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It was early spring, and my friend and I were hiking in Sabino Canyon. We had decided to do a leisurely loop trail and then search for a great breakfast place. After about a mile of hiking the trail split, but we didn’t realize it because the sign directing us the correct way was off to the side, near the smaller path. What started out as a short 3-4 mile walk turned into a 6-7 mile endurance test for one simple reason: we followed the trail, but missed the sign.
Joshua gives the Israelites a great warning as they prepared to cross the Jordan river. He says:
“When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God carried by the Levitical priests, you must break camp and follow it. But keep a distance of about 1,000 yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.” (Joshua 3:3-4)
In reading verse 4, it would be easy for us to interpret it like “don’t push forward to try and see the way to go. In fact, Joshua says that the best way to know is to NOT push forward, but to hang back a little.
Joshua makes two things clear.
First, our goal is not to follow all the trails we find, but to follow God’s direction, whatever the trail may look like. We tend to push forward because we think that will give us the best view of what is ahead. When we rush to see what is next, we get blinded to what God is doing now, right in front of us.
Second, we tend to push forward when we are confident in our own skills, or our experience, or background. Joshua reminded the Israelites, “You haven’t traveled this way before.” That’s a good admonition for us, too.
Do you feel like you’re traveling the same ground, or too comfortable in your faith? Maybe it’s time to stretch yourself a little. Ask God what new thing He wants you to learn. That doesn’t always mean something drastic like changing jobs or moving. Sometimes it just means getting to know more of His character, and how He is working around you.
Look to Him, and see where He leads.
This past week heart breaking news surfaced. The lead pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California, Pastor Andrew Stoecklein committed suicide. This is devastating news anytime it occurs. But, when it is especially difficult when it is a fellow pastor. Honestly, I’ve thought about this for several days, uncertain of the appropriate response. However, I am certain that I should respond to this tragedy in some fashion. This story hits a little too close to home. So, for that reason, I thought I might share a brief portion of my story.
Nearly 19 years ago to the day of Pastor Andrews death, I sat on the end of my bed, as a senior in high school, sobbing waiting on the news that my father, a pastor, had killed himself. That news never came, as police were able to take my father into custody before he was able to harm himself or anyone else. By the grace of God my father is alive today.
You see my father had been struggling with depression and anxiety for months, and from reports on social media, it appears Pastor Andrew, was suffering from similar bouts. Chances are, at least some of whom will read this, can reflect on a time when you endured similar struggles. Fortunately for me my father is still alive, but our family has never been the same. Andrews wife and small children have a different battle to face now. Pray and pray with deep conviction for this family as they grieve.
Pastor, though it may be difficult to see today, your service has eternal value. If you are currently struggling under the weight of some dark thoughts, don’t carry that burden alone. Would you please reach out to someone, anyone?! It doesn’t make you less of a pastor, less of a Christian, less of a father, husband, or even man. You’ve accepted a calling on your life to serve the image bearers of the one true God, to serve the body of Christ. It may feel lonely in your pursuit of peace, but you are not alone. It’s time to let others serve you during this difficult season.
By God’s grace and mercy, if this doesn’t currently describe you, please consider reaching out to a pastor friend today. In the army we never did anything alone. Everywhere we went and everything we did was with a “battle buddy.” Brothers it is time to stop waging war with the enemy on our own. It’s time to lock arms and confront the enemy head on, connected and united in brotherhood, for the sake of your own personal health, your family, the congregation you lead, and the kingdom of God!
I walked into the golf shop today here in Snowflake where I hack at golf and there on the wall they have a giant picture and an article on Kyle Jones who is playing for the first time in the PGA Tour. I remember Kyle as I watched him as a young boy on the golf course and then into Jr. High & High School. What is interesting about all of this is there was another young man that I know personally who played alongside of Kyle as they grew up. Both of them were very competitive and when they reached High School, Snowflake High School took the Golfing State Championship 4 years in a roll. Both of them were neck and neck in the game of golf. Some said that both of these young men would one day become Pro Golfers and if you watched them as I did and played alongside them as I did you would have said it too.
Something began to happen though by about junior year in High School with the young man I know personally. His focus and discipline started falling off in his life. He began to have anger issues on and off the course that his father spoke to me about. I golfed with them on occasions and I could tell things were not right with this young man. When I golfed with them I endeavored to be an encouragement to him. He received a scholarship from a college to play golf but within a month he blew it away. I don’t even know if he plays golf anymore.
Kyle on the other hand continued to stay focused and disciplined with his life. His character on the course and off the course was impeccable. He too received a scholarship from a college to play golf and I believe they won a Championship while Kyle was just a freshman. I have followed Kyle from time to time hoping he would make it big and so he has. I am extremely happy for him!!
As I stood gazing at his picture there in the golf shop here in Snowflake I remembered what Jesus said to his disciples:
“I always do those things that please my Father.”
Jesus’ life was focused on pleasing the Father and His life was disciplined in this manner. I want this in my life as well. I want to measure my life by this one thing:
Followers of Jesus encouraged as to the importance of the Gospel and the necessity of sharing it with others. Which it is and we should. But, what the Gospel is tends to be is too narrowly understood. Consequently, people are deprived of the richness God offers and miss the abundant life Christ promised (John 10:10). So, what is this Good News we are exhorted to declare to friends, relatives and strangers at home and abroad?
In practice, the Gospel is the announcement that everyone has sinned against a righteous God and therefore are separated from Him. Unless altered, mankind’s state will leave him eternally removed from God, in Hell. Resolution of our sinful state, the resulting alienation from God and rescue from perdition is found in God’s forgiveness, provided through Jesus’ death at Calvary.
It is true to the Gospel that at the most intrinsic level of humanity, all are flawed and broken. What the Bible labels as fallen (Rom. 3:23). There is something spiritually genetic about humanity which compels us to rebel against God (Gen. 5:3). Acting from our skewed image, we engage in what God identifies as sin. Receiving “the due penalty of [our] error” (Rom 1:27).
It is also accurate to share that because God loves, He provided the only means adequate to redeem humanity from their predisposition towards sin and satisfy the righteous requirement of the Law. Since the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), a death was required. Since sin is committed by people, a person needed to pay the penalty (Heb. 10:4).
God’s resolution to the creature’s fallenness is one reason why the Gospel is good news! Humanity rightly earned a death sentence. God graciously took to the cross and died in his stead. Mankind lived, so Jesus had to die. Jesus died, so mankind can live. Good news? Great news!! However, the redemptive aspect of the Gospel is but one aspect of God’s Good News.
In reality, the Gospel is much more. Take for example the night of Jesus’ birth. There the angelic chorus declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14 - emphasis added). God’s first words to humanity after 400 years of silence was His pleasure upon a people whose sin would crush His son. Wow! That God is pleasurably disposed towards humanity is indeed great news. Too often people believe God angrily seeks any chance to strike them. Instead, the Gospel declares, despite sin, God looks upon us with kind affection. God’s affinity serves as the springboard for the rest of the Good News.
In addition to the above mentioned Good News of God’s favor (Luke 2:14), the Gospel offers the Good News of a new quality and character of life (John 3:16). The Good News of God’s presence (1 Cor. 3:16). The Good News of God’s nearness (Luke 17:20-21). The Good News of God’s grace (Rom. 12:6). The Good News of God’s direction and guidance (John 16:13). There is more to the Gospel and to be shared with people beyond “the elementary teaching about the Christ” (Heb. 6:1).
The Gospel as it relates to salvation is but the entrance to a rich and full existence with God. To merely share with someone the Gospel’s forgiveness of sin and adoption into the family of God and not go on to speak of the rest of the Good News’ provisions is like celebrating a wedding, while neglecting the marriage. It is indeed good news that God delivers from sin. But, the fullest extent of the good news is realized when one lives in the relationship God provides. Where it not for the relationship with God, Heaven would mean little (more on that later).