Deuteronomy 3, Proverbs 3, I Corinthians 3
Joan Rivers made a career out of the phrase, “Can we talk?” Somewhere in the middle of her monologue, she would pause, take a deep breath, and then utter the words the crowd had been waiting for all night long. “Can we talk?” Usually what would follow would be a diatribe over some convoluted situation that she just didn’t understand and she’d “go off” on said situation.
Most of the history lessons that I look back over have some element that I just don’t get. I mean, why did George Washington stand up in that boat? Where did Nero get a fiddle anyway? He wasn’t from Tennessee. And how did Christopher Columbus know to sail in a year that rhymed with blue? There is a lot about history that I don’t understand. I believe it was Mark Twain who, when asked about parts of the Bible that he did not understand that said, “It’s not the parts I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts that I do.”
The history of God giving the land to the Children of Israel has a lot of hard-to-deal-with aspects. In Deuteronomy 3, God hands the kingdom of Bashan and the kingdom of the Amorites over to Moses. As hard as that seemingly capricious act of God is to grasp, its even harder to understand the part about wiping out all the people, men, women, and children. Can we talk? If you are expecting a reasonable, rational explanation for that, it ain’t happenin’ here. I don’t understand all of that. But don’t let what you don’t understand keep you from the crucial lessons that you do.
God says to Moses, “I’ll give you Og” (that’s another thing I don’t understand. What mother would name her kid Og?), God says, “I’ll give you Og and the Amorites.” Moses takes those kingdoms. He divides the land up between some of the tribes of Israel and says to the guys, “Here’s your land but you still need to go fight for the rest of the land across the Jordan River.” (If God can give them these kingdoms, could He not have given them the Promised Land as well? Why did these guys have to go and fight for it?) Then the chapter ends with Moses, this great man of God, this hero of the faith, this champion of Israel, begging God to let him go across the Jordan to Canaan but God saying no. There is a lot there to not understand, isn’t there?
Here are three lessons I think I do understand. First, the battle belongs to the Lord. Let me put it in deep, theological terms. God is LARGE and IN CHARGE. God is, well, God. And He has all of this figured out. Whatever you are facing, a failing marriage, a lost dream, wayward kids, a scary doctor’s report, God has already won that battle and He has given it over to you. Paul says in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we can ask or imagine…” He says again in Philippians 4:13, “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” In I Samuel 17:47, David is standing toe to toe with Goliath and he says, “The Lord doesn’t need sword or spear, the battle belongs to the Lord.” I may not understand fully how or why He does what He does, but if history teaches us anything it teaches us that He has got this, and we can put our trust in Him.
But here’s the second lesson. We have to do our part. He has given us the land. We have to go fight for it. He has broken down the walls. We have to march around them. He has held back the sea. We have to walk through it. In almost every miraculous act of God there is a subsequent obedient response by His people. Noah had to build a boat. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to stand up to the king. Naaman had to dip in the Jordan River seven times. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead He told the people around Him to take the grave clothes off. There is always His action and our response. Fight for your marriage. Keep putting out resumes’. Stay positive for your kids. Claim your healing. I don’t understand all of this, but I do know that He works it all out when I do my part.
Well then, lesson number three. Sometimes it doesn’t work out like we think. Moses leads the Children of Israel out of Egypt. He keeps them together for forty years. He is the voice of God to them and the prime example of faithfulness. But when it comes time to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, God says no. Doesn’t seem exactly fair but God says no. Listen, that does not change lesson one or lesson two. God has given us the victory. We have a part to play in that. But when it is all said and done, the outcome belongs to Him.
Many years ago, I prayed for my little sister who had leukemia. A few months after contracting that terrible disease, she died. Did I do my part? Yes, I did. Did God give the victory? You’d better believe it. She has been in Heaven for over 40 years, not paying taxes, not having to endure Hip Hop, not listening to Rush Limbaugh. And God has used her story in our lives to open doors, increase faith, share victories. The outcome was not what I expected but it was “exceedingly, abundantly more than I could ask or imagine.” Fifteen years ago, after a huge failure on my part, I asked God to allow me to pastor again. He didn’t. Did I do my part to get clean and sober and stay that way? I think so. Has God been faithful and given Doris and me the victory? What are you talking about? He has opened doors, opened our eyes, opened hearts, in ways we never thought possible. It is not what we pictured it to be. Just far, far better. That’s why Paul, (who said, “I asked God three times to remove the thorn in my flesh) said in Romans 8:28. “We know that ALL things work together for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”
Remember old Moses? Remember him asking to get in the Promised Land? Remember God let him in someplace far better? Hebrews 11, the Role Call of Faith. This is the Spiritual Heroes Hall of Fame in the Bible. It says, “By faith Moses refused to be known as Pharaoh’s son. By faith he left Egypt. By faith he kept the Passover…crossed the Red Sea…marched around Jericho…” For thousands of years, we have read about and testified to the great life of Moses. And he has sat on the edge of Heaven, feet dangling in the clouds, and said, “This is way better than what I asked for.”
There is another reading for today that sums all of this up. When I am facing those issues that I just don’t understand, when I am not sure about His part and my part, when I am just not seeing the answer to my prayers or the outcome I expected, I read again Proverbs 3: 5-6. It is my daughter-in-law’s, Allison, life verse. “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart, and don’t lean on your OWN understanding. In ALL your ways, acknowledge HIM and HE will direct your path.” There it is. The battle belongs to Him. I have a part to play. I leave the outcome in His hands. Now that I can talk about.