of the glories of heaven compared to the pain of this world. All of these things are true, but they fail to present a complete picture. We even go so far as to portray the Old Testament Promised Land as an image of heaven. Do we actually believe that we will have to drive enemies out of heaven? No, each of us has a promised land, a favorable destiny, in this world.

photo credit: Monica's Dad via photopin cc
photo credit: Monica’s Dad via photopin cc

Why is it that every promised land has its share of giants? Why, when we seek that which we believe to be good, must we face health problems, a lack of finances, and all sorts of opposition—not only from others but also from within ourselves? And why, tell me, must these issues loom so large? There are times when a few miniature giants would do me just fine!

We sometimes fail to grasp that God saves us in order to restore us to His image (Romans 8:29), and that His image is that of the ultimate overcomer. God’s goal is never to save us for a sweet eternity only, but to transform us into champions of the faith. By definition, a champion is a person who defeats all opponents; the more formidable the opposition, the greater the champion. You would be unimpressed if I told you that I once knocked out every kid in my son’s fourth-grade class in a boxing tournament. But, if you saw me wearing an Olympic gold medal (that I had actually earned), you would immediately think of greatness. Until we face and overcome genuine giants, we are not true champions in the arena of life.

Our response to our personal giants reveals the true depths of our faith. The fact that we have sufficient faith in one area of life does not necessarily mean that we trust God in all areas. When fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and bitterness take root in our hearts, they indicate areas in which our faith is shallow. Thus, every giant is in a sense tailor-made to help us grow in these areas. Am I saying that God is responsible for raising opposition against us? Not necessarily! Our fallen world provides more than enough difficult challenges to our faith. I do know, however, that our loving Father will use even the largest obstacles for His sovereign purposes.

Like the ten doubting spies of Numbers 13, many of us tend to view our giants as signs that God has abandoned us. Very few have the heart of a Joshua or a Caleb. Later in time, only the shepherd boy David stood up against the Philistine champion Goliath, while Saul and all of his mighty men cowered in fear.

photo credit: saturn ♄ via photopin cc
photo credit: saturn ♄ via photopin cc

How we respond to our giants will impact, not only our lives, but also the generations that follow. Sadly, David had to face Goliath only because Joshua’s generation failed to completely destroy their generation of behemoths. We can only imagine how Anak’s descendants tormented the nation of Israel for 400 years until a shepherd boy with David’s faith happened along. And not only did the kid fell that monster of a man, he used Goliath’s own sword to finish the job. God loves to show off by transforming our greatest weaknesses into our greatest strengths!

(This post is based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon. Also, when our new SfMe Media website goes live, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, searchforme.info and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

Trust Is Sacred

photo credit: Aidan Jones via photopin cc
photo credit: Aidan Jones via photopin cc

The story is worthy of a movie! Fresh from the defeats of Jericho and Ai, Joshua and the Israelites were striking terror in the hearts of all the Canaanites.[1] Most Canaanite kingdoms decided to consolidate their forces, hoping that victory would come in numbers. The Gibeonites, however, settled on a different strategy. Dressed in old, worn out clothes and carrying stale provisions, a group of Gibeonites rode less than twenty miles to the Israelite camp, but told Joshua and his leaders that they had come from a far-off land.

They had heard of God’s greatness, they said, and wanted to make a treaty (sacred covenant) with the Israelites. Somewhat (but not nearly enough) suspicious, Joshua and his men formed a sacred pact with the Gibeonite deceivers. Three days later, the Israelites found out the truth, but it was too late, they had already given their word.

Given the situation, those from a modern Western culture will probably have a difficult time understanding why such a covenant should be honored. Generally, we don’t value or grasp the true significance of trust.

The scenario gets even more interesting. A group five Amorite kings hear about this treaty and get seriously angry at the Gibeonites for aligning with Israel. Gathering their armies for war, they begin a vicious assault on the city of Gibeon. Terrified, the Gibonites send an urgent appeal for help to the Israelite camp. And what do they? Even though they had been deceived by the Gibeonites, the Israelites march all night, and—at the risk of their own lives—fight valiantly for the sake of their new allies.

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc
photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

Recognizing that Joshua and his men had honored a sacred trust, God fights for the Israelites to the point of causing the sun to stand still in the sky until their enemies had been thoroughly defeated. The thought of it all stretches the limits of one’s rational mind!

The story doesn’t end there, however. About 400 years later, King David is confused as to why God’s chosen people would be in the midst of a 3-year famine.[2] His inquiry nets an unexpected response. God is angry with the nation of Israel because the previous king, Saul, had violated Joshua’s covenant by slaughtering some of the Gibeonite people. Justice is finally served with the execution of 7 of Saul’s descendants and the famine abates.

A covenant is considered sacred in the eyes of God because trust is sacred. A breakdown in trust spells the death knell for any society—and it is a primary reason the U.S. is in moral and economic decline. We don’t trust our government leaders. We don’t trust our corporate leaders. We don’t trust our religious leaders. We don’t trust our spouses. What’s left but to trust ourselves?—and to buy lots of guns and ammunition! When trust erodes, a multitude of people suffer the consequences.

photo credit: Art ~ 4ThGlryOfGod via photopin cc
photo credit: Art ~ 4ThGlryOfGod via photopin cc

Entering a sacred covenant—especially with God—can result in many wonderful blessings. But to break a sacred covenant is to bring terrible curses upon one’s own head—and upon one’s descendants. By trusting the voice of the serpent over the voice of God, Adam & Eve violated a sacred trust and brought terrible curses upon themselves and upon their descendants (Hosea 6:7; Genesis 3:16-19).

Combined with our high treason against the kingdom of heaven, our violation of a sacred covenant means terrible consequences. As God said, the entire human race is now under a death sentence. Due to our cultural differences, we may struggle to grasp certain aspects of the sacredness of trust, but it is up to us to seek out an understanding of God’s ways. In the end, the real surprise of the Old Testament is not that God would judge nations, but that He would spare even one person—let alone an entire nation—from his or her deserved judgment.

[1] For the complete story, please read Joshua 9:1-10:15

Is God Cruel?

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photo credit: Albion Europe ApS via photopin cc

Anyone who has ever read through the Bible will have come upon some deeply disturbing passages. Some of them are historical in nature—simply recording the horrible atrocities committed by one group of people against another. But there are several other passages, such as 1 Samuel 15:3, that can leave a person wondering about the true nature of the God.

Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 1 Samuel 15:1-3 (NASB)

This commandment to kill women, children, and even infants seems to fly in the face of what we know about God as recorded in the New Testament.

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:8 (NASB)

Our natural tendency, then, is to draw one of two conclusions:

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1. Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, was horribly cruel, while Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is as sweet and kind as the day is long.

2. The entire Bible is not really the inspired word of God so it’s entirely up to us to decide what we think is acceptable and what isn’t.

Personally, I see a third option that is rarely addressed: The problem lies not in the character of God or the integrity of the Bible, but in our misunderstanding of God’s relationship with the human race.

One of the great mistakes we all make is our tendency to draw judgments based on our natural abilities to understand God and the world around us. If it doesn’t make sense to me, then it doesn’t make sense. But if a supreme and eternal God does exist—something of which I am convinced—then it stands to reason that He would be far more intelligent than even the most astute scholar. This is, of course, what the Bible teaches.

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
Call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the Lord,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:6-9 (NASB)

Wow! God’s ways aren’t just different than ours—they are on a totally different plane. The ways of heaven will never make sense to the natural human mind. But does that mean that we can never understand God’s way of thinking? No, not at all. The key lies in humbling our hearts, admitting our blindness, and asking Him to open the eyes of our hearts to understand His ways. This is something I have spent much of my adult life doing and the results have been rich beyond my imagination.

Human Judgments
Photo by Sam Hakes

I have discovered that there is something noble about choosing to humbly search out God’s ways as opposed to making rash judgments based on one’s own intelligence. Deliberately taking such an approach can open up to us an amazing, unseen world far greater than what our natural eyes can see. My life has certainly been transformed!

Passages like 1 Samuel 15:3 continue to disturb me but I have discovered that God actually wants me to be bothered by these things. I’ll expound on this concept more over the next several posts, while showing that even though God commanded the killing of the Amalekite women and children, He did so contrary to His desire.

Understanding the nature of God’s interaction with the human race is nothing short of fascinating. You’re going to want to stay tuned!

What Does Real Love Look Like?

Photo by Kevin Connors - morgueFile

Have you ever wondered what real love looks like? I’ll bet you know for sure what it doesn’t look like!

When queried about the greatest commandment, Jesus was quick to reply that loving one’s neighbor as  one’s self was a close second to loving God with all of one’s heart. Admittedly, this type of love has a few loopholes. Some of us don’t seem to like ourselves very well. There certainly is no scarcity of self-condemnation among Christians these days. And so with only a little manipulation we’ve managed to translate “love your neighbor as yourself” into “just do the best you can in being nice to others.” This, of course, is doable most of the time—that is unless I dislike the other person or I have a bad hair day—at which time God graciously winks at my failure, because after all, nobody’s perfect.

But then, just after His betrayal by Judas, Jesus went and upped the stakes!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (NASB)

Either Jesus didn’t have bad hair days or He didn’t allow them to influence His attitudes and actions. Jesus always loved others. No loopholes! The truth is that real love isn’t interested in loopholes even if they do exist.

Something tells me that most people tend to view a covenant as a super-glued commitment. We may dislike each other, but we signed on the dotted line and so we’re in this together come hell or high water. Such a perspective totally misses the essence of a God-inspired covenantal relationship. Real love is what makes a Biblical covenant work.

Long before he became the king of Israel, David entered into a covenant with Jonathan, the actual heir to Saul’s throne. God knit their hearts together and Jonathan was willing to surrender his right to the kingship because he recognized God’s call on David’s life.

Photo Courtesy of the Mephibosheth Foundation (http://mephibo.org/)

Years later, after Saul and Jonathan had died in battle, David asked, “Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 Samuel 9:1 (NASB)

David found Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son who had nothing to offer the king except possible competition for his throne. Rather than kill the potential competitor as kings are wont to do, David lifted Mephiboseth out of the mouth of shame (the probable meaning of his name) to a place of highest honor and treated him as one of his own sons.

The Hebrew word translated as “kindness” is chesed, which has no good equivalent in English. In addition to kindness, various versions translate it as love, mercy, faithfulness, lovingkindness, steadfast love, faithful love and unfailing love.

Chesed is a real, devoted love based on a prior relationship; a love that forever looks for opportunities to help and to bless. David’s covenant love for Jonathan led him to seek out and honor Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.

Where did David get this type of love? He was shown it by his heavenly Father! Chesed permeates the Old Testament, and in most cases, refers to God’s love for His covenant children—a love that never fails and never fades—and most certainly—a love without loopholes. It’s this type of Gorilla Glue love that Jesus calls us to show to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It Matters to God!

Photo by Darnok - morgueFile

We don’t get it! That’s the truth about western culture. We simply do not understand the absolute nature of a covenant according to God’s design. We see a covenant in the same light as a contract, and of course, we all know that contracts are made to be broken. They are good only so long as they serve our purposes.

Regardless of the cost to Him, God has been sure to abide by the terms of any and every covenant He established with humankind. Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, David—God was absolutely faithful to His covenant promises with each of these individuals. The only covenant He changed was the Mosiac Covenant, which was fulfilled in Christ so that the much better New Covenant might take precedence. An insightful reading of Scripture will show that our merciful God actually went above and beyond the terms of just about every covenant He established with humans—covenants which God initiated because of His extreme love for us.

Several stories in Scripture help us to grasp a better understanding of how covenant relationships work and of God’s perspective regarding the whole matter.

Many of us are familiar with the guile of the Gibeonites in Joshua 9. This Canaanite nation saw that God was with the Israelites and how they crushed every nation that dared to oppose them. Gibeonite representatives pretended to come from a far off land to make a covenant (treaty) with the Israelites. Joshua and his leaders failed to consult the Lord on the matter and exchanged oaths with the Gibeonites, only to be outraged when they found out the truth—these guys lived less than twenty miles up the road. They had made a covenant, however, and so rather than kill the Gibeonites, they made them servants.

A short time later (Joshua 10), five Amorite kings attacked Gibeon because of their newfound relationship with Israel. What did the Gibeonites do? They sent to Joshua for help. What did Joshua do? He mustered his army and marched all night in order to rescue the Gibeonites.

Through that battle that God gave us a glimpse of His perspective on Joshua’s faithfulness to a covenant. God “threw large stones from heaven” on the Amorites. Then, toward the end of the day, when Joshua needed more daylight to finish the victory, he prayed, “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon in the valley of Aijalon.” Verse 13 says it all, “So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies.”

Joshua Praying by John Martin - Wikipedia

God honored the Israelite leaders who honored their covenant with the Gibeonites—even though they were at fault for making the covenant in the first place. But there’s more to the story!

In the days of King David a three-year famine came over the land of Israel. Try to imagine three agonizing years with little or no rain! Frustrated and wondering what was going on, David looked to the Lord for an answer. God’s reply? “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 Samuel 21:1 (NASB)

Scripture is silent about the reason, but King Saul attacked and killed Gibeonite people, violating a covenant that had endured for over 400 years! The treaty meant nothing to Saul but it certainly mattered to God. Even after 400 years God looked upon Israel’s covenant with Gibeon as though it had been made only a few days prior.

Covenant relationships may not mean much to our western culture, but they still matter to God. If we continue to take lightly what God values so highly, our version of Christianity will forever be dysfunctional!

If We Don’t, Who Will?

One of the interesting things about trying to teach the principles of Christianity is that God requires us to actually live out what we are encouraging others to do. Go figure! In light of this, I was recently challenged to extend forgiveness in a situation where I had been unjustly treated. Painful? Yes. Beneficial? Absolutely!

In this particular instance the offending party was not a professing Christian, nor does this person have much interaction with true believers in Christ. As I mulled the circumstances in my heart the thought hit me: “If I don’t forgive, then who will? If I don’t extend a hand of grace and heart of forgiveness to this person, who will?”

Estonian Ambassador with President of Finland - Photo by Estonian Foreign Ministry - Creative Commons License 2.0

There are many feel good aspects of being a child of God. The Apostle Paul even goes so far as to call us ambassadors for Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20) Ambassador Bob. Sounds rather regal! I like it!

The Yahoo online dictionary defines ambassador as, “a diplomatic official of the highest rank appointed and accredited as representative in residence by one government or sovereign to another . . .” It is entirely likely that Paul had something like this in mind.

This would mean that every Christian is a diplomatic official of the highest rank serving as a representative of the kingdom of God. Sounds awesome! But Paul also wrote that ambassadors for Christ are given the ministry of reconciliation.

“And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NET)

That God appoints us as His ambassadors is a clear indication that ministry is a partnership between God and man. Sometimes we think that what we do doesn’t matter. How WRONG that is!

We all cherish the New Covenant promise that God will no longer hold our sins against us, but to be a minister of reconciliation means that our actions must be consistent with our message. Part of our job description is to extend this very same measure of mercy toward those who offend us. Jesus modeled this on the cross, as did Stephen when he was being stoned.

“But they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent. When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ When he had said this, he died.” Acts 7:58-60 (NET)

Virtually unlovable, those in the crowd brutally murdered this ambassador of Christ who fulfilled his ministry of reconciliation to the very end. As a result, the young man Saul went on to influence billions of people by penning almost one-third of our New Testament!

Who knows exactly what went on in Stephen’s mind before he died? Perhaps he was thinking, “If I don’t extend a hand of grace and a heart of forgiveness to these enemies of God, who will?”

Photo from catholic-resources.org