YOUR TERRITORY

“The inheritance of the Simeonites was taken from the share of Judah, because Judah’s portion was more than the needed.” Joshua 19:9a

Chapters 15 through 21 of the book of Joshua offer us some interesting reading – if you like to practice your pronunciation of ancient towns and villages. It is a stretch of Scripture that makes us wonder, “Why is that in there?” You know what I’m talking about; they are the portions you skim when you are following a reading plan, and the portion where your pastor stumbles attempting to pronounce all the names. Why is it important to know that the village of Ain was given to Simeon? Since I come from the small “town” (using that term loosely) of McBain, I could say that it is a reminder that good people come from small towns.

But I think there is more to it than that. More than merely recording history. If you look closely, you will see that the division and composition of territories fit the needs and characteristics of each group. The tribe of Ephraim did not dislodge the Canaanites in Gezer, so the Canaanites remained (16:10). The same was true for the Manassites (17:12). At the end of chapter 17, Joshua challenged both the Ephraimites and the Manassites to expand their territory. And by the way, disregard the fact that I wanted to name my first son Ephraim or Manasseh – I was young.

TRUST ME, IT FITS

We have all heard or said that God will not put more on us than what we can bear. It’s a nice line to toss to those who seem to be sinking. There is truth in that statement, though we rarely quote the verse completely. The complete reminder is best read as verses 11 through 13 of 1 Corinthians 10. There you will find reference to being “tempted beyond what you can bear” as the writer completes a section about learning from Israel’s mistakes.

It is true, God will make a way out for us when we need one. We can operate in that knowledge of truth and authority. Joshua’s command at the end of chapter 17 reminded the people, “though they are strong, you can drive them out” (verse 18). But it’s not only that God will make a way out or allow our territory to expand, but it’s also that God makes our territory match how far God can reach through us. Let me say that again. The distance that God can reach operating through us is the extent of our territory. 

Just as you would not hand your car keys over to your five-year old, God would not have us operate in areas where we are unprepared. This is not to challenge the truth that God equips those He calls (see Moses et al.), but to remind us that our territory – our sphere of influence – is not up to us. Some of us want a new job. Okay, but has God told you it’s time? Maybe you want to move to a new home or city – is that desire of you or of God? 

Unfortunately there were (and are) many who took the prayer of Jabez to be a means to prosperity – for your personal territory. (By the way, I’d love for you to give me the Scripture reference for the prayer without a web search..you probably won’t even find Jabez in your concordance.) The problem with that mindset is the focus – on self. Yes, Jabez had his prayer answered (1 Chronicles 4:9-11, thank you, Wikipedia..sorry, Amber) but it doesn’t say how. But very importantly it says who: “And God granted his request” (verse 10).

WHO, NOT WHAT

I am a big fan of the music produced by Israel and New Breed. Their song, “To Worship You I Live” broke me out of a very dark time in my life (me using it as a worship, not the song alone). On the same album is a song titled “No Limits”, and it sounds a lot like the prayer of Jabez:

No limits/ No boundaries/ I see increase/ All around me/ Stretch forth/ Break forth/ Release me/ Enlarge my territory

The first two dozen times I heard that (and sang along), I imagined myself to be like Jabez – enlarge MY territory. Then I heard something different. I heard God speaking (or singing) that back to me. It is HIS territory. I am His territory, and there are areas of my life that I have selfishly designated as “mine.”

The refrain of the song is very simple: “Take the limits off! Take the limits off! Release me! Release me!” Haven’t we done that – tried foolishly to place limits on God? I know I have. Sometimes, just like the people of Joseph, I have complained that I don’t have enough (fill in the blank). My complaint is me-centered. And, just as Joshua reminded the people, the strength I have is within me. My strength is God, and if I continue to operate with a heart of stone, there is little that I can do for the Kingdom.

A calling is not a simple “what you do,” it’s a “who you are.” You are not a tithe. God did not ask for ten percent of you (not even Wikipedia can find that Scripture reference.) He asks to operate in you, to make you  – His territory – into what He has planned.

Today a middle school student saw me using the mop, stopped, stared, and asked, “Mr. Roede…are you a janitor now TOO?!” Later in the day I visited with a young boy and was able to give him a Bible. Just before that he had asked, “Are you one of the pastors around here?” 

There are days that I wish I could be defined by one title, or one calling. If you are a parent, you know how impossible that feels to attain. You are not simply “parent,” you are teacher, chauffeur, banker, doctor, chef..the list grows daily. 

However, just as God made the territories “fit” the tribes of Israel, He has made one title fit each of us: Child of God. A title that you are uniquely qualified to fill in your life. There will be times when God stretches you out. There will be times when God pulls you in. But always, always, you are His territory – the place where He operates.

Read the lyrics of that song again. I’d like to challenge you to even read them out loud, and hear God speaking that to you. Make yourself available so He can work without your limits on Him. 

And have a blessed day, Child of God.

 

 

 

Advertisements

HOW ABOUT TEN?

“Then he said, ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’” Genesis 18:32

This exchange between Abraham and the Lord is one of the earliest recorded examples of intercessory prayer. Abraham had just received a visit from “three men” (believed to be two angels and the Lord, Genesis 18:2). The visitors were leaving when the Lord decided to tell Abraham that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were about to be checked out and, most likely, wiped out. This was important to Abraham. His beloved nephew Lot and his family lived in Sodom. Most of us have probably never been told by the Lord, “I plan to destroy the city where your family lives,” so we have to use our imagination a little bit.

The storm on the East Coast has been newsworthy for nearly a week. If you have loved ones in the vicinity, you have probably checked in with them about it. You have probably also been in prayer for your loved ones. My older sister leaves near Boston, and she was the first one who came to mind for me. When the mass shooting took place in Colorado, my younger sister, who lives in Denver, came to mind. When I see a forecast for icy roads in the winter, I pray for my older brother who often drives a semi for deliveries. In all of those examples, I am one thing – helpless. I would rather have something that I could do to help.

Abraham was in the same predicament. He was no dummy. Abraham is a descendant of Shem, son of Noah. Abraham had no doubt that God would destroy the unrighteous if that’s what He said He would do. Abraham decided to make the bold move of asking God to show mercy. Optimistically, Abraham begins by asking God to spare the city if fifty righteous people are found in the city. God agrees.

The scene that ensues is funny to me, but refreshing. I imagine Abraham thinking, “Wow, the Lord agreed to that pretty easily…my number must be off.” Abraham goes back and forth with the Lord five more times (makes me think of an early game of “The Price is Right”…the crowd is yelling at Abraham “Thirty!” “No! Twenty!”). Abraham and the Lord finally agree on ten, and it was settled. “When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.” Genesis 18:33

DO YOU HAVE TEN?

I have been reading through the book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. It was written by A.J. Jacobs a few years ago. It is a fascinating, and often hilarious, journey to follow. It is hilarious because he makes an effort to import Biblical rules into modern society (building a hut in his living room for a festival..buying a transporatable seat so he doesn’t sit where an “ unclean” woman sat). And it is fascinating to me because he enters this journey as an atheist (haven’t finished the book..don’t spoil the ending).

It is one thing to follow some of the more obscure laws of the Old Testament as an atheist, it is entirely different to pray as an atheist. I know that you cannot talk to God and remain unchanged. You just can’t. We are ALL made in His image, and when we pray we are in dialogue with our Heavenly Father. Jacobs’ running diary shows what can happen. Compare these two passages he wrote on prayer, one from Day 2, and the second from Day 103:

“The whole experience is making me uncomfortable. My palms are sweaty. I’m trying to speak with earnest intent, but it feels like I’m transgressing on two separate levels…I glance at the clock. I’ve been praying only for a minute. I’ve promised myself I’d try to pray for at least ten minutes three times a day.” (page 21)

“And yet I still love these prayers. To me they’re moral weight training. Every night I pray for others for ten minutes…It’s ten minutes where it’s impossible to be self-centered.” (page 128)

NOT FOCUSED ON RESULTS

Abraham bargained hoping for a better outcome. A.J. Jacobs followed a plan in order to experience prayer. We go into prayer with different agendas. But always God is loving in His response. Abraham was not rebuked for his negotiation. Jacobs was not struck by lightning for “faking” his prayers (he actually started by reciting his favorite prayers from the Bible – not bad for an atheist, huh?)

You probably know that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. You should also know that Abraham’s nephew was spared. And you should also know this: the next morning, Abraham stood where he had spoken with the Lord, looked down and saw the destroyed cities. But don’t miss this passage: “So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.” (Genesis 19:29)

The word “remembered” also appears in Genesis 8:1, when God sent a wind to push back the waters of the flood and, therefore, take care of His child, Noah. God desires our time because He loves us. And He allows us to bring our requests before Him. We don’t spend time with those we love only to see a certain result. That sounds like manipulation, and we attempt to do that when we fail to value the relationship.

Spending time with those we love deepens and strengthens the connection – allows us to know the other even more. Maybe you don’t start off with 30 minutes in prayer, but I bet you could do 10. Or maybe you have 10 people that you can lift before the Lord, or 10 things you can thank Him for. Just start, and then watch the change comes as the relationship grows deeper.

Remember God; He remembers you.

ARE YOU “ABOVE REPROACH”?

Earlier in this school year, a student felt as if I had falsely accused him. We had a discussion, and I tried to explain to him the concept of being “above reproach.” I did not feel very successful, and I imagined that I was using a phrase that is unfamiliar to many.

Later that day I asked another student to help me break down “above reproach” into words that others would understand. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, so I explained it this way: if I heard an accusation about a particular colleague, I would know it to be false because I have seen how he lives and the accusation just wouldn’t fit.

The proverbial light bulb went on, and she said, “Oh! Just say, ‘That’s my nigga.’” (I have come up with some ideas for t-shirts over the last few years, but I must admit that I never thought of a “Jesus is my nigga” t-shirt.) In essence, what she was saying is right. Her three-word expression could summarize three decades of knowledge. It captures this idea: I know that person, I’ve seen how they live, they wouldn’t do that, I’ve got their back.

A TALL ORDER 

“Now the overseer must be above reproach,” 1 Timothy 3:2 a, NIV 

“Train yourself to be godly,” 1 Timothy 4:7b, NIV

Many of us know where to find the words, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) Far fewer know where to find the instructions given to Timothy about living a godly life. Yes, it is true that we have fallen short. That shows our need for salvation. But the cross is not a stop sign; Jesus rose again and lives! We are called to do the same – not to just be saved, but to live out our salvation.

We are good at setting physical goals: walk daily, train for a race, go to Zumba classes, but how many of us have godliness goals? “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8, NIV. 

I own Tony Horton’s P90X dvds, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. You see, my physical fitness will not improve from reading the instructions, thinking about the exercises, and changing nothing about my diet or exercise. Knowing the exercises will not help me unless I do them as well. And not just put them into practice, but to exercise daily.

WHAT IS YOUR GOAL

Most people would put P90X into practice for one reason – to improve their outward appearance. God asks us to improve our inward appearance. God gives no command to wear a “Jesus is my nigga” t-shirt, but your life is a living testimony to the salvation that has been made available to you. By your actions, you are spelling out to others who Jesus is.

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4: 15, 16, NIV

That deserves to be read again because it is powerful. What we do, and what we believe, is of great influence. So now you have to pick a starting point. You cannot hop off the couch and run a marathon, but you could go for a walk. Identify your starting point.

Yesterday I teasingly asked my friend, an Ohio State fan, who would win the “Ineligi-Bowl” (Ohio State played Penn State, and both are ineligible for postseason games). His response was a simple, “That hurts. That’s not the Doug I know.” When you consistently live a certain way, others will notice when you act outside of your character. But even more importantly, we are called to examine what makes up our character – our person.

If my neighbor (or Jesus..one and the same?) asked my sons, “Does Doug yell at the dog when it sneaks on to the couch?”, my sons would have to answer “Yes.” Sadly, they have seen it. I could try to explain that I would yell less if God had made the dog hairless, but He didn’t. But if I ask myself a series of “why” questions, I could get this line of thinking exposed:

I yell because I want him to obey me. I want him to obey me because I want to be in control. I want to be in control because I don’t trust others to be in control. I don’t trust others because I still want to earn my way and prove myself worthy.

Perhaps that’s a little deep for a dog on the couch, but I have examined myself and found areas to improve. You will need grace to go on this journey, but you do need to go on this journey. Examine yourself and find your hot spots. Set goals for yourself and read the manual (the Bible). Put those things into practice daily. And listen to your coach!

Image“He (Jesus) appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. “ 1 Timothy 3:16b Jesus lived above reproach perfectly because we cannot, but he still asks us to follow him along the path. Make today the day you start walking.

What Are You Expecting?

Two years ago I was invited to attend, or be in, no fewer than eleven weddings. That is fairly common immediately after college, but an odd convergence at my stage of life. Nonetheless, it was exciting to see all of those unions and the beginning of families.

It should not surprise me, then, that I have several friends who are pregnant or new moms this year. It’s a very exciting time, and a good reminder of expectancy.

WE ‘RE EXPECTING

Announcing a pregnancy is a time of great joy for the parents, friends, and family. Believe it or not, parents used to call their friends and family to tell them (pre-facebook, of course).  Invitations would go out for baby showers, announcing, “We’re Expecting!”

The funny part about that phrase is that no one knows WHAT to expect. For those first-time parents, there is the handy-dandy book, What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Mothers typically read more of that book than the fathers, and I was no different. Babies were a new experience for me – I worked with kids who could walk and talk. 

I was excited, even in my lack of knowledge.  I went to the check-ups, saw the ultrasounds, and helped prepare the apartment.  And even with all of that, nothing prepared me for one very memorable appointment.

WE HAVE TO TALK

Following a late-term ultrasound for my oldest son, his mother and I were referred to a specialist. In a different wing of the hospital, we listened to a doctor explain that it was very likely that our son would have Down Syndrome. 

She explained it this way: there were three indicators noticed on the ultrasound that, when seen together, are very likely to predict Down Syndrome. Our son had his tongue poking out, had “sandal-toe” (a gap between the first and second toe), and a white spot on his heart. The first two markers could be explained with genetic links (I still do a Michael Jordan-esque poke of the tongue when I’m concentrating), but we had no answer for the spot on his heart.

After some time of explaining, the doctor posed this question, “Would you like to know for sure?”

EXPECTATION VS EXPECTANCY

When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Acts 21:12, NIV

Paul had just heard from a prophet that he would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles. This was not good news. The good news of the gospel was still in the process of being shared. Many were believing, but there were only a few on the front lines. Paul was one of those few, and his imprisonment would be problematic not only for him, but also for the message of The Way.

Paul’s friends held an expectation – that he would suffer.  Paul’s response shows that he had a different expectancy – that the Lord’s will must be done.

Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13, NIV

GOD IS WITH YOU

In the doctor’s office, we heard some unsettling news. I already felt unprepared to be a parent; I had no idea how I would do as a parent of a child with special needs. After a fairly brief discussion, we determined that an amniocentesis to “know for sure” would not help us meet the needs of our son. The only way to know what he would need was to meet him.

Paul also knew the only way to “know for sure” was to move ahead. Paul’s certainty in his answer was well-founded; God had already shown up many times. Why would he expect anything different in Jerusalem? As you continue reading Acts 21 and 22, you see that Paul was indeed beaten, arrested, and “bound with two chains” (21:33). 

It’s one thing to have an expectation. To some extent we all look ahead and plan. But God asks us to live in expectancy. Our state of expecting should be one where we make room for God to move – and to keep moving.

Our son was born without any symptoms of Down Syndrome. That’s his picture below from roughly 12 years ago (the top picture is his handsome father some xx years ago).  God asked us to trust Him then, and still asks for my trust. No matter what I have heard, I should move forward saying, “The Lord’s will be done” (Acts 21:14b).

Paul found a way to share his testimony in the midst of all his trials. It wasn’t easy. At one point, “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.” (Acts 23:10)

When you are completing God’s will, God will always make a way. Trust Him. He will comfort and encourage you just as He did Paul in verse 11, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'”

So take a deep breath, and take the next step. The Lord’s will be done.

Leaves and Forgiveness

I have lived in Michigan all of my life, and this has become one of my favorite times of the year. I love to walk or drive just to see God’s mastery and creativity on display in the color displays of the trees. I have also learned to appreciate what those leaves can remind me about forgiveness.

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15 NIV

Jesus is very clear that forgiving others is not a do-it-if-you-feel-like-it part of life. Forgiveness of others is a condition of receiving the Father’s forgiveness.  If you have doubts, read the verses right before this where Jesus taught us how to pray. Then, if you still think that Jesus was having an off day, read his words found in  Matthew 18:23-35. He was certain. We should probably pay attention here.

So what can we see in the leaves that can prompt us to forgive?

THE CHANGE

If you remember the lesson from science class, you will remember that the color change happens because of the reduction in sunlight, the colder temperature, and even from a lack of water at the end of summer. They begin shutting down their natural food production. They stop producing life!

When someone hurts you, you also initiate the shutting down process. Your anger, hurt and bitterness show up when there is less of the Son – Jesus – in your life. You may also feel cold, and have less of God’s life-giving Spirit flowing through you. Something that happened outside of you starts to change you on the inside, but no one notices right away.

THE COLOR

The longest day of sunlight takes place in June. Every day after that, until the Winter Solstice, produces a shorter amount of daylight. For leaves, something that started months ago is now fully evident to anyone who looks.

The same for us. There was a change outside of us a long time ago. We started shutting down then, but no one noticed. We kept it together. And you hoped against hope that no one would ever know. Even now, just like the leaves, you look beautiful on the outside. But you’re dying on the inside.

HOW MANY?

Count the leaves that fall from any given tree. You cannot. Neither can you count how many times, or how many people, have hurt you. You lost track a long time ago.

LET GO

Have you ever walked past a tree in January and wondered why it still has dead, ugly leaves? I have. It doesn’t look right. And the truth is that there cannot be new life on those branches until the old falls away. Either new life will come, or death will prevail.

Some of you are still holding on to ugliness. Maybe the only reason you have it is so that you can hold on to something. It seems better than having nothing. But I promise you, there will be no new life until you trust God enough to let go. Closed hands cannot receive.

This is why I believe Jesus and the conditions in Matthew 6:14-15. Our forgiveness is a gift. I receive gifts with open hands.  I cannot give a gift with closed hands. To give and receive forgiveness, my hands must remain open.

AGAIN AND AGAIN

Some of you have already caught on – leaves fall every year. So is this where my example falls short? Not at all. Ask Peter. In an attempt to get it right, Peter suggested that he would forgive someone seven times. “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.'” Matthew 18:22, NIV

But that’s 490 times! Yes. I heard a pastor explain it this way: that means you forgive the person who hurt you once every three minutes in any given day. You see, Jesus knew it would be a process. There is no memory pill to make the hurt disappear. The pain will return, and you will need to forgive again. And again. And again. 

And each time you go through that process, that season of life, you will once again be like a tree: deeply rooted in life-giving water, reaching higher and higher for the sun (Son).Image