Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Freedom and Circumcision

After 40 unnecessary, but prescribed, years wondering in the wilderness, all but two (Joshua and Caleb) of the people of God who had looked upon the promised land and refused to enter it for fear of the people who lived there were dead. Even Moses, the Prophet of God, who God spoke to face to face, had died on the top of Mount Nebo, looking out over the land. This was a whole new generation.

Crossing over (part 2) had taken place. The million or so people of God had miraculously cross the river Jordon and were now, for the first time, standing on the very land that was the promise of God to them. This was a momentous moment and, having placed their feet on the land, they enact a ritual as a commitment of themselves to serve and follow God. It is an act that has not been performed for 40 years.

After the people had left Egypt, God had commanded that all of the men should be circumcised, in line with the promise to Abraham, as a sign of their belonging to God and commitment to follow God as their King. During the wilderness years, this practice had not been carried out on the children born, whilst all of the men who had been of fighting age at Crossover 1 had died. This left an entire generation of men (with only Joshua and Caleb as exceptions) who were part of the people of God but had not been circumcised as a sign of their belonging and commitment.

Thus, in Joshua 5, all of the men are circumcised. Ouch! No wonder it says, “And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed” (Josh. 5:8).

It is obvious to say, but necessary, that we who are God’s people need to commit ourselves to the plan of God. Contrary to much popular opinion, God does not worship and serve us. It is not we who decide what is right and wrong. We serve God and, even when it is hard to follow or we do not see the sense of it, we follow and submit to him.

God is all powerful and when he leads us to the edge of a promise, no matter how impossible that promise might seem to be fulfilled to our eyes, He has the power to make it a reality. We, the people of God, must have faith in the word of God even when it seems difficult to believe.

When the people of Israel had come to the edge of the promised land for the first time, they had looked at a wonderful place and been consumed with fear of the people who lived there. Even though God had told them that it was theirs, they had refused to enter the land. They were still slaves, in their minds, to the domination of human beings rather than fully submitted to faith in the promise of God. Their bodies were circumcised in submission, but their minds were not.

On this second occasion, the people have had their minds renewed over the period of 40 years and ACTUALLY crossed into the promised land in obedience to God’s word. The people who lived in the land are the same as they had been 40 years previously and the cities, like Jericho, were still surrounded by high walls. Yet the people of God were willing to have faith in the power of God rather than the supposed evidence of their eyes. They were no longer in the mindset of the slaves of Egypt, who were unable to see past the power of human beings. Now they were children of God in body, mind and spirit.

Their act of circumcision was the final sign that they had left the past behind and were moving into God’s future. God speaks to them following;

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt” (Joshua 5:9)

I love these words. In that moment, the people of God step out of the wilderness and into the promise of God. They begin to live by faith instead of fear. God, in His grace, rolls away the past so that we can walk into HIS future. These words echo down to us too.

No longer are their minds dominated by the experience of Egypt and the fear of people with whips. Rather, they are defined by their adoption as the nation who are ruled by the one true and living God. God, who took them out of Egypt with miracle after miracle, fed them out of nothing for 40 years and took them over the flooded river Jordon into the promised land, has rolled away the influence of the past.

This people are not longer the people of Israel. Now they are the people of God.

What about your slavery? What experiences and attitudes cause you to act out of fear rather than faith? Have you crossed over into the promised land yet?

Further, what about the Church? Does it live in the attitudes of the past and so called pragmatism, rather than faith in the promise of God that looks far away but is actually much closer?

“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt” (Joshua 5:9)

I hear and accept these words by faith. No longer will I be ruled by the past. Now I will walk into God’s future. And where my past affects my actions, I will leave it in the wilderness to be rolled away by God.

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Obviously Transformed

How is it that we can tell if a person is close to God?

In my recent times with the Bible reading about Moses, I have found myself drawn, time and again, to the passages where he and the people of Israel encounter God. It blows my mind to think that every day of their journey through the wilderness, these men and women were able to see and experience the presence of God.

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterwards all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.” (Exodus 34:29-35)

In this passage, we see Moses returning from the presence of God with the second set of stone tablets with the words of the law. There are a few remarkable things that I would like to point out.

  • Moses’ face was radiant. This is not to say that he had a particularly effective skincare regime. Moses’ actual face shone with the actual radiance of God’s glory and presence. He was reflecting God’s presence in such a way that it showed.
  • People noticed. The leaders and the people were frightened to come near to Moses, because of the radiance of his face. They recognise in him something overwhelming of the holiness and presence of God. The reality of the glory of God that showed in Moses’ face struck fear into them.
  • The radiance in Moses’ face was the evidence that he had been speaking to God. This was a physical and obvious manifestation of God’s reality. Moses did not need to tell the people where he had been… it was clear and obvious. God’s glory was shining from Moses face. His words had authority because Moses was displaying God.
  • Moses had to cover his face so that the people could function. The veil was not for the benefit of Moses, but for the people. Those who were far from the presence of God were simply unable to cope with the proof and evidence of God’s presence. Had Moses not have covered his face, he never would have got anything done.
  • Moses uncovered his face to prove his words. Moses was shining with the presence of God whether people wanted to see it or not. It is the presence of God that is important, not what people want to see. But when Moses wanted to tell the people about God’s will he ensured that the proof of the effect of God’s presence was plain for all to see.

As I think and pray, it seems to me that it is VITAL that the people who speak to us about the word of God need to display the presence of God. If I am to speak God’s Word, I must display God’s presence.

I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to come into the presence of God and not be changed by it. Therefore, the evidence of time spent in the presence of God should be clear in the lives of the people of God. If we do not display the glory of God’s presence then we are not going into His presence. We need to get into God’s presence.

This has some uncomfortable implications for Christians and their leaders. Does our time in the presence of God show in us?

Two things seem clear to me…

  1. As a Christian, I need to get into the presence of God.
  2. I need to be willing to let God confront me and change me

Huge implications for the way in which we approach prayer, scripture, fellowship and worship.


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Keep your distance

In Exodus, we see that under the leadership of Moses the people of God witness some incredible things. Each of which shows them that God is on their side and WANTING to rescue and nurture them.

  • The plagues of Egypt. Miraculous disasters aimed at their enemies, which led to their freedom from slavery.
  • The guidance of God by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.
  • Protection from the armies of Pharaoh by fire and water.
  • A miraculous escape route through the depths of the Red Sea, walking on dry land between walls of water.
  • The utter defeat of the mightiest army in the world when Pharaoh and all of his chariots are overwhelmed by the Red Sea that opened to let the people escape.
  • Food was given to them on a miraculous and massive scale. Manna and Quail.
  • Water purified by a stick and, later, gushing from a rock.
  • A pyrotechnic display on Mount Sinai that results in tablets of stone and the law of God.

God gives them event after event as evidence and help, amply showing His favor and grace for the tribes of Israel. God systematically removes the limitations that stand between the people of Israel and the presence of God. He leads them to a place where their sin is no longer a barrier and they can hear his voice… and what happens?

“They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Exodus 20:18-19)

The people believe a lie. “Do not have God speak to us or we will die”. After all of the evidence that they have witnessed, they seem to believe that God has literally moved heaven and earth so that they can be destroyed.

Even though Moses has told them that, by the commandments of God, the people can be enabled to draw close to God, they simply will not step out in faith and into God’s presence.

“Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (Exodus 20:20)

Moses assures the people that they have no need to be afraid. God has turned up, in person, to instigate a relationship with them. He tells them that their sin ordinarily makes it impossible for them to know God’s presence, so God has offered them a way to get past their sin and know Him. By the law, God is opening the door to His presence and their faith is under test… but still they keep their distance.

“The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21)

As I read this passage I am struck by the simple matter that the people’s fear is what stops them from knowing the presence of God. It is not their faith.

They believe that God is God and that Moses is His man. That the words of Moses are trustworthy and that they need to follow them, yet, they pass the opportunity to hear the voice of god for themselves because they a fearful. It is, after all, a very dark cloud!

I wonder how many of us have passed up the possibility of drawing closer to God for fear of what might happen?

Here is a question – Does God love us?

For me, the answer is a resounding “YES!” and yet I find that I quiver in fear in case I fail time and again. God is my Father and He loves me. First, he would not set me up for failure. Second, even if I did fail, he would not let me hurt myself or His plan.

I guess I am wondering around in order to ask a simple question of myself and others. Do I believe the voice of my fear MORE than I believe the Word or God? We do what we believe… what does my action say about what I believe?

More cogitation needed, I feel. Any thoughts would be appreciated…


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The Wilderness Years

It seems like such a long time that I have been walking in the wilderness. I am sure I am not the only one. I would certainly be interested to hear other people’s stories.

I am in the wilderness; travelling to a new place that God has prepared but totally unsure where this new Promised Land might be.

Everywhere I look there is wilderness and many people wandering through it. We have faith that there is more to come and that there is a promise that we are travelling towards. Yet, all we see is rocky places, stubby growth and the very occasional spring of fresh water bubbling from the ground.

I hope I am not the only one who feels this way.

Every month, Kings Community Church in Braintree gets together for a worship night. It is a good, encouraging time where one or two of our musicians simply lead us in songs and music. We sing to the words and in the Spirit, and we listen for the voice of God in pictures, prophecy, tongues and any other way that God wants to speak.

Last night we met and, although there were only a few of us, the presence of God was wonderful. We sang songs that declared the truth about the character and work of our Father God, and we simply basked in the simple joy of knowing God’s presence. The Holy Spirit made the wilderness melt away as we bathed in an oasis.

What God said to me was simple.

Do not despise the wilderness

He spoke to me of the people of God as they travelled between Egypt and the Promised Land. The wilderness was harsh and water sources were few and far between, but the presence of God was with them. God was closer to them, for longer, during those forty years than at any time before the coming of Jesus.

  • For forty years, God’s presence was visible in the cloud and the fire.
  • For forty years, God fed them every day so that every person in every family had enough to eat.
  • For forty years, God spoke to them directly through Moses.
  • For forty years, in the wilderness, the evidence of the love and grace of God was on the people of God. Time and again they complained and sinned and struggled.
  • But for forty years, the presence of God was a daily reality for the people of God.

It is not about the wilderness. It is about the presence of God.

As far as I know, whilst God promises to return the years lost to the locusts, he never promises to return the years that were spent in the wilderness. Why should he? Who in their right mind would want to give back to God the years when they were closest to His daily presence?

Please, do not get me wrong; I am not saying that the wilderness is a good place to be. Neither am I saying that Christians should look to remain in the wilderness. What I am saying is this…

The presence of God is a good place to be!

We should not seek wilderness or promise, desert or valley. Rather, wherever we are, we should seek the real presence of God. Our Father loves us and wants to be with us.

I hate being in the wilderness, but I love the simple fact that for these last 3 years I have known the presence and voice of God more palpably than at any other time in my walk as a disciple of Jesus. I will not despise these years in the wilderness, no matter how long they continue, because God is with me. And when I come to the end of the wilderness and step into the promise of God, God will still be with me.

The important thing is this… it is all about the presence of God. It is all about Jesus.

Let me finish with this passage…

“Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting’. Anyone enquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshipped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young assistant Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” (Exodus 33:7-11 NIV)

I have no problem being like Moses, spoken to face to face as a friend. But I want to be like Joshua, never leaving the tent of God’s presence because I simply want more.

Father, never take your presence from me.