Something More

Right now it feels like I stand in between the entry point of reality and something more like unreality from which I cannot escape.

I have come one direction for a while, but I need the courage to keep going: to answer the call to see beyond what I already know – beyond what captures the hearts and imaginations of the world around. I would like to illustrate this subtle distinction within a fiction story, but for now, I must be content that something like what I would communicate is present in the works of George MacDonald and many of the great poets who have gone before.

It is not so often present in the modern world where this afternoon I browsed through a free magazine wondering at the portraits of women and men showcasing luxurious clothing and accessories. I had expected to find some taste of beauty,  but I found nearly all of them to contain little more than a weak attempt at capturing the allure of sexuality.

From Defined Un-reality

There must be a way to capture and communicate something more real than this, I thought. Though I still question whether it is possible for the general audience to appreciate the subtle difference enough to demand a change. It is possible to find beauty in the human form, but there are some styles of presentation that lend themselves more easily to lust than to admiration.

Naturally, if the intention of the photographer is to awaken desire within a person for whatever is on the page, then the image has succeeded whether it awakens love or lust. Beauty, where it is present in any measure, demands such a response. However, the context I saw called the individual toward consuming a product, which will neither satisfy the desire awakened by the image nor the overall human desire that is hijacked by the whole interaction.

To…

We all should be craving something. I think that something is wholeness, or connection forged by the nature of love that draws all things closer rather than pushing them further apart. How is it possible to capture that?

In words, I think it could be the real definition of purity: being of one substance without contamination by any other. At least it would be a more effective definition than the idea of purity being the absence of something impure. Such ambiguity is equally unhelpful as defining mortality by the absence of immorality. Both are useless because the definitions communicate only what they are not.

To what, then, are we called? I don’t think it is to the image itself, but to something that it represents. When I discover that the image contains only a shallow deception, I am no longer satisfied by what I see…and so I move on, like most people, seeking something new, something more, something that will satisfy the endless craving for something a little bit more real.

It must be possible to create an image representing a truth that will capture the attention of the observer more powerfully. “Here, at last, is something real!” But even this cannot be tied to a product or the context will short-circuit the fullness of what the image represents.

The only exception I see is a product that somehow extended a similar invitation to pursue that which the image represented. True beauty, as a ‘purchasable’ product, might become the bait that lures individuals out of the matrix into the joy of life in all its chaos and hardship. Unlike a sexual high, this undefined thrill cannot be clearly articulated as each one must encounter the reality from a particular vantage point of maturity or immaturity.

Mysterious Reality

Can the invitation be offered to those who are not ready to receive it? Jesus said, “do not cast your pearls before swine” or they will be destroyed along with you (Matthew 7:6).

Must truth, then, be hidden in plain sight? It’s hard to know what you don’t already know.

Can a pathway to discovery be synthesized from the journey of all those who have gone before? The process seems almost exclusively individualized.

Perhaps it is possible to make space for the process and encourage its progress, though it is impossible to tell what this might look like. Perhaps the outcome could be defined as wholeness, but I think for most this is a lifelong journey.

Education as the Invitation

So what kind of structure could be designed to support it throughout a lifetime? Education toward wholeness cannot happen in a moment or else whatever hardens holds the extreme risk of shattering into nothing, taking life with it. Within the constraints of time and place, I consider it possible only to serve the individual with tools, examples, and inspiration – forms of learning and the freedom to customize their design and use.

Perhaps instruction toward some end common to most of humanity might be beneficial. However, too much of this tends toward defining what humanity is, and such a feat is impossible if not destructive. Still, I think there must be some allure – some truth that has the power to overwhelm the deception with an invitation to reality. Even if it evades definition, it must be possible to find.

I have not discovered it, though I have thought myself close to it. I have seen something of it, I have tasted it, shuddered at its presence, felt overwhelmed by something yet beyond my reach though it seemed momentarily tangible. It – whatever it is – speaks to something fundamentally and mysteriously human. A call or invitation echoing through its invisible chambers might invade the waves of light and sound that flood the contemporary human experience with a hint – just a hint – of something real behind what we think we know.

To Seek Something More

To the one blessed with the ability to translate from one world into the other, all the riches of the world might begin to flow. For that which is, is. And to lay hold of it just partially is to align with the current of history and humanity in a way that invites the inevitable to participate with the possible in the presentation of something more beautiful.

Such an invitation could not be overlooked, ignored, or refused, except at the expense of the one who remains blinded by that which has no substance. But the choice of ignorance must still appeal to those who lack the diligence to investigate what is real. The invitation is the only thing that can be received without effort. The reality must be acquired through effort. The first may be free; the second will cost the life of the one who desires it.

The response, therefore, will not only be strongly favorable for those who answer, it will be strongly distasteful for those who try to pretend it never came. There is no unhearing what has been heard or unseeing what has been seen, but the struggle to forget may seem more accessible than the struggle to forge a life, and those who acquiesce to indolence soon hate those who have chosen otherwise.

A clear invitation thus becomes a detestable reminder to those who continually reject the offer. The one who extends it, therefore, must do so with the cunning of a serpent and the gentleness of a dove. Otherwise, there will be no occasion to enjoy the benefit or reap the fruits of what has been unlocked.

The Truth About Sunset

Last night I saw the sunset blazing orange through the deep gray-blue of the surrounding clouds. Light broke the hazy darkness and scattered its rays over the felted mountain tops and valleys of pine. My own eyes lit up against ruby red and violent gold of the western sky then melted into the purple hue of the eastern sky, which was also visible across the expansive overlook. Color, space, time and place became an invitation to look beyond the expression of beauty into beauty itself.

Time-locked, the moment still exists within a photo for memory, but what I can see of it in a picture is only part of what was actually there. Furthermore, the experience of the moment was still only partial. I was distracted by the light and the shadows from the reality they expressed.

Word Pictures

Just like the mysterious truth about sunset goes beyond the motion and the color, I am finding it more difficult to capture the experience of my life in words. Truth is a way of life. Words may carry some of its expression, but the story they tell is much more powerful at communication.

To transfer from one to another; to form a relationship – that is what it means to communicate. The characteristics of one become the characteristics of another. Incommunicable diseases cannot be caught and so nobody is afraid of them. That which is communicable, however, spreads and grows from one to another becoming part of their experience of life for good or for evil.

I want to communicate the freedom of the kindness of God to the world around me, but this cannot happen until it first becomes part of me, then flows through me. The words that I write are ineffective at capturing my experience – except in so much as they are an expression of my heart’s desire to invite others into this way of life.

The invitation itself is an attempt to translate the desire that now flows from me because it flows from Him. No one wants the connection more than the Father Himself. His own name invokes the idea of relationship in terms that humans can relate to – though they may not fully understand.

Art As Invitation

My desire to introduce others to this way of life must be what drives my creative expression. It is impossible to capture, but greater skill produces greater clarity, so I must develop my craft in order to worship and praise more fully through it.

Furthermore, I must develop perspective so that the focus does not slip from what the art is meant to communicate onto the art itself – or worse, onto the artist.

Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower – become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations. – C.S. Lewis “The Great Divorce” p.85

How can I see the invisible reality to which the tangible experience of my life gives witness? The truth about sunset is not the sunset itself, but the invitation it offers into a reality that cannot be seen with the eyes. The truth about writing is not found in the words themselves, but in their invitation to seek something yet beyond.

The Father’s Song

Life finds its full expression in relationship.

Within the mystery of love, joy becomes strength, and from this foundation of identity as children of God we find the courage to be strong.

Faith is not a retreat from reality but a choice to live with a new perspective. Whatever truth lies behind the music in this video introduced an experience of peace and courage that I hope to always remember.

What happens when we no longer have to struggle for survival? What if the truth is it’s all good? What if everything is going to be okay?

Injustice? Wait For the LORD – Proverbs 20:22

Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22)

One morning I parked my truck in an empty lot and sat down on a rock to wait for my friend. When he arrived we took his car to another part of town for a bite to eat. Not even twenty minutes later another friend called saying my truck was about to be towed by the people who owned the restaurant beside where I had parked.

I was immediately ready to repay evil but decided that first I would go in and talk with them to find out what was going on. There were no signs about exclusive parking, the restaurant had been closed, and even now the lot was still completely empty. What were they thinking?

However, a couple of questions only uncovered an angry response and a menacing demand to leave. I had started the conversation with a conciliatory attitude, but now I was mad. This was the time to write nasty online reviews about unkind restaurant owners, warnings of being towed if they didn’t like you…Perhaps I should even scatter nails in the gravel parking lot to show them what awful people they were! Revenge has a way of inspiring cruel creativity and my imagination ran wild.

I would never eat at their restaurant – ever (which would really be a tragedy as they seem to have great food), and everyone should know that this corner of town was haunted by the evil intentions of people who towed innocent vehicles as soon as their owners looked the other way. Thoughts of forgiveness hid themselves behind a clouded obsession with how to rectify the injustice and unkindness that had been shown to me.

To Forgive Injustice

I couldn’t let this go and it was about to ruin my whole day. As my ability to think clearly began to fade and doing anything productive seemed more and more impossible, I realized I would have to let go of my desire to repay evil. I am not an angry person (except when I see or experience injustice), and my attitude was becoming more destructive to my life than whatever the poor restaurant owners had determined to do.

I needed deliverance from myself as much as from their threats against my truck. Thankfully, I had already been rescued from this latter danger, but now the former had taken hold. If it was up to me to repay their rudeness, I must either do something regrettable or live under the shadow of my own distemper.

Only the justice of the LORD could be an adequate substitute for my own retaliation, but even Jesus chose to forgive his enemies rather than condemn them to the wrath of God. He asked his father to forgive those who should have rightly been condemned – because they did not know what they were doing. My petty quarrel with the parking lot people was nothing compared to what he went through, but it was hard for me to forgive them myself, much less to let the receive the forgiveness instead of the judgment of God. How could I bless those who I felt had attempted to curse me?

Choosing to wait for the LORD is not easy – especially when it is most critical to do so. Even days later, some part of me would still rather enjoy the pleasure of revenge than the sweetness of forgiveness. Still, I know that I must either let my own dissatisfaction fester or wait for the LORD to make something beautiful out of this situation. It is not a good thing to ignore problems, but it is also not a good thing to resolve them in ways that create more. How much better would it be to hope for a transformation in the lives of people I presently dislike than to wish chaos and hardship upon them? The first choice is better, but also more difficult.

A Better Way

Repaying evil with good does not come naturally to me. This is why even today I recognize that to walk in the way of wisdom must require more than a massive amount of self-control and good intention. I need my heart to be transformed so that the goodness of God can be expressed through my life. The little charade of my experience is nothing more than an expression of the cosmic struggle between good and evil, which has already been won. I may choose to walk through the world as a victor who extends love and grace to those who still cannot taste freedom – or as a victim who does not yet know what it means to live as the son of God.

When I choose to see the truth of who God is rather than taking matters into my own hands I am not only delivered from my own natural tendencies, I am also delivered from the injustice that is beyond my power to control. I will encounter more struggles like this one throughout my life (and many that are much more significant). The key to overcoming their injustice is to continue on the path of truth rather than falling prey to the deception that I must look out for my own interest.

I do not need to repay those who I think have done me wrong because God will address the injustice bringing life and restoration in ways that I could never imagine.

Does God Keep His Promise?

Psalm 105:16-22 tells the story of Joseph who was promised a position of authority but experienced being “…put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him…” (Psalm 105:18).

Why Does the Experience Contradict the Promise?

What should I expect when it comes to me? What if the promises of God become the very area I must be tested in so that I can receive the fullness of what the word contained?

The Psalm tells about Joseph being carried in chains to a faraway country, which appears to be totally opposite the promise that he would rule. Did he need to be taken through the struggles that he encountered before the word was ready to come to fruition? Was he, like Jesus, a man who learned obedience through the things that he suffered?

Abraham received a word and tried to make it come true on his own effort, but this did not lead to the best outcome. Yet, I am more inclined to pursue his approach than to accept the process of death required for a seed to sprout and grow into the promise it contains.

My Story

Today I will be introducing a program I designed to a new audience of students. For me, it is a struggle to approach this later part of the process with the same kind of placid faith that accompanied its start. Now that I am invested, it is more difficult to release control of the outcome. Yet, this is the practice of faith that is being sharpened by this test. If I am going to be faithful with great things, I must be faithful with little things like this – not to overlook the challenges my situation presents but to address them from a framework of discovery and creativity rather than fear and control.

But as this and other key projects are coming to a head, the very practice of wisdom-based living begins to look unclear. Similarly, a friend spoke to me about the murky waters he entered when the sweetness of his own journey had reached its zenith.

It followed almost immediately that he was led into a test where his world was completely outside of his control and he could not do what it took to get it back into shape. The framework of wisdom seems wrong when everything is falling apart – almost like it only works as an add-on to a life that is running smoothly. If the latter case were true, then I wonder if it is really worth anything at all.

The proof, I told him, of its value must be seen through a different lens. The same metrics of success do not apply. But still, the longing remains inside of us to have the business projects pay off well, to see material success follow our efforts. If it does not, I must ask, was I really following the way of wisdom?

Outcomes

This is where I think Solomon got off track. The understanding of his mind was great and he could explain the world according to its function and design. His fame at one time was because of the name of the LORD (1 Kings 10:1), but I wonder if he began to think it came from his own intelligence. Did he start off in one way only to end up walking in another?

Ecclesiastes suggests he had lost the meaning and purpose to a life of wisdom (as he called it), but I think this is only because he abandoned the purity of his relationship with the one from whom it came. Is it possible that the wisdom of God so defies human expectations that material success makes it almost impossible to follow the lead of one whose definitions and outcomes are completely different?

The heroes of faith described in Hebrews did not even receive the thing that was promised (Hebrews 11:39). The outcome was totally different than what anyone expected, yet they were willing to follow through with their part in the story.  Their lives laid the foundation for the better gift of God that I enjoy today (Hebrews 11:40). Am I ready to be like them and follow faithfully into obscurity and even infamy before His name and His glory can shine forth through my life even after I am no longer around?

The Real Question

If this is the kind of story I am going to be part of, I do not know the steps I need to take in order to get where I need to go. The only thing I seem to have is the promise of ability to follow as I am led by the Spirit of God within me. Thus, the question always comes back to one of trust.

Do I have a good Father?

Is He able to fulfill what His word has spoken?

If the answer is yes, then I am free to walk confidently forward on the road to anywhere. If I am unsure that He is good or that He is great, I will hesitate to take the risk of following an uncertain pathway; I will be more inclined to trust in my own understanding and try to bring the word to fulfillment on my own.

If I am to pursue a way of wisdom, it must grow out of the confidence that I have in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not even out of my own ability to act on faith. My primary pursuit must be one of intimacy and encounter. Otherwise, I cannot help but see the world through the eyes of my own understanding.

This is true even with regard to my relationship with God; it is easier for me to define what I think this should look like than it is to actively walk it out. I would rather turn my relationship into a religious practice than stay in a place of mystery and discovery. I want to see where my feet will fall before I let them step forward. However, His presence becomes more tangibly evident when I take a step into the darkness and find I do not stumble and fall. If I never tried, I would never know this. He would remain invisible in spite of my descriptions of what this invisible looked like.

It is not my words or my understanding but my practice of life and the story this writes which most fully communicate the unique expression and work of God in this world through me.

Appearances are subject to the interpretation of the observer – Proverbs 16:25

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

– Proverbs 16:25

It is possible to be deceived about the nature of wisdom and end up walking in a way that seems right but really is not.

In this Proverb, the contrast is not between truth and falsehood but between what is right and what is death. This is what I am discovering lately throughout the scripture: truth has to do with a particular way of life rather than with a set of principles. That which is not true is a way that does not lead to life. Jesus’ claim to be the way the truth and the life was really a singular claim. Perhaps it is possible to say that it was a claim to be wisdom.

What bothers me most about this proverb is that the man does not know he is deceived concerning the nature of wisdom. Wisdom forms the way in which a person chooses to live their life. This man chose to live his life in a way that seems right…probably on the basis of trusting his own judgment concerning what is right and what is wrong.

What else is there to depend on, though?

At least the guy wasn’t doing what seemed wrong to him. If he had been doing that, I would understand why his way led to death. The choice between good and evil, right and wrong, is one that many people do not choose to make in favor of what is right. He did, but still ended up walking in the ways of death. What benefit was there to him in choosing good over evil?

The only explanation that I have here is that what seems right is not necessarily the same thing as what is right. Appearances are subject to the interpretation of the observer.

This entire chapter of Proverbs addresses the relationship between the plans of a person and their actual outcome, which belongs to the LORD. I think the second half of the chapter may be a recasting of the first, showing that a wise life is not really a matter of determining what is right and what is wrong, but of handing over this judgment to the LORD, as the one who “establishes his steps” (v.9).

If I was looking for another way of life…one that did not lead to death, I would propose it is to walk not according to what one judges to be right, but according to what the LORD directs. This requires familiarity and communication – a relationship. This implies that the Christian life is not just one about getting saved and getting out of here, but one of living every day out of a growing intimacy with the Father.

Disembodied Knowledge

What follows is a first draft section of my upcoming book: “Truth & Knowledge: A New Biblical Paradigm for Christian Education.” This header will be removed as the draft is finalized. Feedback is welcome – leave a comment!

The problem of Being described in the previous section only emerged as philosophy turned inward upon itself seeking to discover its own truth rather than to discover something outside of itself. In doing this, it lost its power to point the individual toward a better way of being, and confused the individual with endless questions about whether there was even such a question. This emphasis took at least one intermediary step between the Greek philosophers, who sought out how to live lives of virtue and those enlightenment philosophers who gave up on the quest altogether. This intermediary step was probably the end result that Socrates feared would happen if ideas were captured in books instead of people. Truth became a disembodied concept that could be poured from the mouth using words that belonged to another into the listening ear of anyone who could be attracted to its sound. Similar to the sophists who began to use rhetoric for the sake of rhetoric and fame, the philosophers (known for their love of wisdom), began to use philosophy for the sake of philosophy rather than for the sake of truth. It was possible to demonstrate a way of life that completely contradicted the creed one claimed to hold sacred.

The Medieval Church bears much blame for the walking contradiction that it became in the dark ages of history, but this is due less to an inaccurate collection of truth, than to an acceptance of its disembodiment. To chop off the head of someone who disagrees with your opinion about the nature of God is to prove knowledge of something other than the nature of God. Words and religious practice are meaningless if they do not spring from the proper source. “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of Rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). It is the double-minded man who is unstable in all his ways that should not expect to receive wisdom from God even when he asks for it (James 1:6). “How long,” asked Elijah “will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:22). Holiness requires a full commitment to one way of being. A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).

If it is possible to think of knowledge as a collection of information rather than as an intimate acquaintance, then it is possible to claim knowledge without putting forth a single shred of effort. Think of all the college graduates who have certified knowledge in everything under the sun except what they really know. As any student can tell you, the true knowledge of college is the art of getting by or getting laid. Those who truly attempt to seek a state of knowledge in anything other subject are too often stifled by a process that provokes more frustration than learning. (This is, of course, too much of a generalization, but its reality is far too apparent to ignore). My objective in such a harsh critique is not to blame the faculty, among whom I count myself, but to ask how we found ourselves in such a dire situation where those who want to learn and those who want to teach face such an impossible challenge.

In the first place, a majority of people are not even aware of the possibility of knowledge, and if they have heard of the concept and desire to find it, they begin with the wrong approach: collecting the data that is so readily accessible. Drowning in facts is perhaps the commonest way to stifle the flame of a young seeker. Too much information too fast is impossible to relate to. Instruction that focuses on this end of the process will tend toward one of two directions: pride in the person’s ability to remember and pretend to embody, or shame in the apparent inability to measure up. Thus, churches and schools are filled with those who pretend knowledge and fear lest the light of wisdom and truth should shine upon their broken and empty hearts. These have looked to the fig leaves of the surrounding world to cover their nakedness as they hide from that which could bring them life (Genesis 3:7-8). Unfortunately, the easier option is pretending there is no problem at all and making the claim that knowledge cannot be found, does not exist, or is of a different nature than a relationship between the knower and the known.

Thus, the separation of humanity from its source of Being leaves two options: to claim that Being doesn’t matter/doesn’t exist, or to seek to rediscover the connection between ourselves and that which is. For the ancient Hebrews, this looked like a pursuit of wise living in accordance with the commandments of God.

Leviticus 18:4-5

You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statues and my rules; if a person does them he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

For the Greek philosophers, this looked like the practice of a virtuous life. The pursuit of virtue could guide the person seeking to live in the way of wisdom. The pursuit of virtue is a predefined pathway of restoring that connection. In this way, religion offered the same solution as philosophy. The love of wisdom is not a pretense of knowledge, but rather an attempt to find life. For virtue is only apparent in its demonstration. One does not consider a person generous until something is given. The beginning of the process of transformation is the humble recognition that one is not virtuous – as long as I think myself to be a wise person, I will have no incentive to acquire wisdom. Aristotle supposes that one must be trained in virtue because it is not a natural practice for the human person. By nature, we seek to conform the world we encounter to ourselves rather to respond to what the sages have discovered is true. We would rather settle for what is easy than to work for what is worthwhile, and the transition from one choice to the other is what requires education.

In part, this reflects the Biblical view in which humanity was given the commission to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). This does not appear to have changed throughout the biblical narrative. Rather, Paul says that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). The blessing given to Noah repeated the blessing given to Adam, except it added a note that the fear and dread of mankind would be on all of the creatures (Genesis 9:2). If by nature of his identity as one bearing the image of God, Adam was supposed to rule, the men who stepped off the ark were so far removed from this image (in spite of being saved) that all the creatures lived in dread. Even today, it is only with careful attention and great amount of time that humans and the creatures we consider tame can form the bond of relationship that it seems they must desire. Thus, it is by nature that we seek to rule, but unless we learn to find our identity in the image of God rather than in our own image, the result of our rule will not be a restoration of peace. I believe it was to address this problem that Aristotle proposed that training in virtue was necessary.

The Courage To Be Strong

“Be strong and courageous” is a theme that echoes through the first chapter of Joshua and resounds throughout his life as recorded in the Pentateuch. As the new leader of Israel, Joshua needed to understand God’s promise to be with Him and to deliver on what He had promised to the nation about entering the land of Canaan.

What Courage Looks Like

“Be strong and courageous, for you will cause this people to inherit the land that I swore  (promised) to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:6).

The phrase “be strong” in the Septuagint means to be forceful and refers to the force of God in a person.[1] The first time Joshua hears this phrase, it is followed by a reason why: God has a plan that He is going to implement. The phrase is then repeated a second time before an outline of what being strong and courageous will look like: Joshua must conform his mind to the truth of God revealed in the law. He had to become aligned with the purposes of the kingdom of heaven in order to achieve the impossible objective. God had a goal and Joshua was commanded to forcefully pursue becoming (“BE strong and courageous”) the kind of person through whom it could come.

This pursuit of becoming could not take place apart from a deep relationship with what God had already spoken. The promise of God does not find its fulfilment apart of the law of God. If Joshua wanted to be strong and courageous in the way that is meant here, it required an alignment with what was already revealed in the word of God. The extra emphasis on courage in verse seven seems to indicate the great difficulty of this challenge.

“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7).

This is not something that Joshua has to try to figure out on his own, though. In addition to the admonition toward courage, God gives instructions in verse 8 on how Joshua is going to become the kind of person that is needed to lead the people into their promise.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).

It is through repeated exposure to the word of God that Joshua will renew his mind and become the kind of person who follows what it says. This is reminiscent of Psalm 1, which describes the blessed man as the one whose “delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither. In all that he does he prospers (Psalm 1:2-3).

By the time God gives the command to Joshua, it is apparent that he is a man prepared to succeed in whatever he does. As the servant of Moses, he ascended the mountain of God, which everyone else was warned not to even approach (Exodus 19:12; 32:17). He was the one who stayed behind at the tent of meeting to speak with God even after Moses had gone home for the night (Exodus 33:11). Every time we see him before the book of Joshua, this man gives evidence that he has applied his heart to the law and aligned his life to what it says. By the time we hear the command to strength and courage in the book of Joshua, it is simply a reminder of what has already been done.

Why Courage is Hard

In Deuteronomy 31:3 Joshua is given charge of the people of Israel when Moses is about to depart. The final instructions of Moses are that Joshua is to pass over at the head of the nation to lead them into the promised land. Moses further instructed, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).

In the public commission that follows Joshua receives a repeat of these instructions from the voice of God saying “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you” (Deuteronomy 31:23).

Courage and strength from God is not a recent promise, but rather a reflection of an earlier promise made to the whole nation of Israel in Exodus 23 when God promised to send his angel before the people of Israel: “If you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (v. 22).

Joshua remembered this promise when he first came back from spying out the land of Canaan. In those younger days he had said “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us…Only do not rebel agains the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (Numbers 14:7-9).

Unfortunately, the people responded to this admonition of Joshua by picking up stones to kill him and his brave friend, Caleb (Numbers 14:10). The two only escaped from this unfortunate end by the appearance of the glory of the LORD in the camp of Israel. Thus, it is easy to understand why Joshua might hesitate to suggest the same thing twice.

Perhaps this is why the book of Joshua opens with God encouraging this man to step up and begin to be the man who he already is – only now with the strength of God flowing through him (remember the definition from earlier…). The courage he needs is the courage to do what God has commanded him. We may consider the opening chapter of the book to be a gentle reminder to Joshua of all the things that have already been spoken over his life.

In Joshua 1:9 God asks a rhetorical question: “Have I not commanded you?” and then repeats the entire promise from Deuteronomy when Joshua was commissioned as leader of the people: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” 

I think Joshua had gotten comfortable being in charge as long as he was on the side of the river that had already been conquered. This, however, was not to be his destiny. He was called to lead the people Israel across the Jordan River to inherit the promises of God…the same people whose parents had tried to stone him the last time he suggested such a thing.

The Importance of Humility

For this reason, I think Joshua chooses his words carefully in verse 10 when he tells the people “get ready, because in three days we are crossing the Jordan River ‘to go in and take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.’” This is a subtle contrast to his previous language when he suggests that God is giving the promised land to “us” to possess. In some sense, it appears that he has learned to distance himself from the people and place himself as simply a mouthpiece of God. He might have learned some of this from Moses who had often faced a similar struggle in his leadership. Maybe the courage to which he was called required him to let go of faith in his ability as a leader and simply trust the plan of God.

Joshua recognizes that He is not the one who will make the promise come true for everyone. It is not his noble courage and strength as a leader that will result in their victory, but rather his dependence upon the strength of the LORD at work through him to deliver the crazy promise. He is just working alongside as a means through which the voice of God can speak to the people (a mediator of sorts) to direct them to where they are meant to go.

How can he successfully do this? Only by thinking back to what God said in verses seven and eight. He must immerse himself in the truth of what God has commanded and promised. It is in this way that the power of God will flow through his life. It is not in his pursuit of leadership or his bold stand for the truth, but his conformity to what God is doing that will make him a successful leader. 

The Outcome of Courage

In the present day, God still has a plan He is implementing for His kingdom on earth (Matthew 6:10). He calls His people to be a part of this plan, not because we are needed to move it forward, but because He wants His strength to flow through us. This requires that we have the courage to pursue the renewal of our minds through consistent exposure to the truth of what has been written in the Bible. More than this, however, it is the courage to follow it that leads to our success wherever we go.

Those who wish to be great in the kingdom of heaven are those who do and teach the law, not those who let go of the commands of God in order to pursue His promises (Matthew 5:19). We have already seen what happened when the nation of Israel decided to go into the promised land on their own without the power of God. They were destroyed by their enemies (Numbers 14:40-45). The opportunity to follow God into the promise had been lost and when they tried to achieve it on their own, their efforts failed.

I think that the memory of this sad event was part of the reason it would take courage for Joshua to regain faith in the promises of God and to follow his leading to bring the people across the river into a place of danger. If Joshua was not ready to trust himself to the strength of the LORD, his leadership would put the entire nation at risk of a similar catastrophe. What if he had been unable to convince the priests to step into a flooded river in Chapter 3 or tried another method besides marching in circles around the walls of Jericho in Chapter 5…?

That is not how the story goes, however.

When the voice of the LORD came to Joshua with the instructions to be strong and courageous, he turned a second time to the people and asked them to follow God’s promises across the river and into the land. Unlike the previous occasion when they tried to kill him, the people were now ready to follow and believe the word of the LORD. Even when Joshua asked those who had already received their inheritance to leave behind their homes and families to enter a war on behalf of the others, they responded by saying: “All that you have commanded us, we will do…only be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:16-18).

I think, in his own story, Joshua had finally figured out what it looked like to be strong and courageous. In my own life, it is still a struggle to remember that the way I prepare to enter the promises of God is not by pursuing them on my own, but by embracing the courage needed to immerse myself in the truth of His word until I am aligned with the vision of what He is going to do. The courage to be strong is the courage to pursue living out the commands and promises of God by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in my life. That is, after all, in the life of Joshua, how great things began to happen!

[1] Thanks to Elsa at Ellerslie for sharing her insights on the meaning of this term.

Proverbs 20:3 – Good Advice for Facebook

“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling” (Proverbs 20:3).

It must be recognized that conflict has its place in the development of healthy opinions and relationships. The Proverb here does not suggest that a man never engage in conflict, but that when he does, there is honor to be found in holding oneself aloof. Those who take arguments personally and identify themselves by the position that they hold prepare themselves for an ongoing quarrel that can have no resolution. It is a foolish thing to do and a fool can be identified by this approach to conflict. On the other hand, to hold an idea at arm’s length and discuss it modestly with the intention of clarity, understanding, and stronger relationships is to engage in an honorable pursuit. The wise person must seek to develop this ability and until that point may prudently refrain from engaging in a conflict through the foolish art of quarreling.

An application of this Proverb to the facebook comment section might be appropriately welcome. Far better to hold oneself aloof from strife and maintain a posture of honor toward self and others than to obliterate a reputation by the pursuit of strife in a quarrelsome manner. As the writer of Proverbs proposes, only a fool does this.

Serenity

Serenity,
That quiet calm, that healing hush,
falls over the earth like a blanket,
covering the remnants of the past with a moment
of right now.
More than a promise of renewal, it appears
like the morning, at the beginning of a new time
– the dawning of change.

Going somewhere,
or nowhere,
its shadow fails to disguise the light that will
inevitably
shatter its power. It knows
the moment will give way to opportunity.
The still of singing
brings the blazing sun of mid-day.
Blue will turn to yellow
and yellow to red,
as time passes,
another cycle of the day.

The dew of morning gathers on a leaf.
From high up in a tree, it casts itself over the edge.
A free fall becomes a shower
of silver sparkles.

The silver line on the blue horizon grows.
The mists begin to scatter at will.
Some here, some there.
Hiding in a secret place
to emerge in the cover of darkness.

But their movement is slow.
In the thick,
but fading moment, the movement
evaporates
into the backdrop of a canvass whose picture still works magic on the air.

Its power, too, will fade.
Its time will pass.
But til it does, every sound, every shadow,
the color, the motion…all
experience the gravitas of its bendable restriction.
They wait without impatience
for the time to pass.
Never anxious to be free,
they willingly acquiesce
to the tranquil power, of
serenity.

A reflection from 2014. Thanks to John Anderson for the use of his cabin on Lake Superior where this scene was observed.