And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. [Joshua 10:13 (RSV)]

button bushMy initial interest in The Book of Jashar arose from Joshua 10 when, while in the midst of heated battle, Joshua prayed that the day would be prolonged. Scripture reports that both the sun and moon stayed in place until victory was won by the Israelites and that the account is found in The Book of Jashar.

In Joshua’s miracle, time stood still. In 2 Kings 20, instead of time stopping, time appeared to go backwards when the shadow on King Hezekiah’s sundial went back “ten steps.” Without an explanation of how God accomplished these miracles, people often assume He stopped the earth in one and briefly reversed its rotation in the other. But, if the earth suddenly stopped spinning, the atmosphere, oceans, and anything not nailed down would keep spinning. Their momentum would cause a 1000 miles-per-hour wind. There would be earthquakes and tsunamis and anything not attached to bedrock would be swept away. If the earth suddenly went backwards, the result would be equally disastrous. Scripture, however, only tells us the sun and moon stayed in the sky and the shadow on the sundial retreated; it never explains how.

For centuries people have pondered these two miracles and questioned the accuracy of their reports. Why people find them more unbelievable than the ten plagues inflicted on Egypt, the parting of both the Red Sea and the river Jordan, manna from heaven, the virgin birth, various miraculous healings, raising the dead, or any other of the more than 120 miracles we find in Scripture is beyond me. Perhaps it’s because these two miracles seem to defy physics and all we know about the way our planet works. Let us remember that the one who spoke the universe into existence can certainly do things in a way we can’t understand or explain.

Nevertheless, there is a persistent urban legend that says astronomers have found a missing day, dating back to Joshua’s time, in the astronomical calendar. This tale started in the late 1800s and has been updated periodically to reflect new science and technology. The latest version is that NASA, while making calculations for a space launch, found a missing 23 hours and 20 minutes. A Christian explained that it must be Joshua’s 48-hour day. He clarified that it wasn’t a full 24 hours because of Hezekiah’s sundial episode when time went backwards and then forward again, adding 40 minutes to its day. While scientists can calculate the past or future positions of heavenly objects with precision, there is no way they can know if time from over 3,000 years ago is missing! To detect missing time, they would need an accurate earth-based clock with which to compare their astronomical observations. Such clocks, however, didn’t exist in the era of sundials and there are no precisely-timed astronomical observations from Joshua’s time.

Scientific proof of these events is impossible and, while Biblical scholars have various explanations for them, they are only speculating. I prefer the easiest answer of them all: God can accomplish His will in ways that defy natural explanations. As the writer of the laws of nature, He can both enforce and alter those laws at His will. What happened was impossible; nevertheless, it happened. Rather than concentrating on the how, let us remember the who!

Ah Lord God! It is thou who hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and by thy outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for thee. [Jeremiah 32:17 (RSV)]

Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” [Mark 10:27 (RSV)]

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FAKE NEWS (Part 1)

Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. [Proverbs 30:5-6 (NIV)]

gray catbirdBoth 2 Samuel 1 and Joshua 10 mention stories that could be found in The Book of Jashar (sometimes translated as Book of the Upright One or Book of the Just Ones). Biblical scholars speculate The Book of Jashar was a collection of Hebrew poems and songs praising Israel’s heroes and victorious battles. Scripture tells us it existed at one time but we’ll never know what was in it because it vanished more than 2,000 years ago.

Although The Book of Jashar can’t be found in our Bibles, nearly a dozen versions can be found on Amazon and elsewhere. Saying they’re the lost book referenced in Scripture and written by Jashar, “son of Caleb,” they claim to cover Hebrew history from creation through Joshua’s day. In spite of their claims, these books are works of fiction and none date further back than the 1600s. Confusing the issue, there is a genuine collection of Jewish legends called Sefer ha Yashar (or The Book of Righteousness) Written in the 1100s and first printed in Italy in 1544, it doesn’t claim to be history or written by Jashar. Nevertheless, this Hebrew title can be found as part of some of the fictional works purporting to be Jashar’s!

I enjoy reading fiction; my problem is with fiction that claims to be truth, most especially with fiction claiming to be on a par with the Bible! When reading reviews of the Jashar books on Amazon, it was disturbing to see that many people—people who should know better—believed this fiction was God’s truth. One woman (identifying herself as a Christian) wrote how wonderful it was to read the same words Jesus read in the Temple. She also asserted that The Book of Jasher was removed from our Bibles 200 years ago. Jashar never was in our Bibles and Jesus couldn’t have read those words because the book was lost by His time!

Another reviewer, thrilled to have a “deeper understanding of the people of the Bible,” was delighted to learn the reason Esau was so weary the day he sold his birthright was that he’d just killed Nimrod. Another reader cited the book’s explanation that it was God’s anger at man for having made an herbal concoction used as birth control that brought about the flood. Creative writing but not Biblical truth!

Fiction masquerading as truth can be found in fake gospels, as well. The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 alleged sayings of Jesus, some of which are contrary to the rest of Scripture. Alleging a physical relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Philip also explains that the world is imperfect because God made a mistake and “fell short of attaining his desire.” The Gospel of Barnabas has Jesus predicting the Prophet Muhammad and claims that Judas was mistakenly crucified in Jesus’s place. Judas is rehabilitated in the Gospel of Judas which asserts that Jesus taught one message to eleven of the disciples but a special one to Judas. According to it, Judas served our Lord honorably because Jesus asked Judas to “betray” Him. Written in the second to fourth centuries, these “gospels” have no connection with any of the disciples, no historical support, and show no understanding of 1st century Judaism. They are nonsense!

Let us be cautious and discerning in our use of extra-biblical writings. While these works of fiction make interesting reading, we must never mistake them for God’s word. Unlike them, the 66 books of the accepted canon are not myths, legends, or filled with contradictions and errors. In Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, Dr. Tebring calls the Bible “a product of man.” Tebring had it wrong. The Da Vinci Code, The Book of Jashar, and the various “missing” gospels are all products of man. The Bible, however, is God-breathed and merely transcribed by man! Let us never confuse the two.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1:20-21 (NIV)]

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)]

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Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. [Galatians 1:10 (NLT)]

black-crowned night heronThe motto “The customer is always right” was coined in the early 1900s by retail pioneers Marshall Field, Harry Selfridge, and John Wanamaker. A variation commonly heard in business is, “The boss is always right!” But, because they’re human, we know that neither customers nor bosses are always right. Nevertheless, even when the boss clearly is in error, he remains the boss. We may lose a customer if we fail to please him but we can lose a job when we fail to please the boss! Since one’s livelihood depends on a paycheck, an employee faces a dilemma when the boss clearly is wrong.

Rather than pleasing customers, bosses, or anyone else, the Apostle Paul pointed out that his purpose was to please God. This morning, as I read his words to the Galatians, I thought of a friend who had to choose between the unprincipled man who signed her paycheck and the King who ruled her life. When her employer gloated that she couldn’t afford to quit over a question of principles, she had the boldness of heart to reply that she didn’t work for him; she worked for God! It wasn’t easy to leave a sizeable paycheck behind but she did. She was Christ’s servant and, as her boss, He was the One she served. With her heartfelt commitment to God, the only approval she sought was His!

Hopefully, we won’t find ourselves in my friend’s position where choosing between pleasing God and our employer means leaving a job. Nevertheless, we must always remember who our true boss is! When we seek people’s approval, we accept their standards rather than God’s. Along with tempting us to turn a blind eye to injustice, compromise our ethics, or be complicit in wrong-doing, trying to please people can lead to over-commitment, flattery rather than honest assessment, exaggerating our stories, embellishing our lives on social media, spending more than we should, or becoming obsessive about our appearance. The only approval we should seek is that of God!

Seeking man’s approval rather than God’s never ends well. When Aaron sought the Israelites’ approval, a golden calf (and plague) were the result. Seeking the approval of the nations surrounding them, the people of Israel wanted a king; they rejected God and got Saul. Hoping to please the people, Pilate handed over the innocent Jesus and released the guilty Barabbas. In an effort to please the Jews, Herod persecuted Christians and killed James. Fearing people’s disapproval and excommunication from the synagogue, John tells us many Jews who believed in Jesus refused to follow Him because “they loved human praise more than the praise of God.” [12:43] Our desire to please God always must outweigh our desire to please people.

Whether we’re seeking the approval of a customer, boss, or anyone else, our value and worth do not come from people, paychecks, or accomplishments; they come from the Lord. We must never please others (or ourselves) at the cost of pleasing Him! Rather than seeking man’s approval, Jesus told us to seek the kingdom of God above all else. He promised that, if we live righteously, He will give us everything we need. [Matthew 6:33] We are, indeed, God’s servant and He is our boss!

If you please God, it does not matter whom you displease. And if you displease Him, it does not matter whom you please. [Steven J. Lawson]

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. [1 Thessalonians 2:4 (NLT)]

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. [Colossians 3:23-24 (NLT)]

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COMFORT ZONES (Esther – Part 2)

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and fasting. I also wore rough burlap and sprinkled myself with ashes. [Daniel 9:3 (NLT)]

So we fasted and earnestly prayed that our God would take care of us, and he heard our prayer. [Ezra 8:23 (NLT)]

orchidWhen writing about Esther yesterday, I thought how terrified she must have been when Mordecai asked her to step out of her comfort zone to save the Jews. Even though she was queen, her access to Xerxes was severely limited.  Living secluded in a private chamber in the women’s quarters, she didn’t regularly dine with the king. Powerless, she was the one to be summoned rather than the one who did the summoning and she hadn’t been summoned by Xerxes for a month. She was just one of many beautiful women in the king’s harem and perhaps someone else had caught his eye. The previous queen was banished when she defied the king and Esther could expect nothing less if her presence wasn’t welcomed. The young queen had a simple choice: comfort or courage. She chose courage and saved a nation!

Where did Esther get the courage to defy the law and approach the king? She got it from God! That may seem a strange answer since God isn’t mentioned anywhere in her story. After asking Mordecai to gather together all the Jews in Susa and fast for three days, however, Esther promised that she and her maids would do the same. The beautiful queen wasn’t fasting so she’d fit into her sexiest gown! She was fasting in prayer.

For a Jew, fasting and prayer went hand in hand and, while prayer is not specifically mentioned, it certainly is implied. Fasting combined with prayer was a customary practice in times of grief, distress or repentance. It was a way to seek God’s favor and demonstrate the sincerity of one’s prayers. Although fasting was only demanded on the Day of Atonement, Scripture tells us that the Israelites and people like Ezra, David, Nehemiah, Jehoshaphat, and Daniel all combined fasting with prayer. When Esther and the people of Susa fasted, I have no doubt their fast was accompanied by their heartfelt prayers. Only then did Esther have both a plan and the courage to step out of her comfort zone.

Unlike Esther, we may not be asked to save a nation. Nevertheless, God has a mission for each of us. Because He is far more interested in our growth and obedience than our comfort, God’s mission for us, like Esther’s, usually begins at the end of our comfort zone. How do we move from comfort to courage and from fear to faith?

Like Esther, we could choose to fast. The purpose of fasting is never to change God; its purpose is to change us. A fast helps us take our eyes off the world and focus them on God. While Esther probably fasted from food, a fast also can be from things like gaming, social media, alcohol, television or anything else that takes our mind off God. Although Scripture tells us that Jesus and the early church fasted, it does not demand that Christians fast.

The spiritual practice of fasting is a personal choice for a Christian but prayer is not. Prayer is an act of obedience to God; it is the way we demonstrate our faith. When faced with the choice of comfort or courage, whether or not we choose to fast, we must choose to pray. Prayer is what will enable us to step out of our comfort zone and courageously do God’s work.

Courage is faith that has said its prayers. [AA slogan]

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles. [Psalm 34:4-6 (NLT)]

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Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

I’ve learned something about my housekeeping habits during this pandemic. Like many, when it first began, I took my pent up energy and enthusiastically cleaned, arranged, sorted and scrubbed. Cupboards and baseboards were wiped, windows were washed, furniture moved, fan blades dusted, files sorted, and every closet, cupboard, and drawer organized. That, however, was many months ago. I now realize that hospitality was my real reason for cleaning house. Pre-pandemic, we frequently entertained, neighbors regularly stopped over, and houseguests often occupied one of the bedrooms. Being ready for visitors at a moment’s notice was my incentive for keeping the house spic-and-span. Guests, however, are a thing of the past and only repairmen get beyond the front door! While our house is still presentable, it’s not the way it used to be. With just the two of us, I’ve lost my motivation and become far more tolerant of things like dust, disorder, and dirty windows!

The image of Jesus knocking at the door to an unbeliever’s heart has been used by evangelists for decades but the unbeliever’s heart is not the best understanding of Revelation 3:20. Jesus wasn’t speaking to a non-believer; He was speaking to the believers in the church of Laodicea. Like the tepid water supply of their city, they were neither hot like the healing waters of the nearby hot springs nor cold like the refreshing springs in Colossae. They were a church that had become lukewarm and indifferent to Jesus. Their self-satisfaction and apathy had led to idleness and lethargy. Jesus had some harsh words for them as He stood knocking at the door of a church that didn’t even know He’d left the house!

The church at Laodicea had grown as lax in their faith as I have in my housekeeping. Their initial fervor for Jesus waned just as my early enthusiasm about cleaning did. They’d become satisfied with superficial religion rather than growing deeper in faith and I’ve become satisfied with surface cleaning rather than getting deep into the corners. The church at Laodicea, having grown content with their wealth and easy life, were cutting corners. Having grown content with sheltering in place, I’m taking short cuts, as well. While making these comparisons, I realize that the Lord’s words of censure are not limited to Laodicea. Just as I slipped into indifference about housework, like the Laodiceans, we easily can slide into a half-hearted perfunctory faith.

Indifference leads to idleness but I’m sure my zeal for housekeeping will return when I again welcome people into our home. Sheltering in place, however, doesn’t keep Jesus from knocking at our doors. Have we become too complacent, self-satisfied, or apathetic to hear Him knocking? Open the door, invite Him in, and share a meal as friends! He’s far more interested in our hearts than the cleanliness of our homes! Let us never become indifferent to Him or spiritually lukewarm!

I do not think the devil cares how many churches you build, if only you have lukewarm preachers and people in them. [Charles Spurgeon]

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!… I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference. … Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. [Revelation 3:15-16,19,22 (NLT)]

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But I will come—and soon—if the Lord lets me, and then I’ll find out whether these arrogant people just give pretentious speeches or whether they really have God’s power. For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. [1 Corinthians 4:19-20 (NLT)]

hot air balloonBecause we heard the fan running, we didn’t realize the AC wasn’t working until we returned home after being gone most of the day. By then, the inside temperature of 86 told us we were in trouble. A check outside told us the AC compressor wasn’t operating and the blackened grass near it told us why: a lightning strike during the previous night’s storm! Although the fan could still operate, without the power of the compressor, all it did was blow hot air!

Sure there was a lesson somewhere in all of that useless hot air, I thought of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians expressing his concern about eloquence without evidence. Even though some of their teachers were saying the right things, they weren’t living them out. Without God’s power, they were just windbags and, like our fan, full of hot air! Accustomed as they were to great orators, the Greeks were impressed by eloquent speeches but talk is cheap. Paul explained that the Kingdom of God isn’t speaking the right words; it is living them! He promised that, when he came to Corinth, they’d see the real power of God!

When Paul referred to the Kingdom of God, he wasn’t referring to Christ’s future reign but to Christ’s present reign in the hearts of His followers. The Kingdom of God is wherever the King is and His kingdom isn’t powered by words; it’s powered by the Holy Spirit and leads to changed lives.

John Calvin described a Christian’s task this way: “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.” That’s not done with flowery phrases, grandiose sermons, impressive words, or empty promises; it’s done by the way we live. As Paul said to the Corinthians: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” [13:1] The Kingdom is made visible by the evidence that our King rules us in every aspect of our lives: whether at work, school, church, or home; with family, friends, co-workers or strangers; when writing a check, browsing the internet, or posting on social media.

The power enabling our air conditioner to function is in its compressor; the power enabling us to function as citizens of the Kingdom of God is found in the Holy Spirit. If we find ourselves just blowing hot air; it’s time to check the connection!

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. [2 Corinthians 6:6-7 (NLT)]

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