God: Friend or Foe?

Image result for joshua and the angel of the lord free image

We’ve sung the song by Israel Houghton, “I am a friend of God! I am a friend of God, He calls me friend!” Of course we are called God’s friend in the Bible in several places. But are we always God’s friend? There is an interesting account in Joshua that sheds light on this topic.

Joshua and Israel had just crossed the Jordan River by a tremendous work of God and were preparing to destroy the city of Jericho. God was surely on their side. But Joshua had a rude shock when he met a man wielding a sword. The story goes like this:

When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”

“Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”

At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told.

Joshua 5:13-15

Was this strange person a friend or foe? The puzzling thing is he replied, “Neither one”. We know that this person was either an angel or the pre-incarnate Christ (before he was born as a human). So this person was sent from God. Wouldn’t that automatically make him a friend, an ally to Joshua? Apparently not.

God is a friend or foe depending on your response to him. Do you obey his commands? Do you abide in him? Do you have a restored relationship with God? This was a key moment for Joshua as he received instructions on how to conquer Jericho that were, to put it mildly, unusual (read: out of this world). Would he obey or reject God?

Joshua accepted God’s command and carried them out faithfully. God was his friend. If he didn’t, God would be his foe! God’s hand would be against him because of his disobedience. Remember, 40 years ago, 12 spies went to spy the land of Canaan and though God had promised to give them victory over their enemies, 10 spies didn’t believe. They rejected his commands and led Israel to lose faith in God also. Thus, God punished them by sending them into the wilderness. God is not an automatic friend nor a foe. It depends on how you respond to him.

Joshua recognised the holiness of God. He took off his sandals in reverence. It’s not about God being on your side. It’s about you being on God’s side. Is God your friend or a foe? Would you bow in reverence before God today and recognise his holiness and to obey him with all your heart?

Obedience of the Recabites

 

Image result for recabites and jeremiahThe Recabites were an interesting tribe. Jeremiah 35 suddenly segues from prophecy into a family history of the Recabites, a nomadic tribe from the lineage of the Midianites. We see a funny account of Jeremiah offering a cup of wine to the Recabite families. They refused to drink it. Why not? Upon the command of one of their forefathers, Jonadab, his descendants have refrained from drinking wine, building houses and sowing seed. (Jer 35:6-7) The text does not explain Jonadab’s reasoning behind these seemingly arbitrary commands other than that they will live a long time where they are nomads. Even the Nazirite vow to abstain from alcohol was only temporary.

It echoes the Ten Commandments to honour your father and mother so that you will live long in the land (Exod 20:12). This is the only command linked to a promise. The Recabites were honouring their forefather. God often used symbolic acts like this to demonstrate deep truths.

God used the Recabite’s obedience to contrast with Judah’s disobedience to God. While the Recabites obeyed their forefather’s commands, Judah disobeyed God who is like a father to them. Because of the Recabite’s obedience, God assured them that they “will never fail to have a man to serve me.” (Jer 35:19) Various traditions in the Jewish Mishnah claim that the Recabites were later given special duties to perform in connection with the Jerusalem temple built after the return from Babylonian exile.

There are two lessons here for us.

1. Are you obeying your parent’s commands?

Just as the Recabites obeyed their ancestor’s commands, are you obedient to your parents too? God wants us to honour our parents and to obey them unless it directly contradicts God’s commands. When you obey your parents, there is a special promise that God will bless you where you are. Even though some commands may seem arbitrary to you, God wants us to obey them. In obedience, there is blessing and longevity.

2. Are you obeying God’s commands?

Are you disobedient to your Father in heaven just like Judah? Has God sent you clear commands that you chose not to listen to? Are there wicked actions you have not repented from? Do you have idols (money, sex, power) other than God? If you do, you need to repent of your sins and serve God wholeheartedly. Don’t wait for God to strike you with disaster or disease so that you will learn your lesson. Turn to God in obedience right now!

When we honour our parents and God in our families, God promises that a special place will be prepared for us to serve him. Only when we are faithful in our own household will God allow us to serve in His household (church). May the Lord help us today to be obedient.

The Call

As the client signed on the dotted line, Sandra smiled to herself. She was her insurance agency’s most valuable employee and on track for a promotion. Maybe to partner even. Her life was going on so well – five-digit salary, a wonderful boyfriend, a thriving cell group in church…but she still felt something was missing. She couldn’t tell what it was.

After Sandra gave her client a warm handshake and smile, she headed towards the carpark. A familiar figure approached her.

“Hey Sandra.” The tall man with dark skin called out, his face lighting up. Sandra paused, her mind whirring. Where had she seen him before?

“Pastor Tim?” she asked.

Tim nodded vigorously and said, “You visited my church in Thailand last year with your church’s mission team.”

Sandra laughed once she remembered. Then she winced at the memory. She had felt God’s strong presence in Pastor Tim’s church and sensed that God might be calling her to become a missionary. That calling seemed like lightyears away since she buried herself in her work.

Pastor Tim was a fellow Singaporean who served as a missionary in a small village off Chiangmai. His whole family was there now for nearly five years. Since they were not in a rush, he bought Sandra a cappucino at a nearby café as he explained what had happened the past year.

“I’m back for a short break,” Tim said between sips of his flat white coffee. “When would you be coming back? We need good labourers in God’s harvest field.”

Sandra rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know. Things have been really busy. I got to check my schedule.” She knew being busy wasn’t a good excuse. You had to make time for the important things in life.

“Ok, let’s see how God leads you.” Pastor Tim prayed for her and left. She sat there for a few minutes pondering and praying if she gave the right answer. She whispered a short prayer for God to open and close the doors in her life. Then she went home.

Over the next few weeks, Sandra got promoted to partner. At her celebration with her family, her boyfriend proposed to her and she accepted it gleefully. But she still felt hollow inside. Pastor Tim’s conversation haunted her again and again. But how could she leave her job at this point? She needed money for her upcoming wedding and the house payments. It was impossible!

How could God call her at this time when it was hardest for her to give it all up? “God, can you call back later, maybe when I’ve retired and my children have moved out?” She prayed. Her boyfriend, Johnny, noticed her stirring the mushroom like a machine, her eyes glaced over.

“Hello, earth to Sandra?” Johnny said, pulling a funny face. Normally she would laugh, but this time she didn’t. “Tell me what’s happening.”

Sandra sighed and told him about her conversation with Pastor Tim and it kept gnawing at her again and again. Johnny folded his arms and leaned back. “So God might be calling you to full-time missions?”

Sandra nodded, unsure how Johnny would take it. She decided to plunge in. “I might need to give up the job at the firm.”

Johnny’s face turned red, his nostrils flaring. He slammed his hands on the table, shaking the bowls and cups. “What? You just became partner and now you’re giving it all up? Think about the wedding and house installments.”

Sandra gulped. She almost didn’t recognise this side of Johnny. He had been on a few mission trips before too. Why would he react this way?

Johnny said, “Let those missionaries do their thing. You can serve God in many other ways.” With that, he continued eating his Vongole pasta. Sandra lost all appetite.

That night, she prayed a few hours. She was reminded of Jesus, who was the Father’s first missionary. Who gave up his place in heaven to come to earth in the form of a baby. Who suffered and bled on the cross for her sins. If God gave up so much for her, her sacrifice seemed almost pitiful in comparison.

Sandra wept and asked God for forgiveness. But what about her career? Her boyfriend? So many uncertainties. As tears rolled down her cheeks and onto her handphone screen, she wrote a message to Pastor Tim.


This is a story I wrote in relation to my previous blog post “God, can you call back later?”. It’s fictional but the struggle is real. Many have sacrificed in order to heed God’s call. Not everyone will be called into full time ministry. But everyone is called to be a disciple of Jesus.

“God, Can You Call Back Later?”

God sure knows how to pick the worst timing to call.

Jesus called a few fishermen to become his disciples. They had their fishing business and hired men working for them. Fishermen weren’t illiterate people as we often think. In all likelihood, they had literacy skills. That’s how they wrote the gospels.

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!”

Mark 1:16 -17 NLT

Jesus met them at their workplace one day. They were hard at work fishing or mending their nets when he called them to follow him. The Gospels record that there were multiple times that Jesus called them. Can you imagine a pastor showing up at your office one day and calling you to follow him at once for a healing rally? What would you do? If you’re like me, a million thoughts course through your mind – “I’m working can’t you see? My boss will fire me! Can you call back me at 5 pm when I’m off work?”

That’s the thing about Jesus. Jesus doesn’t call people when they’re most free. He calls them when they’re most occupied. He doesn’t call people when they’ve nothing to lose. He calls people when they’ve everything to lose. You see, God often calls at the worst time to see whether we would step out in faith in spite of the challenges. That’s true faith.

The fishermen had to choose their business or Jesus. Apparently, they weren’t too serious at first. Just following Jesus for kicks. Seeing his miracles firsthand were pretty amazing. But Jesus, wanted more from them. He wanted them to give up fishing fish totally.

And they left their nets at once and followed him. A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.

Mark 1:18-20 NLT

You have a choice to make. Will you give up your job, your family, your business, your security to follow Jesus? Maybe the sacrifice seems too great. Even Peter felt that way after following Jesus for awhile.

Then Peter said to [Jesus], “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?”

Matthew 19:27 NLT

Jesus’ answer is comforting to us all.

And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest.
Matthew 19:29-30 NLT

A hundred times return! You will not be shortchanged by God. He is the best boss and master to work for. Though you may seem to be last by this world’s standards, you’re rich in God’s eyes. Are you willing to respond in faith to God’s call even in the midst of uncertainty?

The Purpose of the Wilderness

Deuteronomy 8:2
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

God tested the Israelites with hunger and thirst in the wilderness to see if they would complain and still obey him. Many people only want the blessings of God and not God Himself. In the wilderness, God tested them so that they would know what was in their own hearts.

Jeremiah 17:9 says ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’. We often deceive ourselves thinking we love God, we trust God, we obey God. But when God makes the circumstances difficult to test us, that’s when our true colours show. Whatever that lay dormant in our hearts comes out in full technicolour.

Bitterness, anger came out of the Israelites, showing what was in their hearts. Many times, testings bring out the worst and best in me, even surprising myself when I lash out in rage and frustration. God wants us to know ourselves and to repent.

The wilderness is a time for refinement through fire that we should come out as gold. Burning away the dross and impurities if we let Him. It’s painful but for our ultimate good – the Promised Land. God intended the Israelites to go through the Wilderness for two years but due to their disobedience, God had to keep teaching them the same lesson over and over  for forty years. God wants us to go through, but not remain in the WIlderness.

In this verse there is a gem. It says ‘the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years.’ God is leading us all the way in our hard times of the wilderness. He hasn’t left us for a single moment. He didn’t leave the Israelites for forty years but led them through the fierce desert. Can you still trust and obey Him?

How far would you go to obey God?

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Imagine you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse and God tells you that she is going to die today. By 6pm, she will definitely die. What will you do?

I would panic. I would cancel everything on my to do list, take leave from work and spend every moment with her. Nothing would be more important than that.

But what if God told me to carry on working and not to mourn for her or be with her at all? Even when I know she would die that night. Does that command from God sound cruel or ridiculous? God wouldn’t do that right?

But it did happen. To Ezekiel. Here is what we read:

Ezekiel 24:15-17
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.”

God told Ezekiel that his wife was going to die. But Ezekiel was not to mourn or cry or show any outward sign at all. God was doing this as a symbol to the sinful Israelites.

I don’t know how Ezekiel felt as he struggled with the command. The Bible doesn’t say. What would you have done? Let’s see what happened:

Ezekiel 24:18
So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

Amazing obedience! Ezekiel did exactly what God told him. No questions asked. No excuses given. He continued his ministry while knowing his wife would be gone at the end of the day. That’s full obedience.

We say we want to obey God. God may not ask of you something so drastic. He could be asking you to go out of your comfort zone. To give up your favourite hobby. To give your time and money to an old folks home. To give up your career for a lifetime of ministry. To give up your child to the mission field.

Can you really obey like Ezekiel? Or will you say this was asking too much from you? If there’s something in our lives that prevents us from obeying God, let’s place it in His hands. We can’t always understand His plans but we can trust Him.

When God “Messes” Up Our Plans

Image result for david in palace

Ever felt at times that God is like a wet blanket, messing up your plans even when they are noble and good? David had the same experience and let’s see what we can learn from him.

After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given [David] rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But that night the word of the Lord came to Nathan…

2 Samuel 7:1-4

King David had a burden to build a great temple for God’s ark. That is a wonderful thing he planned to carry out, an act of love to the Lord. So being a very careful man, he first asked the advice of the prophet Nathan.

Quick question: Do you ask for advice from godly people before making your decisions?

So, Nathan said go ahead, the Lord is with you in whatever you do. Green light for David!

However, that night the Lord told Nathan that David wasn’t the one to make the temple but David’s son Solomon. It’s interesting that godly men like Nathan can sometimes give wrong advice! I’m not saying that we don’t listen but we have to prayerfully consider if that is God’s will.

How did David respond?

27 Lord Almighty, God of Israel, you have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build a house for you.’ So your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. 28 Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant.

David praised God for being faithful and trustworthy. Thankfully, David obeyed God’s command not to build the temple. The scary thing is, it would be hard for people to spot. Outwardly, you’re doing a fine thing for God but He wouldn’t be pleased with you. God would not, could not bless your activity however noble if it is out of His will.

Would you get angry when God “messes” up your plans and gives the red light to stop?

“I wanted to go to the mission field Lord!”

“I wanted to give my time teaching disadvantaged youths!”

“I want to marry so-and-so!”

Those are fantastic plans but the Lord in His infinite wisdom, knows what’s best for us. He has better plans for us. Just like for David.

Would you lay your best-laid plans in God’s loving hands and let Him lead? Tell the Lord how much you need His leading in your life and submit to Him.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.

Prov 16:9

“I thought”

“I thought”.

Dangerous words. When expectations doesn’t meet reality what happens?

We expect God to work in a certain way and when He doesn’t, we refuse to accept it. What we thought should happen didn’t work out exactly the way we envisioned it.

Naaman was such a man (2 Kings 5). He was a great general who was a pagan. But he was stricken with leprosy. His future wasn’t bright. Thankfully, his servant girl, a Jew, told him that the prophet Elisha had the power to heal him and he set out at once.

Naaman brought lots of gifts to reward Elijah for the healing. Hope flickered in his eyes. But when he reached, Elisha didn’t even meet him. What an insult! His servant met him and told Naaman to wash in the Jordan river 7 times and he would be healed.

Wasn’t that so simple? Just wash and be cured! What did Naaman do?

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
2 Kings 5:11-12

Naaman became angry and thought that Elisha would wave his hand. Instead he had to wash in a dirty river. People want a quick fix salvation but there’s only one way – total allegiance to Jesus. Any other way wouldn’t work. Naaman thought wrong. The first lesson is that we can’t paint God into a corner and twist His arm. God tests us in ways we don’t understand and we are to obey fully. His ways and thoughts are beyond our human abilities. He’s the boss.

His servants convinced him to do it because if Elisha had tasked him to do a great task, wouldn’t he have done it? That’s the second lesson. Naaman thought he had to work hard for his cleansing much like the twelve tasks of Hercules! On the contrary, we can never work for our salvation. Jesus has done it all. We have to accept it. Even when it seems so simple. Praise God for His grace for sinners like us.

Okay, so Naaman decides that his servants are right and dips in the river and is cured of his leprosy. You can bet his thinking was turned around at once! He became a God worshipper and even brought back soil to worship the true God. God works in unique ways. This is the third lesson, that only when you obey then you realize God’s commands bring life and healing. If it’s not lived out, your life remains unchanged. Once you act in faith on God’s truths even if it doesn’t make sense, God steps in and does the rest. You’ll never be the same again.