Are You Jesus?

Are You Jesus?

Isaiah 58.1-14

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend recently sent me this wonderful story. It seems that a group of salesmen were attending a regional sales convention in Chicago, and were rushing to their airport gate when one accidentally kicked over a display of apples in a basket. Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they managed to reach the plane just before takeoff. All but one. He paused, told his buddies to go on, told one to call his wife when they arrived home to explain his late arrival. Then he returned to the terminal where the apples were lying all over the floor.

He was glad he did. The 16-year-old girl whose apple stand had been overturned was totally blind. She was crying softly, helplessly groping for her spilled produce. The crowd swirled around her, no one stopping. The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them into the basket, and helped set up the display. He then pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, “Please take this $20 for the damage we did. Are you okay?”

She nodded through her tears. As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered girl called out to him. “Mister….” He paused and turned to look back into her blind eyes. She continued, “Are you Jesus?”

Do people mistake you for Jesus? Here’s how they can.

Don’t confuse religion with faith (vs. 1-5)

The people of Judah have been imprisoned in the pagan wasteland of Babylon. But in Isaiah 56 the scene changes. The last eleven chapters of this book prophesy the nation’s return from exile to their home in the Promised Land. But all is not well: “Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins” (v. 1).

They think their religion guarantees their relationship with God:

They “seek me out” and “seem eager to know my ways” (v. 2).

They “ask me for just decisions,” praying for his guidance.

They have “fasted” and “humbled” themselves (v. 3). Their religion is in order, their worship attendance exemplary, their church involvement outstanding.

But their lives give the lie to their religion:

“You do as you please” (v. 3b). Sunday has no effect on Monday.

They “exploit all your workers” and engage in “quarreling and strife” (v. 4).

Their religion is for show, “bowing one’s head like a reed” and “lying on sackcloth and ashes” (v. 5). They look religious, and act the part. But God knows better.

I’m glad you’re here this morning. My friend, Frank Herrington, longtime pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, used to say that his first thought at the start of every Sunday sermon was, “I’m glad someone came to hear me preach.” I feel the same way.

But we will do well to remember from our text that religion does not guarantee faith. Being right with the church doesn’t mean we’re right with the Christ. There’s more to faith than religion.

Turn obstacles into opportunities

So what do we do to be the “body of Christ,” to show him to our community this week? First, act with justice: “loose the chains of injustice” (v. 6). Act with justice in your business dealings, your finances, your personal ethics: “Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge” (Deuteronomy 24:17); “The righteous detest the dishonest; the wicked detest the upright” (Proverbs 29:27).

Will someone see your moral example this week and ask if you are Jesus?

Second, care for the impoverished: “to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter” (v. 7); “when you see the naked, to clothe him” (v. 7b).

More than one tenth of Dallas County lives below the poverty level. One out of five Texans lives in poverty. One in ten children in our state is hungry today. By the time I finish this sentence, two people will have died from hunger-related causes worldwide, 24,000 by the end of this day. The number of homeless people in our city has nearly doubled in two years.

Scripture is clear on our subject: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13); “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:16); “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done” (Proverbs 19:17); “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).

Will someone receive your gift of compassion this week and ask if you are Jesus?

Third, speak the truth in love: “do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk” (v. 9).

The Bible is crystal clear in its condemnation of gossip, slander, and lies: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people” (Leviticus 19:16); “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11.13); “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9); “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8); “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (Proverbs 26:20-21); “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13); “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3); “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure” (Psalm 101:5).

Will someone hear your words this week and ask if you are Jesus?

When we give the gifts of moral example, compassionate help, and loving speech, we define our lives by God’s cause. We become the body of Christ, his hands and feet, giving his love in ours: “The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people…go out of the church door into the world to be the Church. We don’t go to church; we are the Church” (Ernest Southcott).

Claim triumph in trials

And what we give to others, we give to ourselves. The proverb is right: “Those whom God wishes to bless, he puts in their hands the means of helping others.” When we give the gifts of righteous integrity, compassionate help, and loving speech, we bless ourselves.

A recent study examined the lives of 65 men and women between the ages of 30 and 90, all of whom were caring for a loved one suffering from advanced cancer. Results showed that people who dedicate themselves to caring for a loved one not only gain a stronger sense of purpose in life, but also tend to have better physical health in the process. There is a positive correlation between helping others and helping ourselves (Harry R. Moody and David Carroll, The Five Stages of the Soul, 242).

The psychologist Abraham Maslow discovered that a psychologically healthy person achieves what he called a state of “self-actualization,” defined as “an ongoing actualization of potential, capacities, talents as fulfillment of a mission” (ibid, 278).

The more we fulfill our mission of helping others, the more we fulfill ourselves:

“Your light will break forth like the dawn” (v. 8a)—your light will shine so that others will see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew5.16).

“Your healing will quickly appear” (v. 8b)—as you help others, you position yourself to be helped by them and by God.

“Your righteousness will go before you” (v. 8c)—God will guide you, for you are willing to follow his mission for your life.

“The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard” (v. 8d)—he will protect you, for you are walking in his will.

“You will call, and the Lord will answer” (v. 9a)—he will hear and answer your prayers, for you are close to him and his call on your life.

With these results:

“You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (v. 11). You will give to others, and never run out. Your well will never go dry.

“You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls” (v. 12). When you give broken lives and hearts your gifts of integrity, compassion, and truth, you will leave such an eternal legacy.

And “you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob” (v. 14).

Decide today to measure your success not by what you gain, but by what you give. Not by what people call you, but by what you call them. Find a need and meet it. See every obstacle as an opportunity to give someone your moral example, your compassionate help, your loving words. Treat every problem as a chance to share God’s love in yours.

Do what you can, while you can. You are not responsible for the needs you cannot meet, just those you can. The Jewish rabbi Zusia once said, “In the world to come, no one will ask me why I was not Moses. I shall be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusia?'”


Jeff Lewis told us we are called to our neighbor and nation. Last week we learned that we have a specific call from God. As William Carey was called to his India, so are we to ours. How do we answer our call? By meeting needs with God’s love. By giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. By treating every problem as a chance to share God’s word and God’s grace.

It’s an attitude first, a way of seeing things. Jesus fed the hungry whenever he found them; he healed the sick wherever he met them; he taught the crowds whenever they asked him or would hear him. He walked through his ministry, meeting the needs he found with the love of God. His life left the greatest legacy in world history.

Now we are called to do the same, so that someone will ask, Are you Jesus?

No other approach to life will bring us such purpose and fulfillment.

Count Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist, achieved the highest stature of fame and worldly success. His masterpiece, War and Peace, was heralded as the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy was rich, titled, in good health, lord over a vast estate, father of a happy family, only to discover at age 50, “I did not know how to live.”

He later wrote, “I felt that something had broken within me on which my life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that morally my life had stopped.” He began to contemplate suicide. In his spiritual testament, A Confession, he likened life to a traveler who is chased by a ferocious beast and climbs down a well to safety, only to discover that a fierce dragon is waiting at its bottom for him. To save himself, he grabs a small branch protruding from a crack in the wall, and dangles helplessly. A mouse appears and starts to gnaw through the branch. All will soon be lost.

Just then the man sees a cluster of berries growing nearby. He picks several and swallows them with gusto. How sweet they taste! This, Tolstoy came to see, is the human condition. Hanging between birth and death, we await annihilation. While dangling, we pass the time eating the small pleasures that fall to our lot. Then the branch snaps and we plunge into nothingness.

It’s not an inspiring picture. But here’s what happened next for Leo Tolstoy. He came to see that the apparent emptiness of our lives is a kind of mercy sent to us to shake us loose from superficial concerns and to call us back to our spiritual roots. Tolstoy called this “a thirst for God.” The famous novelist gave the rest of his life to filling that thirst. Ignoring the honors showered on him from around the world, he chose to dress and live in the simple manner of a peasant. He grew his own food, provided spiritual guidance and money to all who asked, and lived out his days in worship and service.

He learned that all we have been given was meant to be given, that we were saved to serve, that we were created to care. That every problem we meet is a chance to love someone God loves.

So look for some spilled apples this week. Someone else will be glad you did, but no one more than you.

Defined By A Cause

Defined By a Cause

Isaiah 54.1-3

Dr. Jim Denison

The young preacher was shouted down. He had dared to suggest that the ministers in Nottingham, England discuss “The Duty of Christians to Attempt the Spread of the Gospel Among Heathen Nations.” The moderator of the meeting was greatly agitated: “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine.”

But William Carey would not be quieted. On May 31, 1792, at a Baptist ministers’ meeting in England, he preached the most famous missions sermon of all time. Taking today’s text as his, his message was titled “Expect Great Things From God; Attempt Great Things For God”.

Within five months, on October 2, 1792, twelve of those who heard him that day had formed the Baptist Missionary Society of England. They began work to send Carey to India. And thus began the Modern Missions Movement which has circled the globe with the good news that our Creator loves us all.

We want our lives to matter. And so we engrave our initials on tree trunks and our children’s initials in wet cement. We affix our names to plaques on walls and buildings. We name streets and cities and stadiums for each other. We want to outlive ourselves. We want to leave a legacy, to be significant. Each of us wants to believe that this tiny planet and our brief lives on it are not all there is, that there is something more, something permanent, something eternal. We want our lives to be defined by a cause which matters.

All this month we are learning how to live for that cause. Today we’ll learn from a short, squat English cobbler whose faith and faithfulness changed the world.

Join the battle (v. 1)

I bring you shocking news today: “One month after their gay wedding shocked the world: Saddam and Osama adopt shaved ape baby.” The Weekly World News for November 4 says it’s true. And it adds this story: “Found: Hair from God’s beard! DNA tests prove it’s for real.” I didn’t bother reading the article, so that’s all I can tell you.

You are no less incredulous than the readers of our text today. Such news is no less outlandish, farfetched, and ridiculous. Here is Judah enslaved in the deserts of Babylon, Iraq to us. Their temple is rubble, their traditions shredded, their homeland ruined, they, themselves, captives to cursed pagans.

They are “barren,” unable to conceive a child. Worse, it is as though they “never bore a child.” Still worse, they are “desolate,” with no husband and no hope for one.

And so they have no child and no ability to conceive one. They can give birth to no future. Their hopes will die with them. They can have no tomorrow, no dawn on the horizon, no morning to the nightmare from which they cannot awake.

Theirs is a land without spiritual hope, a place of desolation lost to the love of God. And yet they are to “burst into song” and “shout for joy” because theirs will be more “children” than those who have husbands. In a place with no future, theirs is the brightest future of all.

Many still call Texas the “buckle of the Bible belt.” Why must we be concerned with missions in such a place? Because if such a belt ever existed, and if we ever served to anchor it in place, it is no longer so. We now live and serve in a spiritual Babylon.

8.5 million of our 17 million residents are spiritually lost. This is a number greater than the total population of 42 states in America and 52 foreign countries. Only 15 percent of our Texas Baptist churches are growing, and 85 percent of that growth is from our own children or other churches. Less than 1 percent of our churches are growing primarily through evangelism.

How many spiritual children have you borne this year? To what degree is your soul “barren” and “desolate”?

Look from our state to our globe. See a line stretching around it thirty times, spanning some 750,000 miles, growing 20 miles every day. It is the lost of our world, standing side by side.

We are called to them. We are called to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” of each person in that line. We are called to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, to be his ambassadors to our neighbors and the nations.

Tuesday is Veterans’ Day. This week we remember with undying gratitude those men and women who have served each of us as they served all of us. As they fought for us, sacrificed family and future, plans and dreams for the greater cause of freedom. They know what it is for their decisions and lives to be defined by a cause.

In the spiritual warfare raging in our homes, our communities, our nation, our world, how many of us are veterans? How many of us are defined by this cause?

Attempt great things for God (vs. 1b-2)

We have heard the bad news: the world is lost in the darkness of sin, and each of us is responsible for bearing the light to that darkness. Here’s the good news: when we attempt great things for God, we can expect great things from God. Our lives can matter. Our work can achieve significance. Our days can affect eternity. Our gifts and abilities can change souls forever. The “desolate woman” can have more children than she “who has a husband” (v. 1b). There is hope—great hope. What are we to do?

Give generously: “Enlarge the place of your tent.” Make it bigger, and broader, and higher, and longer, so more can come in. Such enlarging takes material, substance, money. It costs to do this. And so we give what is required, sacrificially and generously.

On January 9, 1793, the Baptist Missionary Society took its first offering, in William Carey’s snuff box, to send Carey to India. It was not much, but it was enough to get him across the ocean and to the need. Without that offering, no missions movement could have been possible, then or now.

Today we give for exactly the same reason. Our unified missions offering supports 10,688 full-time missionaries, and multiplied thousands more in other roles. It helps to get the gospel to more than 120 countries. Last year alone, it supported ministries which led 451,030 people to Jesus.

But missions takes money, more than ever before. So we give generously. What will you give this year?

Love greatly: “Stretch your tent curtains wide.” Open your tent to let others inside. Bring others with you to your Lord. Love them to your God.

The ministers of Nottingham in 1791 considered the heathen to be God’s problem. Their concern was not the souls of others, but the status of their own churches. They wanted not to give to others, but to themselves. They had nothing of God’s love for the world. So the world knew nothing about his love.

Not so with William Carey. He braved swamps swarming with alligators, tigers which threatened to eat him alive, poisonous cobras, malaria, dysentery, and cholera. He went to the world, because he had the love of God on his heart.

We will give and pray and go to the degree that we love. Who will know God’s love because of you this week?

Go sacrificially: “Do not hold back.”

Following God to India cost William Carey the death of his five-year-old son, Peter, from dysentery in their first year. His wife Dorothy never recovered from the blow, and suffered depression and mental illness to the day of her death. His missionary partner, John Thomas, deserted him. His supporters in England began to question his integrity. His son, Felix, died in the years to come, as did his second wife. But through it all, he committed himself sacrificially to God’s call to his field, his mission.

What has it cost you to share God’s love with yours?

Serve expectantly: “Lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.”

Carey said to his fledgling mission society: “Yonder in India is a gold mine. I will descend and dig, but you at home must hold the ropes.” And they did, expecting that God would use them together to change the world.

Lengthen the cords, because more are coming. Strengthen the stakes, because more are at hand. Believe God will use your life beyond your ability to predict or measure. What are you hoping God will do with you this week?

Expect great things from God (v. 3)

In other words, expect great things from God: “You will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities” (v. 3). We will take the world. We’ll take the hope of Christ to all those who are spiritually “desolate,” until they know our God. When you attempt great things for God, then and only then can you expect great things from him.

When Carey arrived in India, he found women sacrificing their children to the Ganges River which they worshipped. Widows were burned along with the bodies of their dead husbands. Lepers were murdered. The nation knew nothing of the love of Jesus and the light of heaven.

The English cobbler translated the entire Bible into six languages and parts of Scripture into 29 others. He founded a mission in India which continues today, and a college which enrolls more than 2,500 students. He brought about reforms of great significance in their society. And God used him to begin a missions movement which continues today and has done more to reach the world than any such movement in all of Christian history.

Within 12 years of the founding of William Carey’s Baptist Missionary Society, five other such societies began. In 1814 the Baptists of America began what is today the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Today 40,000 career Protestant missionaries go to every part of the globe. And more than 48,000 missionaries come from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Historians trace the Modern Missions Movement to one English shoe cobbler and his sermon from our text.

Today 3,500 new churches are born every week around the globe. Some 28,000 persons convert to Christianity every day in Communist China. As many Africans come to Christ each day. South Korea is 30% Christian; Indonesia, officially a Muslim country, is 25% Christian. Missionaries are going where missionaries have never gone in history. God is continuing the “great things” he began in a new way with William Carey. You can “expect great things” from God.

But only if you will “attempt great things” for him. Jeff Lewis challenged us last week to understand that God has called each of us to minister to the nations, starting where we are with those we know. Where will you begin? Where is your India?


It was my privilege to preach recently at the centennial meeting of the Dallas Baptist Association alongside my friend, Dr. Mac Brunson, the pastor of First Baptist Church in our city. In his message, Dr. Brunson made this penetrating statement: “The greatest problem in our churches is not the sin of omission, or the sin of commission, but the sin of no mission.” Don’t commit that sin today.

Where is your mission? What is your field? Who is your India? What great things will you attempt to take Christ there?

I was privileged to preach the Word again in Cuba a week ago. When our team left the farm outside Camaguey where our pastors’ conference was concluding, I witnessed a scene I will never forget. As we drove away in our air-conditioned Mercedes van, open-bed diesel trucks began to arrive. They had boards on the sides, and no seats. I watched as pastors helped their wives and luggage onto those trucks, so they could ride standing up in the diesel fumes, the dust of their dirt roads, the 90-degree heat and humidity, for four or five or six hours to go to their fields of service.

What will you do to go to yours?

East and West

East and West

Joshua 22:1-34

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We can know the love only God gives.

Goal: Receive and give the love only God can offer.

A man’s wife died, and the first night after the memorial service was hard for him and his son. The boy got into bed with his father. They lay in the dark, but the boy could not fall asleep. Finally he said, “Dad, is your face turned toward me? I think I can go to sleep, if I know your face is turned toward me.” “Yes,” his father answered, “I’m looking right at you.” Soon the boy drifted off the sleep. The father got out of bed, walked over to the window, and looked up into the heavens. “God,” he said, “is your face turned toward me?”

God not only turned his face towards us, he took ours as his own. He put on our flesh, walked our planet, breathed our air, faced our sins, felt our pain. We could not come to him, so he came to us.

Advent means “to come,” and marks the pilgrimage of God from heaven to earth, from throne room to feed trough, from the worship of angels to the wonder of shepherds. The decision made before the world began that our Creator would be named Immanuel, “God with us.” History is filled with men who would be gods, but only one God who would be man.

In this study, we will remember the fact that true love is given only by this God. Not a single one of us can predict with certainty what will happen next year, or even if we will live to see next week. When Advent began last year, who of us knew that Iraq would fall this year or the largest power outage in world history would befall us? Think of events in your own life which were beyond predicting a year ago. If we would seek that love which transcends circumstances and crises, we must go to the only One who can give it.

Our study finds the infant nation of Israel facing the gravest threat to its future it has yet known. An objective reporter standing on the sidelines of the crisis would likely have predicted disaster for this fragile union of nomadic tribes. What the Canaanites could not do to the people of God, they almost did to themselves. But at the end of the story, they found a love for each other which had its origin in their Lord. Through our encounter with their story, may we discover the same.

Where do you most need to be loved? Where can your class most profit from a study on this vital theme? Ask the One who inspired our text to guide you in sharing his love with those entrusted to your care this week.

Love God before you walk with him (22:1-9)

Finally the land had peace, for “the Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers” (21:44). Now it was time for the armies of the tribes settled east of the Jordan to return home.

They had done all that God had commanded them to do (v. 2), having carried out their mission “for a long time” (v. 3). At last they could return to the land given to them by the Lord (v. 4).

But they must keep his commandments and laws as they left. Here are five:

•To love the Lord your God—”love” here means to desire or breathe after, to long for someone as your first and highest love.

•To walk in all his ways—”walk” means to live, and encompasses attitudes, words, and actions.

•To obey his commands; this is still Jesus’ description of true love (John 14:15).

•To “hold fast” to him—the words describe the wedding union, and call us to the deepest and most intimate communion with our Lord.

•To “serve him with all your heart and all your soul” (v. 5). The Greeks would later divide human nature into body, soul and spirit; the Hebrews always thought of man as a unity. It is not that we “have” a body, soul and spirit, but that we “are” body, soul, and spirit. Heart and soul here refer to two different ways of seeing the one person—the “heart” is the center of the will, emotions, and actions, while the “soul” describes the spiritual dimension by which the heart is to be led.

These were the priorities assigned to them by God. Only by knowing these commandments could they truly walk with their Lord.

Now they could return with “great wealth:” large herds of livestock, silver, gold, bronze, iron, and great quantities of clothing. This they could “divide with your brothers” (v. 8). Contrast their possessions in Egypt as oppressed slaves with the blessings God bestowed on those who were faithful to receive all he intended to give. And so the eastern tribes returned home to walk in the commandments and will of the God they had agreed to follow.

We cannot walk in the will of God unless we first know that will. It is possible to be sincerely wrong, to drive east when we are certain we’re driving west, to take the wrong medicine in good faith, to think we are serving God when we are not.

Suicide bombers in Israel and America have thought they were doing the will of Allah, but Islam is almost universally agreed that they were not. The medieval Crusaders were convinced they were serving their Lord by slaughtering Muslims, but we know that they were tragically wrong. The followers of David Koresh died for a lie and a liar; the men who fought for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan were serving a traitor to their faith; those loyal to Saddam Hussein in Iraq were followers of the man who destroyed their country and stole their freedom.

Before you try to walk with God, first renew your love for him. This is his first and greatest desire for your heart. Like any father, our Lord most wants from his children their love. How long has it been since you gave him yours?

Seek God before you work for him (22:10, 21-29)

Now came a decision which would threaten the very alliance forged in years of shared battle, sacrifice, and victory.

The eastern tribes “came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan” (v. 10a), most likely a site due east of Shiloh, the location where the tabernacle of God had been placed in the Promised Land. Here they “built an imposing altar there by the Jordan” (v. 10b). “Imposing” translates a Hebrew word which means “large in appearance.”

Constructing this structure was not part of God’s revelation to the people through Moses or Joshua. It had no place in the law or its interpretation. The eastern tribes moved ahead of God and his will, choosing a strategy born of their own reason and will. And their decision led the tribes to the west to gather for war against them, assuming an idolatrous action on their part.

The actual motive of the eastern tribes was meritorious and understandable: so that the descendants of the twelve tribes would be able to look across the Jordan, see the altar built there, and know that the eastern tribes were part of their nation and their faith (vs. 24-28).

When confronted, they proclaimed “The Mighty One, God the Lord!” (v. 22a). They were willing to die if they had acted in rebellion or disobedience (v. 22b). If their altar were intended to replace the tabernacle at Shiloh, “may the Lord himself call us to account” (v. 23). Their confession of faith was powerful and persuasive: “Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle” (v. 29).

Their problem was not with the motive of their action, but its origin. By stepping ahead of the will and word of God, they risked a war which could have ended their tribal alliance and destroyed their nation. Their action, while commendable in purpose, was unnecessary to the future; not once in all of recorded Scripture did the altar built by these tribes ever serve the purpose which its creators intended.

God’s word shows us that well-intentioned impatience is a pattern of human nature, with tragic consequences. If Abram and Sarai had waited on God for their child, could the centuries of enmity between the heirs of Ishmael and Isaac have been avoided? If Moses had not murdered the Egyptian, would he have been banished to the desert for 40 years? If Peter had not promised prideful loyalty to Christ, would he have denied his Lord three times?

Is there a place in your life where patience is required of your faith? Where you must continue to pray, though it seems you are not answered? Where you must continue to serve, though it seems your ministry is not as effective as you had hoped? Where you must continue to trust God for his provision, though you cannot see its result?

God waits to guide his people into a future filled with promise and purpose. But if we get ahead of him, he may not follow. He would rather lead us than fix us. His hope for tomorrow is predicated on our obedience today. Rather than asking God to bless our decisions and work, the eastern tribes would teach us to seek his will before we begin such work.

If we truly love our Father, we want our work to honor him. And so we seek his will and search his word before we begin our work. Before you teach this lesson, will you first take such a step on your knees?

Consult God before you war for him (22:11-20)

The self-reliant act of the eastern tribes led to an equally self-initiated response by those on the west of the Jordan.

They understandably assumed that the altar built by the eastern tribes was an act of idolatry, as no such altar had been requested or required by the Lord. And they had seen the consequence of such idolatry in their past. The “sin of Peor” (v. 17) was idolatry born of sexual immorality with Moabite women (Numbers 25:1-9). Before its punishment had ended, 24,000 died in a plague from the hand of God (v. 9). Such consequence continued to the present (Joshua 22:17).

They remembered as well the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:1-26) which resulted in military defeat for the entire nation at the hands of Ai. They rightly feared that such disobedience on the part of the eastern tribes would lead to the destruction of all the people.

And so “the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them” (v. 12). They sought to obey Moses’ command to deal severely with such acts of apparent idolatry (Leviticus 17:8-9; Deuteronomy 13:12-15). But the result would have been a civil war which would have led to the deaths of thousands of Israelites. The surrounding peoples would likely have rallied against those who survived such a war, and led an attack, which could have destroyed the entire nation. All this because they misjudged the motives of the eastern tribes. And because they did not consult their Lord before they went to war for him. As with the Gibeonite deception (Joshua 9), the leaders “did not inquire of the Lord” (v. 14).

It is noteworthy that Joshua is nowhere mentioned in this narrative. Rather, “the Israelites sent Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the priest,” along with “ten of the chief men, one for each of the tribes of Israel” to confront the eastern tribes (vs. 13-14). Phinehas had earlier shown himself faithful to God when the nation was tempted at Peor, which may be why he was chosen for this responsibility.

Perhaps Joshua had already retired to Timnath Serah (19:50). Perhaps he did not know of this crisis, though such is unlikely. Perhaps the leaders of the nation consulted him, received counsel of patience and prayer, and rejected it. We don’t know what role, if any, he played in their decision. But we do know that their decision nearly destroyed the nation he had spent his life helping to build.

If the evil one cannot get us to do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, he will tempt us to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Congregations across the Kingdom of God know of slander and gossip repeated as well-intentioned concern for the person or the issue. We watch as decisions affecting church families are made by sincere leaders on the basis of human wisdom rather than divine revelation. We listen as well-meaning denominational executives speak unwise words which implicate the churches they serve.

The old carpenter’s advice is still sound: measure twice, saw once. Before you make your next decision, pray first. Then pray again. Do not step into battle until you are certain you are following the word of the Lord. He waits to grant his hope to all who trust his guidance. But he can only give such victories to those who fight in his will.

If we would love each other as our Father loves us, we must find the source for such forgiving grace in the word and leading of our Lord. Where has someone hurt you this week? This year? Where are you tempted to respond in kind? The love which looks past the hand to the heart, which sees in a fallen human being a soul esteemed by its Maker, is God’s gift to us. And our gift to each other.

Conclusion (22:30-34)

By the grace of God, the crisis was averted. Philehas spoke words of peace and hope to the eastern tribes, then brought the same report to the tribes of the west. The nation was “glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them” (v. 33).

With this result: the eastern tribes named their altar “A Witness Between Us that the Lord is God” (v. 34). An altar which stood for the forgiving grace given only by their Lord. Love he offers to all who will yield to his word and trust in his will.

You and I serve a society tempted to lose heart. We have ongoing threats of terror attacks, with no reason to believe that such tragedy will end soon. Memories of loved ones lost across the past year bring back pain we thought had diminished. Lonely days in a new city or in new circumstances drag by. It is tempting to practice our faith by sight, trusting in our own wisdom or experience or abilities. It is easier to get ahead of God than to wait on him. But he offers healing grace to all who will place their hurt in his hands, and to all who will share such a gift with others.

Geoffrey T. Bull was a missionary held captive by Chinese Communists. He later wrote about his experience, including this episode:

“After a meal, and when it was already dark, it was necessary for me to go downstairs to give more hay to the horses. Chien permitted my going and I clambered down the notched tree trunk to the lower floor, which was given over in the usual manner to stabling. Below, it was absolutely pitch black. My boots squelched in the manure and straw on the floor, and the fetid smell of the animals was nauseating. I felt my way among the mules and horses, expecting to be kicked at any moment. What a place, I thought.

“Then, as I continued to grope my way in the darkness toward the gray, it suddenly flashed into my mind, ‘What’s today?’ I thought for a moment. In traveling, the days had become a little muddled in my mind. Then it came to me, ‘It’s Christmas Eve.’ I stood still, suddenly still, in that oriental manger. To think that my Savior was born in a place like this. To think that He came all the way from Heaven to some wretched eastern stable and, what is more, to think that He came for me. How men beautify the cross and the crib, as if to hide the fact that at birth we resigned Him to the stench of beasts, and at death exposed Him to the shame of rogues. God forgive us.”

He already has.

Gideon’s Deception

Gideon’s Deception

Joshua 9:1-27

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We must refuse all worldly covenants if we would belong fully to God.

Goal: Choose Christ as your only Lord, and identify specific changes this decision will require.

Jennifer Johnson banged her hands on the steering wheel. “I can’t believe it!” she screamed out loud. She’d run out of gas. It was dark, and she was scared. She was in a part of town where there had been riots only the week before. She could barely see outlines of large warehouses, railroad tracks, and chain link fences. She looked for a telephone, service station, anything. She saw nothing, and was scared.

Then she saw him, and the hair stood up on the back of her neck. Her heart raced. In the middle of the street, coming straight at her, she could see a man approaching. “Maybe he won’t see me,” she prayed. But then he was at her window. He tapped the glass and yelled something, but she was instantly hysterical: “Get away. Leave me alone. Don’t bother me.”

He yelled louder, and knocked harder. He raced around the car and tried all the doors. She blew the horn and screamed, and he was gone. But in a moment he returned, carrying a long, thick board. He tried to say something to her, but she screamed, drowning out his voice. He battered the driver’s side window with the board until it shattered. In an instant he reached in, unlocked the door, opened it, and grabbed Jennifer. She hit him and kicked furiously until his nose and face were bleeding, but he pulled her from the car and dragged her away.

About 40 feet from the car, he suddenly dropped her. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, but she was terrified. She backed away from him until she ran into a fence. He had not moved. He tried to speak but she screamed, “Leave me alone. Go away.” He stood there for a second, and then walked slowly away.

She sat trembling. Then a strange noise caught her attention. Lights began to flash in the night. The ground began to shake. The noise grew louder, and came closer. In an instant she saw it. A train roared past a few feet from where she sat, crashed into her car, and dragged it scraping and banging into the darkness.

Then she realized: the man knew about the coming train. He was not trying to hurt her—he was trying to save her.

So it is with the will of God. What looks unfair, or punitive, or unreasonable, is not if it comes from the hand of an all-loving, all-powerful Father. A parent who forbids illegal drug use is not punishing his child, but protecting her. When we allow our children to compromise with that which will destroy them, we share the blame for their pain.

And so the God of Israel forbade his people to make treaties with the sinful, idolatrous people living in their Promised Land. He warned them again and again that such pagan alliances would poison them spiritually. His warning is as relevant to us as it was to them. We are to be in the world, but not of it. When the ship is in the water, all is well; when the water is in the ship, disaster is on the way.

C. S. Lewis remarked that any time we live for “Christianity and…”, whatever is on the other side of “and” inevitably supersedes that which precedes it. Are there places in your life where compromise with sin exists? How can you help your class yield themselves fully and only to God?

Expect opposition (vs. 1-2)

As we noted last week, the people of God are in a constant spiritual battle. Augustine was right: there is a city of God and a city of the enemy. They are locked in perennial struggle. But Satan cannot hurt the Lord of the universe, so he attacks his children. He knows that this is always the best way to hurt any loving parent. An African proverb says it well: when elephants fight, the grass always loses.

So expect the enemy to attack. As my youth minister used to say, if you and the devil are not in opposition, you’re probably in partnership. When the kings west of the Jordan heard about Israel’s victory over Jericho and Ai, they “came together to make war against Joshua and Israel” (v. 2). They came from the central mountain area, the rocky plateaus to the west, and the seacoast further west, comprising the largest portion of land in the region. And they formed a new strategy, becoming a new kind of enemy.

No longer would Israel have the privilege of fighting against a single army, one city at a time. Now they would face the combined forces of their opponents. But as great as this threat appeared to be, it would not pose the long-term threat the nation faced through the deception recorded in this week’s study.

You and I can assume that the enemy will attack us. We read only three chapters of God’s word before we find Satan deceiving our parents. Abel would face death at the hands of his brother Cain. Moses would withstand the assaults of Pharaoh and the mightiest army the world had ever seen. Daniel would face his lions, and his companions their fiery furnace.

Peter and the apostles would stand before their Sanhedrin. Paul would deal with his Judaizers and eventually his emperor. John would suffer on his Patmos. Jesus warned us that tribulation is inevitable (John 16:33). So expect opposition. The enemy is coming after you. A lion roars when he is about to pounce (1 Pt 5:8). You don’t have to find him—he’ll find you.

Beware deception (vs. 3-15)

Those enemies who attack us spiritually are a constant and predictable threat (cf. Ephesians 6:12). But our even more dangerous opponents are those who appear to be our friends. Because Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), “it is not surprising if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (v. 15).

So with the Gibeonites in this week’s study. The city of “Gibeon” meant “pertaining to a hill,” indicating its strategic height and location. Located eight miles north by northwest from Jerusalem, the area is known as “El-Jib” today. The city controlled the access routes into southern Canaan, toward Joppa and the seacoast.

Upon hearing the fate of Jericho and Ai, these residents “resorted to a ruse” (v. 4). They sent messengers to Joshua, made to appear as though they had traveled a long distance (v. 6). The Jews knew all about such wanderings, and could sympathize. Whether they knew it or not, their pretended distance of travel made them eligible for leniency on the part of Israel. According to Deuteronomy 20:10-18, the Jews were required to destroy completely the neighboring peoples, but were allowed to enslave those living further away, sparing their lives.

Strengthening their appeal, they claimed to know of “the fame of the Lord your God.” “Fame” is a broad term meaning God’s name, character, power, actions and feats. Just as Rahab had believed the reports about Israel’s God, so with these from Gibeon. They knew the fate of Sihon (cf. Numbers 21:21-35) and Og (cf. Deuteronomy 2:26-3:17). They wanted to serve such a powerful God and his chosen people.

Joshua and the leaders listened carefully and skeptically to their story (v. 7, 8). They “sampled their provisions” (v. 14a) to check the evidence. Then Joshua made a “treaty of peace with them to let them live” (v. 15a). Given that the nation had conferred no autocratic power or throne on their military general, “the leaders of the assembly” were required to ratify his commitment by oath. And they did (v. 15b).

This “treaty” was a legally binding agreement, a covenant. Such commitments usually involved the exchange of gifts (cf. Abraham and Abimelech, Genesis 21:22-34). And they typically required an animal sacrifice. An animal was cut in half; those making the covenant would pass between the halves. Symbolically, they were promising that they would accept such a fate for themselves if they did not keep their part of the covenant.

This treaty was a direct violation of the word of God requiring destruction of every people living in the Promised Land (cf. Deuteronomy 7:1-6; 20:16-18). It cost the nation a city of significant size, possessions, and military significance (Joshua 10:2: “Gibeon was an important city, like one of the royal cities; it was larger than Ai”). So why did Joshua and the leaders commit such a strategic sin?

Because they “did not inquire of the Lord” (Joshua 9:14). Here we find the key phrase in this week’s study, one of the most significant spiritual truths in the entire book of Joshua. The general had been trained in the use of the Urim and Thummim for determining the will of God (cf. Numbers 27:18-21). He could have taken the time to consult God in this way, or simply to pray for direction. But neither he nor the nation’s leaders did. And so they were all deceived.

What happened to them can happen to us. There is no sin you and I cannot commit. If they could get ahead of God, so can we. Human nature does not change, which explains why the Bible is still relevant, 35 centuries after this event occurred. And one reason why this story is in the text: to warn us, so that we don’t make the same mistake. Don’t get ahead of God—he may not follow.

If Satan cannot enter the house through the front door of temptation, he will try the side door of deceit. He is just as happy to appeal to our highest motives as to our basest. The children of Israel did not wish to annihilate every nation they met, but only to be obedient to God’s word. And so their enemy used their instincts for peace against them.

Our strengths are so often our weaknesses. I have known ministers whose compassion for hurting people led them into inappropriate counseling relationships. One pastor I know is so gifted administratively that he runs his church dictatorially. A worship leader of my acquaintance is so gifted musically that his ministry is more about performance than service. What are your greatest gifts and abilities for spiritual service? How can they be used to distract you from God’s will for your life?

When we enter a dark room, we know it; when someone dims the lights slowly, our eyes adjust to the darkness. A frog placed in boiling water will jump out of the pot; dropped into lukewarm water, he’ll swim around while we turn up the water until he boils. Expect opposition you’ll recognize as the enemy, and that which you won’t.

Ask God to redeem your mistakes (vs. 16-27)

God’s will for our lives is good and perfect (Romans 12:2). It is therefore crucial that we find and follow his intended plan for us. However, God can still redeem our mistakes and failures, so that we are never beyond his grace.

I used to envision the will of God as a high-wire; falling off would condemn me to second-class status in his sovereign purpose. Now I know that his will is typically more like a map than a tightrope. While there is usually a best way for me to proceed, he will not abandon me when I turn into a side street. Rather, he will still be my shepherd until he leads me home.

This fact is something of a logical paradox. If the Lord has a perfect will for us, anything less is tragically imperfect. And yet he turns even our failures into victories, when we place our mistakes into his hands. The “solution” to the dilemma is the fact that even confessed sin bears consequences. We can pull a nail out of the wall, but the hole remains. And every hour spent in sin is an hour lost to eternal reward for faithful obedience.

The Jewish leaders came to understand this law of unintended consequences first-hand. Not long after making their treaty with the deceptive Gibeonites, they heard reports that their new covenant partners were in fact their neighbors (v. 16). Their response was commendable. Rather than ignore this news, or accept it at face value, they explored the matter for themselves (v. 17). And they found that it was true. The Gibeonites were indeed from the nearby city bearing their name; from Kephirah, eight or nine miles west of Gibeon; from Beeroth, eight miles north of Jerusalem; and from Kiriath-Jearim, six miles east of Jerusalem. They were part of the Hivite population, precisely the people the Lord had promised to drive out before them (Joshua 3:10).

The Jewish leaders could easily have taken such exploratory steps before entering their treaty. But at least they admitted their failure, and took steps to remedy it as far as possible.

They kept their oath, preserving the honor of their Lord’s name (Exodus 20:7) and their own integrity (Leviticus 19:12). Centuries later, the Psalmist would ask, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” And he would answer, “who keeps his oath even when it hurts” (Psalm 15:1, 4). When Saul later violated this oath, the Lord punished the people with famine (2 Samuel 21:1-9).

Such honor came at a price: “the whole assembly grumbled against the leaders” (Joshua 9:18). The people were understandably upset that their leaders had missed the will of God. And they were especially frustrated that they would not be able to inherit the Gibeonite lands, a significant agricultural and military procession.

But the leaders stood firm. And they sought a way to redeem the situation by turning the Gibeonites into their servants: “let them be woodcutters and water carriers for the entire community” (v. 21). When Joshua confronted them, the Gibeonites admitted their ruse and its reasons (vs. 22-24), and surrendered themselves to enslavement (v. 25). And so Joshua spared their lives and made them into perpetual servants (v. 27). These Hivites were descendants of Ham; their slavery fulfilled Noah’s curse on their progenitor (Genesis 9:25). But it also brought them into the covenant community of God.

The Lord would redeem Joshua’s mistake in remarkable ways over the coming generations. As woodcutters and water carriers, the Gibeonites’ primary responsibility was to the sacrifices which occurred inside the tabernacle. And so they and their region were assigned to the priestly family of Aaron (21:17), and became a training center for the priests of God. Eventually Kiriath-jearim, the fourth town of their confederacy (9:17), would be home to the Ark of the Covenant for some 20 years. One of King David’s closest friends would be “Ishmaiah the Gibeonite, a mighty man” (1 Chronicles 12:4). By the time of Nehemiah, a thousand years later, the Gibeonites could prove their racial heritage as part of Israel (Nehemiah 7:25).

And perhaps most noteworthy of all, the young King Solomon would travel to Gibeon to offer “a thousand burnt offerings on that altar” (1 Kings 3:4). Here he would receive his vision from God granting him the greatest wisdom and wealth in history.

God redeemed Joshua’s mistake for the good of the nation. It is never too late to return home to such a Father and friend.


We must refuse to be conformed to the pattern and values of the world (Romans 12:1). Israel was the only nation in the world to have a “treaty” with the Lord, and was obligated to honor it before any covenant with any other people. We now live in the “new covenant” made possible by Jesus’ atoning death for our sins. We are granted the grace of God (Romans 5:21), so that we have died to sin (Romans 6:2). To compromise with the enemies of God is to betray God. What if a nation had a military treaty with us and with our enemies? With NATO and with al-Qaeda?

Recent bestsellers tell the story of our self-sufficient, self-centered culture: Looking Out for Number 1; Pulling Your Own Strings; Winning Through Intimidation; and Unlimited Power are just some titles we could cite. But God’s Kingdom stands opposed to this fallen world. If we would be in his will, we must live in absolute obedience to his word.

Where does this lesson find you spiritually today? Are there Gibeonites living in your home? Treaties with the enemies of God being signed by your values and priorities? What parts of the culture most tempt you to compromise? What areas are most difficult for those you will teach this weekend? Where is our church most likely to be deceived?

A very dear friend in our congregation recently sent me a perceptive and challenging note: “Pondering our church and its mission in life, I was drawn to what we aren’t. Contrary to popular belief:

We are not a benevolence institution.

We are not a banking institution.

We are not a political institution.

We are not a tax shelter.

We are not a performance hall.

We are not a corporation.

We are not a health club.

We are not a social club.

We are not an exclusive club.

We are not a club at all.

We are not a group of businessmen and women operating a business.

We are not ‘the keepers of tradition.’

We are the ‘church,’ the body of Christ himself. Period. Nothing else matters.

We have one purpose and one alone: helping people find and follow Jesus. Anything which hinders that purpose is not of God. Any questions?” I have none.

At youth camp this past summer, I told again one of my favorite stories, an account I first heard from my pastor many years ago. It concerns a very famous English pastor, a preacher much in demand and honored for his pulpit skills. After accepting yet another speaking engagement in a distant church, he began searching for someone to fill his pulpit on the particular Sunday he would be gone. Oddly enough, no one he knew was available. Every friend or contact he called was otherwise occupied.

He shared his dilemma with the church’s deacons, and one of them mentioned a young man who had just graduated from the local seminary. The deacon had never heard him preach, but thought he might be available. And he was. So the famous pastor preached in the distant church, while the neophyte filled his magnificent pulpit.

Returning home late that afternoon, the pastor asked his wife how the services had gone in his home congregation. To his shock, she replied honestly that the young preacher’s sermon had been the most powerful she had ever heard. Ego damaged, the famous pastor theorized that the new seminary graduate must have been working on that one sermon for years, and would likely have no others. So he called him that afternoon, inviting him to preach again in his church that night. The young man accepted, and the older pastor was there to hear him. When the message was completed, the famous preacher had to admit to himself that he had just heard the most powerful, life-transforming message of his life.

Now even more troubled, he followed the young preacher to his hotel room, entered without knocking, and found the man on his knees in prayer. He went to the point: “I want to know the secret to the preaching I heard tonight.” The seminary graduate stood to his feet, smiled, and said, “There’s no secret. It’s just that every key I have, I’ve given to God.”

The older pastor went home to bed. Before falling asleep he prayed, “Lord, I, too, want to give you every key of my life.” He fell asleep, and dreamed. According to his later autobiography, in his dream an angel came to his bedside with a keyring in his hand. He said to the famous pastor, “You told the Lord just now that you wish to give him every key you have. I’ve come to take those keys.”

In his dream, the pastor considered the situation. Then he reached into his heart and pulled out a key to an area of his life he had never totally dedicated to the Lord. He gave it to the angel, who clipped it on his key ring. He then pulled out a second key, and a third. Several more followed, each given over to God. Finally he stopped.

The angel asked if that was all the keys; he said it was. The angel asked if he was sure. He replied, “Well, there’s one more, but it’s small and insignificant. I didn’t want to bother you with it.” In his dream, the angel handed back the key ring and said, “All or none.”

The famous preacher thought for a while. Then he pulled out that last key. He thought it would be tiny, but discovered it to be larger than any of the other keys. He gave it to the angel, who clipped it onto the key ring and left.

The next Sunday, a spiritual movement began in that famous pastor’s church. A movement which touched hundreds and churches and thousands of souls. All because one man decided he to live above compromise, giving every key to God.

What is in your heart now?

God Fights for Israel

God Fights for Israel

Joshua 10:1-12:24

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We must attack the enemy to win spiritual victory.

Goal: Identify a ministry initiative to attempt.

The scene is one of the most dramatic locations on earth. Standing 1150 feet above sea level, the massive rock outcropping is the largest I’ve ever seen, gray with streaks of metallic brown, flat and imposing. And towering above it is a gigantic cliff, dwarfing the valley below in every direction.

High up on that cliff our tour group could see a cave, the famous “Gates of Hades.” This cave leads to a shaft which bores down through the mountain and this plateau on which it stands, deep into the earth. That shaft is so deep that its bottom has never been found. Even the most sophisticated measuring devices have not been able to determine its absolute depth. I will never forget standing on that rock at Caesarea Philippi, looking up at the Gates of Hades.

As I stared in awe, my mind traveled back to a time when another man stood where I was this day. As he looked around himself he could feel the religious significance of the place.

Just a short distance away stood the brilliant white marble temple built by Herod the Great as an altar to the worship of Caesar, hence the name of the place, “Caesarea.” Beneath his feet was that cavern where the Greeks said Pan, their god of nature, was born. Scattered around the place were fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite fertility god, where the Syrians worshiped. Somewhere below was one of the origins of the Jordan River, the holiest river in all the Jewish faith, the water Joshua and the people walked through to inherit the Promised Land. And he thought of his own Jewish traditions and worship.

On this gigantic rock, standing in the midst of temples to every kind of god known to his culture, this man hears a Galilean carpenter ask, “Who do you say that I am?” And this man, standing where I stood, declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And he hears the Galilean say, “I will build my church.” Then, pointing to the cave towering above them, dwarfing this small group of peasants gathered below, he claims, “Even the Gates of Hell will not withstand your assault” (Mt 16:13-18).

Many Christians miss the analogy. It is common to think of the church as an ark, built to withstand the floods which surround us. Or a fortress, erected to provide safe haven amidst the attacks of enemy armies from our fallen world. But it is not. The church is an army, created to attack Hell. Commissioned to take the gospel to the world. Called to assault the enemy, wherever we find him.

Retreat is not an option.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president, he faced a nation mired in Great Depression, with world war clouds gathering on the horizon. The economy was in retreat; discouragement was epidemic; some were beginning to question the future of the American experiment with democracy. But the new president, himself crippled by polio, taught us a lesson we’ll remember so long as America lives: we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Had America retreated from her challenges and opportunities, what would have happened to Europe? To us?

In war, initiative is everything. If Joshua and his people had waited at the Jordan River until there was no water to brave, they’d be waiting there still. If they had waited at Jericho and Ai until the residents gave them the keys to their cities, they’d be waiting still. We are called to attack, to initiate, to find ways to take the good news of God’s love to our fallen city and world. And retreat is not an option.

Sitting on a bedside in East Malaysia while on a summer missions tour in 1979, I was asked by veteran missionary Chuck Morris if I would consider a career in missions. My reply: “I’d go if God opened the door.” Chuck pointed his finger at me and said, “No, go unless God closes the door.” It was a prophetic moment.

What ministry will you initiate this week? What will your class do to help someone follow Jesus, because you have taught them the truths of this text? To win the battle, we must engage the enemy. And retreat is not an option.

Pay the price of victory (10:1-15)

The oath Joshua and the leaders of the nation made with the Gibeonites would soon be tested. Our word and integrity will always face adversity. The rain proves the foundation (Matthew 7.24-27). But God is ready to transform and redeem any situation trusted to his care (Romans 8.28).

The Amorite kings in the region learned of Gibeon’s treaty with Joshua, and likely feared that it would be the first of many dominoes to fall. If such a formidable city and army would choose slavery to Israel over armed assault, who might follow their example? Thus their combined strategy against Joshua and his army, a gambit born of desperation (vs. 1-4).

It is ironic that their assault was initiated by the king of “Jerusalem.” The name means “Foundation of Peace,” but it was given to the city centuries after Joshua by King David. In Joshua’s day the city was known as Jebus, “City of the Jebusites” (cf. 2 Samuel 5:6ff). The writer/editor of our text used the name by which the city was known to Jewish history. In time, the “city of peace” would welcome and then crucify the Prince of Peace, that he might bring peace on earth and goodwill to mankind.

When the Amorites united against Gibeon, these slaves of Joshua appealed to their master for help. And God’s general responded by taking immediate initiative, choosing the best men and summoning his entire army for response. The Lord again exhorted him to courage, and promised that their fate had already been determined. They marched the 30 miles from Gilgal west to Gibeon, climbing some 3,000 feet of elevation, completing in one night what had earlier been a three-day journey (9:17). And so they surprised their enemy (v. 9) and won the victory.

Joshua took the initiative. Our spiritual armor has no back side (Eph 6:13-17). In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian had just begun to wear his new spiritual armor when he saw the fiend Apollyon coming toward him: “The sight of him filled Christian with fear, and he began to wonder what he should do. Should he go back in haste, or stand his ground, going calmly on his way, as if he had no fears? Then it occurred to him that he had no armor for his back, and to turn his back to the enemy would give him the opportunity to pierce his back with darts. He decided to hold his ground and keep straight on his way; that would demonstrate his faith, uphold his principles, and be safer for his person than turning and running away.” Christian chose wisely.

So did Joshua. His drove their foes into the surrounding mountains, where their chariots could not be used. When we rely on our chariots, we fail. When we rely on our Lord and his call to attack, we succeed. As a result, the Israeli army pursued the mightiest foe they had yet faced, all the way back to their cities and homelands. Their enemy’s “confusion” (v. 10) is better translated “terror.” And God sent hailstones which killed more than the swords of the Israelites. The Canaanites, who worshiped deities of nature and the skies, must have thought that their gods were aiding the Israelites or being defeated by their god.

Then Joshua demonstrated a boldness of faith such as the world had never before seen (v. 12). Perhaps he prayed for the sun to “stand still” so his men could fight in extended daylight, or so that nightfall would not enable the enemy’s retreat. Whatever his motivation, God answered his prayer (vs. 13-14).

The Hebrew words can mean that the sun was “stopped in its path,” so that the earth’s rotation was halted. Or they can mean that the sun’s rays were stopped, so that the day was not longer but cooler. Many attempts have been made to reconcile this record of the stopped sun with known astrological data. Options suggested include a solar eclipse, divine reshaping of solar rays, or the darkness produced by the hailstorm mentioned just earlier. Some have noted that no other reference to this phenomenon is to be found in biblical or ancient histories, so that the event may have been optical in nature and confined to Joshua’s army and location.

But all such speculation is irrelevant. If God could stop the flooded Jordan and collapse the walls of Jericho, he could stop the sun as well. Whatever happened must have been miraculous, for “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!” (v. 14).

This was the third and final great miracle recorded in the book of Joshua. It was “written in the Book of Jashar” as well (v. 13). “Jashar” means “upright” or “righteous,” so that this was the “book of the righteous.” It is referenced one other time in the Bible, when it records the lament of David for Saul and Jonathan upon their deaths (2 Samuel 1:18). Never included in Scripture, it was a source for the biblical writers, and may have been a song book or volume of praises and laments. The “Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21.14-15) is another example of such historical records kept by the people.

Joshua marched his army all night, so they could surprise their enemy. He and his men paid an enormous price to initiate this battle, armed with the assurance and power of God. There will always be a price to pay in initiative, preparation, and sacrifice. But the results will be worth their cost.

William Barclay was right: we progress in life in proportion to the fare we are prepared to pay. John Wesley’s life motto is worth our adoption: “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can.”

Martin Luther preached several times each week, wrote books and taught the Scriptures. By his death, the Reformation he sparked had spread across Europe. He translated the entire Bible, creating the modern German language in so doing. He published more than 400 pamphlets and books, 37 hymns, and 2,300 sermons. He also organized a new church with revised liturgy and a new system of government. He often said, “If I rest, I rust.” And he commented, “If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business I cannot get on without three hours daily in prayer.”

Victory will always come at a higher price than defeat. It is easy to lose, but hard to win. We must seize the initiative, and pay any price to win the day. If we will march all night, God will stop the sun all day.

Turn difficulty into destiny (10:16-42)

Standing before the 1936 Democratic National Convention on June 27, 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” Out of the hardships of the Great War and the Great Depression would come the Greatest Generation. All because they were led to turn difficulty into destiny.

In the same way, Israel did not begin this war but she would end it. And Joshua would turn the difficulties presented by the conflict into fulfillment of the nation’s destiny. How can we do the same?

Refuse distractions (vs. 16-19)

Joshua’s army trapped the five kings who had led the attack against the children of Israel. But they refused to be distracted from total victory, imprisoning them in the cave they had used for shelter, until they could deal with them later.

Keep the main thing the main thing. Keep your focus on the purpose before you. When Lee Iacocca was chairman of the Chrysler Corporation and attempting to lead the carmaker out of bankruptcy, he discovered that he had to remind his full-time employees of their vision and purpose every 28 days. Managers do things right; leaders do the right thing. Keep the “right thing” front and center.

Share the rewards (vs. 20-25)

After defeating the retreating armies of their enemy, Joshua’s men then returned to the kings they had imprisoned, and led them captive back to Gilgal and Joshua. This was a moment of remarkable success and significance for Israel’s general. Imagine Hitler and Emperor Hirohito dragged before President Roosevelt. The picture would be engraved on the nation’s imagination still.

This was a unique opportunity for Joshua to claim the glory of the victory he had courageously led his people to achieve. But he refused. Instead, he called the leaders of the various army legions forward. He ordered them to put their feet on the necks of their enemies, an ancient show of conquering power. He honored them. And they honored him.

A basic fact of leadership is that we can do anything in life if we don’t care who gets the credit. Lao-Tzu was right: the best leader is the one whose people say, “we did it.” When we lead those entrusted to our influence to spiritual victory, we must share the rewards, distribute the recognition, honor those who are deserving of gratitude. Keith Parks, former president of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, made this his basic rule for leadership: if something goes wrong, I did it. If something goes right, we did it.

One day Jesus will “reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15.25). Then we will share the rewards of our faithfulness for all eternity.

Set the example (vs. 26-27)

Joshua gave his men the privilege of sharing in the victory. But when the time came for the hardest work, the most gruesome task, he fulfilled it himself. By executing the enemy kings personally, he set an example of courage and conviction for his men to follow.

We cannot lead others further than we are willing to go. In leadership, example is not the main thing—it is the only thing. Effective leaders turn difficulty into destiny by doing the difficult thing first. And setting the example themselves.

Here we find a leadership paradox. The most effective time managers are those who do only that which only they can do. If another member of the team can fulfill a task, they should. Conversely, we must give those who follow us an example which inspires their support and mobilizes their commitment.

Finish strong (vs. 28-42)

The success of a military campaign, or a leadership strategy, cannot be determined until the last enemy is defeated. The side which begins well does not always end well. If World War II had ended as it began, I might be writing these words in German. Finishing strong is more than a life motto—it is essential to lasting legacy and success.

So it was with Joshua and the Southern Campaign. Joshua 10 lists the battles in order, each an unqualified success: Makkedah (28), Libnah (29-30), Lachish (whose king Horam was the most powerful in the region, as documented by archaeological discoveries in the area) and Gezer (31-33), Eglon (34-35), Hebron (36-37), and Debir (38-39). And so the entire southern region, from Kadesh Barnea in the south to Gaza in the north, was conquered because “the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel” (v. 42). A chapter which began with the greatest threat Israel had faced in Canaan, ended with the greatest string of consecutive successes in their history.

These words by Teddy Roosevelt are among my favorites:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Stay obedient to God (11:1-23)

C. S. Lewis once likened God’s work in our lives to a man remodeling your house. At first he fixes the things which obviously need fixing—the leaking gutters, the broken gate, the carpet stains. But then he begins work you hadn’t asked him to do—knocking out this wall and putting up that one, adding on a story above the garage, and so on. You don’t understand what he’s doing, or why he’s doing it. But the reason is simple: “You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Would you let an enemy live in even a single room of your house? Only when every room is under your control, is the house truly yours. So with the lives our Master Carpenter is building through us. He intends us to be the “body of Christ,” his incarnation and presence in our fallen world. Total obedience to his word and will are therefore essential. A single cancer cell can eventually kill us.

The key to the Northern Campaign described in Joshua 11 is found in verse 15: “As the Lord commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses.” His complete obedience to God’s will and leadership made possible the eventual result: “the land had rest from war” (v. 23).

To achieve such stunning success, Israel would face an even more dangerous military situation than in the battle over Gibeon. The kings in the northern territory combined their forces, led by Jabin, king of Hazor. His was the largest and most fortified city in the region. The walled city of Jericho proper occupied only five or six acres of land; excavations at Hazor show that the walled city covered some 30 acres, and the lower city measured 175 acres. The city was mentioned in early Egyptian inscriptions; its location was so strategic that it was later fortified by Solomon (1 Kings 9.15). Under the king of Hazor’s leadership, the area consolidated their forces, opposing Israel with “all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (v. 4).

Facing such overwhelming opposition, Joshua again needed the assurance of God’s power and provision. And his Lord gave it: this massive army would belong to Israel on the morrow (v. 6). When fear knocks at the door and faith answers, no one is there.

The battle turned at v. 7: “Joshua and his whole army came against them suddenly at the Waters of Merom and attacked them.” The combined enemy forces had been camped at this location, eight miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee. This was the same general area as Caesarea Philippi in the time of Jesus, where our Lord commanded his “troops” to assault the gates of Hades. Perhaps the first Joshua was in the mind of the second Joshua and his followers.

Jabin and his confederates were not expecting this battle. More likely, they assumed that their superior numbers would frighten Joshua into retreat. The last thing they expected was an attack from him against their encamped position. Such initiative and courage is typically the precursor to unexpected success.

For instance, remember the most famous military victory in Texas history. Near the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou, the Mexican general, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, led a force of more than 1,200 men. The Texans, under General Sam Houston, had only about 910 soldiers. Following a long retreat, the Texans took the overconfident Mexicans by surprise on April 21, 1836, and won complete victory in just 18 minutes. Nearly every member of the Mexican army was killed or captured. Santa Anna was himself captured the next day. Nine Texans were killed and 30 wounded. A monument commemorating this battle stands today near Houston, to help us remember the place where our independence was won. All because an army staged an attack when their opponent least expected it.

The results at Merom were similar: “the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel” (v. 8). Joshua’s forces defeated and pursued their enemies. And they captured Hazor, their strongest military threat (10-11; archaeological work has discovered burnings of the city corresponding to Joshua’s time). This was Joshua’s greatest military victory.

And over time, his armies would defeat all their opposition in the northern territory (16-23). The battles in the area continued “for a long time” (v. 18). As NavPress and other commentaries point out, the entire conquest from Jericho to this point occupied some seven years. We know this by noting that Caleb was 78 years of age when the people entered the Promised Land (he was 40 when they began their 38 years of wandering in the wilderness, according to Deuteronomy 2:14 and Joshua 14:7), and had reached the age of 85 at the end of this period of warfare (Joshua 14:10).

After such steadfast obedience to the word and will of God, “Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions” (v. 23a). With this result: “Then the land had rest from war” (v. 23b). Only after Joshua and his men had seized the opportunity and initiative as given to them by God.

President George W. Bush is right: peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice. By obeying fully the leadership of their God, Israel brought such justice and righteousness to the land.


The victories celebrated in this week’s study had their origin long before the days recorded in Joshua 10-11. Years earlier, Moses had led the people to defeat Sihon and Og (12:2-6). This first conquest gave the children of Israel a foothold in the region, a base for their military campaigns across the Jordan and into Canaan. Had they been defeated here, there would have been no more Jewish history.

Then Joshua continued the vision handed to him by Moses, bringing the northern and southern kings and region into Jewish hands. The rest of chapter 12 documents historically the results of these visionary and courageous campaigns.

The upshot is simple: we must seize the initiative in winning the spiritual war which is before us. God is calling each of our members to find our gifts and fulfill our ministry. We will fulfill the Great Commission only when every member becomes a minister. You and I are to lead those under our teaching to take the initiative in taking Christ to our community and beyond.


•Pay the price of spiritual victory, “marching all night” to join the battle and bring glory to the Lord.

•Turn difficulty into destiny. See needs as opportunities. Find a need you can meet, a hurt which can be helped, a problem which can be turned to Christ. A shoe salesman sent to tribal Africa wrote back: “Business a failure. No one wears shoes.” The company sent a second salesman who wrote back instantly: “Send more shoes. No one here has them.”

•Refuse distractions; reward those who fight with you; set the example; finish strong.

•Stay obedient to the will of God, and you will know his victory.

With what lost person will you initiate evangelism this week? What need will you meet? What area of the city will you “attack” next?

I’m no expert on the Chinese alphabet, but I’ve read that the Chinese characters for “crisis” and “opportunity” are the same. I know more about the Greek language of the New Testament. Here we find two words for “time”: “chronis” and “kairos.” “Chronos” describes time as we usually envision it; we get “chronological” from this word and concept. This is time as a line, proceeding along into history.

“Kairos” is an entirely different approach to “time.” It is a “timely moment” or an “idea whose time has come.” It is the opportunity to be seized, the chance that will never return, the risk we must take. “Seize the day” comes from the encouragement of “kairos.” It is wisdom to know when a moment is merely chronos, and when it is kairos.

Are you standing before a kairos opportunity?

The most powerful statement of faith I have ever discovered is a confession written by a young pastor in Zimbabwe, a believer later martyred for his faith. I have quoted it often, and close with it as God’s challenge to us all:

I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.” I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up ’til I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go ’til He comes, give ’til I drop, preach ’til all know, and work ’til He stops.

And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me—my colors will be clear.


God’s Provisions

God’s Provisions

Joshua 18:1-21:45

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: The will of God never leads where his grace cannot sustain.

Goal: Follow God into his future for you, trusting his provision.

I have read that a buzzard can be trapped in a pen which is open at the top, so long as its dimensions are no more than six to eight feet long. The bird always begins its flight with a run of ten to twelve feet. Without such space, it will not even attempt to fly, though its pen has no roof to keep it from the skies. Similarly, a bumblebee, if dropped into an open glass jar, will remain trapped until it dies. It will fly into the sides of the jar, but will never attempt to escape from its top.

It is easy to struggle with our problems, frustrations, and needs, never realizing that our answer is just above us. God’s purpose for our lives is always greater than we can imagine it to be.

Saul of Tarsus used his theological training and cultural education to achieve significance within Phariseeism. God used them to write half of the New Testament and take Christ across the known world. Peter used his gifts of courage and leadership to create a successful fishing enterprise. God used them to lead his church into all the world (Acts 17:6). Matthew used his literary talents and prodigious memory to record tax accounts. God used them to record the Sermon on the Mount.

So it was with the ancient Israelites. Their fondest hope was that they might have a land of their own. But God’s plan was far greater. He intended to make of them a people which would endure in that land for some 15 centuries, so he could bring through them the Messiah who would bring salvation to the entire human race. And so God provided for the needs they knew they faced, and for those they did not even know existed. He still does the same for all of us who will follow him by faith today.

Where is God calling you to take a step which transcends sight? To risk, courage, or boldness? Are you facing a trial which seems beyond your strength? Temptation transcending your power to resist? A decision which you cannot find the will to make?

Where is God calling you to trust in him alone? If you don’t sense such a calling in your heart, get alone with your Father until you do. He never leads his children further into his purpose than we can see with our eyes. When we come to that place which calls us to risk, remember that the will of God never leads where his grace cannot sustain. Step onto his promises, and you will find them ever faithful.

We will watch as God leads the first Joshua to provide for the needs of his people. Then we will watch the second Joshua, the Lord Jesus, as he applies such provision to those who follow him in New Testament faith today. This week is the first Sunday of Advent and the week of hope; it is appropriate that we learn to trust the provisions of our loving Father, new each day of the year.

Claim his provision for your material needs (chs. 18-19)

Each tribe needed land upon which to live. Theirs was an agrarian society, where land was life. And so the geographical location of the tribes would largely determine their future prosperity. Discord about such a significant decision could tear apart their union. Wars over such issues are still fought today.

How would each tribe have what it needed? If the smaller tribes like Benjamin received the largest parts of the land, the larger tribes like Manasseh or Judah could starve. The current redistricting battle in the Texas Legislature shows that such issues have never lost their relevance. How would the nation avoid such infighting and potential disaster?

God’s solution through Joshua was simple: they would “cast lots” (18:10). The land-apportioning ceremony would take place at Shiloh, because it was centrally located so representatives from every tribe could attend the event. This was the location where the Lord intended his tabernacle to stand (see Deuteronomy 12:14); later Jeremiah quoted the Lord as saying that Shiloh was “where I set my name at the first” (7:12).

The tribes trusted the Lord to know and meet their physical needs. And the result was a land distribution which would stand as long as the nation survived.

In such faith, the people followed their leader. Joshua’s tribe gave him the city he asked for: Timnath Serah in the hill country, where “he built up the town and settled there” (19:50). As the nation’s leader, general, and hero, he had every right to choose his land first. He could have chosen the most valuable possession in the entire region. Instead, he took what was left (v. 49). And here he was buried (24:30).

Joshua knew the truth Jesus later taught his followers: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6.31-34). The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.

A friend sent me this reading, which I have found worth repeated reading:

There are two days in every week about which we should not worry,

two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.

One of these days is Yesterday with all its mistakes and cares,

its faults and blunders, its aches and pains.

Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control.

All the money in the world cannot bring back Yesterday.

We cannot undo a single act we performed;

we cannot erase a single word we said.

Yesterday is gone forever.

The other day we should not worry about is Tomorrow

with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise,

and its poor performance.

Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control.

Tomorrow’s sun will rise, either in splendor behind a mask of clouds,

but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in Tomorrow,

for it is yet to be born.

This leaves only one day.

Any person can fight the battle of just one day.

It is when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities,

Yesterday and Tomorrow, that we break down.

It is not the experience of Today that drives a person mad,

it is the remorse or bitterness of something which happened Yesterday

and the dread of what Tomorrow may bring.

Let us, therefore, live but one day at a time.

No matter our current circumstances, there is hope in the God who transcends them and knows our every need.

Choose refuge over revenge (ch. 20)

If the nation was to survive, it would have to solve not only its geographical issues but also its political and relational problems. Most urgent was the issue of the “avenger of blood” (v. 1).

In ancient Israel, one who killed another was himself to be killed (Genesis 9:5-6; Leviticus 24:17). Such regulation served to prevent murder. But it also limited retribution to the guilty party; in other cultures, it was common for the family of the one killed to seek revenge against the entire family or tribe of the murderer. And so the closest kinsman to the person killed was charged with responsibility for revenge and justice (Numbers 35:16-21).

However, on occasion a person would be killed “accidentally” (the Hebrew word means to sin ignorantly or inadvertently) and “unintentionally” (“without knowledge” in the Hebrew, not knowing that he had done so) (Joshua 20:3; cf. Exodus 21:12-14). (Numbers 35:22-24 taught the Jews how to distinguish “innocent” death from murder.) Then the innocent death would lead to another innocent death. Blood feuds would perpetuate, and could destroy the tribe and even the nation.

God’s solution was to create cities of “refuge” (the Hebrew word means “to draw together,” to give asylum or sanctuary). This had been his plan with Moses (Numbers 35:25-28), now to be enacted under Joshua.

Three cities were so designated: one in the north, one in the central area, and one to the south. Each location was rich with spiritual history and significance. First was “Kedesh” in the northern country of Galilee (the name means “consecration,” so that they “consecrated the city of consecration”). Next was Shechem, where God had earlier appeared to Abraham and offered this land (Genesis 12:6-7), and Joshua had renewed the covenant of the nation with God at Mount Ebal (8:30-35). Third was Hebron, where Abraham and Sarah were buried (Genesis 23:2), along with Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah (Genesis 49:29-32). Three towns were also designated among the tribes living east of the Jordan (20:8).

Note that each was a city where the Levites were later assigned responsibility and residency (Joshua 21:13, 21, 32; 27, 36, 38). In this way the Lord provided not only a physical location of refuge, but also spiritual influence and opportunity for worship.

God has always known that revenge leads only to further revenge. I think it was Frederick Buechner who first pointed out the fact that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is a rapid way to a sightless, toothless world. God’s answer is always justice combined with grace, law tempered by love. He seeks always the redemption of the soul, no matter the sin.

Jesus made this principle of just love even more spiritual and internal: we must not only refuse murder, we must reject anger and bitterness as well (Matthew 5:21-27). He knew that sins of the heart become sins of the hand. And he taught us to love and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48), ending the cycle of revenge before it can begin. The “cities of refuge” created by Joshua are now to exist in our hearts.

Dr. Lewis Smedes wrote the best book I know on the subject of forgiveness. Its title, Forgive and Forget: healing the hurts we don’t deserve, promises hope every hurting heart needs. His central thesis is simple: biblical forgiveness is not to excuse the behavior which hurt us, pretend the pain doesn’t exist, or forget the hurt happened. Biblical forgiveness is pardon—choosing not to punish the guilty party. When a governor pardons a convicted criminal, he or she does not pretend the crime did not occur. Rather, the governor chooses not to bring the punishment allowed by law.

In the same way, when we follow the teachings of the first and second Joshua, we end the cycle of vengeance. We choose not to punish. And so our pain begins to heal. In the midst of relational suffering, there is hope in the One who loves every soul and heals every heart.

Answer his call to spiritual service (ch. 21)

In this study we have discovered God’s answers to the nation’s need for physical and relational provision. Now we watch as he provides the spiritual leadership and nurture which will sustain the tribes for the rest of their history in the land. His use of the tribe of Levi proves that God indeed “hits straight licks with crooked sticks.”

Levi and his brother Simeon first came to prominence in Israel’s history in a most disturbing way. In avenging Shechem’s rape of their sister, Dinah, they attacked and killed every male among Shechem’s people, and plundered their houses and families. Jacob reproved them from “making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land” (Genesis 34:30). For this sin, Jacob later pronounced their fate: “I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (Genesis 49:7).

However, when Israel reverted to idolatry and sin while Moses and Joshua met with God at Mt. Sinai, only the Levites rallied to the Lord and Moses (Exodus 32:26). They followed Moses’ command, killing three thousand of the people that day (v. 28). Moses responded to their faithfulness with this promise: “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day” (v. 29).

As a result, God turned Jacob’s curse against the Levites into their blessing. They would indeed have no single part of the land, but would be dispersed throughout the nation as God’s special and spiritual leaders: “The priests, who are Levites—indeed the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the offerings made to the Lord by fire, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them” (Deuteronomy 18:1-2).

Now Joshua designated the specific cities and places where the Levites would live among the people. Those in the tribe of Levi who served as priests would live in the south (21:4-5). Neither Joshua nor these Levites could know that this was the place where the Temple would later be built, and their Temple service required. But God knew their future significance and ministry, centuries before they would learn it fully.

Other Levites kept the tabernacle, its furnishings, and its procedures. They lived in the 48 cities assigned to them, scattered throughout the nation. They studied and taught God’s word (Deuteronomy 13:9-13) and filled other roles which required literacy, such as physical and medical diagnosis and care (Leviticus 13:1-14). They were used by God to bring spiritual nurture and leadership to the nation, all across the land given to Israel.

Now you and I are God’s levitical servants, charged with the same privilege and responsibility of spiritual leadership and nurture. We who follow Jesus are now “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). We are now “all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). With this result: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (vs. 28-29).

According to the second Joshua, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It is our responsibility to bring his preserving, purifying salt and darkness-defeating light to the nation trusted to our care. What the Levites were to Israel, we are to Dallas and America. Each one of us.

As God provided Levites for Israel, so he provided his word and sustenance for Levites. Know that you are not called to the ministry of the word without the help of its Minister. Your words are to come from his word, your strength from his Spirit, your wisdom from his Son. You are Levite to your class and community, but only as the representative of the God of Levi and Israel. We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), not responsible for leading the “nation” we serve, but only for representing the One who has given this charge to us.

A group of botanists hiking in a remote part of the Andes Mountains came upon a rare and valuable specimen. Unfortunately, it was growing on the side of a steep and dangerous cliff. The botanists were afraid to climb down, so they called one of the nearby village boys over and offered him a large sum of money if he would go after the flower.

The young boy stared over the cliff. The money they offered was enticing, but he was afraid. Then an idea crossed his mind and face. He told the botanists to wait, and ran into his village. He returned a few minutes later, his hand in that of a much older man. The boy ran to the edge of the cliff and told the botanists, “I’ll go over the side now, so long as my father holds the rope.”

You and I live in a community in desperate need of spiritual hope. Your Father will hold the rope, if you will climb over the cliff of ministry this week.


In this study, we have watched God meet every need his people faced. He divided their land equitably and peacefully; he provided a system of regional government and courts which would answer their greatest political and relational needs; and he distributed the Levites throughout the nation to lead his people to spiritual health and maturity.

Joshua 21:43-45 sums up God’s provision, and closes with a fact worth claiming today: “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled” (v. 45). God kept his promises; he keeps them still.

The second Joshua closed his most famous sermon with a similar promise: the life built on obedience to God’s word will stand firm, no matter how strong the storms of life which batter its walls (Matthew 7:24-25). But no other foundation will suffice—all else is sand, and will lead to destruction (vs. 26-27). The promises of God are our only sure and certain provision for the challenges which stand between us and spiritual victory.

What obstacles stand between you and complete obedience to God’s call on your life and ministry? What step of risky faith is he asking you to take? Find a promise within the word of God for your need. Stand on it. And it will stand under you. This is the promise and the hope of God.

Such hope is vital to life itself. When Allied soldiers liberated the Holocaust camps, they found thousands of orphaned and starving children. Each child was given a safe place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear and beds in which to sleep. But many still could not sleep through the night. They spent the evening hours restless and afraid.

Finally a psychologist hit on the answer. He instructed that each child was to be given a slice of bread to take to bed. Not to eat—just to hold. Hope that there would be food on the morrow. And the children slept well.

Vaclav Havel once said, “I am not an optimist because I am not sure that everything ends well. Nor am I a pessimist because I am not sure that everything ends badly. I just carry hope in my heart. Hope is a feeling that life and work have meaning. You either have it or you don’t, regardless of the state of the world around you. Life without hope is an empty, boring, and useless life. I cannot imagine that I could strive for something if I did not carry hope in me. I am thankful to God for this gift. It is as big a gift as life itself.”

The God of hope came at Advent to bring this gift to us all. Have you opened yours this week?

Hope In Hard Places

Hope in Hard Places

Isaiah 40:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

The Presbyterian lay minister Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers” to us) once quoted an anonymous scrawling on the bulletin board of the great Notre Dame cathedral in Paris: “The world tomorrow will belong to those who brought it the greatest hope.”

Counselors and psychologists have long known the truth of those words.

Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychologist and concentration camp survivor, documented the fact that those prisoners who believed in tomorrow best survived the horrors of today.

Survivors of POW camps in Vietnam reported that a compelling hope for the future was the primary force that kept many of them alive.

A mouse dropped in water will give up and drown in minutes. But if it is rescued, it will tread water for more than 20 hours the next time.

Austin pastor Gerald Mann saw his church grow from 60 to 4,000 in 14 years. His explanation: “I know three things people want when they come to church: they want help, they want home, and they want hope.”

Where do you have hope? It’s not a rhetorical question. What causes you to feel that your life has a future, a purpose, a reason to be? Do you have such a reason for hope? If you do, is it the right reason?

Avoid the dead ends of hope

I reread this week C. S. Lewis’s essay on “hope” in Mere Christianity, and it changed my sermon completely. Listen to this paragraph: “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us…” (Mere Christianity 119).

We know there’s “something more” which has evaded us. What do we do about it?

Some of us live for tomorrow. We hope that the next job, the next girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse, or car or clothes or city will fill what is lacking. We put our hope in tomorrow, believing that it will somehow be better than today. But it never is.

So some of us settle for today. We give up our dreams of a better future, and settle into the present as we find it. We call ourselves “realists.” We decide that there is no such thing as real love, or purpose, or meaning in life. We’ll settle for what we can get with what we have.

And some of us escape the present. Medieval monastics retreated from the physical to concentrate on the spiritual. Simon Stylites lived nearly 40 years on the top of a pillar, 60 feet above the ground, refusing to come down. His example was widely applauded.

Others escape the present in less spiritual ways. Drug or alcohol abuse, sexual addictions, fixation on cults or the occult—anything to lessen the pain, the grief, the disappointment of hope abandoned.

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Fantine is a young single mother without a job, a place to stay, or a way to support her child. If you’ve seen the musical, you’ll remember her haunting song, titled “I Dreamed a Dream:”

I had a dream in time gone by

When hope was high

And life worth living

I dreamed that love would never die

I dreamed that God would be forgiving.

But her love has died, and she believes that her God is not forgiving. And so she ends,

I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living

So different now from what it seemed

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

Make earth like heaven

Perhaps not. Perhaps there’s a fourth option: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (v. 1). “Comfort” means to give hope and courage in the midst of despair. He repeats it twice for emphasis. Comfort “my people,” God’s creation made in his image, the Father’s children. “Says your God,” not a man but the King of the Kingdom.

Why? Because “her hard service has been completed.” “Hard service” refers to the punishment of imprisonment. The sins which led Judah into Babylonian captivity have now been punished, and she is released from slavery to return to her Promised Land. “Her sin has been paid for,” as has ours.

How? “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord” (v. 3).

The one calling is the messenger sent to precede the king. In the ancient world, the visit of the Sovereign would require that all roads be improved, valleys filled in, mountains leveled, terrain cleared. “The red carpet” was rolled out. Then “the glory of the Lord” would be revealed.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all found this promise fulfilled when John the Baptizer announced the beginning of the public work of Jesus of Nazareth. And John even quoted the Baptist: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord'” (John 1:23).

“Advent” is from the Latin for “to come.” At Jesus’ first “advent,” he kept God’s promise. His suffering death completed our hard service and paid for our sin. He brought us hope that our past could be forgotten and our future secured, that our lives could have meaning and joy again.

He brought us hope that our valleys of despair and discouragement will be raised up and leveled, that our mountains and hills of problems and pain will be made low, that our rough ground of hopelessness and loneliness will become level.

Because his name is Immanuel, “God with us,” there is hope in our hardest places, because there God is with us. He hurts with us, cries with us, comforts us, guides us, brings us through. In his will and word and worship, in his presence through prayer, in his Spirit’s power and encouragement, we find hope.

When will this hope be made complete? When “the glory of the Lord will be revealed” (v. 5). When Jesus returns. When the Second Advent comes. When life becomes life eternal, when earth becomes heaven, with night turns to day. When “there shall be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). We have hope now, in the midst of our valleys and mountains, for God is with us. And we have hope for eternity, because one day time will be no more, and all will be glory.

In the meanwhile, as we wait between his first coming and his second, it is our work to live for heaven on earth. Listen to Lewis one last time: “…the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven, and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you will get neither” (Mere Christianity 118).

Live for God’s glory on earth, and you will have all the help of heaven. Choose to meet the needs you find in God’s name and love, and you will have more opportunities than you can imagine. Turn your vocation, school, neighborhood, and family into your mission field where you will help people follow Jesus, and you will have more joy and satisfaction than earth can offer. Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and everything will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). This is the promise of God.


Don’t search for hope where it does not live. It is not in your next job or purchase or relationship. Don’t give up on hope for today, or seek to escape the present. Find your hope in the fact that the Child of Christmas never left the race he entered. His Spirit lives in you today. He will redeem every problem and pain you trust to him, level every valley and mountain you face, and guide you safely home. If your hope is in him.

Meanwhile, redeem this Advent season by living it for his Kingdom in heaven. Seek ways to share his hope, his joy, his help with the hurting and lonely hearts you meet. Ask God each day to make you his instrument of life-giving hope. Be John the Baptizer to your Jerusalem. Announce the coming of the Lord, until he returns. You will find no greater significance or joy than in giving the gift of Jesus, in this the season of his birth.

The Imitation of Christ, probably the most widely-read book in Christian history next to the Scriptures, was written by an unknown monk named Thomas from the town of Kempen, some seven centuries ago. His record of God’s word to him brings God’s word to us today:

“Do not be worn out by the labors which you have undertaken for My sake, and do not let tribulations ever cast you down. Instead, let My promise strengthen and comfort you under every circumstance. I am well able to reward you above all measure and degree. You shall not toil here long nor always be oppressed with griefs. A time will come when all labor and trouble will cease. Labor faithfully in My vineyard; I will be thy recompense. Life everlasting is worth all these conflicts, and greater than these….

“Lift your face therefore to heaven; behold I and all My saints with me—who in this world had great conflicts—are now comforted, now rejoicing, now secure, now at rest, and shall remain with Me everlastingly in the kingdom of My Father.”

As will we. This is the hope, and the promise, of God.



Joshua 13:1-17:18Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: the battle is not over until the victory is won.

Goal: Identify God’s greatest calling on your life, and commit to its complete fulfillment

This is the story of four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done, so Everybody was asked to do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. Consequently it wound up that Nobody told Anybody so Everybody blamed Somebody.

The church is its people. We do our ministry through our members as they are empowered for mission and service. We can only inherit the spiritual victory God intends for our church when Everybody does what he and she can do. Let’s learn how to be an army whose troops all fight and win.

Assess the challenges (13:1-7)

The first step in any military strategy is to define the enemy. Determine his strengths and weaknesses. Plan not just for what he will probably do, but for what he is able to do. Define your own opportunities and obstacles. Assess the challenges, before you go to war.

One challenge facing Israel was clear and immediate: “Joshua was old and well advanced in years” (v. 1). The leader of the nation and its army was probably around 90 years of age by this time. Time was of the essence for him, and for the people he was called to lead. The longer they inhabited the land without conquering it, the more likely they would assimilate its pagan theology and practices.

And there was still much land to be taken (vs. 2-5). Joshua and the army “took the entire land” in principle (11:23), but much still remained to be inhabited and controlled. They were living between the D-Day when they entered the land miraculously and the V-Day when the land God promised Israel would be fully theirs.

Some of the remaining lands to the north would be conquered by the Lord himself (v. 6) and given to the nation (v. 7). God will never allow us to face an enemy we cannot defeat with his help (1 Corinthians 10:13).

In winning the spiritual battle for the souls of our community and beyond, we first assess the challenges and opportunities which are before us. What obstacles stand between you and complete obedience to God’s call on your life? Are there sins to be confessed? A step of faith to be taken? Surrender of your finances, time, or abilities?

When Nehemiah returned to this same land some eight centuries later, on a mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and reestablish the nation after Babylonian captivity, his first step was to assess the challenges facing his people. He later recorded his strategy: “I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on” (Nehemiah 2:11-12). He proceeded to inspect the Dung Gate, the Fountain Gate, the King’s Pool, and the Valley Gate (vs. 13-16).

His investigation complete, he made his report to the leaders of the nation: “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (v. 17). Then Nehemiah followed the bad news with the good: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me” (v. 18a). With this result: “They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work” (v. 18b).

When we assess the challenges and opportunities before us, we know how to begin the campaign which will lead to victory. What temptation is challenging you today? What is keeping you from taking your next step in fulfilling God’s Great Commission for your life?

Trust God’s promises (13:8-33)

Before Joshua could lead his people further west into the lands intended for them, first they must settle the lands assigned to tribes east of the Jordan. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half of the tribe of Manassah had been promised this land by Moses (Numbers 32:1-42). But these tribes were required to fight with the rest of Israel in conquering the lands to the west. They had kept their promise to this point; now God would keep his to them.

Understanding the tribal structure of Israel at this point in her history requires a bit of work. The “twelve tribes” were originally the 12 sons of Jacob, with Reuben the oldest and head of the brothers. What follows is a brief description of the rest of the story, including lands to be given each tribe in coming chapters.

•Reuben sinned against his father (Genesis 35:22; 49:3-4), thus losing the double inheritance which was to go to him. His tribe eventually settled east of the Jordan River.

•Thus Jacob gave this double inheritance to Joseph, the spiritual head who had saved their family in Egypt. Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own children and promised them equal inheritance (Genesis 48:5). Manasseh split into two half-tribes, one on each side of the Jordan. Ephraim would locate west of the Jordan, just south of the western part of Manasseh.

•Simeon and Levi were born next, but both shamed the family at Shechem (Genesis 34). Jacob thus decreed that they would be scattered among the nation, and they were. Simeon received cities within Judah (Joshua 19:1-9).

•Levites rejected idolatry at Sinai, so that God made them his special inheritance (Exodus 32:25-29). They had no single land, but were scattered and would be supported by the rest of the nation.

•Judah was next in birth order, and was thus made the head of the nation (Genesis 49:8-12). This tribe received the first and largest allotment of land west of the Jordan, located in the southern part of the nation and west of the Dead Sea; eventually the kings of David’s line came from Judah, as would the Messiah.

•Gad was given land to the east of the Jordan, located between East Manassah to the north and Reuben to the south.

•The other tribes were given land as chosen by lot (Joshua 18:8-10): Dan on the Mediterranean coast, west of Ephraim; Benjamin between Judah and Ephraim; Issachar to the north of West Manasseh; Zebulun to the north of Issachar; Asher on the coast, at the northwest border of the nation; and Naphtali to the east of Asher.

The two and a half tribes who were given land east of the Jordan had kept their promises to fight for Canaan. Now they received what had been promised to them by God, so their people could settle the land and prosper. Levites were scattered among them, as they were across the nation (v. 14). Their soldiers would continue the fight for Canaan until all was conquered; then Joshua would release their armies back to these lands (Joshua 22).

When we step into any spiritual battle, we have only one foundation upon which to stand: the sure and certain word of God (Matthew 7:24-27). We have only one “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Name the temptation or obstacle which stands between you and spiritual victory. Then find a promise in the word of God upon which to stand, with which to fight. Know that God’s word is always kept. His promises never fail. And his word will never lead you where his grace cannot keep you.

Claim what is yours (ch. 14)

Now the armies of Israel were ready to complete their conquest of their land. Their inheritances would be “assigned by lot” (v. 2), thus by God (Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the Lord”).

Each territory is described at a length appropriate to its tribal significance. Thus Judah (the royal line of David) is discussed thoroughly. Then the tribes of Joseph are defined; they so dominated the northern kingdom that Ephraim became one of its names. The last to be given such special treatment is Benjamin, the tribe of Saul, Israel’s first king.

Now Caleb steps to the front, one of the greatest heroes in Joshua and all the word of God. Remember that he was one of the twelve spies sent by Moses into the Promised Land; only he and Joshua brought back a faithful and courageous report (Numbers 13-14). The Jewish leaders rejected him and his report, forcing him to wander with them across the 40 years of the wilderness.

Now here he is, 85 years old, coming to Joshua to claim what is his: “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then” (v. 11). He has the strength needed for the stress ahead.

How does he know he will be successful? He claims God’s promise: “Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day” (v. 12a). He trusts God’s power: “the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said” (v. 12b). He is relying not just on his own strength, but on the Lord’s provision. And he follows God’s purpose: “Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly” (v. 14).

How did he win his land? His obstacle was great: “Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba after Arba, who was the greatest man among the Anakites” (v. 15). In Hebrew, he was “the great man,” their founder or first leader (their George Washington). But God’s power was greater: “From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai—descendants of Anak. From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher)” (15:13-14). His brother Othniel then took Kiriath Sepher, and won Caleb’s daughter Acsah in marriage (v. 15). God’s people, fighting in God’s power against God’s enemy according to God’s plan, will always have God’s provision.

If God has called you to a task in his Kingdom, he has already given you the promises, power, and purpose you will need to win the victory which will glorify him. There may be giants in the land, but the Lord is greater than his enemies or yours. And age is no issue.

Gandhi led reforms in India until his death at age 78. Voltaire struggled for human rights past the age of 80. Michelangelo worked actively to his death at 89. Pablo Picasso painted prolifically to his death at age 91. Pablo Casals, perhaps the greatest cellist of all time, played and taught to his death at 96. Frank Lloyd Wright, asked which of his architectural works he would select as his masterpiece, replied, “My next one!”

Fight until you win (chs. 15-17)

If the rest of the nation had fought as did Caleb, the entire land would have been theirs. And much of the grief which would dominate the coming centuries would have been prevented.

However, three times in chapters 15-17 we find victories unfinished, promises unclaimed:

•”Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah” (15:63).

•Ephraim “did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor” (16:10).

•”The Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely” (17:12-13).

What was the result? Baalism continued in the nation, as the Canaanites seduced the people of Israel with their pagan gods (cf. 1 Kings 18, Elijah’s battle with 950 prophets of Baal and Asherah).

Eventually such idolatry would force God to bring judgment against the ten northern tribes by Assyria, and the southern tribes by Babylon. Most of the clans who received their inheritance in these chapters no longer exist, having been assimilated by their foreign conquerors. Judaism worldwide has never recovered the political and spiritual strength she knew before these Canaanite deceptions led her into idolatry and immorality.

Cancer always starts small. But it always grows. We must fight until the battle is won. We can accept no compromise with sin and Satan. None.

And when we continue the fight, God gives us his victory. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, the world assumed that persecution would further reduce the size and strength of movements such as Christianity in the country. But we were wrong. Leslie Francis, an Overseas Missionary Fellowship director based in Hong Kong, said that the ensuing “spiritual awakening” within the intellectual community in China “has no historical parallel in Chinese history.” He described two separate incidents in which newly-converted professors shared the gospel with their students during classes. In both cases, over half the audience professed Christ publicly. Some missiologists estimate that the Church in China has grown 10,000 fold in this generation.

In his inaugural speech as president of the Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin said that “spiritual liberation of the individual” is part of “the foundation for the revival of our state” and that “religion has a special place in this process.” Many of us never thought we’d hear Russian leaders speak so spiritually. Now Buckner Orphan Care International is working in orphanages across this formerly-closed nation. I never dreamed that I would be privileged to share the gospel with some of these children, but God has given our church just this privilege. Churches and missions are spreading across the land. Some predict that the Russians will soon be sending missionaries to us.

Our spiritual war is not finished until we have assaulted the gates of hell wherever they are found in Dallas and around the world. So long as a single person in our city has not been given a realistic opportunity to be converted, churched, and discipled, we are not done. Much of the land still remains. What part can you see today?


To take the land before us, we must assess our challenges with realism and honesty. Then we trust God’s promises of power, provision, and purpose. We claim what is ours. And we fight until the battle is over.

What part of this army is God’s post for you? Where are you called to the front lines? Is he asking you to sacrifice financially? To help lead organizationally? To join the battle spiritually?

In the fall of 1620, a brave group of pioneers set sail for the New World. Their two month voyage on the Mayflower was filled with storms, tempests, and challenges. In December of that year, 102 survivors landed. Half died during their first winter and year on our soil. The next fall, those who were left planned a service of memorial and sorrow for those who had died. But in surveying all they had inherited from their Father, their sorrow turned to gratitude. And Thanksgiving was born in warriors for their faith, men and women willing to take the land given them by their Lord.

Two centuries later, the nation forged by those pioneers faced its greatest days of peril. In the midst of the Civil War which threatened the very survival of the Union, President Abraham Lincoln issued a “Thanksgiving Proclamation” which made this Thursday’s observance an annual tradition for our country. Here is that proclamation:

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subject to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justify fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins; to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

In the midst of war, there can be peace in every heart which receives the blessings of God with gratitude.

The Joy Of Giving Jesus

The Joy of Giving Jesus

Isaiah 61:1-2

Dr. Jim Denison

The little crowd of 102 persons finally arrived, after surviving two months of stormy seas on a crowded little boat. Their first year, about half died in the severe winter, most of pneumonia. The next year, in the fall of 1621, the survivors planned a time of memorial and sorrow for those who had died in the previous year. But as they looked about themselves at all God had given them—their first harvest, the friendly Indians, their blessings from heaven—they chose to turn that service from one of memorial to gratitude. And so Thanksgiving was born.

On Monday last, at 12:10 in the afternoon, Mr. Rip Parker went home to be with his Father in heaven. He was adamant that there be no memorial service, no funeral, no obituary in the paper. Nothing which would draw attention away from Jesus to him. And so against our wishes, we have planned no memorial service. But he can’t tell me what to preach about. In the context of his physical death, when our souls so want to mourn our loss, Rip would have us count our blessings. And give thanks to our God.

My one point today is clear and simple: our greatest joy comes from giving God’s good news to others. Here is our greatest cause for thanksgiving—our greatest purpose, significance and legacy. Rip was convinced that it is so. Here’s proof that he was right.

Know the purpose of your empowering (v. 1)

God’s word begins, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me.” The Holy Spirit of the Sovereign ruler of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—he is “on me.” After Pentecost, he came to dwell “in” us. Now we would say, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is in us.”

Why? “Because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news.”

“Because,” for this reason or purpose. This is why you and I exist. It’s why God left us on earth after he saved us for heaven. We’re not here to make money, or earn status or acclaim.

We are anointed, chosen and empower and gifted, to “preach good news.” The “good news” that our Creator loves us, that the Lord of the universe knows our names, our needs, our hurts and our hearts. We are called and commanded, privileged and purposed by God to tell such good news.

To whom?

To the “poor”—physically, financially, and also spiritually.

To the “brokenhearted,” those who are suffering from despair, discouragement, loneliness, hopelessness.

To the “captives,” those who are enslaved by men or themselves, sin or Satan.

To the “prisoners,” in jails made of bars or sins, of men or devils.

To “all who mourn,” those who have suffered death, loss, grief, pain.

In each case, we are to go “to” them. Not to wait for them to come to us. To give them the good news of God’s love, God’s healing, God’s help and hope, grace and mercy and peace.

Evangelism, preaching, missions and ministry is not imposing our beliefs on others. It is not about getting more people to join our church. It is about gift-giving, giving to others what God has given to us. Nothing more, but nothing less.

It is significant beyond words that Jesus chose these verses as the text for his first recorded sermon. He was invited to bring the message at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. The scroll of Isaiah was handed to him, apparently the chosen book for the day. But he “found the place” where these words were written, and read them deliberately and intentionally. And he “rolled up the scroll, gave it to back to the attendant and sat down” (Luke 4:20). Then “he began by saying, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'” (v. 21).

What his Father called him to do, he called his followers to do. To “make disciples of all nations,” to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, to be his salt and light, his ambassadors and representatives, his hands and feet and flesh. As the reason we exist, the purpose of our lives and days.

Claim the privilege of your purpose

But most of us are insecure with such a calling and purpose. It’s not primarily a lack of training. Say John 3:16 with me—that’s all the theology you need to explain salvation. It’s not a lack of opportunity—119,000 souls within three miles of us are not in church this morning. This of someone you know who doesn’t know Jesus. Have you given them the good news of God’s love? If not, why?

Here’s the number one answer for most of us: we’re afraid. Afraid of being rejected, of offending them. We’re not sure they need our faith; after all, they seem to be doing just fine. We’re not sure that we have the right to give it to them; after all, religion is a private matter.

So let’s learn a simple fact today: ministry is gift-giving. It is giving to someone you care about that which someone gave to you. The privilege of learning how to have a personal relationship with the God of the universe. The privilege of learning how to have your sins forgiven, your soul cleansed, your life given a thrilling purpose and direction, a joy you can find nowhere else.

There is joy in gift-giving. Already, I’m looking forward to Christmas gifts for that reason. Every parent knows the joy of pleasing your children. Every person in love knows the joy of pleasing the person you love. You’re not imposing your possessions on them. You’re not assuming that they need what you have. Rather, you’re simply giving them your very best gift. You’re giving them Jesus. And there’s true joy in that.

Rip Parker knew such joy, more than any human being I’ve ever encountered.

He knew the joy of worshiping Jesus each Sunday morning, no matter his life circumstances. Did you ever see him without his smile? Even after his left eye was removed because of the cancer which took his life, he was here with a smile, welcoming us to worship. His only fear was that his bandage would keep the children from coming to him for the candy which filled his pockets each week.

He knew the joy of growing in faith each day, no matter his life problems. Each Thursday morning at men’s Bible study, Rip was in his seat. Each Thursday prayer meeting at 6 a.m., Rip was in his chair. Each time we called a prayer meeting, Rip came. In the joy of a faith which never stopped growing.

He knew the joy of serving Jesus each day, no matter his own struggles. Rain or shine, cold or hot, every day he was with his “boys,” the homeless men of downtown Dallas. With food, blankets, clothing, and God’s grace. To someone else such a ministry would be a burden beyond ability. To Rip, it was a joy beyond compare.

He knew the joy of inviting others into his ministry. Each Tuesday night he gathered with any who wanted to help with his “boys,” and so many of you did. Bible study groups, Sunday school classes, men and women, boys and girls. So many of you have been with Rip. And you knew you had been with Jesus.


If I could speak with Rip Parker one more time in the church he loved so dearly, and ask him why all the sacrifices of his witness, his evangelism, his ministry and missions, he wouldn’t understand the question. Because he learned that when we give the good news to others, we give ourselves joy.

Now it is up to us to continue the work. Rip’s life verse was simple: to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48b). In insisting that there be no memorial service in his honor, Rip said again and again, “If you want to honor me, feed my boys.” Wherever you find them. And you’ll find joy. Joy you’ll find nowhere else. The joy of Jesus. Joy now, and joy forever.

Rip Parker would never end a conversation with “good-bye,” because that meant he might not see you again, and he knew that’s not so for God’s people. Instead, he would always say, “See you later.” See you later, Rip. Amen.