No, God isn’t on Your Side (At Least not Unequivocally)

There are mostly two kinds of people in this world: the kind that think God is always for them and the kind that think God is always against them. I’ve met very few inbetweeners.

But the thing is it’s only the inbetweeners – those who don’t think God is for them or against them – who are holding a biblical belief.

Early on in Joshua’s tenure as Israel’s head honcho, the Lord/an angel/the pre-incarnate Christ appears to Joshua in the form of a man to give him instructions on how to conquer Jericho.

At first Joshua doesn’t seem to recognize this man is no ordinary man. Joshua approaches him and asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13). Joshua realizes this man is not an Israelite. But some foreigners supported Israel, living among them and fighting with them in all their battles. So Joshua wants to know: is this guy on Israel’s side or Jericho’s side?

The man replied, “Neither…but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come,” (Joshua 5:14).

This revelation clues Joshua into the fact that this man is supernatural, sent by God to speak to him. Immediately, “Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?'” (Joshua 5:15).

That word “neither” was most unexpected to me. How can God not be for Israel and against her enemies always? Israel is His chosen nation! He’s giving her leaders step by step directions on how to violently conquer and destroy every single breathing human being in every single nation in her path. What does He mean “neither”?!

There are two possibilities I can think of.

One is perhaps all God is trying to communicate here is that the man before Joshua is not human, like he had assumed. He’s not an Israelite or a sympathetic foreigner, and he’s not from Jericho. He’s neither. End of story.

The other possibility is God is communicating that and more, the “more” being that God doesn’t choose sides, at least not unequivocally. 

I know, I don’t like it anymore than you do. I want to believe God is cheering me on in every single thing I do, turning to the angels from time to time to say, “Do you see her?! That’s my daughter! Isn’t she wonderful?!”

Perhaps He does do that on occasion. But I guarantee you He doesn’t do that all the time.

In fact, there are times He must surely say to Himself what I often say to my daughters, “Oh, no, ma’am! That is not acceptable behavior.” And then He doles out some discipline to let His hard-headed daughter know He is not at all for her when she insists on sinning.

This is the case with Israel.

Yes, the Israelites are God’s chosen nation. Yes, He empowers them to win quite a few battles and to take possession of a choice expanse of land.

But when the Israelites choose to do wrong, God is quick to drop His support. He disciplines them and allows them to suffer all kinds of terrible consequences as a result of their disobedience, sometimes even causing the tragic results.

A couple of examples:

  • He is lightning quick to thoroughly punish the Israelites when they get impatient with how long Moses and God’s powwow takes on Mount Sinai. They decide 40 days is a ridiculous amount of time to wait, so they make a golden calf and worship a hunk of shiny metal instead. And God is anything but for them, instructing Moses to kill the idol worshippers, some 3,000 Israelites, and sending a plague on the rest of nation (Exodus 32).
  • God doesn’t hesitate to punish the Israelites with a 40 year death sentence in the wilderness because they don’t trust Him enough to enter the Promised Land when He tells them to. Because of their lack of faith, God tells them to go somewhere else instead. Upon hearing this consequence, the Israelites try to renege on their choice to disobey and agree to go to the Promised Land the next day. Moses tries to talk them out of it, but they erroneously believe disobeying God’s command to go somewhere else in an effort to obey His initial command to go to the Promised Land will be acceptable. On the contrary, He lets them know it isn’t by allowing the Amalekites to destroy many of them and sending a plague on many more (Numbers 14).

I could go on. In fact, most of the Old Testament attests to the fact that God doesn’t unequivocally endorse anyone, not even those who are supposedly especially tight with Him. God doesn’t jump on our team or another team. He does not proclaim unconditional loyalty to humans.

Why not? Especially this side of the cross, shouldn’t He always be in our corner if we are Christians?

Not only is that logically impossible (think of how many times you and another Christ-follower were on different sides of an issue – how could God be “for” both of you at the same time?), but God knows how fickle people are, even believers. He knows how we can worship Him with all our hearts one minute and be nose-deep in sin the next. Is it any wonder He won’t support us or anyone else unequivocally?

The reality is God doesn’t pick sides; we do. 

God has a team; Satan has a team. Humans decide which team to be on, sometimes jumping back and forth at a nauseating pace.

The Story is about God and His Kingdom, not us and ours. God is not for humans; God is for God. Are we?

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The Truth About God’s Promsies

Sometimes the Old Testament seems irrelevant.  I yawned my way through the dividing of the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel (Joshua 13-21).  And when I was just about to nod off, one gem of a verse caught my heart and made all that boring reading worth it.

When the land was completely allotted, the Israelites finally got rest from their enemies.  The years of fighting off the natives came to a close, and Israel rested in full victory, just as the Lord had “predicted” in Genesis 12:6-7 (Joshua 21:44).

Reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness, Joshua writes, “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled,” (Joshua 21:45).

You mean God’s trustworthiness wasn’t affected by Israel’s disobedience?

You mean God didn’t change His mind and not deliver on His promises because Israel rejected Him for a golden calf?

You mean Israel’s constant grumbling about the Lord’s choice of leaders and disbelief in the Lord’s power didn’t cause God to abandon them all together?

He could have walked away from Israel completely.  From a human perspective, He would have been totally justified in doing so.  But He didn’t.

And that is relevant news for us today.

The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament and beyond.  God’s promises are reliable.  There is nothing you or I – believers in Jesus – can do to make God go back on His Word.  If He said He will do something, He will do it, regardless of the many persuasive reasons we give Him not to.

Not one of the Lord’s good promises to me will fail; every one will be fulfilled.

Know those promises.  Trust those promises.

Preparation

I’ve mentioned more than once that I hope God will, I think God might, I imagine God could use my writing and teaching in a huge way.  In other words, I REALLY hope He does!  I’m talking Beth Moore sized/type of ministry.  Traveling to teach the Word of God all over the world.  Writing Bible studies.  Sharing my passion for the Bible with others in the hopes that they, too, will be stirred by the Spirit to know God more.

I don’t know if God will ever do that.  I don’t know for sure that this blog that gets about 50 views per post and my small group teaching that averages about 15 people isn’t as big as things will ever get for me.

God is the Author of my story.  He knows what’s going to happen.  I’m just a character waiting to see what’s going to happen on the next page.  But while I wait, I have a responsibility.

In the opening chapters of Joshua, the young leader is transitioning into his undesirable role as the Israelites’ leader into the Promised Land.  The people are camping on the east side of the Jordan river, waiting for the sign to cross and enter the land, when Joshua says this, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you,” (Joshua 3:5).

I’m a pretty lazy person.  If I were an Israelite, my first thought would’ve been, “Uhh, the Lord isn’t going to act until tomorrow.  Can’t we wait and consecrate ourselves then?”

No, that will not do.  The Israelites are to prepare themselves now for the amazing things to come.

More specifically, they were told to consecrate themselves.  That’s a Bibley word.  But what does it really mean?  The Israelites were to make themselves holy in anticipation of what the Lord was about to do.  In other words, they were to act right.  Do right.  Be right.  Say right things.  Make right choices.  Ask forgiveness for past wrong choices and attitudes.  Ask God to clean their hearts.  Really, when it gets down to it, consecrating oneself is about the heart.  Purify their hearts.

After all, no one wants to be the fool in the thick of sin when God shows up to do something amazing.  It’d be like your pastor seeing you out on a date with someone who is not your spouse.  How embarrassed would you be?

Anyway, you and I do not have the benefit of having someone in the flesh instructing us to get ready – purify our hearts of all unrighteousness and be on our best behavior – because the Lord is about to do amazing things among us.  But we can infer from the Bible that this is the case.

God tells us His plans for us are good (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Philippians 1:6).

What are we doing to prepare ourselves for the amazing things He’s about to do?

Do Christians HAVE to Read the Bible?

When we miss the point of reading the Bible, sometimes we ask ourselves (and those in spiritual authority over us) why we have to read the Bible everyday.

“Show me in the Bible where we are commanded to have daily quiet times,” we say, looking for a way to alleviate our feelings of guilt over the fact that we don’t want to take time to read the Bible each day.

We try to build an argument to support the idea that weekly quiet times or monthly Bible reading is sufficient.  We reason that if the Bible doesn’t expressly say we must read the Bible every day, then we have the freedom to read it as frequently (or as infrequently, as the case may be) as our hearts desire.

I mean, that’s just biblical.  Christ has set us free from the Law!

Mel Gibson as William Wallace wearing woad.
Image via Wikipedia

(Insert William Wallace’s “FREEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOM!” cry here.)

The real issue at hand is not what the Bible does and doesn’t say about spending focused time with the Lord alone.  The actual problem at hand is our lack of desire to be with Him.But, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend we really do want to understand the biblicality of quiet times.  More specifically, let’s consider what the Bible tells us about one facet of quiet times – reading the Bible.

When the Lord was instructing Joshua on taking over as the Israelite’s leader, He said, “Be careful to obey all the Law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful,” (Joshua 1:7-8).

How can we obey the Bible if we don’t know it?   How can we speak about it and meditate on it if we don’t know it?  How can we know it if we don’t read it?  How can we remember what we read if we don’t read it often?

But maybe this verse is not enough to convince us of the need for daily Bible reading…  just often Bible reading.  And “often” is the loophole through which our guilty feelings can escape if we only want to read the Word every once in awhile.

If we are going to emphatically dispute the idea that the Bible doesn’t require us to read it daily, we’re going to have to find another verse.

And I found that verse today.

In Deuteronomy 17, God is telling Moses that there will come a day when Israel will no longer be satisfied with God being their King – they are going to demand a human king.  And when that king is appointed, God says of him, “He is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees,” Deuteronomy (17:18-19).

To modernize things, these verses are saying Israel’s leader is to a) have his own Bible, b) keep his Bible with him, and c) read his Bible daily.

Why?

So he may learn to revere the Lord and obey His Word.

You can infer with me that if the king does not know the Word, he won’t know how to revere God or what he needs to do to obey God.

And even though we are not kings of Israel, these commands still apply to us.  Those who know the Bible know how to revere and obey Him.

So it is with us.  The Bible tells us we need to read the Bible.  If you’re struggling with not wanting to read the Word, tell Him about it.  Tell Him why you don’t want to.  Ask Him to make you want to.  He can change your desire.  Just ask.

You Are Not Able

We sprinted through the book of Joshua yesterday in Bible study.  With only one documented screw up (Joshua 9), Joshua was one of Israel’s most faithful leaders.  He was big on Bible reading and made it a priority for his people to know the Word so they could obey God (Joshua 8:34-35).  And Joshua led by example, quickly obeying the Lord anytime He spoke.

When Joshua’s run came to an end, he left the Israelites with this command, “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).

Then Joshua warned, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living” (Joshua 24:15).

Joshua laid out the choices for the Israelites.  He knew they would serve/worship something.  It was just a matter of who/what.

We, too, each have a choice to make – what will we serve?  Ourselves?  Any number of gods?  Our families?  The Earth?  What will we worship?  Our money?  Our pastor?  Our intelligence?  Our kids?  Love?

We will worship something.  That’s human nature.  But we get/have to choose what that something is.

The Israelites responded to Joshua like this, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!  It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes.  He protected us our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled.  And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land.  We too will serve the Lord because he is our God” (Joshua 24:16-18).

The Israelites were on a spiritual high.  They had seen God do a lot of great things recently (Joshua 24:2-13).  And they were gung ho about serving the Lord.  I believe they were totally sincere.  They wanted to worship God; they intended to serve Him only; and they were convinced they could do it.

And Joshua, wonderful leader that he was, offers this reality check, “‘You are not able to serve the Lord.  He is a holy God; he is a jealous God.  He will not forgive your rebellion and sins.  If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you'” (Joshua 24:19-20).

This reality check isn’t just for the Israelites.  It’s for us, too.

You and I are not able to serve the Lord.

As much as we may want to, as committed as we may think we are, His standards of holiness and perfection are too high for any of us to reach consistently.

And when we finally admit this – that we cannot be good enough to please Him – we are ready to admit that we need help.

What can give you and me the ability to serve the Lord?  What balances this equation:

Me + ________ = ability to serve God

Resolve?  No.

Good intentions?  No.

Going to church?  No.

Tithing?  No.

Volunteering?  No.

None of those things are enough to satisfy a holy, jealous God.  Nothing in the natural realm can help us.  We need something supernatural.

Joshua is basically saying, “You are not able to serve the Lord because you are not able to keep yourselves from committing idolatry.  And He will not put up with that.”

And we are just as idolatrous today as the Israelites were then.

If we can’t keep ourselves from worshiping things that are not God, then we need a way to deflect God’s punishment for our waywardness.

Enter Jesus.

“Give me the wrath they deserve,” Jesus says to God, “and delight in them as if you are delighting in Me, the sinless One.”

And God agreed.

If we want Him to, He pours out the penalties we’ve earned on Christ and the love He’s earned on us.

That is amazing grace.

But that doesn’t enable us to serve Him.  It just gets us off the eternal hook for not serving Him.

Enter the Holy Spirit, or, Part 2 of amazing grace.

When we choose Christ, the Holy Spirit enters us and completes the equation above.

Me + the Holy Spirit  = ability to serve God

The Holy Spirit is that missing supernatural part that miraculously enables us, in whom there is nothing good or pure or holy, to worship the Lord.  The Holy Spirit helps us do that which we are unable to do apart from Him.

You are not able to serve the Lord.  But the Holy Spirit can help you.  Just ask.