4. Wilderness Manual–Fear of Failure (13-14)

Fear of failure is the a deadly two edged sword to the spirit of a man or woman. On forward edge, a person retracts from putting forth his full strength, for fear that he will be utterly destroyed. On the backward edge, the person refuses to accept his failures, for fear that he will miss out forever on what their fear on the forward edge has cost them. Both are edges of the same sword held in the grip of a person who is desperately trying to maintain his own pride in himself. Once, I did sloppily on a musical composition project for school which I believed God gave me to do, because I was afraid I would utterly fail. It utterly failed. My reaction was, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” and proceeded to fail at getting it ready again until I had to give it up. It remains to this day one of my most shameful moments as a composer, and as a follower of Christ, and it nearly ended my desire to write music ever again.

Principle: In Numbers 13-14 Israel went right up to the promised land, and sent Twelve spies to search it out. Ten said, “It’s beautiful, but we can’t do it.” Two said, “It’s beautiful, and we can do it!” The people believed the Ten, and the four who remained (Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb) fell on their faces and pleaded with the people, but the people got ready to stone them with stones. Once more God shows up, and he is so angry with his people, he tells Moses that He will restart with Moses, but Moses intercedes, and God relents from what He is about to do. He says this to Moses in Numbers 14:21-25~

So the Lord said, “I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord. Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it . . . turn tomorrow and set out to the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.”

It took a different spirit to be allowed to enter fully into the promised land. Because God is seeking for His glory to fill the earth, He cannot allow those who preserve their pride by fear to enter into the blessing of His kingdom. This is why the Lord requires that we follow Him fully, and this is another thing the wilderness is designed to teach us: to follow the Lord fully.

The people of Israel are devastated, and they try to go up and take their possession anyway, but Moses tells them not to because God is not with them. They go anyway and many of them are slaughtered.

Application: You will fail. Let it humble you. Do not preserve your own dignity or pride or self-sufficiency. Do not take power into your hand to do what you need to succeed to do. Instead, Remember what Zerubbabel needed to learn in Zechariah 4:6, “‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the Lord.” Your failures will be plentiful and consequent. Let them strip away your pride, and look to God for how He wishes to accomplish His Victory through you for His kingdom. Only then can you follow Him fully by His Spirit’s power. I am fairly confident that His humbling of you in the wilderness is the only way you can learn this because the Wilderness will prove your sin and utter powerlessness, and God’s unfathomable power.

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3. Wilderness Manual–The Siblings (12)

The Family may be God’s first institution, but since the fall it is far from perfect. My older sisters and I had a pretty good relationship, managed well by my Mom and Dad, but growing up I still felt looked down upon or pushed to the side, or left out. One of my favorite lines from a TV show called “Home Improvement” is where Jill, a psychology student, asks her husband, who claims to be an expert in child behavior, “Okay, honey, what causes sibling rivalry?” Tim, her husband confidently answers, “Having more than one kid!”

Principle: The work of God in the wilderness will go deep into all of the things that have shaped you into who you are: Family being one of the foremost. In Numbers 12, Moses’ two older siblings Miriam and Aaron oppose Moses because of the woman he married. They make a statement which seems totally rational in the realm of Sibling Rivalry, “Has God spoken through Moses only? Has he not spoken through us as well?” The Logic of sibling equality does not work in this stage. Family will not be able to understand what is going on, nor provide clarity as to what God is up to. I believe this is a part of God’s proving realities that run deeper than the blood ties of family and the family’s communal and relational role in shaping a person.

God heard the dispute and called them outside the tent of meeting. Moses had said nothing in response, (according to the writer because he was the most humble person there ever was.) God explained to Miriam and Aaron that Moses was not just their brother, he was also God’s servant. Therefore they should have thought twice before speaking against him. This logic reorients the whole family relationship to what God is doing in each person’s life, instead of what the family thinks is best in relation to itself.

Application: Don’t lean on your family for everything you need in this wilderness stage, and take their advice with a grain of salt. In Deuteronomy, Moses will show that the lessons God is teaching you cannot be learned from the family unit. Instead, be humble: regard each person as those whom God must lead individually, and look to God for His vindication in His timing. Beware the sibling rivalry need to be as special as, or more than other family members. It is a self-trap from which God would love to extricate you.

2. Wilderness Manual–The Elders (11)

How many of us have cried to God, “Just kill me now.” I say us because you are not alone in this. For me it was when my heart was broken, and a friend told me that he had a premonition I was going to die. Despairing of life is not uncommon in this stage. If that’s you, hang in there. Help is on the way, and you’ve still got a long way to go through this wilderness.

Principle: Moses heard the people complaining, and he cried out to God “I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.” ~Numbers 11:14-15

God answered him. He gave him 70 elders to help him. For a while I thought that the wilderness was meant to be largely gone through alone, but I now see that it can be as large or as small a group as God wishes it to be. Moses cried out for someone to go through the wilderness helping him, and so God did. He gave him 70 others to support him. In the wilderness, he learned He needed God’s help. It was too much for him. He couldn’t quit. He was doing God’s will, and it was too much for him. So, God provided a group of people to help him where he was lacking. Community at its finest. It starts though with a cry for help to God.

Application: Be honest with God, and yourself. God has designed you to be a part of a group, not just on your own. God’s provision may come in the form of people to share the wilderness journey with you. This is part of His teaching you humility, and your design as a part of a group of other people working together. Share the load with them. This is well-pleasing in God’s sight.

1. Wilderness Manual–The Cloud (9)

Floridian winters are almost always snowless. Still, it is a joy to go outside and not have the heat and damp meet you. The crispness is contrasted brightly with the warm vaporous heat that one can see escaping your lips with every breath. This is one of my favorite things about Winter, I can see the proof of life coming out of my mouth right in front of me.

Principle: When Israel left Egypt, they weren’t following a man, they were following the cloud. God’s messenger would be a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

In the Wilderness, a believer will not have any earthly thing to navigate by, or by which to make decisions. God’s ways are far above ours, and the things He teaches us in this stage cannot be learned by earthly means, this blog included. He will provide guidance by the evidence of His Presence, and by His Mouth. As we will see in future discussions about the wilderness, The Mouth of God is going to be your livelihood in the wilderness. Look at Numbers 9:18. In English it’s often translated at the “Command” of the Lord, but the Hebrew word there is “Peh” which simply translated is “mouth.”

“At the mouth of the Lord the sons of Israel would set out, and at the mouth of the Lord they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped.”

Application: Whatever God says, do. When God doesn’t say, wait. This is your path through the wilderness. He will be your path and provision. He will move you at the right time.

Some may ask, “How do I hear God’s voice?” or “How do I know God is saying something?” Surrender control, seek God’s word, pray. If you don’t have any sort of leading in your spirit, ask God for one. No matter how silly or unnecessary or uncomfortable it seems, do it. Your food, your direction, and purpose will be from God’s mouth. A dependent relationship of trust is what He is growing with you.

0. Wilderness Manual: Intro and Foreword

Intro: What is the Wilderness Stage?

In Israel’s life, it’s the time in between their receiving the Law, and their taking possession of the Promised Land. In Jesus’ life, it is the time directly after his baptism where the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, right before his ministry. In the Christian’s life which comes after genuine conversion, and before commissioning to doing ministry in the world. It is a time when the believer learns how to be led by the Spirit, deny the flesh, stand against Satan, and fully enter into the power of the Holy Spirit.T

If there is a Wilderness Stage, why haven’t I heard about it?

There are a couple of reasons I consider for why many Christian’s don’t really consider the wilderness stage as a part of their Christian growth. First, is that it has not been a part of the Church’s way of life for a few hundred years. The Church in America at least has been able to give Christians access to the privileges of Christian ministry without a deep, personal, and stricturing time with God. The results today is many powerless leaders and many disillusioned followers. I am bold, but I believe I am accurate when I say, if you are a Christian and you haven’t gone through the Wilderness stage, you are not yet mature enough as a Christian to call yourself “an adult.” There is no real ripe Christian Maturity until this stage has been walked. After all, even Jesus went through the wilderness after he was baptized. How could we think we are supposed to dodge this bullet?

Second, I believe that the wilderness stage is as crucial to becoming a mature christian, as training up a teenager to become a full grown man. This is something largely lacking in American society, so it would not be any surprise that our culturally conditioned eyes would look for a training period in a believer’s life in the scripture. Many men were not trained by their fathers as I was. I see the Wilderness and its importance. Military men know that you don’t send someone into the battlefield without training. And this training is a lot deeper than just learning how to pray and read your Bible.

The third reason why the church doesn’t seem to know much about the Wilderness stage is the Bible doesn’t seem to talk about the wilderness except in vague details. There are stories of Israel, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in the wilderness, but why should we take these as prescriptive? It’s not like there’s a book of the Bible called “Wilderness” for us to read to get an idea of how to handle this time in a believer’s life. This is a sad result of English book names being two steps away from their Hebrew originals. (First the Hebrew names, then the Latin names, then the English names.) “Now, hang on,” you might say.

There’s a book called “In the Wilderness” in the Bible?

Yes. The 4th Book of the Old Testament, the 4th book of the Torah, the 4th book of the Law, the book most of us know as Numbers has the Hebrew title, B’midthbar. Which in English translates to “In the Wilderness.” This alone would not be enough to validate such connections being drawn. The content would need to match up with the rest of Scripture.

First of all, which of the two titles befits the book better? Consider this list of chapters and their contents of the 4th book of the Torah, and you decide if “Numbers” or “In the Wilderness” is a better title.

  1. Census (Lots of Numbers)
  2. Arranging the Camps (Organization)
  3. Levites as Priests (Instructions)
  4. Specific Duties (More Instructions)
  5. Marriage Instructions (More Instructions)
  6. Vow Instructions; Aaronic blessing (More Instructions)
  7. Offerings of the Leaders (Lots of Numbers)
  8. Lamps, Cleansing Levites, Retirement (More Instructions)
  9. Passover and the Cloud (More Instructions and story)
  10. Silver Trumpets, and the people leave Sinai (Instructions and story)
  11. People complain; Moses gets 70 elders to help; people complain (Story)
  12. Miriam and Aaron vs. Moses (Story)
  13. Spies check out the land; 10 bring bad report, 2 bring good report. (Story)
  14. People reject God; Moses intercedes, God punishes for 40 years, Israel still tries and fails (Story)
  15. Laws of Canaan, and sojourners, and Sabbath Breaking (More Instructions)
  16. Korah’s Rebellion; more rebellion (Story)
  17. Aaron’s Rod buds (Story)
  18. Duties and portion for priests/Levites (More Instructions)
  19. Ordinance of Red Heifer (More Instructions)
  20. Death of Miriam, and Moses’ sin, Aaron dies (Story)
  21. Conquering Arad, Bronze Serpent, Sihon and Og (Story)
  22. Balak sends for Balaam (Story)
  23. Balaam’s First two prophecies (Story)
  24. Balaam’s Third prophecy (Story)
  25. Sin of Peor and Zeal of Phineas (Story)
  26. New Census (Lots of Numbers)
  27. Law of Inheritance, Joshua Succeeds Moses (More Instructions)
  28. Law of Offerings (More Instructions)
  29. Offerings of seventh Month (More Instructions)
  30. Law of Vows (More Instructions)
  31. Slaughter of Midian and Division of spoil (story and lots of numbers)
  32. Reuben and Gad Settle in Gilead (Story)
  33. Review the Journey, laws of possession (Brief Story and more instruction)
  34. Instructions for apportioning Canaan. (More Instructions)
  35. Cities of Levites, Cities of Refuge (More Instructions)
  36. Laws of Marriage and Inheritance (More Instructions)

As can be seen by this rough outline, there are 4 chapters abounding in lists of numerical values, and 19 with lots of instructions, and 15 devoted to stories. The Numbers and the Instructions are important. The word for the first 5 books of the Old Testament “Torah” means “Instruction, so of course we would expect to see lots of instructions here. And when it comes to an approach to studying the book, “In the Wilderness,” I welcome any biblical scholar to dive deep into the instructions and numbers and their fascinating insights into the character of God and history of His people. I have decided to write about some of the stories, because I desire others to see the significance of what goes on “In the Wilderness” on a principle level, while exploring ties to the rest of Scripture, and hopefully bringing to bear the importance of this stage in the believer’s life today. I have emboldened those chapters I will examine more closely in this series, which I will list here.

  1. The Cloud (9)
  2. The Elders (11)
  3. The Siblings (12)
  4. Fear of Failure (13-14)
  5. Enough (16)
  6. Fruit (17)
  7. Contention and Holiness (20)
  8. Three Victories but One Redemption (21)
  9. Sin and Zeal (25)
  10. Coming up Short? (32)

Furthermore, Deuteronomy 8:1-6 further describes what was happening in Numbers as a training time for Israel. I will devote a post to the different areas of the wilderness and the principles they teach us about our walk with the Lord, and close with some thoughts in conjunction with Deuteronomy 8. Now that I have introduced what I’m talking about and why, let me introduce some preliminary considerations.

Foreword: The Torah and the Human Heart

The [Torah] of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul; 
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple; 
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart; 
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes; 
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether. 

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold; 
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb. 
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults. 
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me! 
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression. 
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, 
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 
~Psalm 19:7-14

The purpose of the first 5 books: the Torah, containing the instructions, testimonies, precepts, commandments, fear, and rules of the LORD, is to expose and change the heart of sinful man. It points out the difference between God and Man and calls Man to return to the God who made him in His image. This is also the purpose of the Wilderness stage in a believer’s life. What better overlap of a book subject, and practical experience? What better way to really train the Believer in this new life he has just begun? May this time studying the Torah be helpful to reveal God’s heart, and your own as you come into deeper intimacy with Him.

Encouragement

If you are finding yourself in the wilderness, you are going to be made aware of things you did not really know before. I want to offer you these two immediate encouragements.

  1. You are not alone.
  2. There is reason and purpose to everything. You may not like the reasons, but I hope that Israel’s time in the wilderness will give you some insight into what is currently going on in your life.

News!

Guess what?! The world we live in with all its problems, brokenness, wrong-doing, craziness, and bad things has a King who is in the process of fixing everything! That King is God, and He is saving the world by rebuilding His Kingdom in His World, and one day it will be the only kingdom left standing. So get on board with this Kingdom now, so you don’t lose big when the other kingdoms fall!

What is this Kingdom like? It’s a kingdom where the only rule is Love one another the same way the King’s Son Jesus has loved us. This means there is justice for all, restoration available to all who humbly ask for it, and forgiveness for any wrong thing. Have you ever done something really awful? You felt guilty for it right? You can be forgiven for it. From stealing a piece of candy from a cookie jar to molesting a child, you can be forgiven for that. But if you’re one of those guys who keeps on doing evil, watch out, cause He’s coming to bring about justice, unless you stop doing it and start doing the right things.

Also, it has the coolest King ever. Not only is he all-powerful, but He is very humble. He is willing to talk with you as His friend, even though he made the world and destroys evil. He is constantly well-managing and growing His kingdom, and no enemy will ever be able to take it from him. He has won the battle to keep it forever, and now people get a chance to rule right alongside him! Seriously, He even gives days off! He’s a great boss! He genuinely cares about you, and is willing to get to the bottom of any thing that is broken in your heart. He will fully utilize everything in your life for the purpose of the glory and goodness of this Kingdom.

What’s the catch? Thankfully, the cost has been completely paid. With all our mess-ups and sin that we keep doing, we don’t deserve this opportunity, but Jesus came and died on the cross to make it possible. What do you have to do to be a part of this kingdom? Simple but not Easy. Swear allegiance to God, obey Him, turn your back on everything that was a part of your life in the kingdom’s of this world, and live as an emissary to others to bring them into this kingdom. You can’t bring anything with you, no possessions, no positions, no prestige, even relationships and family have to be on the table of whether or not they continue. As a citizen of this new Kingdom, God calls the shots, He gives you a new Spirit to live inside you and make you a new person. The old person with his old sinful habits, and mediocre purposelessness is not going to allowed to be in this Kingdom. You go through this thing called “Dying to yourself, and living to God” where you actually learn how to be like the God who made you in his image. This is painful, and whats worse, is that most people are either going to ridicule you, misunderstand you, resist you, oppose you, threaten you, or hurt you, or kill you. There’s rewards for enduring all of that, and there’s a joy that comes from knowing that you’re a part of this Kingdom that never ends, but it’s not an easy life.

Seriously, I hope you will consider this offer. There is a lot of pain and trials in the way of being a citizen of this Kingdom, but it’s so worth it. Humans were designed to serve God, and there is a lot of power available in this Kingdom for the accomplishment of God’s purposes. It’s the side that is the winning side, but it’s going to feel like losing a lot of the time. The reward: eternal life forever with God, as co-rulers with Christ Jesus in a Heaven and Earth where there is absolutely no death, evil, or any bad things. You’ll be a new person who won’t have any of those old things broken inside you or with other people. It’s the most awesome thing ever.

How do you sign up? How do you say I do want to do this? You’ll have to address the King directly in what is called “Prayer” which is just talking to God. He’s very wise and very powerful, and he loves you a lot so be honest. You can let him know that you would like to be His citizen, and leave your old life behind. You can tell him that you need a new heart so that you can be a new person, and that for the rest of your life you will serve and love him with everything you’ve got. He knows your heart already, and He can send His Holy Spirit in to fill you up, so that you can have His presence, His love, and all kinds of amazingness that can’t really be described except “Joy” and then comes some of the harder challenges, which He will show you.

Once you let him know, you’re in! You are going to need some training in what to do with all of this, so find a Christian who is an active part of building this kingdom, especially a group of them called a “church” and get going. Follow them, they’ll show you the ropes. SUPER excited for you!!!

The Bible: The Analogy of the Three Testaments

Recently, a friend of mine told me that he believed the church should prioritize Paul’s teachings over Jesus’. Another friend told him that can’t be right. After all, if Paul learned from Jesus, we should prioritize Jesus’ teachings right? I believe this is a wonderful question and I believe the answer can be found by comparing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.

Old Testament

In seminary I learned that the Old Testament has three sections (Torah or Law, Prophets, and Writings) but the last two of those sections are exposition or explanation of the first section. One professor put it this way. “The Old Testament is the Torah and the rest of it is exposition of the Torah.” Another way to say this is that the Torah gives us the definition, the boundaries, the seed of what is to come, and the rest of the writings (The prophets and the writings, or just “the Prophets” for short) just explain how it happened in real life. Example: In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “You are going to go into exile, and God is going to bring you back.” (Deuteronomy 29-31). Read 2 Kings 17. You’ll see why He sent them into exile, and read Nehemiah and you will see what happens when God brings them back. Again, I will say it. The Old Testament = Torah + Exposition of the Torah.

Now if this is the case, which should we prioritize in the Old Testament? My answer is this: The Old Testament is set up in such a way that you need both of them to make sense of it. If you just prioritize the Prophets, chances are you’re not going to have much guidance to understand the plot of what’s happening. Why after all, did Elijah shut up the heavens in 1 Kings 17? (The Prophets) Because in Leviticus 26:18-20, God said he would shut up the Heavens if the people disobeyed. (The Law). If however we just prioritize the Law, then we will get lost in semantics and not know how it is rightly to be applied. Example: Leviticus 25 said you should give your land rest every 7th year. (Law) but we see in the Prophets what happened to the land when the land was NOT given rest every seventh year. (The Prophets) Within the Old Testament God does not leave us in the dark but gives us not only the seed of the tree, but also what the tree looks like when it is full grown. The seed of the Tree is God reaching out to love Israel. The Tree itself is God being faithful, and the people of God being faithless. We need both of these to rightly handle the word of Truth. We also need to use both rightly so we don’t get the cart before the horse.

New Testament

Now, this wonderfully simple pattern of understanding God’s word couldn’t possibly be the pattern for the New Testament could it? What major sections of the New Testament are there? The Gospels and the Writings (History, Epistles, and Prophecy) In essence, we have a repeated pattern of the New Law and Prophets.)

Does it work the same way? Is the New Testament, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament exposition on the Gospels? Yet again, we find that God’s Word in the New Testament not only gives us the seed, but also the Tree. It shows us the Teachings of Jesus in their powerful demonstration and the proof of their truth, and then we are given in the writings what those teachings applied looked like in historical and instructive ways. Paul applied the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6 during the sermon on the mount about worry when he wrote tot he Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” But Jesus’ teachings about how to treat your neighbors would not make as much sense to us who are not Jewish unless Paul and Luke expounded on them for us who are the nations outside of Israel.

So then, which do you prioritize? The teachings that directly apply to the nations (The New Testament Prophets) or Jesus’ words themselves (The New Law)? I see how I would lean personally, but once again, I must keep the whole in perspective. Just as the Torah is expounded in the Prophets, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word, so the Gospels are expounded in the Writings, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word. Both have a relationship that must be rightly kept in humble interpretation of each other.

But still there is one more layer to peel back, which I find rather wonderful and sobering

Our Testament

Now that we have a canon of Scripture, the Church is interpreting the Scriptures to the World in every culture, tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We have, in both Testaments, the pattern of the house, and now we are responsible to enforce, to explain, to bring into reality God’s Word as it is revealed through both Testaments. The question left to us is how is this Scriptural revelation of God going to brought to full expression in the world. Or to put it in another way:

What is the Kingdom of God today? Our blueprints are established, and the writings of the Prophets both old and new have shown God’s way of bringing His word to fruition. It is the power and leading of His Holy Spirit that brings God’s kingdom here on earth among his people. And this Kingdom is going to be the final testament to the nature and character of the God we serve before He comes again.

What a tremendous privilege and responsibility!

To show it visibly, I came up with this Analogy of the Testaments. Can you solve the analogy?

What is the answer?

The rule of humor is you give two similar things one after the other, and then the third, you bend slightly to get a laugh. May the church not make God’s Kingdom the biggest cosmic joke that will make those watching to mock our God! Instead, may we be led and empowered by the Spirit to make of the church what the Spirit seeks to make of the Kingdom of God.

The Broom

He didn’t know why it was laying against the kitchen wall. Kitchens don’t usually have walls, but he figured it could be fun to play with. Grown-ups all seemed to learn one way of doing something and to stick to it. He wanted to try them all!

  1. First he grabbed the handles with both hands and thrust the broomy end at his sisters to poke fun at them. They were not amused.
  2. Then, he went into the living room and spun it around on his hands and it fell clattering to the floor as he dropped it. He tried again because it was fun! Maybe he could do it for a whole minute!
  3. He held the stick nearest the broom between his legs and started swaying his body back and forth to move things off the coffee table with the tip of the handle.
  4. He balanced it on his head and tried to walk through a door with each end sticking out either side. It fell backwards instantly, but after a second try he bent up his leg and caught it on his heel!
  5. He flipped the broom so that the broomy end was up, and he parted it down the middle like hair and grabbed both clumps. He then started rotating the broom like it was a giant steering wheel and he became the pilot of a ship heading through rough seas. The wind was bellowing, the lightning flashing, the rain hailing down on him. The ship ran aground and he took his musket with him with the wide end under his arm, and the tip pointing out in front of him. He made his way to a beautiful lighthouse. He climbed to the top, and from the top saw there was another ship. A Pirate ship! He looked through the scope of his gun, and saw that they were getting ready to sail. He jumped down from the lighthouse onto the ground, and fired a shot at one of the pirates holding onto a rope. And when the man fell off, he grabbed the rope and swung up onto the deck. Suddenly, he was surrounded by bad guys, and his musket now became a sword! He fought them off, and swung his sword wide to fend off the attackers! He reached the Captain, and the captain said if he could beat him in a fight, he’d be the new captain. So, he fought the captain, and swung his sword down on his head and knocked him unconscious. The crew were amazed! The captain shook his head vigorously after a few moments, and he took the hat off the captain’s head and he became the new captain of the ship!

11. Closing Thoughts: Running the Race

Related image
Photo Cred: eternalcall.com

Therefore, we having around us this cloud of witnesses, every weight let us cast aside and easily ensnaring sin, with endurance let us run the “set-before us” race looking to the author and perfecter of our faith Jesus, who for the “set before him” joy endured the cross disregarding the shame, on the right hand of the throne of God has sat down. For consider the one enduring much hostility by sinners so that you may not grow fatigued in your soul giving out.
~Hebrews 12:1-3 (translation mine)

The Cloud

The heavenly company surrounding us now that we have seen their faith is numerous as the stars of heaven, just as God promised Abraham. The visible World made by the unseen word of the real God is based in an unseen reality. Abel knew it, and offered an acceptable offering to this God by giving the best of his life. Enoch knew it, and walked with the Unseen God who ruled it all. Noah knew it and obeyed God and condemned the world by his faith. Abraham knew it, and went into exile on earth so that God might give him the Unseen Promise. He also knew it when he obeyed God to offer up Isaac his son, trusting that God could even raise the dead. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph knew it and carried this promise in their hearts. Moses knew it when he forsook his earthly pomp for persecution with God’s people. The nation of Israel knew it as they revered the God who fought for them. The servants of God have known it in their exaltation and humiliation that there was a glory that awaited them at the revelation of their Beloved’s face.

The Cross

Jesus was the beginner and the finisher of this faith, having showed us the whole path of maturity in faith from humble Birth through Ascension to God’s right hand. (see “To a Mature Man”) While Christ lived the life of faith, he also died the death of faith. He endured the cross disregarding the shame because he was aiming for what was on the other side. He has shown us that there can be no life of faith for us except through the cross– through the principle and practice of dying to self and to the world, submitting under the just judgment of God, so that other’s may know His forgiveness and love through us.

Cast aside everything that holds us back.

The Cross is how we do this. By the cross the world is crucified to us, and us to the world. (Galatians 6:14) The weight of the world represents the cares and investments we make for any reason other than the pleasure and glory of God. They are snares to us, and they strengthen our unbelief against God. That unbelief is the achilles heel to any runner. We run because we know that we are going somewhere we cannot see, and it is not too far for us to reach. Let us keep Jesus in mind so that any difficulties we face from the world or within us may not cause our breath to give out. We must have endurance to finish strong, and there is something at the end of the race that we can have right now in the midst of the race to keep us going.

“Set before”

The author of Hebrews wrote in Greek the same world for “set before” us about the race and “set before” Jesus the Joy. The Master of this race has hidden in the fabric of the race itself this secret: The Race that is set before us, the same race Jesus ran, is the Race of Joy. This is the invitation of faith: Leave the fruitless pursuits of this age and pursue the eternal promise with God, and through that pursuit enter into the Joy of your salvation.

This is the Invitation set before you right here on this screen. Will you accept it?

10. The Servants of God–The Visible Reality (32-40)

– – “And what yet will I say? For time will let me down to describe concerning Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and the Prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, extinguished the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong from weakness, became mighty in battle, put hostile camps to flight, women received their dead from resurrection.
– – “Others were tortured not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection, others received the experience of mocking and lashes, and in addition bonds and imprisonment, being stoned, sawn in two, in murder died by sword, wandering about in sheepskins, in goatskins, needy, oppressed, mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy, wandering about in the wilderness, mountains, and caves, and holes in the ground.
– – “And all these bearing witness by faith did not receive the promise, God foresaw to something better for us, that they not be made complete without us.”
~ Hebrews 11:32-40 (translation mine)

The author of Hebrews makes one final point about faith with these examples. The visible reality is a two-sided coin: Victory and Martyrdom.

Victory

Photo Credit: Baptist and Reflector
https://baptistandreflector.org/2016-resolutions-you-need-a-tipping-point/climb-mountain-rock-victory-top-determination/

When someone lives the life of exile, walking with God, pleasing God, and obedient under judgment they will find themselves in the midst of God’s miraculous works. The power available to the believer in faith is all of God’s miraculous power to heal, to conquer, to restore, to gain, and even to extinguish mighty powers. Faith strengthens the weak, and makes mighty in battle, and makes entire fortified camps flee. Here are a list of stories in which we see each of these things happening.

  • Conquered Kingdoms (Deuteronomy 2:24-36)
  • Performed acts of Righteousness (2 Samuel 8:15)
  • Obtained promises (Genesis 21:1-3)
  • Shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:16-27)
  • Extinguished the power of fire (Daniel 3)
  • Escaped the edge of the sword (Psalm 144:9-11)
  • Were made strong from weakness (1 Samuel 30:1-18
  • Became mighty in battle (2 Samuel 8:1-6)
  • Put fortified camps to flight (2 Kings 6:24-7:20)
  • Women received their dead by resurrection (2 Kings 4:8-37)

The power of faith is attested in ways the author of Hebrews could only begin to paint with broad strokes to describe here. But while these strokes may indicate a striped pattern, the next section shows that it is more plaid.

Martyrdom

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Photo credit: The Preaching Club
https://www.preachingclub.com/jesus-chose-humiliation-over-glory-good-friday-sermon/

Faith is not just the victory that happens through our exaltation, but also the victory achieved by our humiliation. That humiliation would ever be considered a victory is the offense of the Cross. It smacks the face of all human decency and dignity by being utterly stripped of its glory.

Still, anybody can tell you that there is a glory associated with martyrdom. The church has long been nourished by the glory of God seen in the faith of those recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. But Martyrdom is only effective when it is the final step in living for God faithfully. Consider these examples:

  • Tortured (2 Corinthians 11:23)
  • Mocking and lashes (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
  • Bonds and imprisonment (Genesis 39)
  • Being stoned (Acts 7)
  • Sawn in two (Isaiah according to Babylonian Talmud)
  • Murdered by sword (1 Kings 19:10)
  • Wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins (2 Kings 1:8)
  • Needy (Isaiah 20)
  • Oppressed (Exodus 2:23)
  • Mistreated (Jeremiah 38:1-6)

“Not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Truly “The world was not worthy of them.” They lived out of a different reality entirely: one based on eternity rather than the transient and passing plays for power by humanity. This reality, to the world’s way of doing things, was not worthy to be compared to the glory that was and is opposed by the evil one, and the glory still to come in full strength through faith.

Us

Faith is a reality of the eternal past and eternal future shaping the momentary present. We who live right now are on a cosmic strand of faith beneath the beads of the kingdoms of this world clashing together like so many pearls. And one day those pearls will fall off and a new more glorious value will replace it. And our goal is not to cast off this reality entirely, but rather to bring it into alignment with the past and the future eternity of God’s rule. So simple: live now according to the eternity of God forever! That is what it means to live by faith. For some in the past it meant conquering kingdoms; for others in the past it meant being utterly humbled.

For us today, we are part of something better. Jesus has finished the work, and now we are His fruit. We are a part of the promise that is being fully grown from the seed of Jesus Christ. Apart from us, these faithful witnesses of God are not made complete. Now the work of Christ is made real in the body of Christ in the world. The Servants of God, those who walk by faith for the glory of His Kingdom now represent the Invisible Reality of God in the world now made visible for those who are blind. In short, our faith gives others eyes to see the invisible reality of God’s eternal rule in us.

Application

  1. Internally take stock of your inner life: purpose, fulfillment, thoughts, emotions, cares, self-identity, and align all of it with the gospel of God’s love that has transformed you into one who is like Jesus.
  2. Close to you, set your life in order according to the Word of God. Relationships, possessions, goals– let nothing go to waste or be a mockery of the Kingdom of God, but rather let the invisible reality of God at work in your heart manifest itself close to you.
  3. Stand in the community of faith– as people who will not live according to the world’s rules, or compromising with the world’s values, but as those who either in humiliation or exaltation give glory to God as the True King.
  4. Show God’s love to the world by serving and meeting the needs of others.
  5. Show God’s sacrificial justice by taking a stand to fight for the rights of the poor and afflicted against those who refuse to acknowledge God’s rule over them.
  6. Give glory to God and thank Him for the victory by which we overcome the world: our faith.