Monday, March 21, 2016

Do You Want Peace? Seek God’s Counsel, and Keep Your Promises

            In this edition of Broken Hearts, Redeemed, we’ll venture forth from our peace review to find more Old Testament passages that teach us how to pursue and attain the Shalom type of peace we’re currently studying. Today, we’ll learn how important it is to seek God’s counsel and keep our promises to achieve lasting peace.

            Saying goodbye to Moses and venturing forth into the book of Joshua, we’ll head over to chapter 9, verses 14 and 15 to see what’s going with Joshua and the Israelites, and a sneaky bunch of Gibeonites.

            “The men of Israel looked them over and accepted the evidence. But they
            didn’t ask God about it. So Joshua made Shalom with them and formalized it
            with a covenant to guarantee their lives. The leaders of the congregation
            swore to it.”
            The Gibeonites are a group of people living in the land that God has told the Israelites to conquer because He is giving that land to them. (That may seem wrong or unfair to us, but since the Earth, and all that is in and on it, belong to God, He gets to set the rules, just like you do in your house. And if you knew anything about the people who were living in the land, you’d probably agree with God’s plan to rout them out of it.)           
            Anyway, evidently word traveled fast thousands of years ago, even without high-speed Wi-Fi connections, and these Gibeonites have heard what Joshua and the Israelites have done to Jericho and the city of Ai. Being more than a tad bit worried about what might be awaiting them, they devise a devious plan to go to Joshua and the Israelites, pretending to be traveling, weary ambassadors from afar, outside of the land Joshua plans to overtake. And they’re pretty good actors because they convince Joshua and the Israelite elders to form a binding covenant of peace with them. Sounds great doesn’t it? Signing a peace pact with someone.
            Big problem, though. God has given explicit instructions to Joshua NOT to form alliance treaties or covenants with any other people in the land. So what happened? Why did Joshua and the Israelite elders fail so miserably in this?
            The answer lies in verse 14: “Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord.” I like the way The Message words it: “The men of Israel looked them over and accepted the evidence. But they didn’t ask God about it.”
            Let’s specifically look at the second part of verse 14 to discover what the real root of the problem was: “But they didn’t ask God about it.”
            Let’s read that one more time, s-l-o-w-l-y. But they didn’t ask God about it.
            They had just come off two brilliant, stunning victories. Victories! And I have a sneaking suspicion that they were feeling pretty proud of themselves, puffed up with the thrill of victory. Basking in its afterglow. And maybe a bit battle weary and vulnerable.
            Other Biblical passages come to mind, like: “Pride goeth before a fall…” They may have been reveling in pride, patting themselves on the back, thrilled that God was showing His power in their favor, and probably were on the road to forgetting just exactly whose power it was that was giving them these stunning victories. Whatever was going on, they seemed to have become complacent in their behavior and approach to overtaking the land.
            And clearly they had neglected to consult their Commanding Officer. A soldier who makes a decision and seals a treaty with another country without first consulting his commander in chief and gaining approval from him can be court marshaled for insubordination.
            An example of this has been played out a couple of times in my own home.
            Some time ago, my husband had entered a business arrangement with other people he thought had the same motives and interests as his own. Unfortunately, he entered into that relationship when he was weary, and believed that this arrangement was going to give him the freedom and relief he sought and sorely needed. One night, after a long day and night, of labor, he came home and talked to me about a discussion the five of them had about getting an unsecured loan from a bank to use as funds to “grow” their business. Just in case they needed it, of course. An unsecured loan that amounted to seven figures! “You and I are in this together,” he said. “What do you think of doing that?”
            Well, I was uneasy about this whole arrangement and had been doing my own inquiring of the Lord, and had walked this road before. And I had experience. Warning bells clanged in my brain, and an internal voice said, Don’t do it! And I uttered aloud to Chris: “No way! We might all be friends now, but who’s to say what’s going to happen in the future. What if they wouldn’t be able to repay the loan, and we’d be left holding the note, and the responsibility for it? We’d be ruined financially and emotionally, and devastated spiritually. No. I’m sorry. Please don’t sign anything.”
            I’m still thanking God that we had that conversation, that my husband sought my counsel and paid heed to my words, (which were really God’s words), because soon after our discussion, one of the partners approached my husband in the wee hours of the morning, after my husband had been laboring all day and was beyond exhausted, and asked him to sign the unsecured loan note. Chris quickly looked it over and noticed that no other signature was on the paperwork. When he asked about that omission, he was told everyone else would sign it later. In spite of his fatigue, our conversation replayed in his head, and in a realization flash, he knew there would no other signatures on that paper. They needed his good name and credit to secure the loan, and that he would be left as the one solely responsible if they defaulted.
            Unfortunately, the partnership did go on to crash and burn, and Chris and I—years later—are still thanking God for His divine intervention.
            But still you might be wondering, “Well, once the Israelites discovered they’d been snookered, why didn’t they just break or ignore the treaty and snuff them out?”
            I’m so glad you asked!
            They didn’t do that because God expected them to honor the covenant they swore before Him. And we know that’s why they kept it because that’s the reason they gave the Gibeonites, and the complaining Israelite congregation, when asked why they didn’t break it. They had invoked God’s name in the vow, and they had His good name and theirs to keep unblemished.
            There are many passages in Scripture talking about how important this is. I’ll give you just two to think about. Both are taken from The Message.

            “When you make a vow to God, your God, don’t put off keeping it;
            God, your God, expects you to keep it and if you don’t you’re guilty.
            But if you don’t make a vow in the first place, there’s no sin. If you
            say you’re going to do something, do it. Keep the vow you willingly
            vowed to God, your God. You promised it, so do it” (Deut. 23:21-23).

            “Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the People of Israel: “This
            is what God commands: When a man makes a vow to God or binds
            himself by an oath to do something, he must not break his word; he
            must do exactly what he has said” (Numbers 30:1-2).

            Do you see these critical admonishments?
            1) God expects you to keep your word;
            2) If you promise to do something, do it;
            3) Don’t break your word;
            4) Do exactly what you promised to do, and don’t put off doing it;
            5) If you don’t keep it, you’re guilty;
            6) And if you didn’t make a vow in the first place, there wouldn’t be any issue.     
                (Read that one again. He’s telling us that we need to consider our promises 
                more carefully, keep our mouths shut more often and to stop making promises 
                or vows we’re unsure we can keep. Ouch!)

            Ever been faced with keeping a vow you couldn’t keep, or didn’t want to keep any longer? I’d love to say I’ve never experienced that pain, but that would be an untruth.  
            Unfortunately, my husband and I are walking that painful valley right now. Kick, kick, kick, kick!
            About seven or eight years ago, my husband I got coveting eyeballs and puffed up hearts and entered into some land “covenants” we thought we could make a fast buck on. It all sounded so easy. We ignored internal warnings. And we didn’t seek the Lord’s counsel. (I suspect we left Him out of it because, in our hearts, we knew He’d stamp a big red “No” on our neatly devised, greedy plan.)
            It all seemed to be going well. What we hadn’t counted on (which was shear stupidity and arrogance since we’d seen it happen before while we lived in the Midwest and California) was the economic collapse. Can anyone say “The Big Recession” loudly?
            To make a very long, painful story short and painful: we are still paying for that mistake in so many ways. We’ve taken on extra jobs to make the necessary payments. The exhaustion from that extra work has compromised our physical, emotional and spiritual health. The money that could have been used for charitable giving, education and family vacations is going toward paying off the loans. The time spent at the extra work is time robbed from family and friends. Time we can never reclaim. We are in bondage to our own sin and vow, and we are paying the steep price.
            Yes, we could have broken our vow because it was more convenient for us to do so, and we would have been like many who did break their promises. But that would have tarnished our good name. More importantly, it would have tarnished God’s perfect name. Since we are His ambassadors here on Earth, we represent Him, and we are determined to honor those vows and keep His name lifted up and honored. Because we want others to find His people honorable. Not only do we represent God, we represent a body of believers to whom we are responsible in word and deed. And we are also determined not to pass this burden onto our children. While we may never recover on this side of Heaven from this mess we created, we do not want our children to inherit it.
            Please don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not bragging about our vow keeping. What I am doing, though, is bragging about how God has upheld and sustained us and made sure we can be faithful to our vow. For without His mercy and provisions (some of which have been nothing short of miraculous) Chris and I would go down in a fireball. We would rob our children of some of their heritage. Perhaps He is sustaining us for their sakes. Whatever the reason, we are grateful.
            Yet every month I sit down to write out those checks, I feel a little physically ill, and I give myself four swift mental kicks. Kick, kick, kick, kick. Every December I write out four more checks for the property taxes. Kick, kick, kick, kick. Some years have been real squeakers, ones where we weren’t sure where the money was going to materialize from. But God always provided, so we could pay. I thank God that He has provided so generously for us to keep that foolish vow, and maintain His honor.
            Making the vow dismantled our personal peace and threatened to shred our marital and family peace. That vow created so much emotional, physical and spiritual agony. But keeping, and being able to keep the vow has restored our Shalom and hope. In spite of it, God has worked everything out for good for us. He has taught us so much about keeping our word and the blessings (and peace) that come from it.
            Praise to God!

            Moving onto Joshua 10, we read about how Joshua and the Israelites are called on pretty quickly to keep their vow to the Gibeonites by fighting a battle for them. It’s a day full of miracles and at story of five foolish kings who join forces to destroy the Gibeonites and Israelites. That attempt doesn’t go so well for them, and we find them sealed in a cave and then decapitated by Joshua and company following a battle that utterly destroys these kings’ kingdoms.
            It’s a massive slaughter, so utterly devastating that verse 21 says: “And all the people returned to the camp, to Joshua at Makedah, in Shalom.
            No one moved his tongue against any of the children of Israel.”
            The victory was so decisive that no one spoke a word against Joshua or the Israelites. They stood awed into silence before them. They must have been terrified of them and their God, who had clearly orchestrated the Israelites’ victory. Hopefully they were also interested enough to find out more about this God and how they could also have a relationship with Him!
            The Israelites were able to move through the land in peace. God, and the decisive victory had guaranteed it for them.
            Sometimes it takes a God-ordained battle to achieve peace.

Questions to Ponder

1. Sometimes you can be deceived into entering into a peace agreement with someone (or a nation) that is contrary to the Lord’s will. They look good and know all of the right things to say to convince you of their sincerity. Always be on your guard! Do not have faith in yourself. As United States President Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” You must seek the Lord’s counsel before entering into any covenant. And make sure you’re not boasting victory chants or suffering from battle fatigue when you do!

            When was the last time you signed an agreement or made a promise to someone?
            Did you seek the Lord’s counsel before entering into the “peace” agreement?
            Looking back on it now, should you have signed the agreement or made the            
            promise? Why or why not? And how is the agreement working out for you now?

            Ask God to give you a discerning spirit about every potential promise or
            covenant you might engage in. Be absolutely sure in your heart He has given you
            the okay to proceed with it. You may need to talk to a multitude of counselors      
            before making the promise.

            It can’t be repeated enough: Be careful with whom you enter into an agreement of peace, or make a promise to!

2. Have you ever entered into a “covenant” or signed an agreement to do something that you have since broken? What was it? Why did you break it?

            If you have broken an agreement, seek God’s wisdom on how He now wants you
            to proceed. Are you in a position to reinstate the agreement? Has it been legally     
            broken, with both parties agreeing to the breaking? If it’s impossible to “make
            good” on your promise, perhaps God wants you to go to the person(s) with
            whom you broke your promise and ask for their forgiveness. See how you can
            make it up to them.

            If it is impossible for you to do that, then take your apology to God. Ask Him to
            forgive you for dishonoring Him and yourself and breaking your promise. (He is    
            faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness!) Ask Him to            
            help you be a better keeper of your promises, and maybe to help you stop making                                 promises you can’t, or don’t keep.

            Remember, in the end, the only thing a man has—and can really keep—is his
good name!

3. In Joshua 10, Joshua’s actions (keeping his promise and Peace covenant) demonstrated God’s power and His hand upon him and the Israelites so decisively that no one could speak a word against them!

            I don’t know about you, but I would certainly like to have God’s favor 
           demonstrated so dramatically, or even not so dramatically. And I need to ask
            myself: Exactly how I can live my life in such a way to enjoy that kind of
            victory? Jesus indicates that our faith can produce mountain-moving events, so
            it must be possible, don’t you think? We live in His power, so it must be
            possible. While our battles probably look much different that Joshua’s, they
            feel like and are battles none-the-less. And if God calls us to fight them, and
            tells us we will win, then we must know that He will keep His promises.

            I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and divulge to you what I wrote about this in
            my journal. I had in my mind more of my witnessing for Him than fighting battles, 
            though. It’s a personal prayer; and I hope I wasn’t too presumptive.

            “Can I live in such a way that God manifests His power through me, so that all
            who witness His power are silenced? Oh, Lord, use me! Make me your vessel.
            Demonstrate your power through me and through this family. May it be clear to
            whom we belong, and may we then live in Shalom! Amen!

May all of you have a blessed Holy Week, as you remember the sacrifice of the One who gives us life!

Until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter! Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!

In Christ’s love and peace,


When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer