Wednesday, July 6, 2016

One Prayer Away From Stumbling

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Joshua 9

The early chapters in the Old Testament book of Joshua outline Israel's invasion of Canaan. Under the Lord's direction they entered Canaan much as they left Egypt with the Lord holding back the waters of the Jericho River as they crossed on dry land. Then the Lord instructed Israel concerning her first military encounter against the city of Jericho and they were given victory over the city without any opposition. Witnessing God working in our lives in such powerful ways is exciting. While such experiences encourage us to be even more devout in following the Lord, they also bring with them a temptation.

An example of this temptation is given in Joshua chapter 9. The people of Gibeon had heard of what God was doing through Israel and knew that as inhabitants of Canaan they were doomed. However, they also knew that if they portrayed themselves as non-Canaanites they might not be destroyed. So they "took worn-out sacks on their donkeys and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They wore old, patched sandals on their feet and threadbare clothing on their bodies. Their entire provision of bread was dry and crumbly." (Joshua 9:4-5) All of this to give the impression that they had traveled a long distance to come to Israel and worship their God.

What was Israel's temptation? Their temptation was the presumption that the amazing victories God had given them were due, at least in part, to their own amazing prowess. Thus further tempting them to think they could discern this situation with the Gibeonites without conferring with the Lord. This is probably the temptation that plagues me more than any other. Receiving God's blessing and then feeling proud of myself as if I am responsible for the blessing. Filled with this pride I take my next step without the Lord's guidance, exposing myself to a fall. This cylce seems to happen over and over.

I come to identify with Paul who embraced his weakness saying, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." How can this be? Because when he acknowledged his weakness Christ's power could reside in him and he then operated out of Christ's power and not from his own weakness.

Israel, and us, was just one prayer away from stumbling, from making the foolish mistake of engaging in a peace treaty with the Gibeonites without seeking the Lord's guidance. It didn't matter that the Lord had given them victory upon victory in their march across Canaan. The point was that the victories came from the Lord and not their own wisdom. Even one lapse in relying on their own wisdom made them susceptible to a very unwise decision. Just one prayer would have made all the difference.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Motive Is Everything

Reflections for this date are based on the following scripture passages:
Matthew 20

Motives are so subtle that we often don't even recognize our own motives.  Those who are followers of Christ must be continually examining their hearts which can only truly be done through the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit. Unless I am continually spending time with God and allowing His Spirit to permeate my mind and heart, I will forever be duped by my own motives.

Peter listened to Jesus' conversation with a rich young man who was seeking eternal life. While on the surface this young man appeared to be devout and honestly seeking God, he was unaware that God was not his primary pursuit. It became apparent in his conversation with Jesus that his possessions were more important to him than anything else. Jesus told him to "sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me." (Matthew 19:21) But the man went away sad and Jesus pointed out to His disciples the difficulty of those who are rich being able to place God first in their lives. This prompted Peter to ask, "Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us?" (Matt 19:27) This question throws doubt on whether Peter's motive at this point were pure. Was he following Jesus merely for the reward?

This occasion sets the scene for Matthew chapter 20 in which Jesus tells the parable of the Vineyard Workers. In this parable the land owner hired men to work in his vineyard at various times throughout the day. Some were hired early in the morning others at mid-morning, others at noon, and still others just an hour before quitting time. But the owner paid all of the workers the same amount for their labor. It is not surprising that the workers who worked all day were unhappy with this arrangement. But Jesus concluded the parable with a statement He also made at the conclusion of the conversation with the rich man, "So the last will be first, and the first last." (Matt 20:16)

Jesus was not saying that God arbitrarily reverses the order of things. That those who show up first will automatically be sent to the end of the line, so to speak. It was a statement of motive. Notice in the parable that those who went to work first, started work only after they had negotiated for their pay. But those who were sent into the vineyard later in the day were simply told they would be paid whatever was 'right,' and they accepted. Peter's question suggested he thought the disciples should have a special reward because they had left everything to follow Jesus.

Jesus was emphasizing that this is not the way it works in the kingdom of heaven. It is not about great reward for great effort. It is those who serve out of great love and no expectation who are most likely to have the greatest rewards.