What Religion is Not (Jeremiah 7: 8-11)

Jeremiah began his ministry when the Assyrians, the greatest power of the world at that time, which had dominated the world and seemed invincible, began to lose power. 114 years before, the Assyrians had taken the Northern Israel into exile. Assyria had fallen and Babylon and Egypt were seeking to take Assyria’s place as the next great power of the world. It was a politically unstable time and Judah was caught in the middle. It was in the midst of this political turmoil that the Lord called Jeremiah.  God called Jeremiah to warn of the coming Babylonian invasion and the restoration that would follow the exile.

When Jeremiah began his ministry, it was during the reign of King Josiah. King Josiah brought about many reforms, repaired the temple and urged the people to return to the Lord. The people returned to the Lord. In the 13th year of his reign, God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to Israel and to the nations (Jeremiah 1:10). He was to uproot and tear down, meaning, to warn people of God’s judgement, and to plant and build up, meaning, to give a word of hope to the people.  

After King Josiah, the next king was evil and the nation went back into her old idolatrous ways. The Israelites turned away from God. They worshipped idols. The priests, the kings and the prophets were far from God. That led to rampant social injustice. The widows, orphans and immigrants were suffering.

God told Jeremiah to stand at the temple gate publicly to preach God’s Word.  This message was to be preached to all people, therefore, it was most likely that it was preached during one of the big religious festivals, such as Passover or the Feast of the Tabernacles. As the people entered into the temple to worship God, he warned them about religion.

The people worshipped God at the Temple but God was not pleased with them. They were going to the Temple because it made them looked good to be seen at the Temple. Furthermore, the spiritual leaders: the priests and the prophets were living in denial assuming that everything was all right because the Temple was there. They decided that the Lord would protect Jerusalem and Judah and would not allow anything to destroy the Temple. There were also fake prophets, saying that everything was all right. The false prophets said, “God will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us” (Jeremiah 5:12). They said peace, peace” everything is fine (Jeremiah 6:14, NIV).

And so they would continue in their sin, and also go through the motions of the worshipping God at the Temple, thinking that everything were just fine.

Inside the temple, they worshipped God, and did all the required rituals, thinking that they would be accepted by God. But their hearts were far from God.

However, outside of the temple, it was a different story. These worshippers were unfaithful to God. They forsook God and worshipped idols. Jeremiah used the word “adultery” to describe their idol worshipping practice. Some even followed the pagan ways by offering their children as child sacrifices. They rebelled against God. There was injustice in the nation. They oppressed the weak, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows among them. Innocent lives were taken in the name of religion.

The Israelites had substitute worship with religion. Religion is not: 

 (1) Religion is not a lucky charm

“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” 5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.(vv2-8, NIV).

The people kept saying, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord”. Saying that would not save them. They had put their trust in the physical building. They thought the Temple could save them from enemies and that as a nation, their national security was strengthened. They had made the Temple their lucky charm.  

For us as Christians today, wearing a cross pendant around our neck does not make us Christians. It is not a charm that brings us success or good luck or health. Some people hang a cross in their car as a lucky charm to protect them from accidents. The cross pendant and the decoration in the car is symbol to remind us of the sacrificial love of Jesus on the Cross for us. And that He had risen from the death and will come back for us and to judge the world. The cross pendant itself does not save us.  

The act of worship in the temple would not save the worshippers. The people thought that as long as they were worshipping in the temple, the rituals would protect them.

The worship God was looking for was the transformation of His people: holiness, renewal of life and cleansing of the heart. Not the mere outward rituals and ceremonies.

True worship means there are changes for the better in the way we live and act. How are we living our lives? The way we live tells more powerful stories than testimonies that we say with our mouth. Are we just in our actions and in our dealings with others? Do we treat others with respect and dignity and do not oppress the foreigners or the migrant workers or our maid in our homes? Do we oppress the orphans and the widows and take advantage of them? True worship is “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This is true worship. And we do not bow to other idols or political figures to save us. We give our whole heart and devotion to God, the maker of heavens and the earth for He rules with justice and He governs the world with His wisdom.  

(2)Religion does not necessarily mean that we enjoy a healthy relationship with God

Having a religion does not mean having a relationship with God.

9 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury,[a] burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.

Verse 9 mentions 6 of the 10 Commandments. You shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make idols, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witnesses against your neighbour.

The 10 Commandments is the foundation of the covenant relationship between God and His people. The people thought that they would be safe to do whatever they like if they had performed all these rituals.

Having a religion does not necessarily mean that you are have a real relationship with God. Being a Christian does not mean you have the license to commit sins and behaviour which are morally wrong and displeases God. God forgive sins, yes, but we often bend it too far. We often takes His grace for granted and think it is ok to sin because God will forgive us when we ask for forgiveness. Let us truly repent and forsake sinful ways. God is not a machine that dispenses grace like dispensing drink from a vending machine.

If we are reading the Bible, attending church just as a ritual, it does not mean we are having a close relationship with God. Do you know the heart of God? Do you spend time with God just because He is your Heavenly Father and you love Him and enjoy Him?   

Without a love relationship with God, reading the Bible, prayers, coming for Sunday worship is a burdensome chore. It is burdensome, dry and boring. But genuine relationship with God gives us joy, strength, love and fulfilment in life.

(3)Religion does not mean we are superior than others

12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’

Shiloh was the central city of Israel. It was the centre of worship for about 400 years. It was the place where the tabernacle of meeting and the Ark of the Covenant was. Shiloh enjoyed all this glory for these hundreds of years. The people in Jerusalem thought they were better than the northern tribes because they had the Temple. But then, these glorious years ended quickly.

The Lord then drew a comparison between Shiloh where the tabernacle used to dwell and in Jerusalem where the temple now dwelled. By Jeremiah’s day, Shiloh had been in ruins for a long time. If God did not spare Shiloh from His judgement, where His Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant used to be, what would make God spare Jerusalem even though His temple was there? If the people of Jerusalem did not repent, a similar ending would come to them, as what happened to Shiloh. 

Having a Temple in their city did not mean they were superior than the others. Going to church does not mean we are superior than those outside of the church.

One thing that we Christians tend to do when we talk to unbelievers is to talk down to them because they are not Christians. We can be harsh and say unpleasant things to them. Some Christians will say: you are suffering from certain illness because of your sins or the sins of your ancestors, and so on.  

We are too quick to judge. We are too quick to see the speck of sawdust in their eyes and pay no attention to the plank in our own eye. We have lost compassion for others.   

Yes, their souls matter. We care for them and we really want them to be in Heaven with Jesus someday. Evangelism is important but it has to match the way you live your life. If not, it will repel people from coming to know the love, mercy, holiness and grace of God. Let us evangelise with our lives, and not with words.

(4)Religion is not our safety net

Rituals will not save us. Coming to church, reading the Bible daily do not save us if we do not have a genuine relationship with God, our Creator.

Religion is not an investment. Some people hope that by putting in certain hours at church, or serving in the church, we will be rewarded with a long life, with a life with no worries, good health and wealth. If you put your trust in religion, it will disappoint you. You will still face problems and worries, your health may decline as the years go by. 

Religion does not provide a safety net for us. We can only find refuge in God alone.

What kind of a Christian are we? What kind of a church are we? Let us prayerfully examine ourselves.

Are we worshipping God because it is our Sunday routine? Are our hearts far from God although we are sitting in the sanctuary or worshipping from home?  

Christianity is not just a religion. It is a lifestyle. Religion does not work. Religion does not save us. God is not looking at our rituals and ceremonies. He is looking at our heart.

Jeremiah was a prophet who warned people of God’s judgment if they did not obey Him. Yet, Jeremiah also reminded the people that God is a God of Grace.  God said He will punish His people, yet, He will restore.

What does God require of us? To love Him wholeheartedly. To walk with Him in humility, to care for one another, not to oppress the weak.  God requires transformation from within: walking in holiness and righteousness. May our lives bring glory to God.   

The Danger of Private Sins (Joshua 7:1-26)

The Israelites won the battle at Jericho. The city was fortified by a strong wall but the Israelites followed God’s instructions simply by marching around the wall seven times and this strong wall came tumbling down.

The next battle the Israelites had to face was to destroy the town of Ai. Joshua sent out spies to survey the land and they came back reporting that it was not necessary for the entire army to go into battle—only two or three thousand men would be needed. It was just a small town with a few people living there. No doubt, the Israelites expected a spectacular victory but unfortunately, they were badly defeated. 36 men were killed and the fighters from Ai chased them far from the city (verses 2-5). This was the only defeat recorded in the book of Joshua. This was also the report of the Israelites being slain in the battle. Joshua and the elders of Israel mourned for the defeat and suggested that God was not keeping His promise to give them victory (verses 6-9).

It was not God who was not faithful. It was the Israelites who were unfaithful (verse 1). Someone among the Israelites had hid the “devoted things” from Jericho, which God had specifically commanded them to destroy.  Because of this sin, God’s anger burned against them (verse 2), they lost the battle and lives were taken. The hearts of the Israelites melted in fear and became like water (verse 5).

“11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” (Joshua 7:11-12)

Achan was caught. He only admitted that he had sinned when he was found out. May be he would have a better ending if only he had confessed his sin on his own. Joshua sent messengers to find the things which Achan had coveted. As a result of his sin, Achan and his family had to be put to death. The devoted things he had stolen had to be destroyed too. That was the only way that would pacify God’s wrath and that the Israelites would have victory over their enemies.

It may seem like a harsh consequence to Achan’s action until we realise if sin is not dealt with, it can contaminate the entire community of faith. We can’t hide from God. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-seeing and ever-present. The story of Achan reminds us to take personal holiness seriously. Our private sin will have an effect on others. Private sin not dealt with can mar the holiness of the church. We should always examine our hearts so that we are quick to turn from evil and turn back to God. If there are sins that we commit out of habits, we should ask for help and prayers to overcome them. Let us also encourage our church leaders to lovingly but firmly follow biblical standards of church disciplines so that sin will not destroy our community of faith.

Never Alone (Joshua 5:13-15)

In the previous post, we have read that the Israelites were to set themselves apart for the holy God through the act of circumcision. The whole Israelite nation was circumcised (Joshua 5:8). After the Passover, the Israelite ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. Then, manna (which God had rained upon them from the sky as their daily staple, except for the Sabbath day, during the 40 years in the wilderness) ceased. The Israelites then ate the food from the land. All these were dramatic changes in their lives: (1) They had made a commitment to live a holy life as their God is holy, (2) they were now adjusting to a new lifestyle. They had not been eating the produces from the land for as long as they could remember. Manna, something which carried significant meaning and comfort to them had ceased. Our God is active and living. When we follow Him, there are times when we have to leave the comfortable and the familiar just so we can step into something better which God has planned for us.

In order to take possession of the Promised Land (a land flowing with milk and honey that God had promised to give them), the Israelites first had to face a battle at Jericho. On the eve of this important battle, Joshua was awake all night. He was walking in the wilderness, perhaps with a lot on his mind: would they succeed to capture the city of Jericho? What were the best tactics to use?

The Israelites were in the Promised Land. Jericho was a hurdle they had to overcome. It seemed like an impossible task. The city was fortified with a strong wall and a strong military presence.

In his hopelessness, God appeared to Joshua in a human form—as a commander of the army of the Lord, with a drawn sword in His hand. Joshua had to take off his sandals because where he was standing was holy ground. We need to consecrate ourselves (repent and refrain from behaviours, thoughts and actions) that are not pleasing to God in order to experience God at work. That night when Joshua was contemplating on the tactic for the battle, God appeared and reassured him that He is with him. Joshua was not alone; God was with him.     

God is with us. There are times we have to make adjustments and changes in our lives in accordance to God’s guidance. We will be fearful, but in our fears, God holds us with His righteous right hand and gives us courage to overcome them. In our despair, God is with us. In our moment of weakness, God wants us to know that He is our strength. When we are feeling alone, He is right here beside us.

May it be that you are encouraged by what had happened to Joshua. He was alone, yet he was never truly alone because God was with him. The battle seemed overwhelming, but God’s presence changed everything. Trust in God. And you will see the wonders God will do in your life.

Set Apart for God (Joshua 5:1-3)

When the Israelites were entering the Promised Land, it was occupied with people who did not know the Lord. How would God mark His people out from those who were not His? He marked them as His own by the act of circumcision. He gave instructions that His people were to be circumcised.

Circumcision was an outward sign which demonstrated inward obedience. It may seem just a physical act but it has spiritual meaning that marked them as God’s people. By circumcising themselves, they were setting themselves apart for God. They would be holy people. Through the Bible, circumcising is a metaphor for holiness. Moses said that he had uncircumcised lips (Exodus 6:12, KJV). Jeremiah talked about uncircumcised ears which were not fit to hear God’s Word (Jeremiah 6:10).

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were to consider the fruits of the land as uncircumcised for three years, but in the fourth year, the fruits would be holy, an offering to the Lord (Levitcus 19:24).

Just as Jeremiah called the people to circumcise themselves to God, they were to circumcise their hearts (Jeremiah 4:4). The heart is the well spring of life (Proverbs 4:23). It is the source of our life.  From our hearts flow everything we think, say, do and act. Our heart reflects our spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional state. Circumcising our hearts means we are to open our hearts and follow God by forsaking our old ways of living. We choose to follow God.

In the Bible, God’s people were marked by circumcision. Today, God’s people are marked by the circumcising of our hearts. Are we giving ourselves to Christ? Are we walking in holiness? Our God is holy and He desires His people to be holy too.

What does holiness mean? The world makes fun of holy people by associating “holiness” with a halo on the head and wings on the back of a person or it is a term mockingly used to refer to hermit people living in the mountains and detached from the world.

We can still have fun and live comfortable to be holy. Holiness means living a life that represents Jesus Christ. We no longer say bad words or do things that harm our bodies and minds. We carefully guard our attitudes, thoughts and actions We think of these things: whatever that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8, NIV).

Walking in holiness means we disagree with evil and sinful behaviour and choose not to participate in them.

Walking in holiness is a leap of faith too. We may be ridiculed or rejected for being “holy”. This brings us to the question: who will you serve? Will it be “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).        

Crossing Over (Joshua 3:1-7)

Before stepping into the Promised Land, Joshua needed military intelligence about Jericho. He sent 2 spies into the city to spy on the land. When the king of Jericho heard about the 2 spies, he sent men to capture them. But a prostitute in the city, Rahab, feared the Lord and decided to hide these spies in her home. Her house was located upon the city wall, and so, it was easier for them to escape with a rope through the window.  (you can read the previous post by clicking here: http://eireneletters.com/devotional/joshua/god-specialises-in-using-the-flawed-people-for-his-purposes-joshua-21/)

These 2 spies escaped successfully, and brought their report back to Joshua. They told him all that had happened and said, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (Joshua 2:24, NIV). Imagine the joy of the people upon hearing this. The Lord has given the whole land into their hands. This was the news Joshua was waiting for.

Their parents failed to enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief, and this generation was about to enter it. In the wilderness, they did not have permanent homes. They were always on the move. They were not able to plant vegetables or fruit trees, they were always in a state of deprivation. And now they would be moving closer to the Promised Land: a land flowing with milk and honey! There was great excitement and joy in the people!

Joshua gave orders to the people to set out and they came to the east shore of the Jordan River. Before crossing over, they set their camp there. The people must have felt confused and bewildered. Verse 15 tells us, “Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest”. It was a raging river at flood stage!

The Jordan River

The Jordan River was not a shallow river that people can just cross over. It was a mighty river. The name “Jordan” means “descender”. The river bed was very steep. It was 3 to 12 feet deep. There were thick undergrowth on the bed of the river. If someone tripped over them, he would be swept away by the overwhelming current.

The length of the river was about 200 miles. What is most dangerous about the Jordan River is the swiftness of the current. There were dangerous currents and the bed of the river was muddy. The current could easily sweep a man away. In the month of April (and from this passage, it should be during this time when the Israelites had to cross over), the Jordan River would double in size, from 90-100 feet in width to 200 feet in width. It was because there were melting snows from the mountain. This river is literally the river of death.

How would you feel if you were an Israelite, watching the condition of the mighty river?

You had come so far, and now, when you are looking at the river, it seems that your dreams and hopes of reaching the Promised Land is impossible— again. All your excitement and joy must have been swept away by the sounds of the gigantic waves.

Think about your life and the circumstances in your life. Each of us has our own Jordan River—an impossible task that makes us so afraid and helpless. We may feel it will lead to nowhere and that we are stuck where we are. We may be angry at God for playing such a joke on us.

We want to make it into the Promised Land but this promise is too far away and not within our grasp. There are just so many things standing in the way and too many scary hurdles to overcome and strong waves beating against us.

But Joshua decided to walk by faith and not by sight. The waves in the river might be roaring but he was confident that God was with them and would carry them through. Here are some things that we can learn from Joshua and the Israelites:

  1. Follow the guidance of God (Joshua 3:2-4)

“2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.”

This was the sign that they were ready to cross over: when the priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord led the way.

Why was this Ark so special? If you remember during the days of Moses, when the Israelites were in the wilderness, God had given instructions to build this ark of the covenant. There were a few items inside the Ark which were holy:

*The stone tablets which God inscribed the Ten Commandments on with His own fingers. The 10 Commandments shows us that God desires a relationship with us.

*A pot of manna to remind the Israelites of God’s gracious provision during the past 40 years in the wilderness (Exodus 16:33, 34).

*Aaron’s rod. It was a stick that grew leaves and almonds to demonstrate God has the power to do anything, even to the smallest details (Numbers 17). This stick was a dead stick, and God could even bring life out of the dead stick. 

All these items in the Ark were symbols that God had been with the Israelites and He was faithful. He is still with them. You see, apart from these items in the Ark, on top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat which was made of pure gold. There were two statues of cherubim, one on each side and they were kneeling down (Exodus 25:18-19). God was enthroned upon the cherubim (Psalm 80:1; 99:1). He was there with His people. He dwells with His people. The Ark was a symbol of His presence.

Today, we have the Holy Spirit who teaches us God’s commandments (Ephesians 6:17). God has also provided for our daily needs (Psalm 23:1). And we know God cares for the little details in our lives through His provision (Luke 12:7).

The Ark of the Covenant, carried by the priests, was to move into the Jordan River first, and then followed by the Israelites, it meant that God was leading the way. The Israelites only needed to see where He is going and follow Him.

Verse 4 tells us more details about the movement, “4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

The Israelites were to see where God was moving but they were not to get too close to the Ark. The purpose of God’s instruction was not really mentioned but perhaps so that everyone could see where God was going. Over 2 million Israelites were beside the terrifying Jordan River. All eyes could see the Ark and everyone knew God was with them. 

In your life right now, may be you are able to cross the river but you are afraid and terrified of the waves and the river. May be in your mind, you think there is no way you can cross the river. It is too impossible. It is too difficult. It seems too terrifying.

What are you going to do about it? Will you be like the Israelites? Will you allow God to lead you? All you need to do is to follow Him. Follow His guidance. He is with you.

2.Consecrate ourselves (Joshua 3:5)

Apart from following the Ark, the second thing the Israelites have to do was to consecrate themselves.

“5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (verse 5)

Consecrate means “to be holy, to set apart”. We can’t see God at work if we are marred by sins. We can’t experience God’s presence if we choose to follow the lust of our flesh. We can not serve two masters: God and other things. We have to set ourselves apart, holy, blameless and righteous because our God is holy and righteous.

(a) Repentance

Many times in the Bible, we read how God was broken hearted at the rebellion and the sins of His people. And that God had to punish them corporately for their sins.

Before they crossed over, they had to repent and set themselves apart, not prostituting themselves with worshipping other idols or commit sins. They were to ask God for forgiveness and live in holiness.

Likewise, in our daily lives, we think thoughts, or say things that hurt God and others, intentionally or unintentionally. We need to seek God, examine our lives, confess and repent of our sins. Consecrate ourselves wholly to God and desire holy living.  

(b) Welcome God’s intervention

In the Old Testament times, “consecrating oneself” also means, washing clothes, practicing ceremonial rites, refrain from having sexual relation with your spouse and so on. They had to put a hold on their daily routine and to pay attention to God’s presence.

Sometimes God calls us to do something which seemingly interrupts our daily routine. Taking time to pray, taking care of someone in need, all these may seem to interrupt our daily routine but to see God at work, we have to be willing to take extra efforts to allow God to change our time table.

  1. Step Out in Faith

God spoke to Joshua, “8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’” and “13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

The river was at the roughest at this time of the year but God said they had to step out in faith. They first had to get their feet wet.

As James said, faith without action is dead (James 2:26). If Joshua and the leaders did not step out in faith, they would never cross the river.

Each step that you take into the unknown, you are stepping in faith. With each step by faith, you are moving closer and closer to depend not on yourself, but on God. That is where victory comes from, from God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Imagine that the priests were carrying the Ark into the raging river. All of the Israelites were watching them in amazement, wondering what God would do next.  As the priests were in the river, the water in the river gradually started to recede and the river became dry. One by one, the Israelites began to cross over: the old and the young, the grandparents and the babies, the youths and the adults, all crossing over a river that was once a fierce river.  

Can you imagine the excitement? They were experiencing a miracle. They experienced God working miraculously in their midst.

The God who led the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt, to the wilderness, to crossing a gigantic river is still the same God today. I don’t know what your private battle and struggles are but please know that there is nothing too difficult for God.

We must follow Him, forsake our sins, repent and set ourselves apart for Him. Whatever He is calling you to do, step out in faith. Only when we step out in faith, we can move forward in our lives and in our faith journey.

God specialises in using the flawed people for His purposes (Joshua 2:1)

God uses the most unlikely people for His purposes.

Lesson 3: God uses flawed people for His purposes too

Have you ever met someone who had a colourful background and yet, God is using them remarkably for His glory? We can see marks from their bodies and their faces that they had experienced some very dramatic experiences in their lives. Yet, God not only called them to Himself, He redeemed them and used them as His instruments to bless others. 

Before leading the people into the Promised Land, Joshua needed to find out more about the city of Jericho. He then sent two young men disguised as foreign travellers to the city.

‘Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.’ (Joshua 2:2, NIV)

In Jericho, there was a prostitute named Rahab. She was also an innkeeper. Because of the nature of her job, as you can imagine, the other women in the city must not have liked her much. Men too, only used her to gratify their lusts and pleasures. The respectable people of the city must have avoided being in contact with her too.

Rahab’s house formed part of the outside wall of the city. Perhaps those who visited her would be able to escape quickly. Her house, used for her business, was not any holy place. However, God used her house as a hiding place for the two young men. The king of Jericho knew there were Israelite spies in the city, and he gave order to capture them. Rahab hid those two spies and therefore they were successful in their mission.

She was the last and the least, and yet, God used her in a wonderful way. God specializes in using people who are broken, flawed, rejected by society. God used Moses, a murderer. God used David, an adulterer, Samson, a philanderer, Paul, a persecutor of Christians. God used people with flaws and made them beautiful instruments for His marvellous plan.

Just like how God used Rahab, our past does not define us. Our flaws do not dictate our futures. While each of us are broken and flawed, we are still so loved by God. People may despise us but God does not despise us. We are precious in His sight. We are still worthwhile in His kingdom.  

Rahab saving those two Israelite spies was not the end of the story. She survived the battle of Jericho and she became a part of the Israelite community. Later on, she married Salmon (one of the two spies), and became a respectable woman in the Israelite community. The Jewish tradition held Rahab as one of the four most beautiful women who had ever lived. She is still known as a hero of Israel today. Guess what? She was the ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ!  

Her name is also recorded in the Hebrews Hall of Fame.  “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Hebrews 11:31, NIV).

The Bible has many examples of ordinary people but made themselves available for God to use. Don’t be ashamed and discouraged by what had happened in your life. God holds you dearly in his hands. If you are willing, He too, can use you to bless those around you.

Affirm God’s Presence (Joshua 1:3)

In the previous post, we see that Joshua relied on God’s strength to step into a huge task that seemed so overwhelming. In today’s post, we will learn to affirm God’s presence in our lives.

Lesson 2: Affirm God’s presence in your circumstances

Joshua was terrified. But God reminded him that he was not alone. God reassured him of His presence (Joshua 1:3-5).

It is in our darkest moments that we will feel God’s presence. It is in our weakest moments that we will feel His strength. When God gives you an impossible task, He will carry you through, for the sake of His plan and purpose.

We affirm God’s presence by stepping into what He is calling us to do—by faith. We need to take action. As James wrote, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26).

Faith without works is dead

God told Joshua, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” (Joshua 1:3, NIV). This is the promise God gave for people who are willing to take action. Unless Joshua and the Israelites move in obedience, they would not be able to accomplish what God was calling them to do.

Faith is more than knowing it in our heart. Faith is action. Joshua had to step out in faith to see God work. How is this true for your life? What are some of the ways that you are paralyzed in fear? Do you make excuses when you know God is calling you to do something?

Joshua took action despite knowing there would be dangers ahead of him. As a result, he experienced God’s blessings. When we step out in faith, we will experience God’s blessings too. 

What are some of the things that you know God is calling you to take personal action? May be it is to strengthen your marriage, or to make a commitment to study the Bible consistently, serving in a church ministry or taking care of your health, let us take it a step at a time, knowing that God is with us.  

Birthday Reflection And Walking Along A Path of Faith (Joshua 1:1-2)

I had my birthday last week. Family, close friends and church members sent their birthday greetings, and they spoiled me with yummy homemade cakes (the best!). I was deeply touched by their love and thoughtfulness.

As I am reflecting on my faith journey, there were times when I was overwhelmed and afraid. There were times when I was afraid to step into the place God has called me because I was worried that I was not good enough. What are we supposed to do when God had called us into something we think we are not ready for? Would you trust and obey and step out in faith and trust that He will lead you?

After the death of Moses, Joshua must have felt terrified too. Moses was the great leader, mightily used by God to deliver God’s people from the slavery in Egypt and to lead them on their journey towards the Promised Land. Now that Moses had passed on, Joshua certainly had big shoes to fill. It was not easy to be living under the shadow of a powerful leader. It also seemed an impossible task to lead more than 2 million people into a foreign land, to conquer it and claim it as their own.

The book of Joshua was written to continue the history of the Israelites and to reassure them that God is with them. There will be times when we are not ready for the assignment God is giving to us. With this in mind, I would like to have this mini-series on the book of Joshua. Let us learn from Joshua and follow his example of courage and faithfulness.

There are many lessons we can learn from this book.

Lesson 1: Depending on God’s strength

Joshua 1:1-2

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites (Joshua 1:1-2).

May be Joshua was comparing himself with Moses, or he was not sure what he should do next. So, God said to him that Moses had already passed on and he needed to step up as the leader of the Israelites. Joshua had been assisting Moses for 40 years. During these 40 years, God must have been preparing him for this tremendous leadership task. Moses certainly was a great mentor to show him the ropes. Though Joshua was terrified, God reassured him that He was with Joshua. Our God is with us today too. When He calls you into something, He will certainly go with you. He gives you power to overcome your fears and courage to move forward.   

What is your biggest fear that is stopping you from doing what God is calling you to do? Will you respond in faith as Joshua did?

Lean on His strength, not yours. And you will see what He will do for His glory.

Overcoming Fear

Our friend Helen is a certified midwife. She told us that when she was in the training school, she had a classmate who was afraid of blood to the extent that she would faint at the sight of blood. But it was her dream to be a midwife. She worked hard to find ways to train herself to overcome her fear. With her hard work and dedication to succeed, she graduated and became a successful midwife.

Each of us has dreams inside us which we want to achieve but sometimes fear gets in the way. We may have big fears that make us freeze in our steps instead of moving us forward. In other times, we have fears so small we do not even realize they exist inside us.

Fear is a part of our human experience in this fallen world. Fear warns us of danger: we have fear if there is a car tailing us and it is moving in high speed, I am fearful if I am on a roller coaster, others are fearful if there is a strange noise in the middle of the night. It is not wrong to feel afraid. It is a part of our survival skills in-built inside each of us. Our ancestors needed this to survive, and so do we today.

But then, there are the unhealthy fears that rob us of joy and give us sleepless nights. Such fears may arise because we are afraid to try, or we allow the evil one to stop us from doing what God is calling us to do.  There are people who do not fully exercising the gifts and talents God has given them because of fear.

The devil uses unhealthy fear to try to crumple us from reaching what God has for us. He uses fear to put anxiety and worries in us and separate us from the love of God. Fear haunts us for thinking we are not worthy to be loved and not worthy to be used by God.

 

Acknowledge fear

When fear comes surging in, acknowledge it. Brushing it aside will not make it go away. Running from it will not be a good solution. We may spend a lifetime fearing something but have you considered bringing this matter before God? Tell Him what is holding you back. Ask Him for courage to overcome it. Share with some close friends and ask for prayers. They can also encourage us and keep us accountable.

 

Breaking Free

God does not want us to live defeated lives. We are people of hope, not fear. The devil may want to trap us in the prison of fear. So, let us not let fear destroy us, and eat us up on the inside. You are a child of God, there will not be problems too big that God can not do anything about!

I remembered vividly the time when I had to preach for the first time in front of a congregation of about 250 people, I was so nervous and afraid that  I wanted to give up and go home!  But God has called me to be a pastor. His grace is sufficient for me; His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9b, NIV). Our fears can be stepping stone for us to experience God’s presence, power, strength and faithfulness!

2 Cor 12:9b

 

May this verse be an encouragement to you. “ 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). God has created us with great love and every part of us was made lovingly and with much thoughts by God. He has redeemed us from sins through the death of Jesus on the Cross. God has blessed us with gifts and talents to serve Him and others. Break out of the fear and start to use these gifts. It can be overwhelming at first but take it a step at a time. Trust in Him as you go. He will lead you and guide you.

 

We can live a fulfilling life in Christ Jesus, one that is filled with joy, peace and hope.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NIV)

 

In life, we have to be wise and sensible so that our wellbeings as well as those we love will be taken care of. However, there are dreams that God has planted in you for His glory. Step out! Do not fear! God is with you. He will strengthen you when you are weary and afraid. He will lead you through when unexpected circumstances come your way. He upholds you with His mighty and righteous hand! He will provide you with resources and link you with people so that you can implement the dreams that He has placed within you. In His infinite wisdom, God works for the good of His people. All that He wants from us is to trust Him and obey Him.

After all, it is not about you. It is about Him. May the Lord be glorified through you.

Hope in God

How can we have hope when our circumstances are unpredictable and seemingly hopeless? How can we have hope when we are in the midst of the pandemic?

Hope is one of the greatest virtues, together with love and faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). As Raniero Cantalamessa writes, ‘They are like three sisters. Two of them are grown and the other is a small child. They go forward together hand in hand with the child hope in the middle. Looking at them it would seem that the bigger ones are pulling the child, but it is the other way around; it is the little girl who is pulling the two bigger ones. It is hope that pulls faith and love. Without hope everything would stop.’

Hope helps us to move forward. Hope helps us to face impossible challenges. Hope is like the light at the end of a dark tunnel. We can move forward even in the darkness because of the hope we have.

During this pandemic, we often heard preachers and pastors telling us not to “waste this pandemic”, meaning that we are to use this time of the lockdown to reflect about our lives, be intentional about spending time with God and letting God shape us and transform us from the inside out so that we will be better people than before. In order to do so, we need to know the hope that we have in God.

Let’s look at Psalm 89, a maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite and let us learn to put our hope in Him.

 

Hope in God in our sufferings and despair

The psalmist cries out to the Lord “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (verse 46, NIV). When the psalmist was writing this, he had his own challenges to deal with. His circumstances were different. But this verse expresses what we are feeling now. We feel that God is hiding Himself as the peoples of this world are suffering.

God is always there. We can not see Him with our eyes but He is with us. He is faithful. He loves us with a great love. The psalmist says, “1 I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. 2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself” (verses 1-2).
There is hope in our sufferings because of who God is. He is love. He is faithful. He will carry us through.

Psalm 89: 1-2

 

Hope in spite of our short life span and the inevitability of death

Life is short—“your life is like the morning fog- it’s here a little while, then it’s gone” (James 4:14. NLT). The psalmist also prays to God, “47 Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all humanity! Who can live and not see death, or who can escape the power of the grave?” (verse 24, NIV)  

The psalmist says despite our life being short and that we will face death someday, yet, he holds on to the promise of God’s love. He prays, “Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?” (verse 49). We will pass away; it is inevitable. But, as the story unfolds in the New Testament, believers will have eternal life through Jesus Christ, who took our sins upon Himself and died on the Cross for us. We have eternal life through Jesus Christ. Our life is more than life on earth. We have hope that we will have eternal life with God in Heaven forever.

Hope in God’s righteousness and justness  

The world is unjust. The evil and power-hungry people seem to be crushing the innocent. But the psalmist puts his hope in God who is righteous and just. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” (verse 14-15, NIV)

Even when what is going on does not make sense to you, trust in God’s righteousness, love and faithfulness.

Psalm 89:14-15

 

Hope in the presence of God

Those who walk with God (following His ways and commandments) will be blessed. They are walking in the light of the presence of God (verse 15). They will rejoice in God and celebrate God’s righteousness because God is their glory and strength (verses 16-17).

When all else fail, by walking with God, we will taste His presence and we even rejoice in the midst of difficulties because God is with us.

We have hope because God is with us.

 

Hope in God’s purpose

It seems funny and even a little rude for me to tell you about finding the good in our present situation. I don’t know what you are going through. You may be grieving over the loss of a loved one, you may be facing stressful times at home, you may be out of a job or you may be struggling financially. But let us lift up our eyes from the current situations to God.

This psalm reminds us that God is faithful. He loves us with a faithful love (verse 24). There is no powers or authority higher than that of God’s (vv 5-13). He alone is in control. He created the heavens and the earth (v 11) and everything belongs to Him. There is a purpose for everything He does. We can trust in His timing to work things out for the best according to His infinite love and wisdom.

Ezra, the psalmist, ends this psalm by asking God to remember him. The psalmist clings onto the hope he has in God. Ezra then praises God, “praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen!” (verse 52, NIV). There are always reasons to praise Him. He is sovereign, He is in control, His wisdom is beyond our comprehension and He loves us with a faithful love.

Let us put our hope in God.