Mount of Temptation – Jericho

I was leading a group in Israel and Jordan and one of the sites we visited was Mount of Temptation – Jericho. We entered into Jericho in the evening of 7 Dec, a day after Trumph’s announcement of acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jericho is Palestine and not Israel. The streets in Jericho were quiet as there was an economic protest where all shops and restaurants were closed. I have been to Jericho many times and this silence was unusual.

Somehow the silence reminded me of the silent march of the Israelites around the ancient city of Jericho. We did not go to take over the city neither were we on the march. Yet the silence in the streets indicated that something was to come. In the Biblical story it was conquering the Promised Land. We were there to see the land. ūüėä On 8 Dec after we left Jericho early morning, protest and demonstrations broke out in Palestine, including Jericho. Thank God for His divine protection and timing for everything.

‚ÄúWhen Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord‚Äôs covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. But Joshua had commanded the army, ‚ÄúDo not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!‚ÄĚ So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there. Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days. On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, ‚ÄúShout! For the Lord has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury.‚ÄĚ When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it‚ÄĒmen and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.‚ÄĚ Joshua‚Ĩ ‚Ä≠6:8-21‚Ĩ ‚Ä≠NIV‚Ĩ‚Ĩ (emphasis mine)

On 7 Dec, our Jericho guide waited for almost 2hrs as we were late. Our itinerary was to head straight to Elisha Spring, Seed of Hope and to the hotel. Instead, without asking for our consent, he brought us to the foot of Mount of Temptation. Yes, there is a big shop right at the foot of Mount of Temptation. I was not too concern since shops were supposed to be close. A quick stop to see the mount from the base should not be a problem even though we were tight for time. When approaching, I saw the shutters of the shop down so there shouldn’t be any distraction. Guess what? The shop assistants came out in the dimly lit road with samples of dates and half the group were more interested in the dates than the significance of the Mount of Temptation. A side note, Jericho does produce good dates!

Mount of Temptation - Jericho<

was reminded of Achan who were tempted by the spoils of Jericho and secretly kept some despite God’s command against it. I find it rather interesting that the temptation of Jericho is still at work now, even in small things like dates and shopping. ūüėÖ

‚ÄúBut the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord‚Äôs anger burned against Israel.‚ÄĚ Joshua‚Ĩ ‚Ä≠7:1‚Ĩ ‚Ä≠NIV‚Ĩ‚Ĩ

I believe it is a personal warning God has for me this season even as I have come out of the wilderness and the first battle of “Jericho” comes with temptation in the most unexpected manner. Temptation is waiting in the dark corner to spring a surprise offer that I might not be prepared to resist. The spoils of the first battle, just like the first fruit, belongs to the Lord. Don’t even think about touching them as the consequences will be dire, just like the battle of Ai.

I pray that myself or anyone of us will not fall prey to such temptations. Let us fix our eyes on our Lord Jesus lest we be distracted.

Authority, Forgiveness and Discipline

Authority, Forgiveness and Discipline

As the title “Authority, Forgiveness and Discipline” suggests, this post touches on the role of leaders. I am referring to those with authority as people who are responsible for the growth and well-being of others. This includes parents, teachers, superiors in workplaces, pastors, youth leaders, and as you can see, almost anyone depending on how you define your roles.

Forgiveness

As humans, we are far from perfect but are being made perfect. Yes, we do silly things that can irritate, anger and hurt the people who are around us. This is the time when those in authority need to exercise forgiveness. Forgiveness is not released only after an apology is given. Forgiveness is not holding anger and bitterness towards the person despite what was done or said, or sometime not done or said. It is to still be able to look at the person with the love of God and giving the person the worth and value God have for him or her. Forgiveness is often taught and talked, where many are struggling to practice, including myself.

Discipline

Perhaps it is this struggle that is why we often end the process at forgiveness. As by the time we manage to forgive, we are done with the matter already. Yet Biblically, there is one more step.

Let us refer to Matthew 18:15-20 (NASB):

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.

19¬†‚ÄúAgain I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20¬†For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.‚ÄĚ

The heading for this section in the NASB version says “Discipline and Prayer”. We often quote verses 18 and 19 for prayer, but it is not often that we look at it in context of discipline. Verses 18 and 19 deal with spiritual authority and how this is connected to verses 15-17, which is the context of these truths. This is corporate spiritual authority that we see Jesus taught here. The source of the power is of course from God through the work of Jesus Christ. I believe verse 15-17 lies the key to unlock this authority and power given to the church.

Sin and Spiritual Authority

God hates sin. When sin is present, God does not bless and the flow of authority is stopped. In the Old Testament, God judges sin. Individuals like Achan and even King David had their sins judged. In New Testament, the most dramatic incident was Annanias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). These were sins that were hidden from the knowledge of the church. Yet for sins that are known to the church, God gives His body His authority to judge, release forgiveness and discipline. Discipline can only come when there is forgiveness, then the actions taken will be to correct and for growth. Without forgiveness, any action taken is revenge which is not to seek the good of the offender. If the offender is to remain in the community, as per normal, the gravity of sin from God’s perspective is never fully reflected, and thus it is not possible to learn that sin is an abonimation to God. It most probably is not to the offender. If it is, he or she would have not done it or would have repented quickly. Remember that excommunicating the offender is not a life-time sentence. Upon repentence, i.e. the person realized the gravity of the sin and is willing to change and forsake the old ways, the person is fully integrated back into the church community.

By dealing with sin through the heart of God, considering both God’s hate towards sin and love towards men, this is when the church can exercise the very spiritual authority given in verses 18-20. If these verses are set in full motion, what a great testimony of the glory of God we will be here on earth.

 

Jacob – the Blessed Wrestling Schemer

JACOB-3For many years, I find it hard to reconcile Jacob’s¬†blessings and his scheming ways. I am a firm believer that the end does not justify the means and the life of Jacob seems to suggest otherwise. The recent weeks,¬†Jacob is once again brought into focus.

Jacob was grabbing hold of Esau’s¬†heel at birth¬†(Gen 25:26). This was why he was named Jacob, meaning “he catches by the heel, i.e. he supplants”. These twin brothers were already at war within the womb, causing their mother Rebekah much distress (Gen 25:22).¬†The first¬†round winner was Esau as he emerged firstborn of the womb, pushing himself out¬†before Jacob. This is not surprising¬†as Esau was possibly stronger physically,¬†who grew up to be a hunter.¬†The fight did not stopped there. Jacob still wanted to be¬†the firstborn. He¬†quickly bagged in the win for round two when he traded his bowl of red lentil soup for¬†the birthright of Esau. The final victory was with the aid of his mother Rebekah. Jacob deceived his own father, Isaac, and received the firstborn blessing. Very unorthodox means of getting to the ends which are hard to¬†accept as acts that lead to blessings.

God did not intervene in any of these sibling rivalry. Some people believed that it is already ordained for Jacob to be blessed so God chose not to intervene. If it is ordained, all the more there is no need for Jacob to do what he did as the prophecy will come to pass without him helping God in such manner. Surely there are consequences to sin, even King David lost a son because of his adultery and murder after his genuine repentance. Why is Jacob favoured despite his scrupulous actions?

“His heart.”

This was from a still, soft voice within that I wanted to brush off as ridiculous. Yet there was a solid and deep truth that I cannot dismiss flippantly. Surely God looks at the heart and how can it be that a scheming man has a good heart? It was almost like a court room within me and I was a prosecutor of Jacob whom I never met! It is of course a losing battle in this court room and out of it, I learnt a precious lesson.

Jacob’s heart was fixed on eternal blessings and never swayed by the present. He knew what was valuable and precious – the birthright and firstborn blessings of his father. It was out of the deep longings of his heart that¬†he took every opportunity to grab hold of them. ¬†This same longing of the heart¬†was seen in how he was willing to work another 7 years for Rachel after being cheated to marry Rachel’s sister. The final fight was at Bethel. His fight for eternal blessings which only the Lord can offer. It¬†left him with a limp¬†but with a new name and locked him into his eternal blessed destiny. This encounter¬†ended Jacob’s trail of scheming narratives as I believed his heart was finally filled to the brim by God. This was his destiny.

His trickery of both the birthright and firstborn blessings led to his exile from the house, a fugitive. He did not enjoy the blessings¬†he schemed for during those years. A man who was described as “a¬†peaceful man,¬†living in tents” (Gen 25:27 NASB)¬†now found himself cast into the “wild world” and in the open field to shepherd sheep even though he was still under the protection of his extended family. A modern day drastic career change will be from¬†a computer guy¬†to a construction worker overnight.¬†The birthright to his father’s¬†inheritance was with Esau since¬†he was on the run. This does not look like the blessed life he fought¬†for. Having to leave home is the consequence of his scheming ways.

Rather than seeing him as a cold-blooded man, Jacob was a hot-blooded man fixated on what his heart’s desires.¬†He pursued hard and even prevailed against God. It is interesting that the Bible described him as peaceful and some versions use the word “complete” for a schemer. Peaceful perhaps meaning that he does not shed blood as compared to Esau who is a hunter. The description of Jacob was not negative.¬†His name that describes him as a supplanter is not a negative word¬†in military terms but one of strategy. Comparing Jacob’s heart attitude¬†with how Esau despised his birthright, Jacob’s thirst made him¬†the man whom God used to bless the nations.

Do I desire God’s blessings enough to contend with Him throughout the night, knowing that I would never prevail? I wish I can give a loud yes but in full honesty, my prayer would be¬†“God give me the portion you have for me”. The thought of¬†putting up a fight with the Lord for blessings would never crossed my mind. This sounds like a very submissive and obedient prayer¬†but is this a true reflection of my heart? Maybe it is a coverup. Perhaps I dare not believe that God will give me the desires of my heart or that He has my interests covered. If it is so, then I am not¬†honest with Him with my heart. Or I know that the desires of my heart are not aligned to his? Whichever is the case, the hypocrisy of my heart is revealed. Jacob, despite his immature and unorthodox ways, was true to his heart and to God, believed in it and walked it.

This is a repentance call for me.¬†It is so easy for my heart to be¬†distracted and won out, hiding behind the word “resignation to God’s will” when the tough gets going or I am swimming against the tide. The fear of¬†failure holds me back from engaging the Lord in a wrestle¬†for blessings. It is not about winning, but it is a matter of how desperate¬†do I want it. Jacob set his heart on¬†the blessings of God and this gave God the opening to correct his ways, repent and change. So the key is to set my heart towards God and with that, He can do His work within me so that His¬†promised destiny for me can be fulfilled as He moulds and shapes me along the way.

Holiness is not Contagious, but Evil is

If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?'” And the priests answered, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?” And the priests answered, “It will become unclean.” (Haggai 2:12, 13 NASB)

Holiness or goodness cannot be passed on. It is an internal state that is not defined by the things that one is associated with. This implies that a person who goes to church religiously, or only hangs out with reputable godly people is not deemed as holy. It is someone who understands and accepts the work of Christ on the cross, that His blood has cleansed us through and through, and in obedience, walks in the truth of this is considered holy and sanctified.

On the contrary, evil is by association as it is contagious. It is interesting to note that evil or sin is transferable simply by contact. This is probably best illustrated by water. A cup of clean spring water is completely contaminated if a dirty spoon is used to stir it. Call us naive, by thinking that a little naughty or bad stuff will not do much harm… But in actual fact, the little has already contaminated us without knowing.

It is so easy to be infected by evil or sin yet it is such an arduous task to walk in holiness. Brings to mind the teaching of Jesus about the narrow path to eternal live vs the broad and easy way to destruction. Good reminder to self for this new year…