Freedom Friday: Seeing with God’s Eyes

Good day, Freedom Friday readers!

We’re still on Joshua here. I know; I can’t help it! It’s just that good!

Let’s turn to Joshua 5 🙂 The Israelites have just stepped into the Jordan, crossed it, and taken up their Stones of Remembrance. Joshua circumcised the Israelites, they healed & rested, and then they celebrated the Passover.

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Many commentators on this passage believe that the commander of the army of the LORD was Jesus Himself. Joshua worshipped Him & referred to Him as “my Lord”. Prior to this time, God had been speaking directly to Joshua, over & over. He had not bodily appeared to Joshua, nor had an angel visited him.

Why, then, did Joshua need God Himself to come speak to him face to face?

I can’t help but wonder if he was possibly discouraged.

Notice that Joshua was near his obstacle when the above happened. What he was thinking about? Was he staring at the obstacle, wondering how they could ever overcome it? Had he forgotten all the Lord has already done? I imagine him standing there, trying to remind himself of who his deliverer was. In that moment, the ESV translation says that Joshua “lifted up his eyes.”

The commander of the Lord’s army, whoever he was, reminded Joshua to consecrate Himself to the Lord and to press on.

6:1 Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

2 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands.

Huh? That doesn’t even make sense. To the natural eye, Jericho was shut up, snug as a bug in a rug, with high walls and no way in. No one was even coming or going. But God said to Joshua, “Look at this with my eyes. I have already delivered this city into your hands.”

I have had a series of challenging events in my life recently. It’d be quite easy to get discouraged based on the circumstances I see around me.

The truth about life for us all is that it’d be easy to find things to be rip courage out of us, and it’s much more difficult to find things to deposit courage into us.

But the reality of following Jesus is you & I have already been set free from the laws of sin and death. In fact, you’ve already been set free from that thing that just came to mind as you doubted the truth of my last sentence. That situation you are looking at, the one that seems perfectly hopeless, God is saying, “Consecrate yourself to me. I already have a plan to be glorified. I will deliver you from that thing that has you bound. I can do the miraculous in the midst of that hopeless situation. Look at this with my eyes.”

Are you speaking truth to yourself concerning your troubling situation, the obstacles facing you? Are you placing your hope in all the ways you have possibly conjured up to fix it, or all the possible outcomes you’ve imagined? Or are you hoping in the power of God, the same God who parted the Jordan, and as we read on, brought down the mighty walls of Jericho?

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

What we see, our struggles, our circumstances, our burdens, are not only light & momentary, but they are temporary. Read that again: this is temporary.

We have a choice: stare at the walls of Jericho, or look into the eyes of our great God.

In Joshua’s moment of discouragement, he chose to look to His Creator, the Lover of his soul, His Deliverer. And in that moment, it seems as if God replied, “Because you chose to look to me, I am about to do something amazing.

Good Friday: The Original Freedom Friday

It’s Freedom Friday. It also happens to be the day many in the church celebrate Good Friday.

I wrote this on Good Friday of 2009 in my paper journal:

It’s Good Friday & I’m 8 weeks pregnant.

Today is a bittersweet day. This is my 3rd pregnancy. My 1st pregnancy was relatively smooth and resulted in my beautiful son, Bear. We always hoped to have many children. Being that I was 32 at Bear’s birth, we only waited just over a year before trying to have another. After less than a month, we found out on our 6th anniversary that I was pregnant again- with a baby we called Bunny Boo.

At 8 weeks pregnant, Bunny boo was lost by miscarriage.

I was pregnant again 2 months later with Monkey. I felt peace about my 3rd pregnancy, but felt bittersweet relief when I arrived at 8 weeks.

If I hadn’t lost Bunny Boo, we wouldn’t have been celebrating 8 weeks of pregnancy with Monkey this Good Friday.

How appropriate! This weekend, whether you call it Easter, Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday or Pascha, is also bittersweet. On Good Friday, we can celebrate and reflect because we know the end of the story. We can mourn as the disciples mourned as they watched their leader be arrested, led away, flogged, taunted, punished and murdered by crucifixion. We mourn that our sin put Him through all that. Yet we rejoice in knowing that because of God’s love, He made it possible for us to have abundant & eternal life.

Thankfully, my 3rd pregnancy has a happy ending as well. I have a cute little Monkey, 17 months old, running around the yard as we speak 🙂

That doesn’t erase the pain of the bittersweet reality of Monkey’s pregnancy and Bunny Boo’s loss.

We also know the end of the story we are celebrating today. Just like my 3 pregnancies, Easter does not erase the bittersweet reality of Good Friday. So before before we rush on to the Resurrection, let’s sit here for a minute.

As I type this, the 100 Portraits song, “Around my Neck“, plays on my iTunes. An amazing song. I’ll let it speak for itself.

The cross I wear around my neck
What does it mean if it does not mean death.
Please tell me if it doesn’t mean blood,
or nails, or crying or loneliness?

The cross I wear around my neck
What is if for, if it is not for breaking
And if it’s not for pain, or nakedness, or hammering?

The cross I wear around my neck
is being raised above my head
I think this time it’s wearing someone else
I see it drop into the ground and when it falls
I hear the sound, someone crying, “I love you!”

The cross I wear around my neck
What does it mean, if it does not mean love.
Please tell me if it doesn’t sing of hope and healing,
and forgiveness?

The cross I wear around my neck
Who is it for if it is not for me, if it’s not for sin,
and all my searching for the innocence?

The cross I wear around my neck
is being raised above my head
I think this time it’s wearing someone else
I see it drop into the ground and when it falls
I hear the sound, someone crying, “I love you!

The cross I wear around my neck
is being raised above my head
I think this time it¹s wearing someone else
I see it drop into the ground and when it falls
I hear the sound someone screaming, “I love you!”

The cross I wear around my neck
Who is it for, if it is not for us:
the lame, the blind, the ones held captive,
and the fatherless?

What is the message of Good Friday? It’s a message of surrender. Imagine if Jesus had chosen to follow His feelings & desires in the Garden that day. Where would we be? It’s a message of suffering. And it’s a message of hope, abundant life and mercies new every morning.

The message of the cross is the Father God crying out to a broken world, “I love you and I am willing to do whatever it takes to hold you in my arms, love you, heal you. I’m willing to give up everything I have, my Only Son, that you all may have the opportunity to be called my sons & daughters, that You no longer have to live in bondage.”

“Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.” Isaiah 53

We have freedom in Christ because Jesus did not use His own freedom to choose to step outside God’s will. He instead chose to step right into His Jordan for you and for me.

How then should we respond? Take a moment to be silent. What would God have you do in response?

I challenge you today to respond with that same level of surrender. My prayer is that you, and I, will make the same declaration of trust, that we will take the next step toward living in the fullness of abundant freedom that is available to all believers.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Amen.

"But They Did Not Consult The Lord…"

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for the past few weeks, I am (too) slowly reading Joshua. I’ve been trying to read a chapter a day, but as per usual, life is getting in the way.

And by “life”, I mean having messed up priorities and a misplaced focus.

Anyway, as God does in His faithfulness, today He has used my slacker-ness and turned it around on me. Despite the fact that I haven’t read Joshua since Thursday and should be on chapter 13 at this point, He used chapter 9 to challenge me & bless my socks off.

Take a minute and soak in just how good God is to us. So patient, so loving.

Thanks, God.

Anyway, in my reading today, the Israelites are in the process of claiming the Promised Land as their own. They defeated Ai in the 2nd battle, after Ai originally defeated them due to Achan’s sin. After this victory, Joshua takes the time to remind the Israelites of the blessings & curses spelled out in the book of instruction, as well as every word of every command.

Joshua was following through with God’s earlier instructions for success:

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.

Joshua consulted the Lord in all he did. Until he didn’t.

The Gibeonites had heard what the Israelites had done to Ai & Jericho, and verse 4 says “they resorted to deception to save themselves.”

They disguised themselves so it appeared they had been on a long journey. When they came and requested for a treaty, Joshua asked, “How do we know you don’t live nearby? For if you do, we cannot make a treaty with you.” When they replied, “we are your servants,” Joshua demanded, “But who are you? Where do you come from?”

The Gibeonites said they had come from a very distant country. They had heard of the Israelites’ God and of all He did in Egypt, at the Jordan, and Jericho & Ai. “This bread was hot from the ovens when we left our homes. But now, as you can see, it is dry and moldy. These wineskins were new when we filled them, but now they are old and split open. And our clothing and sandals are worn out from our very long journey.”

Here is how Joshua responded: “So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord.”

You can likely guess how this ends. Joshua makes a treaty with the Gibeonites, thinking they live far away, only to find out they live in the Promised Land. Joshua keeps his word and upholds the treaty, but loses part of the Promised Land.

The weight of this hit me.

Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

Am I missing out on God’s promises and His blessings because I forget to stop & ask God to inform my decisions?

Do I say “yes” to opportunities that appear to have God-glorifying potential because it seems like a good thing to do?

Or do I ask for God’s input every time I prepare to take a step in any direction?

Lord, forgive me for often acting without asking. Help me to remember You in every step, even every small move I make. Let the weight of “Apart from me you can do nothing” convict me and inform my every decision. You are good.

Freedom Friday Tools for the Journey: Stones of Remembrance

This is a continuation of the last 2 Freedom Friday posts. It falls into the “Tools for the Journey” category, but it’s also a continuation of the discussion of Joshua (I recommend going back & reading this if you haven’t already).

We pick up the story in Joshua 4. The Israelites have just crossed the Jordan. They’ve seen God’s hand move powerfully and faithfully, as He continues to do what He has promised He would do.

Then God tells Joshua to have one man from each tribe go back into the middle of the river, take a stone from where the priests are standing, and carry it back out of the river.

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5 He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”

I can’t help but wonder why God doesn’t tell them to get the stones on their way through the river. Is this again another little faith test, like when He commanded them to step into the Jordan, and only then would the waters part? While crossing the river, the Israelites were specifically instructed to stay a half mile away from the Ark of the Covenant, whereas now they are told to gather rocks from where the priests are standing. The stones needed to be from that very spot where the Ark of the Covenant, a sign of God’s presence and His promises, was held. God also instructed Joshua to make another pile of 12 stones in that very spot in the middle of the Jordan.

Notice they weren’t celebratory stones. It would have been a fine time to celebrate, but no. The “Stones of Remembrance” served as a memorial. A reminder of God’s faithfulness. That His promises were, and still are, true. The end of an era (slavery and wilderness wanderings), and a new beginning in the Promised Land.

The reality of life is that we all get discouraged. “Discouraged” is likely too weak of a word – “disheartened” is better. Proverbs says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. Our focus gets sidetracked by the wait. We forget all that God is, and all He has done in us & through us.

We get hyper-focused on our vision of how things should be. We even have a picture of how, when and why God will show up and come through.

The Israelites certainly had a preconceived idea of how God’s deliverance should look. Imagine the Israelites, enslaved for 400 years. For all those generations, they spent their days, while subject to the whims of Pharaoh, dreaming of how God would show up. In my article “Craving Egypt“, I wrote about how quickly the Israelites lost sight of all that God had done to deliver them from slavery in Egypt. The following words were spoken by the Israelites soon after the parting of the Red Sea.

“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:3

Even the Pharisees and Jewish leaders had an idea of what the Messiah, their deliverer, would look like. They had built in their minds an image of Him so inaccurate that when Jesus came, they didn’t even recognize Him.

The Stones of Remembrance after the crossing of the Jordan served not just as a reminder, but also as a warning. You will forget. You will lose sight. You will get off kilter, lose focus, sink into despair. You will even come up with your own ideas of what freedom looks like and how it should arrive.

It’s as if God is saying: I’ve carried you this far. Trust me. I’m not going to stop caring for you now. It may not look like you think it will. but I’m still here and I’m still working.

The Stones of Remembrance encourage us to focus on the “who” rather than the “how”. We love the “how”! We love imagining and conjuring up the grand scheme of how God is going to work in a particular situation. We’re not so enthusiastic about simply resting in the knowledge of who God is. We get too caught up in the details of the “how” to remember to fix our eyes on the eternal: Jesus.

This tool is different from the encouragement file in that the encouragement file is a place to keep reminders of thoughtful notes, affirmations, and thanks from people from over the years. Stones of Remembrance are times God came through, often in surprising ways.

So start writing it down. Look back through your journals, your emails, your Facebook status updates, and start a new journal. Write the date, and the way in which God came through. The manner in which He reminded you that He is good. The person through whom He spoke truth. The Scripture you heard three times in the same day, through three different means.

Write it down. You will forget. You will lose sight. We all do.

The Stones of Remembrance are what we reach for when we are disheartened, weighed down by the burden of the problems we were never meant to carry.

In the words of Sara Groves in her song by the same name, “He’s always been faithful; He will be again”.

That’s why we need Stones of Remembrance.

21 Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. 24 He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.”

Freedom Friday, Tools for the Journey: Keep an Encouragement File

Today, I went to go back to a series that I originally called “Keeping It Simple”. I’ve retitled it “Tools for the Journey”. Today’s entry will indeed be simple.

I was a campus missionary for a number of years, and during that time, a ministry associate recommended keeping an encouragement file. It’s an actual file that I keep in my filing cabinet with notes of encouragement or thanks that people have sent me over the years.

The Bible talks about the importance of encouragement over & over. In this blog post, I talked about how words have the power to deposit courage into you (encourage) or rip courage out of you (discourage). Too often, life, circumstances, and people rip courage out of us.

When that happens, it’s time to get out the encouragement file.

I thought of this yesterday, as a ministry participant sent me a kind & encouraging email about some things I’ve said & done in our support group. I actually haven’t added anything to my file for some time, but a few recent emails reminded me of its value.

Here’s a picture from inside my neglected encouragement file.

Some of these notes are 10+ years old. Many of them are from the 3 years I worked in student life.

The first image shows a scribbled-on envelope, where I quickly wrote down 10 things a friend was learning through Habakkuk from God. There are cards, post-it notes, printed emails. A few drawings from a dear friend. There are many ways to receive encouragement.

I’m adding 3 recent emails to my file today.

Remember also to be an encourager. Students I worked with at leadership conferences would fill out form letter encouragement notes, to develop their encouragement skills.

Encouragement is a learned skill. Encourage your friends, family, loved ones, and your spiritual leaders. Strengthen them with your words. Think about people who have impacted your life positively. Take some time to write those people a short note of thanks and appreciation.

Be an encourager of others, and start an encouragement file for yourself today. That’s today’s Freedom Friday Tool for the Journey.

Freedom Friday: Stepping Into Your Jordan


“Into the Wild” is a biographical sketch of the story of Christopher McCandless as written by Jon Krakauer.

In 1990, Christopher McCandless, a young man in his 20’s, set out on a cross-country journey to experience life in the wilderness. After 2 years on the road, McCandless crossed a stream in a remote area of Alaska and ended up living in an abandoned bus he came across. He stays there for a few months, but he soon tires of gathering his own food and of the harsh reality of living alone in the wild.

When McCandless seeks to return from the wild to his friends and family, he finds that the stream which he crossed in the snow has become wide, deep, and violent due to the thaw, thus making it impossible to cross. In the film, it seems as if time stands still. McCandless stops there, perfectly silent, staring at the wild river that has now made him a prisoner of his choices.

****

I’m reading through the book of Joshua now. I just finished up Romans and have been working on a post about Joshua 6 (that will come later), and as I backtracked a little for context, I was reminded of the powerful story of faith contained in the book of Joshua.

Right before beginning Joshua, I was listening to a podcast, where a Christian speaker emphasized that sometimes we need to step out. Thus, I looked up the story of Joshua crossing the Jordan in Joshua 3. A detail I never noticed before leapt out at me.

Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest.

You likely know the end of this story. The priests, walking in obedience to God’s command, stepped out into the flood waters. They carried the Ark of the Covenant, a sign of God’s presence and His promises, with them. The water piled up in a heap beside them, and there the priests stood, in the middle of the river on dry ground, waiting until all of Israel was safely on the other side.

But let’s back up a minute for context. Imagine that you are in the shoes of the Israelites. The two spies had just returned from Jericho with a favorable report: “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” There was likely much celebration. After 40 years of their ancestors wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites would finally see the promised land.

Then early the next morning, the Israelites were instructed to pack up their things and move their camp to the banks of the Jordan River. For 3 days, they camped near the river’s edge. Imagine the spray from the flooded river, the violent water vigorously lapping the banks. They must have been thinking through all the possibilities of how they would get across as they stared at the obstacle that stood between them and their dreams of a better life.

There may have been some who remembered crossing the Red Sea, or at least heard the story from their elders. Could God do that again?

At the end of the third day, Joshua commands them, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” The anticipation builds. The next morning, everyone awakes and prepares to move forward. The people are directed to follow the Ark of the Covenant at a distance, while the priests were commanded: “When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.”

When the Red Sea parted, the waters had already parted prior to the Israelites stepping into the newly-created dry land. Why wasn’t God doing that again? Was He examining their hearts, as if to make sure they were really on board? The Israelites wandered in the wilderness because of their disobedience and hard hearts. Why was He requiring an extra act of faith on the part of the priests, that they should step directly into the flood waters they had been watching for 3 days? Was He in essence, saying, “This is it, guys. We’re almost there. Are you going to continue to choose to trust me and follow my commands?”

What is your Jordan?

What is the thing that is standing between you & your dreams, your freedom, the Promised Land that God is calling you to step into?

Are you standing on the banks of your Jordan, as Christopher McCandless did on that river’s edge in Alaska, overwhelmed by the cold spray on your face and the rushing waters at your feet? Are you staring at the river, your obstacle, positive that you, like him, are destined to be a prisoner of your past choices?

If you are a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ, you are no longer a prisoner of your past choices. The amazing thing about the God we serve is that He sets the captives free, He brings us from darkness into light. And if He is calling you to step out, He will make a way where there is no way.

Are you willing to trudge forward as the Israelites did, choosing to trust that God has gone ahead of you?

Do you need to just step out, trusting that God will make a way?