Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Walking around in circles

Even I can see, as I read Joshua 6, that the strategy to take the fortified city of Jericho is a little bit alternative. It is not normal to walk in circles around a city and never fire a rock or stone at the walls, and then to expect the walls to come down.

“as the commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” (Josh. 5:14-15)

Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army reveals several things.

  • First, God’s power is present as the people of Israel start to take possession of the promised land. His army is already at the scene of the battle and preparations have been made.
  • Second,  the land around Jericho is already holy. God has set it apart for the people of Israel to see the power of His presence and activity. The land will not be made holy when the city is taken and the non-believers are destroyed. It is already holy because God says that it is. In the same way, I am acceptable to God; not because I am without sin, but because Jesus says that I am. It might seem an odd thing to say but; things are not made holy by our actions, but by God’s declaration. They become real to us as we walk in the faith that they are real.
  • Third, the city of Jericho is doomed by the word of God, but the actions are still to take place.
  • Fourth, the plan to take the city is not Joshua’s. Jericho will fall at the hand of God by the plan of God. Joshua 6 relates God’s plan to open a city that is heavily defended and tight shut… and it is crazy.

“March round the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Make seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march round the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, make the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” (Josh. 6:3-5)

As we read on, this is what happens. The whole army of God marches around the walls a total of 13 times in a period of 7 days. The Ark of the Covenant, which holds the words of God and the proof of the wilderness experience, is given centre stage and the people walk with it around the whole city of Jericho. On the seventh day, they walk around the city seven times and at the last moment let out an enormous shout of praise for God and the walls come tumbling down. Then the huge column of the army charges from all directions at once into the now defenseless city and wins the battle.

There are several things that come to mind as I read this…

  • There is no doubt at all that God wins this battle. No matter what people might say or claim, there is no other possible explanation. And so, as the people of Israel enter the campaign to win the promised land they are building on an earthshattering, resounding victory that is entirely down to God.
  • The faith of the people needs to be strong. The army of the Israelites must have felt like a proper bunch of plonkas, walking in silence around the city walls. The people and army of Jericho would have shouted insults at them all the time they marched and, as day followed day, the army must have wondered what was going to happen and if Joshua had made a mistake. I wonder what the talk in the camp was after the first day of walking around the walls? I wonder what people were saying about Joshua after the 6th day of nothing happening? I wonder how enthusiastic they felt after the 6th circuit on the 7th day? By faith they marched and shouted.
  • Faith is not a feeling, it is a conscious decision. Whatever the feeling of the army of Israel, they went through with the entire plan. God said it would work, and it worked. There must have been occasions when the army thought it was a stupid idea… but they kept going out of a conscious decision to follow God’s words. We are no different. If we believe God has said something, we need to carry on until the end. If they had given up after 6 days, they would not have won.
  • God’s plans are not the same as our plans. No sane General would suggest this plan to take Jericho… but God did. How audacious is that? God has the power and authority to carry through His plans… even when we cannot see how they might actually work out. We need to submit to the plan and power of God, not expect him to take our advice.

This passage has so much to teach us. As disciples, individually and as a community, the will of God should be our primary focus and the glory of God our ultimate aim. No matter what the apparent evidence of our eyes might be or what the preference of our desires might suggest, God’s word is key. When we hear God speak we need to carry it through… however mad it seems.


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Whose side is HE on?

I don’t know about you, but there is something odd about the number of times that we assume that God is on our side. Isn’t it suspicious, how often God agrees with us? I think that often we assume that we are doing the right thing and, therefore, God must be on our side. It is also interesting, at least to me, how often we find ourselves doing things that are other than that which the Bible teaches, whilst still adamantly assuming that God agrees with us.

The truth is, most of us do not set out to move in the wrong direction and so we assume that we are moving in God’s direction. It is not that, when we stop and assess the things we are doing, we think that God agrees with us. It is simply that we assume that we are right and rarely take the time to truly assess what God says or might be saying.

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?’

‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’

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. (Josh. 5:13-15)

This passage surprised me and spoke to me afresh when I read it this week.

Joshua and the people of God are moving away from the River Jordon, having crossed the river in flood and committed themselves to taking the Promised Land. As they march towards Jericho’s walls, they meet a powerful warrior who stands in the way of their huge army. He must have been powerful, since standing alone he makes so much impression that Joshua, the leader, confronts him.

‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ (Josh. 5:13)

The man’s reply would not be strange or surprising if he is just a man out for a walk with his sword. It might be expected that he would want to remain neutral in that case. Yet, he is not a man out for a walk. This warrior is the commander of the heavenly army of God.

‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ (Josh 5:14)

What surprises me in his reply is that Joshua and the people of God were themselves acting on the instructions of God. They are seeking to invade and take the promised land as a result of God’s command. Yet, the Warrior says he is neither on the side of the People of Israel nor the People of Canaan. Instead, he asserts that he is in the army of the Lord and, by implication, that he is on the Lord’s side.

I think that there is a really important issue at play here. Joshua asks whether the warrior is on the side of the People of Israel or of their enemies. The warrior’s reply is that neither party leads him or defines his actions. Instead, he is on the Lord’s side and the actions of the army of the Lord will be decided wholly according to the will of God for the glory of God, not by any group of people.

The truth is that Joshua’s question places the people of Israel at the heart of the situation, when it is God who is ALWAYS at the heart of ANY situation. Everything in Creation is created solely for the Glory of God. Therefore, if the will of God leads to another 40 years in the wilderness or defeat at Jericho, that is up to God. The people who claim to be God’s people must simply walk the path that He lays out for them knowing that whatever happens, God is Lord of All.

Joshua realises his error and falls down in front of the warrior. He understands that here is a commander who really knows what it is to follow God rather than people and politics.

Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’

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. (Josh. 5:14-15)

Joshua immediately understands that the key issue in the journey of the people of Israel into possession of the promised land is not the comfort of the people of Israel. It is the glory and honour of God. God was Lord whilst Abram lived in Ur and Jacob looked after his uncle’s sheep. God was Lord whist the people were in Egypt and whilst they wondered in the wilderness. He will be Lord whether the Promised Land is populated by Canaanites, Philistines or Israelites. God is Lord! The key issue is always God. It is all about Him. So Joshua bows down and worships.

The warrior then places God at the centre by saying, “take off your shoes and remember that you are on Holy Land.” Why? Because the people of God are ALWAYS on holy land whilst they are walking with God. They walk with God so He is present.

The question that every one of us who are disciples need to ask is NOT, “is God on my side?” but, “am I walking with the Lord? Am I on God’s side?”

If we follow God’s will for our life, it does not matter if we win a battle or lose a battle, nor if we are in the wilderness or the land of promise. God is with us and that is all that really matters.

All that matter is that we walk with God. I commit myself again to follow God.

Father, I choose to follow you wherever you lead. If it is where I prefer or fear, I will follow. If it leads to pain or pleasure, I will follow. If it leads to prosperity or suffering, I will follow. If you lead to the wilderness or the promise, I will follow. Jesus, I am your man. Tell me where to walk and I will follow. Where else can I go? With you are the words of eternal life. I will follow. Amen. (My prayer)


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Your Mission, should you choose to accept it…

I have a very simple, yet important, point to make.

The mission that Jesus gave to his disciples is VERY, VERY important!

It is so important that Jesus used the last verbal words that he spoke to his disciples to tell them about it.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20)

His disciples obviously understood the importance of the mission of Jesus, because they started the Church and the number of disciples multiplied at a fantastic rate. Further, the mission to share the message of Jesus and make disciples was so important that it was included, in some form, by all four of the gospel writers (Matt 28; Mark 16; Acts 1:7-8 (written by Luke as the follow on for his gospel); John 20:30-31).

Disciples, then and now, must understand that the mission of Jesus is far bigger than they are. That if they are disciples, it is their mission too. That Jesus gives his disciples power to carry it out. The truth is, this is not a choice for disciples. It is what being a disciple is all about.

This is not mission impossible, but mission imperative!


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Caleb – Man of Faith

In the last blog I spent some time thinking about Caleb’s faith and God’s response to it. My thoughts there lead me on to a line of thought about Caleb that is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but is true by implication.

“Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord whole-heartedly” (Deut. 1:35-36)

Having believed the promise of God in regard to the Promised Land, as well as a further specific promise in regard to His own inheritance in the Promised Land, Caleb holds on for 40 years before he sees it become a reality.

Think about it.

Caleb is assured that he and Joshua would be the only men of fighting age to enter the Promised Land and see the inheritance that God had spoken of in Egypt. Every other man and women who had left Egypt as an adult would die in the wilderness. Apart from Caleb and Joshua, the only other people who would remember what it had been like to be slaves in Egypt, who would enter the Promised Land, would have been children at the time.

For 40 years, Caleb and Joshua wondered in the wilderness with the tribes (about a million people) waiting for God to speak the word to send them back to take the land.

  • Let’s estimate that there were 600000 adult men and women at the time when the spies entering the Promised Land.
  • There are 14610 days in 40 years (including leap years).
  • This means that for 40 years an average of 41 people died every day.

Everyday, Caleb and Joshua watched men and women who were their peers, as well as those who were those older than them, die in the wilderness. Every day that passed meant that Caleb and Joshua become more and more set apart.

  • Caleb was 40 years old when he was sent to spy on the land of Canaan and we can assume that Joshua was of a similar age.
  • The age of adulthood for a Jewish male is 12 years old.
  • This means that, by the time Caleb reached the Promised Land for the second time, he was 80 years old and the next oldest man other than Joshua would have been 52 years old.

Caleb’s faith in the word of God is awe-inspiring. With each death and each passing day, it must have seemed more and more unlikely that he would see the fulfillment of the promise of God. Yet, he held on for 40 years (14610 days). He continued to believe, even though it must have seemed as if nothing was happening. Caleb was a man of faith.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)

How often do we get impatient with God? He promises so much and we believe Him, but for how long? If God’s word has not become a reality after 6 months, what do we do? What about after 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? At what point do we throw our hands in the air and shout, “It wasn’t true!!” and move on? What about after 39 years? If we were holding on to the promise of God for 39 years without seeing it becoming a reality, would we keep going?

This is a very serious point. How steadfast is our faith in the word and promise of God?

Let me illustrate from my own situation in the hope that it might be helpful.

3½ years ago I heard the clear call of God to step out of church leadership for a time. At the same time God promised that I would return to church leadership in the future and see amazing things happen by the Spirit’s power to God’s glory. 3½ years ago… and it still hasn’t happened. 3½ years later I am still in the same position. What now? Was the word wrong? Have I missed it? Do I need to do something to make it happen?

The core issue is the steadfastness of my faith.

I firmly believe that, when the right time arrives, God will speak clearly and simply and things will change. That, unless I hear the voice of God, I simply have to hold on and keep going. Until that time, I must be patient and listen intently for the word of God. I must learn to use this time in the wilderness to grow and learn and listen whilst I mature as a disciple of Jesus.

It is really hard. Really hard. There is nothing I want more than to be living in the Promised Land. I am impatient to see things happen and bored of the endless sand and manna and quail of the wilderness. Yet until God say “NOW!” I simply have to walk the path in the wilderness he sets before me.

What about you? What has God said? How long can you hold on?

Let me encourage you. In the end, Caleb received what had been promised to him. God responded to his faith and he received everything that he had been promised.

In the end, whether I receive what I hold to be a promise of God or not is irrelevant. All that matters is that God is God, His love endures forever, and the ONLY place that is worth being in is the place where God wants me. Right now, I am wondering in the wilderness and I have no idea when I will cross over into the Promised Land. But God is in the wilderness. The tent of meeting is always here and I can go in any time I like. The other stuff is just not as important as being close to God.

I want to be like Caleb.


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Caleb – Man convinced

Some thoughts on Caleb following my recent morning studies at home. It will probably take 3 blogs… but I will keep going until they are finished as I believe there is some great stuff to be learned here.

“The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders… from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh” (Num. 13:1-2 and 6).

Here’s what we know about Caleb at the point he appears in the Bible narrative.

  • He is about 40 years old, which means he was a slave in Egypt and has witnessed the whole Exodus.
  • He comes from the tribe of Judah, which will later produce David and Jesus.
  • He is a respected and trusted leader in his family tribe.

Caleb is chosen, with 11 other men who are leaders from the 11 other tribes of Israel (among whom is Joshua, son Nun, who becomes leader after the death of Moses 40 years later), to spy out the promised land. The people of Israel have walked pretty much directly from Egypt to Canaan at this point (although with well over a million people, it has taken some time).

Canaan is a land described as ‘flowing with milk and honey’ and God’s plan is clearly that the people of the Exodus will go in directly to take possession of the land that God has promised to them. The only delay being for a quick scout around.

When the spies return with a massive bunch of grapes about 40 days later, they declare that the land is indeed rich and flowing with milk and honey (Num. 13:27). But they also point out that there are powerful people living in Canaan already, in cities with high walls.

This report means that fear starts to grip the people, so Caleb stands up;

“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land for we can certainly do it” (Num. 13:30)

What is it that we act upon? Do we believe that the word of God is real and act upon it, or do we do as the people did?

The people of Israel stand on the brink of having their own homeland by the promise of God. Yet, when they find out that they are not going to be able to wander nonchalantly into Canaan and take up residence, they say; “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites” (Deut. 1:27).

I love Caleb, because he sees things entirely differently. His are words of faith, not fear. He too has seen the opposition that they face in moving into the land of God’s promise, but he chooses to believe only in God’s promise. He says, “God promised us, so lets go. We can certainly do it if God says we can”. Caleb believes God’s words and is willing to act upon them, even though the things that he sees suggest that the process might be harder than expected.

Let’s remember something. Nowhere does God promise the people that they will simply walk into a vacant land flowing with milk and honey. Rather, God tells them that they will be led to a rich land and that the land is theirs. He does not say that it will simply fall into their lap. Further, the results of the spy mission does simply lead to a conclusion that the task is impossible. Why would they believe that?

The God that these people are following has sent plagues on Egypt (the most powerful nation in the world at that time), parted the red sea, fed and watered the people in the middle of a desert, defeated enemies and given the people a faith and purpose. This is the God who stands with them on the edge of the Jordon having promised that the land is for them… and the people question whether he can give it to them?

Compare the words of Caleb above with the words of the 10 other spies.

“We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num. 13:33b)

These are words of fear. They define the feelings of the people and lead them away from God’s plan. “We fell small and our enemy looks big… we are stuffed.” These words assume that, because they see themselves as small, the enemy sees them as small. Despite the proof of God’s power and love over many months, the people choose to believe something else.

The words of Caleb are words of faith. He believes what God says and is convinced by the evidence of the power of God, that he has seen ever since Moses turned up in the brick pits of Egypt and told them that it was time to go. 40 year old Caleb has been there all along and, together with Joshua and Moses, he is the only person who believes that God can do what he has promised.

We need to have faith in the word of God, build ourselves up with testimony about God and act as if God’s word is true even when we do not understand it.

What follows is heartbreaking. The people of God ignore the men of God (Moses, Joshua and Caleb) and convince themselves that it will be impossible for them to take the land. They miss the opportunity to take hold of the wonderful promise of God because they fear.

This God, who is real, responds (perfectly understandably) in anger. “How can they not believe? Have they not seen what I have done for them?”

Moses asks God to forgive the people, and God does so, but He responds to their faith. Since the people believed that God would let them die, He did let them die in the Desert (Num. 14:28). He does not withdraw His promise of Canaan, but He delays it until the generation without faith has died and a new generation rises up. – Except for Caleb.

“Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your forefathers, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord whole-heartedly” (Deut. 1:35-36)

God acts on the faith of the people, since their faith is failure and death, but he also acts on the faith of Caleb who believed that God is good for His word. Caleb believed with the same faith as Abraham, who left his home to go somewhere he was not sure was possible. Caleb trusted the word of God and was willing to go into a land that was occupied by strong people. Caleb was unsure how things might work out, but he was full of faith that they WOULD work out one way or another.

The BIG IDEA! – God responds to the faith of His people.

What is our faith in? How often is our faith defined by our fear rather than the Word of God? What do I believe? The inheritance of the people of God is that which they have faith for.

This is not a gospel of prosperity, since we do not define the actions of God by our faith. Rather, it is a gospel of faith. We receive from God that which He has promised, if we have faith for it. If we do not have faith for it, then we receive less than he promised. God always promises more than we can imagine or hope for (Eph. 3:20). If we are satisfied only by our own hope and imagination we will receive less that we are promised. Faith in God’s promises will always be a stretch because God’s promises are so much more than we can imagine.

I want conviction of faith like Caleb!


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Who is my neighbour?

I was interested to hear about a new UK government initiative to help the lonely and isolated people in our communities. The Social Care Minister, Norman Lamb, wants neighbourhood watch groups to practice ‘neighbourliness” in connection with those who are older and housebound.

Leaving aside questions of budgets, priorities, and resources (important though they are, this is not a blog to rant about politics), it seems to me that there is a far more fundamental issue at question here. When government has to encourage the citizens of its country to do something that has previously been a present reality, there is a problem.

What has happened in the UK that has led us to a place where loving the people in our street is an exception?

As our society has become increasingly secular and individualistic, the lonely and the lost are overlooked. Evangelical atheists bemoan the influence of the Christian faith and speak about the ‘essential goodness of humanity’, only to witness the marginalized made increasingly marginal and the gap between rich and poor widen all of the time. Our society loves less than it used to. I believe that this situation has a great deal to do with the waning influence of the Christian faith.

‘Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

It is a fundamental part of the Christian faith to be a good neighbour. Offering love and support to those around us, not just to our family and friends. Time and again the Bible commands us to care for foreigners, strangers and people who live around us. To offer love and hospitality, whether we know a person or not.

This seems a very obvious point, but a vital that we consider it.

As Christians, we should love our neighbour.

Not because we are told to, but because it is the natural overflow of discipleship. If we do not have love for our neighbour, then there is something very wrong with the root of our faith in Jesus.

The Bible commands love for our neighbour.

Love is not a gift to be practiced, it is a fruit that results from good roots and healthy growth. We are not encouraged to interact with our neighbour, we are commanded to interact with them. Love is what flows in to the relationships that we have with those around us because it flows out of the relationship we have with our Father God.

As Christians, there is no greater opportunity to show the truth of the power of God’s love than through the relationships we have with those around us. There is no excuse, claiming that one is too busy with church work to drink a glass of wine with the people next door or a cup of tea with the lonely older person. To claim ‘busy-ness’ as a justification for being disconnected with the people around us is a disgusting travesty of righteousness.

Jesus commands us… Love one another as I love you.

Lets talk to our neighbours. Eat with them. Drink with them. Talk and share with them. Then they will become friends. Perhaps they will become friends of Jesus. Everyone is a winner!


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Not converts… Disciples

There is a difference between a believer and a disciple.

A believer is a person who accepts that the Jesus is who he says he is. They believe that the message of Jesus has merit and that there is something of great value that is gained through faith in Jesus. They believe Jesus, when he says that he is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

It is easy to believe.

A disciple is a person who believes all of the above AND lives their life according to the reality of these truths.

We see in the Gospels that thousands of people follow Jesus, believing that he is a man of miracles and a great teacher, but not all of them are disciples.

It is far more challenging to be a disciple than it is to be a believer.

In the New Testament there is a Rich Young Man who comes to Jesus (Matt 19:16-22). He speaks to Jesus, declaring his belief that Jesus is a good teacher and asks how he might be assured of eternal life (salvation). Jesus tells him that he must live a life in service of God, following the commandments. The young man seems to be pleased with himself; “I do all of that”, he declares.

Jesus sees to the heart of things. He tells this young man to give up his money, which Jesus knows is the real thing that rules his life, and become a disciple. This breaks the young man’s heart, because he REALLY loves his money and all that it gives him. He walks away from Jesus.

Compare this rich young man with Matthew.

Jesus is walking along the street and he sees a typical booth within which the tax collectors work and take money (Matt 9:9-13). Matthew is a tax collector. This means he is well off and hated by most of the people of the town because he takes their money and works for the despised Romans who occupy the land. We see in Luke’s gospel (Luke 5:27-32) that whilst Matthew (who was also called Levi) had few friends, his money allowed him to throw parties and have powerful friends.

Jesus walks up to the booth and says, “Follow me”. Matthew simply gets up, leaves everything and follows. He leaves his comfort for salvation. As a disciple, he was trained by Jesus, was one of the twelve, built the Church, wrote a book of the Bible and, it is believed, died as a martyr.

Both of these men believed in Jesus, but Matthew was a disciple. The rich young ruler believed in Jesus, but, because he was unwilling to live the true reality of his belief he left Jesus’ side to follow his own path. Matthew put Jesus before everything else in his life and knew the Son of God because of it. He walked and talked with Jesus, every day. He was present at Pentecost when the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, filled him and gave him power. He lived each day close to Jesus, knowing the voice and closeness of God.

“…go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19)

Jesus’ mission for us is not to make believers who hold on to what they have already. It is to make disciples who gain what Jesus has for them by following and imitating.

People who see the changes in those who follow Jesus cannot help but believe that Jesus is something special. Our mission is to make is possible for them to turn their belief into life.

Making disciples is the goal of the Gospel lived and preached.

Disciples are so much more than converts.