Put Away Your Idols

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” ~ Joshua 24:14

Toward the end of his life, Joshua called together the leaders of the tribes of Israel and issued them a final challenge. He told them to put away the gods their ancestors had served in Egypt and to follow his example in serving the Lord alone. This came with a warning from Joshua that if they failed to serve the Lord fully and turned back to their idolatry, then they would experience God’s judgment (a reality we see again and again throughout the book of Judges, as well as the people’s exile from the land many years later).

This speaks to our hearts as well. We all come to Jesus with various idols in tow. For us in western cultures, these are not so much trinkets of wood, rock, or gold that we place on our mantles for homage. Yet these are things in our lives that hinder full devotion to Jesus.

In The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson provides a good diagnostic question to determine the idols of our hearts:

This is how you know what your god really is; this is how you know what’s really the treasure of your heart. What is it that you wouldn’t give up for Jesus? You’d give up everything in the world but this one thing. Well, that’s what you worship.

In another book, Gods at War, Kyle Idleman details nine potential idols. Three are in the “temple of pleasure”—food, sex, and entertainment; three in the “temple of power”—success, money, and achievement; and three in the “temple of love”—romance, family, and self.

When Jesus calls us to follow him, he calls us to put away all our idols and worship him alone. He calls us to lay down our very lives to pick up the self-denying sacrifice of our own crosses and follow after him (Luke 9:23). This isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.

The good news is that God gives us grace and the power of his Spirit to actually lay down our idols. The more we focus on God, his greatness, his glory, and the salvation he offers through Jesus, the less our hearts cling to the idols of our past. When Jesus is Lord over our hearts and priorities, it keeps our desires and needs in their proper place and prevents them from growing into hopeless idols.

This concludes our devotional series through Joshua. Look for a new series coming soon!

The Greatest Leadership Quality

“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” – Joshua to Israel’s leaders, Joshua 23:11

Toward the end of the book bearing his name, Joshua, now “old and well advanced in years,” summoned the leaders of Israel together and gave them both a promise and a warning. The promise: Much of the land had already been taken, and if the people remained faithful to God, then he would drive out the rest of the inhabitants. The warning: If the people turned from God then he would not drive out the inhabitants and would even expel Israel from the land.

In the midst of this, Joshua gave the leaders the charge to be courageous and faithful, as God had charged him, and also to be “very careful to love the Lord your God.”

This same line, taken from Moses, was later given as an answer by Jesus to the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Following this command is, therefore, something we all should do, but it is especially the number one attribute we should look for in leaders.

As you move from Joshua into Judges, you see that Israel’s faithfulness did not last long. This failure seemed to stem from a lack of God-loving leadership to guide the people well.

So often today, we want to treat the church as a business, the pastors as functional CEOs and the deacons as a Board of Directors. We highlight communication and administration skills and matters of personality as the highest priorities. This is not to say that leaders and potential leaders should not seek to grow in these things, but at the core of their being must be a deep love for God above all else.

It is better to have an unpolished leader who deeply loves Jesus than to have a grand executive whose love for God is spotty at best. Only with their own growing love for God will leaders be able to help others grow to love God more.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

The Reward of Patient Faithfulness

“And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’” – Caleb to Joshua, Joshua 14:9

While the land was being divided up among the tribes, Caleb approached Joshua and reminded him of a promise that God had made after Moses had sent spies into the land—a story we read about in Numbers 13-14. Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan, one from each tribe, a number that included both Caleb and Joshua.

The spies returned saying that the land was a good land, flowing with milk and honey as God had promised. But ten of the spies discouraged the people by telling how mighty the inhabitants of the land were and how their mighty armies would surely crush Israel. Only Caleb and Joshua proved faithful and held onto the assurance of God’s promise to fight for the people.

The result was that every person twenty years old or older was left to wander and die in the wilderness over a 40-year period. Those nineteen and under at that point would be allowed to enter the land with their future children and grandchildren.

Caleb and Joshua were the exception to this. Both, though, still had to wander through the wilderness for four decades just like the rest of the people. But whereas their peers died, Caleb noted, “Behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses… I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me” (Joshua 14:10-11).

So, Caleb received what he was promised. The reward of his obedience was something he had to wait patiently for, but at the proper time it came. It is the same for followers of Jesus when the Bible calls us to endurance (Hebrews 10:36, Revelation 14:12).

The fulfillment of God’s promises is not often immediate. Before we experience everything God has promised us, we may have to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness, we may have to spend a lifetime. But, the day will come when we receive what has been promised; and when that day arrives, the wait and anything we endure in the process will prove more than worth it (Romans 8:18).

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

The Promise Keeping God

These are the inheritances that Eleazer the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the father’s houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land. – Joshua 19:51

From Joshua 10:16-21:45, we encounter a rather lengthy list of achievements and land divisions as Israel took the Promised Land. It’s tempting for us to want to flip through these words quickly as we ask: What’s the point? How is this relevant for me?

While it is true that there are a lot of details and names that we can get lost in, our reading is helped greatly if we keep the big picture in mind. Back in Genesis 12:1-9, God promised to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan as their inheritance. Several hundred years would pass. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would all die well before this promise came to be fulfilled.

But read these words of Joshua at the completion of the Land’s division: “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there… Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” (Joshua 21:43, 45).

Each word found in those chapters—each king who was conquered, each division of fields that was made, and each name listed points to the fact that God is the promise-keeping God. Reading these words assures us of this: God kept his promises in the past, he will also keep his promises given us in Christ—promises of complete forgiveness, future resurrection, and a joy-filled eternity.

So, let us see these lists and descriptions not as boring substance to skip but as faith-strengthening scripture God gave us for our benefit.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

On Miracles

At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel. ~ Joshua 10:12-14

Sometimes we read verses like those above, and we think, “That seems impossible.” Many a skeptic take time to scoff at the miracles listed in the Bible. According to the laws of nature, they say, the sun won’t stand still, seas don’t split with walls of water, prophets don’t last three days in the belly of a fish, men don’t walk on the sea, and water doesn’t turn into wine.

And they’re right—these things don’t happen according to the laws of nature.

But these are not operations of the laws of nature. When it comes to the miracles in the Bible, our acceptance of them as followers of Jesus is rooted in a God who is bigger than laws of nature. The opening words of scripture begin to define our view of God: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

When we think about the way the universe works, we know that God has given it order. This order comes in what we call laws of nature, or physics, or mathematics, etc. We count it a good thing that the universe isn’t operated by chaos. We know that as we go about our day, the earth will make one rotation on its axis, so that the sun and moon appear to come up and go down. We know that it takes approximately 365 of these rotations for the earth to make one revolution around the sun—what we know as our year. We know this is normal and it helps order our lives.

Miracles, however, are acts of God that supersede this order. What makes them “miraculous” is that they aren’t expected in the norm of things. When we look at God, we don’t have a God who is limited under natural law. No, rather, as creator, he made natural law. Therefore, when he sees fit, he can act in contrast to this law.

We don’t know by what process God made the “sun stand still” while Israel fought the Gibeonites. We don’t know the details of how God kept Jonah alive in a fish. We don’t know how the molecules of the sea solidified under Jesus’ feet (and even Peter’s for a moment). But we know all of these things are possible because God is God.

God spoke creation into existence with words. God upholds his creation in all of its daily rhythms by his power. When we believe in a God this big, we might not expect the earth to stop its rotation and the sun to come to a halt in the sky as a normal course of order, but we can say that it’s not a big deal for God to make it happen.

If not for the bigness of God in working miracles, then our faith would have no foundation. After all, by natural laws, dead men don’t rise from the grave. Yet, our hope is found in this very act of God’s greater power.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Seeking the Lord

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. – Joshua 9:14-15

Fearing the might of Israel’s army after hearing how they had conquered Jericho and Ai and others in the wilderness with the help of God, the Gibeonites formed a plan to deceive the leaders of Israel and spare their own lives. They dressed in old, worn out clothes, took stale bread, and went to Joshua, claiming to be from a faraway land. Though the leaders of Israel questioned the Gibeonites, they ultimately took the word of the travelers and made a covenant of peace with the Gibeonite people.

Their plan worked, but the covenant went against what God had instructed Joshua about taking the land. Joshua 9:14-15 describes where the leaders of Israel failed: They didn’t ask counsel from God.

This reminds us that we cannot rely on our own wisdom. We must seek counsel from God. How do we do this?

First, we look to what God has said in Scripture. The Bible is God’s voice spoken to us. It reveals his plan and his will. What the Bible teaches us is profitable for our growth in righteousness through instruction, rebuke, and correction (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If God has commanded us to do something in his word, then we do it. If he has commanded us not to do it, then we’re to avoid it. But for other things in life where we don’t have explicit commands, we:

Second, pray. James 1 speaks about having wisdom and lacking wisdom. If we lack wisdom and need it, we are to ask God. His granting of wisdom may come in a variety of ways, but we should ask and asking we should believe that God desires us to be wise. Third, we seek the wisdom of godly men and women whom we trust. Proverbs 12:15 says that a wise person will listen to advice. Other people have life experiences that we often don’t. What they have learned along the way as they seek to follow Jesus can be invaluable in helping us honor God.

So, let us not be like the Israelites when faced with the Gibeonite deception. Let us seek God and seek to do his will in all things.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

The Reward of Patience

“And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves…” ~ Joshua 8:2

When Israel went up against the city of Jericho, God commanded the army to make a complete desolation of the city. Silver, gold, and vessels of bronze and iron would go into the treasury, but the people were to keep no livestock or take any spoils for themselves. Achan disobeyed this command, resulting in his own death after the armies were defeated at the next city, Ai.

But when the nation dealt with Achan’s sin and the army was ready to defeat Ai, God issued a command different than he had with Jericho: You may take the spoils and livestock for yourselves.

Because Achan had coveted and disobeyed God (7:20-21). It cost him everything. If he had waited in patience, he would have had gained things similar to what he took in disobedience.

Part of what this teaches us is our need for patience. God commanded against covetousness, or a strong desire to obtain what others have, in the Ten Commandments. Then, Paul warned against the same in Ephesians 5:5, comparing coveting to idolatry. When we covet and desire to have what others have, we are saying to God: I can’t trust you, what you have given me isn’t enough!

God, however, promises to take care of us. Jesus taught us to avoid anxiety, seek God’s kingdom, and trust. After all, look at the flowers of the field or the birds of the air and see how the Father takes care of them. And we are far more valuable than birds and flowers (Matthew 6:25-33). Also, in Luke 18:28-30, Jesus promises far more and eternal gain for those who give up much to follow him.

But, this requires patience. In eternity, through Jesus, God promises us the world. Today, though, hardships may still come. Tomorrow we might lose everything but in eternity we will have riches untold. Are we willing to wait? Are we willing to be patient and let God provide for us in his time and his plan? Or will we try to force the issue and take for ourselves today what God intends to give us tomorrow?

Be patient. Be obedient. Set your heart on God’s promises in God’s time.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.