To Misquote Garth, Maybe You Have Low Friends in High Places

The Low-Down on High Places

In the ancient Middle East, there were worship centers called “high places”, where all kinds of pagan ritualistic mischief took place. They show up in Joshua and Judges with regularity, and there is a lot about them you probably have never thought about. The key word here is “pagan”, and it’s safe to say that it is probably hard for the average person reading this blog to imagine what went on there. (Think: really bad.) Since they revolved around polytheism, sex, and drug use, the one true God of Israel naturally condemned both them and anyone who used them.

“In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” (2 Kings 12:1-3, NIV).

Read through 2 Kings sometime. It describes a society full of treachery and deceit, with murder and betrayal on almost every page. The Kings of Israel and Judah were a dangerous bunch, and the good ones were few and far between. Joash became King over Judah at age seven, and actually had godly counsel around him. He did right in the sight of the Lord during all of his 40 year reign, but did not, however, remove the high places.

“High Places” is a somewhat euphemistic title given to the pagan worship centers out in the mountains and countryside in Israel. Idolatry, pagan rituals, illicit sacrifices, prostitution, and all kinds of carnal activity took place there in the name of “worship”.

Maybe That’s Where “Getting High” Came From?

The high places were sort of secret men’s clubs, somewhat hidden and off the beaten paths–but every man in Israel knew what went on there. Pagan rituals encouraged men to substitute a spiritual walk with sexual ecstasy as they worshipped the goddess of fertility (known variously as Ashtoreth, Ishtar, Astarte, or Asherah).

high places

The High Places were holdovers from the nations and cultures Israel defeated to take the Promised Land, and the reason they weren’t torn down is because guys liked to go and sin there. Funny how so little really changes with men over all these years… Men don’t necessarily call it worship, but they still go to particular places where the allure of feminine sexuality is powerful and seductive. Even church-going men will check their Bibles at the door to enjoy the atmosphere, just like the pagans did at the high places.

Funny thing, when you take away men’s pet sins they will insult you, call you names, and even resort to violence to keep being able to do them. When Gideon tore down his father’s Asherah pole, the Bible says “The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son [Gideon]. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” (Judges 6:30)

Obvious Hypocrisy

Hebrew men were so involved with pagan worship that they were willing to kill to preserve it. They loved doing low things in high places… In later times, a couple of the good Kings brought reform to Israel and helped turn people back to God; but that was the exception rather than the rule; all too often the high places remained. They were sort of a secret, “pet” sin that men kept in reserve, so they could go there to “worship”.

At first glance it may seem hard to believe that any form of spiritual revival could take place when such sinful sanctuaries remained. How could Israel outwardly worship the Lord but then keep on sneaking around to wallow in such dirty sins? How could they love God but hold on to some carnal pleasure in reserve? Can you imagine? Acting religious but harboring evil desires?

Upon reflection, it’s pretty easy to see, isn’t it? This is still happening today. The rich and powerful still have secret places where they can go sin. But let’s bring it home a bit: It’s not just them, but it is US. We love God outwardly but secretly worship other, carnal, false gods. (And before you women feel too smug about men’s obvious weaknesses, remember that lusting for material things, status, or control are just as much of a carnal sin as sitting in the men’s club…)

An Easy Choice?

We may sometimes feel moved to have revival, but then we fail to remove some of our “high places”. And apparently the Lord wants us to choose between those and HIM.

What are your pet sins, your secret sanctuaries? Do you ever live outwardly as a Christian even while you are at the same time judgmental, greedy, lustful, selfish, hateful, critical, anxious, bitter, covetous or proud? The concern that crosses our minds over Israel’s idolatry is the same concern we should have about ourselves. Do you have any high places? Take an inventory of the secret sanctuaries you harbor, and consider tearing. Them. Down.

Places, High and Low

High upon the mountain, or way back among the hills
There were pagan temples where a man could get some thrills.
Temple priestesses would stimulate the men’s virility
Calling them to worship with the goddess of fertility.
Participants who worshipped there were very normal men
Who visited high places and then just went home again.

Improbable, you say? These hypocrites could not be saved,
When claiming to love God while they are secretly depraved!
And yet that is my story. I love God, and want to win,
But there are idols in my life. I harbor secret sin.
Lord, when there are idols in my heart that make you frown,
Help me feel your love, and Jesus, help me Tear. Them. Down.

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Elijah Made A Difference: What About You, Though?

1 Kings 18 is a fascinating Chapter to read, full of tension, drama and great dialog. It features Elijah the prophet, whose life would make a pretty interesting mini-series, as he confronted the evil minions of Ahab and Jezebel on Mount Carmel. The god Baal was a Mesopotamian pagan deity whose name was a form of the word “Lord”, closely associated with fertility and storms. Anytime you combine being pagan with fertility, your PG worship rating goes right out the window– as do morality, decency, and true godliness. Under King Ahab’s corrupt leadership Israel had begun to worship Baal, and the Lord sent Elijah to do something about it.

“So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing.” (1 Kings 18:20-21, NIV)

A Dramatic Confrontation

The full chapter of 1 Kings 18 contains one of the great stories in the Bible. While Ahab was King of Israel, he and his evil wife Jezebel reinstituted Baal worship with its corrupt high places and pagan practices. Ahab was a bad king, but his wife was even worse. Jezebel was killing the Lord’s prophets wherever she found them according to verse four, so it took great courage for Elijah even to appear before the king, much less challenge his authority. But challenge it he did, and Ahab gathered his 450 prophets of Baal to stand against this one man.

Picture the scene: a evil King surrounded by corrupt priests wielding power over a confused people. They gathered on Mount Carmel for an epic confrontation between God and evil. (If you think about it, it’s never “good versus evil” it’s really always about God versus evil!) It was a dark chapter in Israel’s history, and the nation stood at a crossroads between the Lord and 450 prophets of Baal. What a moment! What a story!

Elijah won

God Versus Evil

Elijah confronted them with a challenge: each of us will prepare a sacrifice, and then call upon God to consume it with fire. The prophets of Baal went first, to no avail. They danced, threw fits, and cut themselves. Nothing happened. No fire—no testimony. Their story ended in futile pursuit of a false, vain god whose only power existed in temporary pagan pleasures. (Not so different than most pursuits today, is it?)

Elijah then poured water over his sacrifice until it was soaked. Then he did it AGAIN. Then he had them soak it with water a THIRD TIME. When he finally called upon the Lord, the Bible says, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” (18:38) What a finish!

The prophets of Baal were proved to be charlatans and deceivers. And after watching the Lord’s fire rain down from heaven, the Israelites acknowledged and followed God. The prophets of Baal were pursued and struck down, to a man.

One Life

There are a couple of things important here: One, never underestimate the power and influence one person can have. James 5:17 says, “Elijah was a man just like us”. Is that true? Perhaps one person like you can help someone turn their life around. (To paraphrase Chris Farley’s motivational speaker Matt Foley: “Even if that person is YOU.”) Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” So, then, DO SOMETHING. Even if you don’t change the world, you may change YOURSELF.

Second, Elijah confronted evil by calling down the fire of God. When is the last time you asked for God’s fire to come down and consume you? Ever? (No story, no testimony…) Like Elijah, we live in a world where leaders support shaky beliefs, people follow false gods, and evil seems to be gaining… And a lot of folks are on the fence like the crowd watching Elijah, interested on seeing whether God will work, but saying nothing. They are waiting to see whether a new chapter of Acts will be written… I’m thinking this world could use a few more fired-up Christians, and the world could change, one heart at a time. Could it happen?

Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Give it a shot, you might be surprised. And think of the story they might write about YOU someday!

Fire on the Mountain

Ahab ruled with evil lust.
He worshipped Baal, he screamed and cussed,
He broke the covenant’s sacred trust
And woke the Lord’s divine disgust.
Jezebel was his evil Queen.
She did some things that were obscene–
More evil than Ahab had been,
Hateful, powerful, cold and mean.
Their pagan prophets made the scene,
(Just read it in First Kings Eighteen)
But it was all corrupt, unclean,
The worst stuff you have ever seen…

Against them, just one prophet came:
(Elijah was his given name),
A man who prayed, and stopped the rain,
A man of faith. He changed the game
When he alone on Carmel stood
And challenged Israel to do good.
Elijah, see, he understood,
In an hour of need, that Yahweh COULD
Display His power against great odds:
If you need help, then ask for God’s.

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Nathan said David Was Evil. His Response Was Shocking!

Nathan called David out in front of everybody for being a liar, an adulterer and a murderer. God called David “A Man After My Own Heart”.

Why do you think the Bible calls King David “a man after God’s own heart”? Certainly he was a great hero, a passionate, poetic lover of God, a courageous man, and a valiant leader. But, he was also a scheming adulterer and murderer.


A True Glimpse of the Heart

So how do we best view God’s heart through the life of David? Was it written in his poems? Displayed in his desire to build the temple? Exemplified by his courage, or his material success? I think it’s in this passage: [Nathan said, speaking to David in front of his court] “The rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “YOU are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:4-7a).

When Nathan confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba, he did so by telling David a story about a poor man whose one cherished lamb was taken from him by a rich, selfish man who had many, but chose to steal from the poor man rather than to be content with his own abundance.

Nathan Took a Chance

When David faced exposure in the midst of his court and under the public eye, he found himself at a crucial moment. He could have followed the normal instincts of an all-powerful king whose word was law. He could have used spin so that he didn’t look so bad. David had the choice to lie, distract and pontificate. As King, David could have denied Nathan’s accusation and just have him killed, right on the spot! Or… he could face truth and consequences.

I’ve always marveled that the great David, “a man after God’s own heart”, would still be known by that title after committing such evil (after all, he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed)—but I think it was his response here to Nathan that cemented his legacy. David didn’t posture in self-righteousness; he didn’t lie and cover up. He came to the pivotal transparent moment in his career and he told the truth: He ‘fessed up.

“Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (Verse 13) It was this response–not David’s victory over Goliath or his greatness as a King–that made David a man after God’s own heart. It was the fact that he knew who God was, he had the proper perspective, and even in his failure he came before the Lord in humility and repentance. We learn about God’s heart not from David’s greatness, but from his humility. When is the last time YOU said, “I have sinned against you, Lord”? When a Nathan speaks truth into your life, Be humble. Be great.

David’s Turning Point

David, lover of the Lord
Was home alone–distracted, bored–
Contemplating sensual sin,
And felt its depth, and fell right in.

Deep his capacity to transgress!
But deeper still, a longing to confess:
To bring his broken, contrite heart
Back to the Maker’s matchless art.

Honest now, with no pretense,
No vain attempt at self-defense!
Broken as a consequence…
Confessing. Teaching us that this
Is how to have a heart like His.

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You Like Outward Appearances? It’s What’s Inside that Counts

We live in the age of outward appearance, as consumers who hear the message others want us to hear and see the images they want us to see about products, news, celebrities, and politics. One series of commercials claims to use only “Real People. Not Actors”, although even a little research reveals that it did indeed use actors in some of the segments. (To their credit, they did always use real people–as opposed to fake people, I guess…)

Our thoughts and opinions are constantly being influenced by people we don’t know, telling us things we can’t validate. We are perhaps the shallowest culture in history, celebrating people not for who they really are, but for who they appear to be. The Bible’s message is this: Don’t be Fooled by the outward appearance: It’s What’s Inside that Counts.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover….

“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7, NIV) Samuel, a prophet of God, was called upon to select Israel’s next king from among Jesse’s sons. He watched them parade before him one by one, and his first impression was that Eliab certainly looked like the one. He was big, strong and nice looking.


Limited Sightlines

Samuel’s first reaction was to evaluate the young men based on how strong or kingly they looked, but the Lord told him that appearances can be deceiving. That’s so true, isn’t it? We often hear about situations with a celebrity that end badly, or see something on the news about a heinous crime committed by a seemingly ordinary person and think, “No way!” It’s hard for us to accept that a funny person was actually struggling with depression, or a pretty young wife and mom was killed by her husband (who is smiling beside her in all of the pictures), but it’s often the sad case.

As shallow human beings, we tend to look on the outward appearance, when the truth is on the inside… We can’t truly evaluate people based on what they look like publicly because that can be contrived. It doesn’t show the whole picture, does it? Think about it: have you ever smiled and said something nice to somebody while you hid your dislike, or arrogance, or impatience? Was your outward appearance different than your inner motive? What we see in this world is limited; what God sees is not.

There’s Your Problem, Right There

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” It is in the heart that motives arise, and the way people look on the outside isn’t always the way they really are (think: Hollywood or American politics, sigh…). Old sayings exist for a reason,  and we’ve all heard that beauty is only skin deep. So is public image. In an age where we are bombarded with half-truths and insinuations, it’s very difficult to gain true understanding from shallow information.

Obviously, there are two ways for this to go: first, don’t be too quick to judge or evaluate others based on mere outward appearances. Who they seem to be may not be who they actually are. And second, remember that who YOU seem to be on the outside is not necessarily who you really are.

Jesus challenged his followers to beware of what came out of the abundance of their hearts, and to be brutally honest with the Father. It’s logical to do business with God without any smokescreens, because He knows your heart anyway. Keep it real. Confess truthfully. Repent passionately. And follow the advice of Proverbs 4:23: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life.”

Public Appearances

Look at a celebrity: you’ve probably seen them on TV,
Chased by paparazzi, fans, or sailing on their yacht.
Even if you’re not the type to fall for shallow marketing hype,
You cannot help but think perhaps they’re something that you’re not.
But although fame and money hide the truth of who they are, inside,
Divorces, drugs and suicide contaminate the dream:

If you are tempted to bow down to cultural icons of renown,
Consider that these people may just not be who they seem.
So when we stand before the throne to face our God all on our own,
We can’t rely on the money we made, or if we played a part.
We cannot take assurance from our external appearance,
For the Lord looks not on outward things; He looks upon our heart.

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A Kinsman-Redeemer Changed Ruth’s Life. He changed Yours, too!

The Book of Ruth is a testimony to stubborn love. Ruth could have deserted her mother-n-law, but instead she vowed to stay with her and love her unconditionally. Within the story of Ruth’s amazing loyalty to Naomi, there is a question I know you are asking yourself: how did a kinsman redeemer change history? (And if you are not asking that, then I’ll just ask it for both of us.)

How Did A Kinsman-Redeemer Change History?

Ruth’s declaration of love and loyalty didn’t keep Naomi from feeling despair at first. She was still a widow, and she was still grieving over the loss of her sons. Everything in her life had changed, and even Ruth’s sweetness could not compensate for the fact she had lost everything. She told her friends that they should change her name to Mara (bitter), “because the almighty has made my life very bitter…” They returned to Bethlehem in time for the harvest, and Ruth went to work as a peasant in the fields of a man named Boaz.


The Nearest Kinsman May not Always be the Best Option

When Ruth told Naomi that she had met Boaz, and that he had spoken kindly to her, Naomi said, “The Lord bless him! He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20, NIV) Old Testament law stipulated that the nearest kinsman would offer to marry a brother’s widow and carry on his name, to offer redemption to relatives sold into slavery, and to avenge the killing of a relative.

You think there is drama in YOUR family? Imagine what types of unusual human interaction might have taken place under some of those circumstances! A brother-in-law might think his brother’s widow is too ugly to marry. Or, like Onan with Tamar, he might use her without fulfilling his obligation. Or an opportunistic redeemer might take advantage of those too helpless to avoid him (think: Evil Stepmother in Cinderella).

But a GOOD Kinsman…

But a good kinsman-redeemer offered hope, offered help to the helpless, and a chance to live a life changed by redemption. A kinsman-redeemer bought you back out of slavery or hopelessness and adopted you into his family. (Hmmm, just like the Messiah was going to do…) Ruth and Naomi were so destitute that Naomi encouraged Ruth to make herself vulnerable to Boaz, who could have taken advantage of her with relative impunity.

In this case, Boaz is a kind, godly man who respects Ruth and protects her reputation even when she follows Naomi’s advice. In an interesting cultural move, Ruth makes herself vulnerable by crawling into bed with the sleeping Boaz and warming his feet (which could have been interpreted as an act of service OR the actions of a loose woman). She took a risk that Boaz would not misuse or take advantage of her.

Blessings Follow Redemption

Not only does he treat her with respect but he goes on to observe all the requirements of the law with scrupulous honesty and transparency to the elders in the village, and he makes Ruth his wife in front of God and everybody. The Elders were prophetic when they said, “Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” (Ruth 4:12)

Sure enough, Ruth and Boaz’ son Obed was King David’s grandfather. Still very close to her mother-in-law, Ruth allowed Naomi to act as his nurse, giving her a family again. So what did the women of the village say about to Naomi about Ruth? The highest praise: “Your daughter-in-law, who loves you… is better to you than seven sons.” These two widows went from bitter circumstances to the comforting house of their kinsman-redeemer.

Boaz’s kindness redeemed both Ruth and Naomi, and changed their lives forever. By continuing the line of David down through Jesus, guess what? He also changed ours, too!

Ruthless is No Way to Live

A widow who was destitute was working in the field
Picking up the scraps after the workers took the yield.
The owner saw her beauty and integrity revealed,
And watched her do her job with admiration unconcealed.
He had to find out who she was as soon as he had seen her;
Some owners might abuse her, or they might just treat her meaner,
But he found out that he was nearest kinsman and redeemer;
He decided then that he would pay for and redeem her.

He spoke with all the village elders, and he made it known
That he would take this widow and reclaim her as his own.
He also said Naomi wouldn’t have to be alone,
Since he was taking both of them to live within his home.
Ruth and Boaz raised a son, and Obed was his name.
Obed had a boy named Jesse; then some Grandsons came.
David killed Goliath, and he rose to wealth and fame,
And through his life, the entire world has never been the same!
You may not be famous, but I know this is the truth:
The Lord may change the world through YOU, just like He did with Ruth.

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You Aren’t Big Enough or Strong Enough. That’s OK With God

Sometimes we feel that we aren’t strong enough to handle what life has thrown at us. You’ve been there: confronted with a job too big to do, or a failure too big to overcome. Well, God has an answer for all of us weaklings… Read this exchange between the Lord and Gideon.

“The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6:14-16, NIV)


The Weakest and the Least

In this passage, Gideon expresses his insecurity to God, who assures him that his military mission will be successful. While it is somewhat startling to read about and remember the harsh “kill or be killed” environment that existed when Israel entered the Promised Land, what really jumps off the page to me is how God handles Gideon’s pitiful objection to God’s call.

Gideon responds to a call from the Almighty God of the universe by saying, I’m a weak man from a weak clan, and I don’t even have a plan! I’m not big enough or strong enough!” Interestingly, God gives Gideon a one sentence answer that reverberates through Scripture like a call to arms: “I will be with you.”

When Gideon says, “I am weak”, God says, “I am Enough.” It’s the same thing God told Moses in Exodus 3:12 when Moses objected that he was inadequate to lead Israel: “I will be with you.” It’s also what God told Joshua preparing to go into the Promised Land in Joshua 1:5, and what he told Paul in Acts 18:10. “I will be with you”. Over and over again in Scripture the Lord answers objections not just with a plan, but with His presence.

Not Enough?

Do you ever feel unworthy to serve God? Ever feel like you are not gifted and talented enough to do big things for Him? After all, we are commissioned to go share the Gospel with all the world in Matthew 28:19, and most of us get a little uncomfortable just sharing the Gospel with people on our own street. “Lord”, we object, “surely that commission stuff only applies to the disciples, or to missionaries and preachers. I’m not adequate. You must mean someone else.”

weakness enough

If you face a daunting task, or an obstacle that seems bigger than your resources, then remember God’s answer to Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Paul. It also happens to be the same answer Jesus gave to all believers after telling his followers to go and make disciples of all nations in Matthew 28:19. Go ahead and read verse 20, the answer He gives to you when you feel unworthy or too small to do something big: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

When you feel overwhelmed or inadequate, remember who has your back. God is enough, and more than enough. Your worthiness, abilities, and gifts just got HUGE. Go do something big!


We can feel so very small, confronted with the Father’s call,
Worried that the world will see our obvious inadequacy.
We can try to step aside, or even try to run and hide,
And go to almost any length to not rely upon our strength.
The Great Commission has revealed God wants us on the mission field,
In spite of weakness we may feel, God’s call to all of us is real.

If being called was not your plan, since after all you’re just a man,
Feel free to call God out and say, “There has to be a better way!”
And He will say about your call, just like to Gideon or Saul,
“Remember, I have chosen you to do what only you can do:
If your journey seems too tough, if circumstances get too rough,
Recall the cross and perfect love, and realize I AM enough.”

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Success Guaranteed: The Secret Every Leader Should Know

Do you want success? Then maybe this story applies to you. The Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and stood poised on the outskirts of the Promised Land. The most dynamic leader any of them had ever known was gone. People wondered if their chance for success had gone with him. At this critical moment Joshua son of Nun stood before them and gave them this exhortation:

The Crossroads Exhortation

“Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe 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 1:7-8, NKJV)


Moses, the greatest leader in Israel’s history (and arguably one of the greatest leaders in all of history) was gone. Joshua was given the task of leading the stubborn and unpredictable Hebrew people into the Promised Land. Success would not come easily, but Joshua had already proven his mettle back in the wilderness of Paran, where he and Caleb brought back a good report from Canaan and advised Moses to go take the land even against great odds.

Now the children of Israel were poised to end their wanderings and complete their quest. There would be danger and difficulty. People would need to be motivated and shepherded into a hostile environment. The Lord told Joshua to look two places for help. First, God told him to look within himself, to “be strong and very courageous.” The Lord knew that there were untapped reserves within Joshua that even Joshua wasn’t aware of. Not only did this apply to Joshua, but it is undoubtedly true for all of us! It’s true for me, and it’s true for you.

Where Do Faith and Courage Come From?

I think it’s important to note that even in a life of faith, where God wants us to depend on Him, He still tells us to dig a little deeper in order to achieve success. So the next time you are frazzled, the next time you doubt, the next time you feel unsure about expressing your faith, “be strong and courageous.” God’s Spirit is given to us to offer us sufficiency and encouragement. Meditate on His Book. Claim His power in prayer. Dig deeper.

The second place God told Joshua to look was in the new secret weapon He had given Moses. The Lord promised Joshua that if he spent time in the Book of the Law, if he meditated upon God’s wisdom “day and night”, and if he followed it rigorously, he would be prosperous and have good success. The secrets to happiness and success are in God’s word. Dig deeper.

The Book of Success

Moses was gone. Israel waited. So Joshua, son of Nun
Stood up before the people and exhorted everyone:
“Be strong and be courageous! Trust the Lord, and do things right;
Meditate in the holy Book of the Law both day and night.
Keep it in your heart and follow everything it says,
And God will give you wisdom, and His guidance all your days.
Observe the law; receive the blessing, do not ask for less,
And then your way will be prosperous, and you will have success.”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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To Condemn or Not: the Trial with a Shocking Conclusion

“And Jesus lifted up himself, and said unto her, Woman, where are they? Did no man condemn thee? And she said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee: go thy way; from henceforth sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 ASV) The woman caught in adultery is one of the more dramatic scenes in the Bible, and has a number of interesting elements to it.

A Chance for Jesus to Condemn

First of all, there’s a note in most Bibles that says 7:53-8:11 were not included in the earliest manuscripts of John’s Gospel. Scholars feel that it was probably inserted after the original version was written, because Jesus was not at the meeting of the Pharisees, and the transition “Then each man went to his own home. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” seems a little abrupt. They also place it logically after Luke 21:37-38, which states that Jesus stayed on the Mount of Olives and came early each day to teach in the temple. In any case, the story was included because it was undoubtedly true to circumstances and to Jesus’ teaching and character.

The Trap of Condemnation

The Pharisees were trying to put Jesus onto the horns of a dilemma, asking him to render judgment that would be wrong no matter what he chose. In the first place, it wasn’t a fair trial, and it didn’t follow the law. Deuteronomy 22:22 said, “If a man is caught sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.” The Pharisees didn’t bring the man involved, only the woman. If Jesus permitted them to stone the woman, he would have broken the law. He would also have offended the Romans because under Roman law the Jews did not have the right to exercise capital punishment.

condemn not

The Doodle that was More Than a Doodle

It’s interesting to note that in verse six, Jesus “bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.” I have heard entire sermons speculating about what he might have written there. Maybe he wrote several of the commandments, and perhaps they were pointedly the ones broken most often by the men carrying the stones. Perhaps he wrote the Shema, Israel’s foundational verse to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. He could have simply written a list of sins that related personally to each of the would-be judges, which they would recognize as their own…

Some speculate that perhaps he wrote the names of some of the men themselves, surprising them and convicting them as they looked on, wondering how Jesus knew so much. Whatever he wrote there in the dust, it must have provided dramatic counterpoint to the motives and intents of the self-righteous hypocrites. The accusers stood there, stones in hand, ready to execute judgment and condemnation. Somehow, with a few words written in the dust, Jesus stopped them in their tracks. We don’t know exactly what he wrote, but it was effective.

The Real Question

This story provides another instance of Jesus declining the chance to condemn, although the language is interesting, because he asks, “Did no man condemn you?” And she answers, “No man, Lord.” The subtlety of his inference is both loving and direct, because he does not exclude the real possibility that God would not approve of her activity…and his actions challenged her to reconsider everything she thought about God, accountability and judgment.

Your Chance to Condemn

He encouraged the woman to change her ways and leave her life of sin, but he did not exercise judgment. Christians (followers of Jesus), take note! Imitate. I have always wondered what became of this woman, and how she lived from then on. The power and magnitude of Grace calls us to leave our sinful lives and remember what Jesus did. He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. As Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:17, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Jesus doesn’t lower the bar, or make excuses, or spin that it’s ok to sin. He gently but powerfully reminds us that we are called, not to make anyone ELSE holy, but to BE holy. That’s probably such a full-time job that we’ve very little time left over to accuse anyone else.

The Judge Who Didn’t Condemn

The woman on the street was cast in shame
Because a man had tried to own her.
No one even asked her name,
But they were all prepared to stone her,
Till someone knelt beside her in the dust
And let her know that she was not alone.
He said, “Go ahead and judge her if you must,
But let the perfect man among you cast the stone.”

One by one, the accusers walked away,
But Jesus looked at her; He didn’t budge.
The woman thought she knew what he would say:
Instead, he asked her, “Where are those who judge?”
She looked around and saw no hateful men,
Still trembling from their angry cries of “Whore!”
But he said, “Woman, neither do I condemn,
So you are free to go, and sin no more…”

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The Unusual Story of Balaam’s Talking Ass

The story of Balaam and how he received a message from God is unusual, and if you haven’t read it before, right now is a good time. If you have, and it left you scratching your head a little, it’s certainly worth a deeper look. It has to do with God communicating with us and keeping His promises. Check this out: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said it, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, NIV)

In one of the more unusual stories in the Bible, a prophet named Balaam is sent to Balak, the king over the Moabites. Balak was concerned about the way the Israelites were conquering his neighbors, and sent messengers to Balaam to ask for some relief from God. The Lord gave Balaam a message and told him he could go to Moab, but only to deliver His message word for word. In Numbers twenty-two Balaam was riding his donkey to Moab, but apparently was not fully committed to carrying out the Lord’s mission.


An Unusual Twist

God sent an angel to block the road, which apparently the donkey could see but Balaam could not. He struck the stubborn donkey several times, until the animal went all “Mr. Ed” on him and spoke, asking him why he was being hit. (For those of you too young to remember, Mr. Ed was a sitcom about a talking horse named Ed who had a dumb owner named Wilbur, and the horse’s vocabulary got Wilbur into all sorts of shenanigans).

In this Bible passage, however, the donkey was motivated to speak a warning to its owner Balaam by a messenger from God. Balaam saw the angel of the Lord and then diecided to listen with greater focus to his instructions. The angel told him: “The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.” (Numbers 22:33)

So, What Can We Learn From a Talking Donkey?

One lesson we can learn from this passage is, “Don’t be so consumed with your own agenda that you don’t even see or hear God’s message to you.” Balaam was so wrapped up in politics or personal concerns that he almost rode to his own death. It may seem strange, but you might be doing the same thing. Sin works that way. You can even think you are doing God’s work (like being a prophet) when you actually motivated by your own pride or fear. I am not exactly sure what Balaam’s problem was, but God went to unusual lengths to get his attention. Don’t be that guy.

Finally, though, in the midst of his prophecy to Moab, Balaam gave them strong assurance about the Lord: God is not a mere man. His word is true, and when He has made a promise, He will bring it to pass. Think about the promises God has made to you, there are lots to choose from: hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11); unending love (Romans 8:38); peace (John 14:27, Philippians 4:7); and according to Peter, many other great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). Open your eyes to God’s word. Listen to His promises and claim them. It might just keep you from riding to your own death.

A Road Trip to Remember

Balaam had a mission, but an angel blocked his way,
And made him pay attention to what his donkey had to say:
God gave him a message, but he really hadn’t heard
That he should take that message and deliver it word for word.
If you ride a Donkey who turns into Mr. Ed,
I’d pay attention to what he says, or you could wind up dead!
If God sends you a message, listen. Do not be an ass;
Remember: whatever the Lord has promised, He will bring to pass.

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If Jesus returned, What Would He Say to America?

He wasn’t who they expected him to be. He said things they didn’t expect him to say. In a dramatic passage from the Book of Revelation, John described Jesus as the Alpha and Omega and the King of Kings; but let’s not forget that he had a very different role when he first came to earth. Isaiah 53 portrays a man who was rejected and spurned by the very people he came to save. While he was here on earth, the Messiah was so humble and spiritual that he made no political statements and had no political aspirations. If he returned today, would people notice? Would they care? What do you think he would say to us?

say unexpected

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:2-5, NIV)

Say What?

The Messiah appeared, not as a King in glory, and not as a celebrity on TMZ… If Jesus appeared today, I wonder what he would say to our nation? What standards might he use? Hmm… the words from Leviticus 19:11-15 come to mind.

11 “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. 12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. 13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. 15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

What would he say to the dispossessed, the poor, the marginalized, the segregated, the beaten-down, the sufferers of injustice? He would say, “I have been where you are, and have shared your suffering and felt your pain. You will find me in the midst of your grief, and I offer you peace if you will turn to me. I offer you grace and dignity, forgiveness and respect.”

“In the world you shall have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And what would he say to the prejudiced, the haters, the purveyors of bigotry and division (both white and black)? “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34).

We Can’t Overcome Injustice with Hatred

Among other tragedies, a helpless George Floyd was needlessly choked to death while in police custody in Minneapolis. His death is one in a string of tragic killings of African Americans during encounters with police going back several years. Frankly, I am shocked and dismayed by this blatant abuse of power.

America has been forced to confront its lack of justice. I know that my own feelings about it are nothing compared to the rising tide of dissatisfaction and anguish among my brothers and sisters of color. The Jesus I know would never condone hatred based on skin color or minor differences; he would extend compassion to the wounded and God’s righteous standard to those who perpetrate bigotry and racism.

A Different Message Should Create a Different Outcome

And what would he say to those in power, those who do nothing about injustice, who respond with insensitivity and indifference? “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:15) The law of Moses clearly required leaders to be fair, and to be godly.

And what would be his message to those who use their power to commit violence or abuse? “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustice.” (Jeremiah 22:13) “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2)

And what would he say to all of us, as believers, about how we should act? “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35, KJV). “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Let’s change the paradigm, people. Our nation can only achieve justice one heart at a time. The one who bore our pain and suffering, who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, has offered us peace and healing. Let’s offer it to our neighbors, one heart at a time.

Change Your Heart, Change the World

A humble man of sorrows, he who came
Without regard for power, wealth or fame;
The King of kings and Lord of lords was he,
And yet he had no need for TMZ.
According to Isaiah Fifty-three,
He had no selfish lust for royalty,
And did not get involved politically;
He came to bear our sorrow, and to be
The sacrifice for our iniquity.
Perhaps we would do well to emulate,
To love the way he loved, and not to hate.
I hope, America, it’s not too late:
When he comes back, in power undisguised,
I think a lot of folks will be surprised.

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Real Leaders Have to Be Willing to Let Leaders Lead

The Bible contains some pretty good advice for leaders. Moses was wearing himself out trying to do all the work, and his father-in-law Jethro gave him some wise counsel. “Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.

Some Old School Leadership Advice

Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.

Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” (Exodus 18:17-22 NASB)

godly leaders

Wise Observation

Moses’ father-in-law is introduced in Exodus 2:16-18 as Reuel, which means “friend of God”. Such a title makes sense since he was a Midianite priest. He was also called Jethro, which was probably a title of respect, meaning “excellency.” Reuel was a devout man who celebrated Moses’ return from Egypt with burnt offerings,. Because of what he saw, he said in Exodus 18:11, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

It must have been a bit of a surprise to him that Moses left as one of his shepherds and came back as the ruler of thousands and thousands of Israelites… And as he observed his son-in-law try to manage things, Jethro could see that Moses needed some help. As the senior member of the family, he greeted Moses with enthusiasm and then offered him this wise counsel in verses 17-22.

The Bible is full of good, practical advice about leadership, and it offers wise counsel about good management technique. (For example, Paul gave some leadership advice to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2). In this case, Moses was doing what many bosses assume: “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. As a result, Moses was wearing himself out being the sole judge for all of the Israelites. Conducting daily hearings to help settle disputes among all of the people was more than one man could do.

A Short But Good List

Jethro, his father-in-law, counseled him to:

1) educate the people about God’s statutes and laws;

2) select godly leaders who loved the truth, and

3) lighten his workload by sharing the burden of leadership.

If you have a leadership position, if God has given you a task, then think like Jethro and act like Moses. Surround yourself with honest, godly people who will use their gifts to share the burden and lighten the load. Just make sure you look for the right qualifications. If there is any doubt about those qualifications, Jethro even spells them out for Moses (and for us).

Jethro said, “…select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain.” That’s actually a pretty strong list, and if you applied those qualifications to a business, or a church, or to, say, Congress, how many leaders would ACTUALLY be left to lead? I think Moses’ first problem today would be in finding enough able men who fear God, love truth, and hate dishonest gain.

Standards Are Important

His second problem in a world governed by relativism would be how to measure those leaders against a standard. He would have to have a means to evaluate men’s behavior and make judgments that did not tolerate arrogance, dishonesty or greed. He needed accuracy about the candidates’ character, and accountability to judge their behavior. In a life-and-death world where leaders’ decisions can result in human loss, Moses had to ask himself if the men he was considering were qualified to lead.

But asking if others have those qualifications as leaders is really the SECOND question. The first question is, would YOU qualify? If you lead anyone, anywhere—if you are a mom, a dad, a boss, a teacher, a friend, whatever—those are the qualities you should pray for! And we should hope we see them not just in others but also when we look in the mirror.

Godly Leadership

Jethro watched the way that Moses managed
And felt that he was somewhat disadvantaged.
He said, My son, Don’t try to do it all,
You’ll soon discover you will hit the wall,
And jeopardize your mission and your health:
Instead of doing all the work yourself,
Select some honest, godly men to lead
And they will give you all the help you need.”
Moses followed Jethro’s plan to lead,
And found a better platform to succeed.
If working hard’s not getting us what we need,
Perhaps that’s something all of us should heed.
Choose on godliness, if you can see it;
And best, for godly leadership, just be it.

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Slavery Undone: How the Worst Day Became the Best Day Ever

Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into slavery when he was just a teenager. It might have been better than killing him, but their actions still put him onto a difficult path in life and caused him great hardship. As time passed, Joseph overcame those hardships and grew in many ways beyond his circumstances.

When they met up years later, the brothers rightfully feared for their lives because Joseph had become a powerful man. His logical response would have been cruelty and vengeance, and very few would have blamed him if he had just done the worst things he could think of to brothers who had sold him out. But Joseph had another perspective, one that no one else saw coming…

A Different Perspective

“Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:18-20, NKJV) Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him, and for Joseph it looked like his worst day ever. But at the last minute they relented and sold him into slavery instead.


Although he began as a slave, he ended up as a powerful man in Egypt. His brothers fell on hard times, and when they traveled to Egypt seeking help, they unwittingly wound up under his authority. The story of Joseph could have easily been one of righteous vengeance. If he had reflected the cultural and moral values of his day, Joseph would have sought to make his brothers pay for what they had done. It would have only been logical for him to take out his anger upon them, and I don’t imagine anyone would have questioned his right to vengeance.

A Larger Plan

After all, he rose to a position of prominence in Egypt, and became a man with power and resources. After years of separation, his brothers found themselves far from home in Egypt, totally at his mercy. They feared the worst, that he would exact his rightful revenge upon them. Instead, he offered them grace because he believed God had a larger plan.

Joseph’s response was another example of the difference between man’s way and God’s way. His answer offers perspective for us when bad things happen in a fallen world. We don’t always see it right away, but God can redeem even the worst things to accomplish something good.

Romans 8:28 says that He works “all things together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose.” It doesn’t say that only good will happen, or that all things will be ok. It doesn’t even say He will do it automatically for everyone.

Processing Differently

The secret of this oft-quoted verse is the same as the motivation behind Joseph’s statement to his brothers. It says that when you love God, and see yourself as called according to His purpose, you are able to process bad circumstances differently. You can operate in faith that God will turn trials into patience, bad circumstances into intimacy with Him and evil into good. That’s what Joseph believed. It’s also what Paul, James, and Peter taught in the early church.

As the foremost example of this, God took what is arguably the very worst day in human history (the day Christ was crucified) and turned it into the very best day in history (the day all men could be freed from the penalty of sin and redeemed!). Joseph may have been sold into slavery, but the Lord redeemed him for good. Isn’t the same thing true of us? We may have been trapped in the slavery of sin and death, but the Lord redeemed us out of bondage at the cross.

If God is able to transform the WORST day in history to the BEST day ever, then maybe it makes sense to trust Him with whatever happens to you today as well.

Tables Turned

Joseph’s jealous brothers almost had a plot to slay him;
Instead they sold him as a slave, just thinking to betray him.
When he rose to power, and they fell into his hand,
He could have exercised revenge by giving a command.
He told them, “Yes I know you didn’t treat me as you should,
But what you meant for evil, God has transformed into good.
It is the Lord Himself whose grace has given us this chance
To see His hand at work for us in every circumstance.”

The Lord, whose grace has given us the chance to live forever,
Has offered us eternal love no earthly thing can sever,
And turned the very worst of days into the Best. Day. Ever.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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