The Rich Fool

Today’s reading:  Luke 12:13-34

In 1980, Jeff Keller finished law school, passed the New York bar exam, and began his profession as a lawyer.  This was all he’d ever wanted since he was a teenager.  After 10 years of practice, however, he found himself unfulfilled and unhappy, dreading to go to work every day.  Through resources he ordered from a late night infomercial (remember this was back in the olden days…before we had the World Wide Web at our fingertips), he began to study the Bible and the writings of well-known authors and motivational speakers.  Eventually he left his law practice and embraced a career as an author/motivational speaker himself.  As the title of his book, Attitude is Everything (INTI Publishing, 1999) suggests, Keller built his second career on the following principle –

Your attitude has a substantial impact of your quality of life. 

Our scripture for today in Luke 12 is the story of the Rich Fool.  Jesus tells the story of a man who, after yielding a successful harvest, found he had no place to store his crops.  He set out to build bigger barns.  His goal was to store up enough that he could take it easy – eat, drink and be merry without a worry in the world.  This man’s attitude about wealth accumulation was completely focused on storing up treasures for himself.

Does this goal sound familiar?  To me it sounds like every wealth management/retirement planning commercial running these days (Close your eyes, do the orange Voya origami animals come into view?).  In 21st century America, we are inundated with the belief that putting enough money away to retire, to eat, drink and be merry without a worry in the world, is the way to happiness.

Honestly, this picture is VERY alluring.  At least until you get to see God’s response in verses 20 and 21 of today’s text –

“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?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21-21).

So let’s go back to our attitude.  Wealth accumulation in and of itself is not wrong.  Our attitude towards it the determining factor.  Just like the Rich Fool in this story who died before he could begin to use what he had stored up for himself, if we are focused on accumulating wealth only to enrich ourselves, we will enter eternity empty handed.  Our goal should be to see how we can use our money for God’s purposes.

Are you putting money away for retirement?  Do your financial goals include giving generously to others?  What about using your money to serve God and further his kingdom?  If your goals do not include furthering God’s kingdom and helping those in need, you better stop and check your attitude.

Jairus

Today’s reading:  Mark 5:21-43

Our text for today in Mark 5 is the story of Jarius.  Jarius was the manager of the local synagogue.  He was responsible for overseeing worship and taking care of the building. When Jesus arrived in his town, Jarius threw himself at Jesus’ feet with a plea to come heal his sick daughter.  He begged Jesus to come lay hands on her, as she was on the brink of death.  He was desperate.  Verse 24 tells us –

Jesus went with him (Mark 5:24).

As Jesus was following Jairus to his house, he was detained by a woman with a bleeding disorder.  While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, messengers from Jairus’ home came to tell him that he was too late.  His daughter had already died.  They suggested that there was no use bothering Jesus with the situation any longer.   Verse 36 tells us –

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just trust me” (Mark 5:36).

At this point, Jesus turned the crowd away.  When they finally arrived at Jarius’ house, he only let 5 people come with him into the girl’s room – Jairus, his wife, Peter, James, and John.   Jesus commanded the girl to get up, and she immediately came back to life.

This amazing miracle story is the only passage the Bible has recorded about Jairus.  What can we learn from his life?  As I studied and prepared for this post today, three key lessons spoke to my heart:

Following Jesus requires that we take risks – because of Jairus’ role in the synagogue, he likely had a close tie to the Pharisees.  His outward display of faith in Jesus was risky, as the Pharisees would have pressured Jairus and other synagogue leaders from following Jesus.  Like any other parent, however, Jairus was desperate for his daughter to be healed.  He knew Jesus was capable of healing her.  He was willing to display his faith and risk his position in the synagogue for it.

God is in control – in the first part of the passage, Jairus was trying to get Jesus to follow him to his house.  Did you notice that by the time they arrived, however, Jesus had taken control of the situation?  He already knew the need and he led Jairus, his wife, Peter, James and John into the room so they could witness his miracle.

God’s timing is not our timing – Jairus was trying to get Jesus to his house to heal his daughter before she died.  When messengers came from his house to announce her death, they all assumed it was too late.  It wasn’t.  God has all power, even over death.

Today I ask myself, is my faith really in Jesus?  Do I really trust him?  If the answer is yes, I need to remind myself he knows my needs.  Instead of running ahead and asking Jesus to follow me, I need to slow down and get out of his way so he can take the lead.  He has every situation under control.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

A Love Like No Other

Today’s reading:  Hosea 1-3

Last week B.J. and I celebrated 25 years of marriage.  (Wow that is a long time!)  We dated for several years before getting engaged, so I thought we knew each other pretty well when we finally tied the knot.  Ha!  We’ve learned more about each other than I could have imagined through 25 years of shared experiences.  As a result, I’d say that no one in the world knows me better than B.J. Armstrong (something I’d have never dreamed when I first met him in 7th grade).  Kind of scary.  Our marriage has had its ups and downs like most, but fortunately it has stood the test of time.  Why?  Because it is built on a foundation of mutual trust and a common faith in Jesus Christ.  Without these two things, there is no way we’d still be together today.

Our passage for today is the story of Hosea.  The plot begins right away in verse 2 when the Lord spoke to Hosea and told him to marry a “promiscuous woman” who would be unfaithful to him.  This defies logic.  I know people who have entered into a marriage with someone the rest of us predicted would be unfaithful, but I don’t know anyone who entered into marriage with an expectation of infidelity.  How could you / why would you marry someone you didn’t trust? It would be like asking for heartache.  It makes no sense.

Hosea, however, married a woman he knew would be unfaithful to him simply because God told him to.  God spoke the command and Hosea followed through and married Gomer.  After a period of time, Gomer lost interest in Hosea and began to pursue other lovers.  This was just what God said would happen.

Why would a fair and just God, who designed the sacred covenant of marriage to last a lifetime, send Hosea down this path of heartache?  God was using Hosea’s experience to illustrate his love for his people.  Just like Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea, the nation of Israel had been unfaithful to God.  They were mixing worship of false gods (Baal) with their worship of God, and they were pursuing military power through forbidden relationships with Assyria and Egypt.  In other words, just like Gomer, they had lost interest in their mate and had begun pursuing other “lovers”.

Chapter 3 starts much the same way as Chapter 1.  God told Hosea to do something absurd and Hosea obeyed.  Hosea went and found Gomer, bought her from the man she was with, and reconciled with her.

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you (Hosea 3:1-3).

Does this sounds like love to you?  This is a beautiful picture of how God loved the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, but also how God shows his love for you and me.  Like the nation of Israel, it is easy for us to lose our interest in relationship with God.  By pursuing dreams and goals that do not include him, and by adopting the ways of the world, we are being unfaithful to him.

Our perfect God, however, sent his son Jesus to buy us back.  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for our unfaithfulness so that we could be reconciled to God.  In spite of our wicked ways, he has never stopped loving us or pursuing us.  This is a love like no other.

Phineas

Today’s reading:  Psalm 106, Joshua 22:10-34

Have you ever heard the phrase, “the eyes see what the mind wants to see”?  “Scotomisation” is the psychological tendency in people to see what they want to see, or what they are expecting.  Similarly, perception involves seeing and processing information through the filter of our personal intellect and emotions.  So, scotomisation sometimes shows up as a false denial or a false affirmation of our own perceptions.

In Joshua 22:10-34, our text for today, scotomisation almost caused a war.

It’s been a few weeks since we studied Joshua, so let me remind you of the setting – a good portion of the book of Joshua details how the Promised Land was divided amongst the nation of Israel.  The tribes of Rueben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh were the first to receive their land allotment on the east side of the Jordan River.  Before they could get settled, however, they had to help the remainder of the tribes conquer the land on the west side of the Jordan.  When they had fulfilled their duty and were finally able to head home, they stopped on the west side of the Jordan to build and altar to the Lord.  If you go to Eastview, you should remember this scripture. This is what Witness Rock, on the north side of the building, is modeled after.

When the remainder of the Israelite tribes saw the altar, they automatically assumed the tribes of Rueben, Gad and half of Manasseh had started their own pagan religion.  Why did they think this?  The altar, combined with their recent experiences in Canaan, led to scotomisation.  Remember, while God gave the Israelites the Promised Land, he didn’t just serve it up to them on silver platter.  Instead he made them work for it by fighting battles and taking the land city by city.  In the course of their battles, the Israelites had seen many altars to pagan gods.  So when they came upon the altar Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh had built, they automatically assumed the worst and were ready to take out their unfaithful relatives, just like they had conquered the pagan-worshipping Canaanites.

One man stopped them – Phineas, the Priest.  Instead of jumping in to join the eastward-bound march to war, Phineas asked the Israelites to wait while he investigated what was really going on.  He assembled a small delegation of representatives from each tribe and went to east side of the Jordan to find out the truth.

“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” (Joshua 22:16).

Fortunately, he found out the altar was NOT what they thought…

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 (Joshua 22.27).

Does this story sound familiar to you?  Do you struggle with jumping to conclusions or making incorrect assumptions?  How do you overcome this tendency?  Slow down.  Seek to understand before taking action.  Even if done for the right reason, acting on wrong assumptions still brings hurt.  Heed the advice of James the brother of Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20).

Like Sands through the Hourglass

Today’s reading:  2 Chronicles 26

Do you, or did you ever, get in to watching soap operas?  When I was in college, Days of Our Lives was on every day at 12pm.  It’s been enough years ago that I can’t exactly remember the time, but I think lunch was served at the IWU Kappa Kappa Gamma house every weekday around 11:15 or 11:30.  Plenty of time to eat lunch, then head to the TV room to watch Days.  This show was pretty stupid, but we faithfully watched it anyway.  The storyline had been the same for decades.  In fact, I bet if I turned on Days of Our Lives tomorrow, it wouldn’t take me more than a couple of days to pick up on what the Horton’s and the Brady’s are up to now.

Our assigned reading for today is 2 Chronicles chapter 26.  In my opinion, the Old Testament books of 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles are just like a soap opera.  1 Kings starts at the end of King David’s reign.  Solomon becomes King, the temple is built, and the kingdom divides into north and south.  God’s people then cycle through 20 kings in the northern kingdom of Israel before they get taken to Assyria, and 20 kings in the southern kingdom of Judah before they are taken into Babylonian captivity.  For more than 500 years, God’s people were ruled by 42 different kings and one queen (if you include David and Solomon).  By my count, only 8 of the 43 rulers (>20%) followed the ways of the Lord.  The rest were anywhere from kind of bad to downright evil.  The reigning king’s response to God set the spiritual climate for the nation and impacted whether God blessed or sent judgment on his people.  This was a total soap opera, only it wasn’t decades of the same story, it was centuries!

In 2 Chronicles 26 today, we are studying the life of King Uzziah.  He took over as King when he was 16 years old, and reigned 52 years.  Uzziah had a great start.  Uzziah won wars, built cities, and maintained productive farms and vineyards.  He became very famous and powerful.

He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, just as his father, Amaziah, had done.  Uzziah sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as the king sought the Lord, God gave him success (2 Chronicles 26:4-5).

But…

When he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall.  He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the altar (2 Chronicles 26:16).

When Uzziah was confronted by the priest, did you notice Uzziah’s response?  Instead of acknowledging he was wrong and seeking forgiveness, he became angry and refused to submit to the priest’s spiritual authority.  By this point in his life, he was so powerful and prideful he couldn’t see beyond himself and his desires.  God’s response to Uzziah’s actions was harsh, as Uzziah developed leprosy on the spot.  Verse 21 tells us Uzziah then lived the rest of his days alone, and his son Jotham took over the throne.

STOP HERE.  Do you remember the main point in my post two weeks ago about Amnon, Absalom and David?  Just like a soap opera, the same storyline continues just with different players.  Even though Uzziah started off well, he ended up in the same place as Amnon, Absalom and David – self promoting and prideful.  In case you missed it two weeks ago, here is the main point again –

Power, and the pursuit of power, often drives people to actions (or inaction) that were previously uncommon of their character.  They often disregard their moral compass, what is right, or what is in the best interest of others.  Their actions demonstrate complete self-promotion.

So I ask you again, does this behavior sound familiar?  Have you experienced it in the lives of people close to you?  Have you been hurt in the process?  Are you in a position of power or pursuing power?  Could you be blind to the hurt you are causing for those close to you?  Either way, I urge you to draw near to God and submit to his ways.  His plans are sovereign.  All power truly belongs to him.

Power

Today’s Reading:  2 Samuel 13

Remember last Sunday when I wrote about Jephthah?  I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t remember him or his story even though his name shows up in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith”.  Eventually I concluded it was because his story about sacrificing his daughter was so awful.  My assigned scripture for this week is different in that Amnon does not show up in Hebrews 11 and, I totally remember him and his story.  But it has a very similar feel in that this story is completely awful.

Amnon was the oldest son of King David and his third wife, Ahinoam.  He was the heir apparent to the throne of Israel.  2 Samuel 13 tells us Amon fell in love with Tamar, Absalom’s beautiful sister.  He became obsessed with her to the point of making himself ill.  STOP HERE.  We are only two verses into the chapter, but I want to draw your attention to two important points –

  • Absalom’s father was King David.  While he and Tamar had a different mother than Amnon, they had the same Father.  So Tamar, the beautiful woman Amnon was obsessed with, was also his half-sister.
  • 2 Samuel 13:1 says Amnon was in love with Tamar, but he was actually in lust (not love) with her.  If he were in love, he would have put her interests ahead of his own.

Amnon and his advisor Jonadab came up with a plan for Amnon to get closer to Tamar.  Amnon pretended to be sick.  When King David came to check in on him, Amnon asked for Tamar to fix him something to eat.  This was not unusual, as it was customary for a female family members to be called upon to prepare and serve meals to male family members.  King David summoned Tamar to make some bread and serve it to Amnon, who was in bed.  But…when Tamar brought the bread to Amnon, he talked her into feeding him.  After Tamar was in close proximity, he tried to get her to have sex with him.  When she refused, Amnon took her by force and raped her.

All of the sudden, Amnon’s “love” for Tamar turned into an intense hate. Both Absalom and King David learned of Amnon’s horrible deed.  The Bible says King David was furious, but it doesn’t speak about Absalom’s emotion other than to say that Absalom never spoke another word to Amnon.   STOP HERE.  I want to draw your attention to two more important points –

 

  • The Bible doesn’t speak of Absalom’s reaction to the situation because he was plotting how to use it to his advantage.
  • The Bible says King David was angry, but notice he doesn’t punish Amnon.
After two years, Absalom invited King David and his sons to join him at Baal Hazor for a party.  King David didn’t go, but sent his sons including Amnon.  Long story short, Absalom got Amnon drunk at the party, then ordered his men to kill him.  The rest of King David’s sons returned home and Absalom fled to Geshur for three years.

 

Now that I’ve recapped this awful story, let’s stop again.  What does God want us to learn from it?  I’ve been soaking on a few different things this week, but as I’m sitting down to write this morning, the message God has laid on my heart to share with you is abundantly clear –

Power, and the pursuit of power, often drives people to actions (or inaction) that were previously uncommon of their character. They often disregard their moral compass, what is right, or what is in the best interest of others. Their actions demonstrate complete self-promotion.

We see glimpses of this behavior in the lives of Amnon and Absalom, but it is even more clear (and more sickening) in the life of King David. The Bible tells us David was a man after God’s own heart. He was Israel’s greatest king. By this point in his life, however, David was wrapped up in his own power. His focus had shifted from leading his armies in battle to preparing for who was going to succeed him on the throne. Amnon was first in line and David didn’t want to do anything that would mess up the plan. David was no longer concerned about doing what was right, only what served his own purposes.

From a godly leader who poured out his heart in Psalm after Psalm, we would never have expected such behavior. Power propelled David to disregard what was in the best interest of others, and the people closest to him were hurt in the process. Amnon was dead, Absalom was on a path to destruction, and Tamar’s life was forever ruined. While David may not have been able to prevent the detestable act in the first place, he definitely had the power to make it right after the fact. Instead, he chose to do nothing.

Does this behavior sound familiar? Have you experienced it in the lives of people close to you? Have you been hurt in the process? Are you in a position of power or pursuing power? Could you be blind to the hurt you are causing for those close to you? I urge you to draw near to God and submit to his ways. His plans are sovereign. All power truly belongs to him.

Ruth

Today’s reading:  Ruth 1-4

If someone asked you to describe your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, what would you say? I feel like in our society today it is very rare you will hear raving reviews on either one. Most people I know talk about their mother-in-law as overbearing, criticizes everything they do, meddles in their marriage and how they raise their kids. It’s so sad to me that others don’t have great and special relationships with their in-laws. Fortunately, I can say I had one of the best. She was kind, patient, full of love, selfless, humble, God-centered, faithful, and unwavering. Unfortunately for me, God took her 2 years ago to spend eternity with Him. People couldn’t help but be drawn to her because of her character and how she loved others. She always put God first, was a faithful servant, and stood fast to His promises.

Our story today is about a daughter-in-law, Ruth, and her mother-in-law, Naomi. It’s a story about faithfulness, grace, and redemption. Naomi and her husband along with their two sons had moved to Moab from Bethlehem during a famine. Her husband dies while there and the sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. After 10 years, both sons die so the three women start to head back to the land of Judah as they have heard the Lord has provided food to the nation. Now in these times, widows typically become poverty stricken. Just like my mother-in-law, Naomi had a selfless attitude. She recognized they most likely would be living a poverty style life and told both girls to go back to their homeland where the Lord can show favor on them and grant them another husband. They both resisted at first, but then Orpah went back. Ruth, however, would not leave Naomi. Ruth was not part of God’s chosen people but she had a great example in Naomi. She was drawn to Naomi and her God. Ruth followed Naomi’s selfless attitude as she could have gone back to her homeland to find another husband for herself and had a family. Instead, she stayed and remained faithful to her mother-in-law showing the love and kindness that had been shown to her.

Ruth finds a field to glean in order to provide for her and Naomi. Though Ruth may not have recognized God’s hand through this journey, He was there every moment. The field she ended up in “happened” to belong to Boaz, who “happened” to be a close relative (the only way to redeem the widow in those times). This was God’s hand at work; He is faithful. How many times has God been at work in our lives that we don’t even notice? God is always directing our lives for his purpose, we just may not see it or understand it at the time.

In the end, Ruth listens to Naomi’s instructions because she trusts her, which results in her marrying Boaz. Like Ruth, we all have someone in our life who is looking out for our best interest, whether it is a relative or a close friend. Treasure that person and lean into their love and faithfulness to you. God blessed Ruth because of her faithfulness. Her and Boaz had a son, Obed, and she becomes the great-grandmother of King David and a direct ancestor of Jesus! How awesome is that? Just think about the possibilities of who you were created to be, you just have to be willing to listen and be faithful to Him!

Danell

Words Matter

Today’s Reading:  Judges 11-12

Today as we study Judges 11-12, we are focused on the Life of Jephthah.  I know I’ve read this story before, but only because I read the whole Bible in 2016.  When I read it again this week, I didn’t remember it.  Perhaps because I’m still not sure how to pronounce Jephthah’s name.  But more likely because it is an awful story.

According to Judges 11, Jephthah was the son of Gilead, a great warrior, and a prostitute.  Jephthah’s half-brothers ran him off to keep him from getting any of his father’s inheritance.  When the Ammonites were attacked the nation of Israel, they went to find Jephthah and recruited him to lead their army.  We know from Jephthah’s response, he was faithful to God.

“If I come with you and if the Lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler overall the people” (Judges 11:9)?

Long story short, Jephthah became commander of the Israelite army and led them into battle with the Ammonites.  His faith, however, didn’t keep him from making a rash, foolish promise to God.

“If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord the first thing coming out of my house to greet me when I return in triumph.  I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering (Judges 11:30-31).

When Jephthah returned from the battle, his daughter was the first person out to meet him to celebrate the victory.  Verse 39 then tells us that Jephthah kept his vow.  Ugh.  Didn’t I say this story was awful?  Is it true?  Could Jephthah really have offered his daughter as a burnt offering to God?  Was that what God really expected?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  After reading a few arguments why Jephthah’s follow through may have been literal and others why it likely was not, I settled on this – for our purposes today, I’m not sure it really matters.  What I know for sure is God’s word is true, and God keeps his promises, without exception.  In the same way, God expects us to be truthful, and God expects us to keep our word, without exception.

Whether or not Jephthah’s vow was literal or not, we know that keeping his word came with a hefty price (Judges 11:34-35 gives evidence of his heartache).  We also know that God honored his faithfulness, as Hebrews 11:32 identifies Jephthah’s faith story along with those of Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel and all the prophets.

My challenge for us today is to think about the words we use, they matter.  Not keeping our word and/or telling half-truths are just different forms of lying.  All are displeasing to God and come with pretty serious consequences.

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Joshua

Today’s reading:  Joshua 23,24

In the absence of effective leadership, people wander.  In January 2019, Forbes.com reported that only 1/3 of US workers demonstrate a healthy level of engagement in their jobs.  I honestly don’t think this is a coincidence.  Great leaders are a rare commodity.

In his July 15, 2019 blog post, Michael Hyatt, a well-known thought leader on leadership, shared what he believes are five key characteristics of an effective leader – insight, initiative, influence, impact and integrity.   Our scripture for today (Joshua chapters 23 and 24) is Joshua’s farewell speech to his leaders.  If I had to describe Joshua in two words, those words would be “great leader”.  In fact, the adjective “great” doesn’t seem impressive enough to accurately describe the incredible leader Joshua actually was.  As I studied his life this week, I saw how it demonstrated all five of Michael Hyatt’s key leadership characteristics.  Let’s take a look –

Insight – Effective leaders can gain clarity in the midst of complex situations/issues/problems in order to set a course of action.

Initiative – Effective leaders don’t ask others to do what they are not willing to do themselves.  This demonstrates a level of dedication that earns the trust of their followers.

Influence – Effective leaders are someone others want to follow, people are drawn to their vision and values.

Impact – Effective leaders make a difference, they create and sustain change.

Integrity – Effective leaders have a moral compass, they do the right things for the right reason.  Integrity is the foundation of effective leadership, as it determines the quality of a leader’s impact.  A great leader makes people better at the same time they drive results.  An ineffective leader, in contrast, may be able to get the same results, but they often leave a trail of bodies in the process.

God promised his people the land of Canaan (the “Promised Land”), but he didn’t’ serve it up to them on a silver platter.  Rather, under the leadership of Joshua, the nation of Israel was to conquer the land of Canaan one city at a time.  Joshua’s keen insight on how to win battle after battle came from his faithfulness to seek God’s guidance before every battle (other than at Ai, where Joshua’s army got their tails kicked).

 Joshua personally led his army to conquer thirty-one kings/cities (see Joshua 12:9-24 for a complete list).  In his farewell address, Joshua challenged his leaders to follow his lead and honor/serve the Lord wholeheartedly just like he did.

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15).

The nation of Israel responded to Joshua’s challenge by affirming their commitment to the Lord.

“We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God” (Joshua 24:18).

Are you an effective leader?  Do you have insight, initiative, influence, impact, and most of all integrity?  Is your moral compass aligned to God’s word?  Like Joshua, are you inspiring those you lead to choose to serve the Lord?  I pray the answer is yes.

 

Sarah

Today’s reading:  Genesis 16:1-15; 18:1-15; 21:1-7

Pragmatic – relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters; practical as opposed to idealistic (Miriam Webster).

As I was updating my resume a couple years ago, I was looking for ten key words that described me and how I approach my work.  One of my friends suggested the word pragmatic.  While it wasn’t on my original list, I decided it describes me pretty well.  I am a practical, figure out a way to get stuff done, kind of person.

My friend Amy called me last week.  She had been asked to lead a big project and wanted my advice on how to approach it.  So, we went to lunch on Friday to discuss it.  My reaction after listening to the assignment she’d be given was, “well they’ve asked you to boil the ocean, but here is how I’d approach it”.   It didn’t take long for us to come up with a plan for how she could clarify/prioritize objectives with her sponsors, then gather/analyze current state data to figure out the problem areas to solve first.  A practical approach to start getting stuff done.

The Biblical person we are studying today is Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  I think pragmatic is a good way to describe her.

God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child of their own.  They had faith, and trusted God would do what he promised.  Then they waited, and waited, and waited.  By the time she was in her mid-eighties, Sarah’s pragmatism took over.  Perhaps Sarah was tired of waiting or, what seems more likely to me, she decided God needed her help to make progress.  At around 85 or 86, she decided to come up with a practical approach to start making things happen.

Since Sarah couldn’t have children of her own, her plan was for Abraham to conceive a child with her servant Hagar.  This type of surrogate arrangement was not uncommon at this point in history.  Married women who could not have children were shamed by their peers and often gave their servants to their husbands in order to produce heirs.  Children born to the servant in this type of an arrangement were considered children of the wife.   Ah ha, this plan would work for Abraham and Sarah’s situation.  Good thing God had Sarah to help him along, right?

Wrong.  Sarah’s plan initially worked.  Abraham slept with Hagar and she became pregnant with a son.  But because this wasn’t God’s plan, things started to unravel.  Sarah became frustrated with Abraham and began taking her frustrations out by mistreating Hagar.  Eventually, Hagar ran away from Sarah. An angel of the Lord intercepted her and turned her around to return to Sarah.  Hagar eventually gave birth to Ishmael who, as the angel foretold, was wild and lived at odds with everyone.  Hmm, maybe helping God’s plan along didn’t turn out so well after all.

Fourteen years after Ishmael was born, Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah.  Sarah was 90 or 91 years old when she gave birth to the child God had promised many years earlier.  I could go on about the remaining 36 years of Sarah’s life, but I am going to stop here and draw your attention to two key lessons from Sarah’s life that spoke to me this week.

#1 – God keeps his promises even when we mess things up.

Sarah took matters into her own hands and created a mess.  It strained her relationship with Abraham, ruined her relationship with Hagar, and produced a wild child that wreaked all kinds of havoc.  But, God still followed through on his promise.  Take a look at the first two verses of Genesis 21.

Then the Lord did exactly what he had promised.  Sarah became pregnant, and she gave a son to Abraham in his old age.  It all happened at the time God said it would (Genesis 21:1-2).

#2 – God is not bound by earthly limitations, he is capable of making unbelievable things happen.

As a woman in her early nineties, Sarah was way beyond child bearing years.  Giving birth to a healthy child was not physically possible…without the miraculous work of God.  Nothing is beyond the realm of possibility with him.

My challenge for us today is this – what areas of your life are you selling God short?  Have you messed things up so bad that you no longer think he’ll work in your life?  Are there things you think he can’t make happen?  After studying the life of Sarah today, do you want to reconsider?  Do you need to get on your knees, confess your lack of faith and recommit to fully trusting God?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).