The Principal Of The First

ReadMalachi 2:10-17

Review: “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?  Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god. As for the man who does this, may the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the Lord of hosts.

 “This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the Lord of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.”

You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” or, “Where is the God of justice?”

Record: When we enter a season of wilderness who is the initiator?

Considering our actions can be an involuntary step into the wilderness can you think of a time when you placed God lower on your priority list?

Reflect: “This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 

When I consider these words in my own life I can’t help but think of unanswered prayers. Although there is no connection between a prayer not being answered and God being distant, there is sometimes a connection between God not answering a prayer and the need for our hearts to be turned towards God more specifically.

God wasn’t pleased with the Israelites offering because it was spoiled. They were not gifting the first of all that God was providing them. Instead, they were giving their leftovers. God is always more concerned with the state of our hearts rather than the tithe or offering. Just as the Israelites in Malachi I can exasperate God with my words and actions.

Sometimes this begins intentionally, other times it is a slow drifting away. A few cut corners without consequence that then turn into more frequent choices. The principle of the first is intended to help us keep our eyes, heart, and mind exactly where they need to be focused. On the provider of everything.

The wilderness isn’t as defining as I once thought it to be. It isn’t a place of shame and humiliation. It is the place where God called his beloved back to him.

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Reflections In The Wilderness: Joshua 1

Read: Joshua 1

ReviewFrom the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory. No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

The book of Joshua opens with God speaking directly to Joshua. He lays out specific promises that he alone can fulfill.

v. 4 The land as far as the great sea towards the west will be the Israelites territory.

v. 5 No one will be able to stand before Joshua and the Israelite army for the duration of Joshua’s life.  He would not need to fear the Israelites heading back into slavery.

v. 5 God promises not to fail Joshua

v. 6 The land promised to the Israelites would be given to them now.

v. 9. God is with Joshua wherever he goes.

Record: These are some big time promises here. The land from the wilderness to the river (where life and growth would exist) and everything in between was being promised to the Israelites again. This land was the original land God had set aside for his chosen people. Now occupied by those who worshipped other god’s it would soon be inhabited by it’s rightful owners. Still, there is a command in the middle of everything.

v. 8 you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success

For then you will make your way prosperous. There is an action required of God’s promises being fulfilled. God’s words and laws must stay at the forefront of the Israelites thoughts and actions. God must have his rightful place.

Reflect: The Israelites find themselves wandering in the wilderness many times over the old testament. It’s a pattern that goes back to Joshua 1:8. When God’s words and law are placed in the background the wilderness comes to the foreground.

Is it really that simple? Could the wilderness be kept at bay simply by keeping God’s words in the forefront of our minds?

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Rahab In The Wilderness

Read: Joshua 2, 5-6, Matthew 1, Hebrews 11

Review: Rahab was a prostitute in the land of Jericho. She had a house on the wall of the city. Before the Israelites went to battle Joshua sent 2 spies to see what was happening. The king heard what was going on and asked Rahab to bring the spies to him, but instead she protected them and lied, risking her life.

Joshua 2:8-11 (NIV) Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

So the Israelites were gaining a reputation. They were so feared that Rahab tells the spies their hearts melted in fear. As the Israelites prepared for battle Joshua reminded them they were to honor the promise made by the spies and they did.

Joshua 6:25 (NIV) But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

The next time we read about Rahab’s life is in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Rahab was grafted in the to the lineage of Jesus, welcomed as an Israelite.

Record: Do you think Rahab sided with the spies simply out of fear or did something else play into it?

How do you think Rahab’s life was when she and her family entered the Israelite camp?:

Reflect: Rahab lived a hard life. When she was a prostitute, one of the only professions a woman could hold. She was unmarried, which was also something that isolated women at that time. Still, I can’t help but wonder if Rahab traded one wilderness for another when she chose to help the Israelite spies.

Her motivations could have been the desire to start a new life. To escape the realities of prostitution. It could have also been that she simply realized that God of the Israelites was a more powerful god than the one she had been taught about. Still, I don’t think she realized what she would be getting herself in to by joining herself to the Israelites.

Rahab needed to learn an entirely new way to live. She would have had to adapt to new customs such as what to eat and not eat, how to dress, and how to worship. She would have had to learn about the laws Moses taught the Israelites and how to live in a tent instead of high up on a city wall.

I have to wonder if Rahab ever regretted her decision. I wonder if she thought she should have ran and hidden instead of going to live with the Israelites. Sometimes our wilderness season happens as the breakthrough. We don’t know much more about Rahab’s life. She had a son who continued the lineage of Jesus. She was grafted in to the Israelite community and seen as one of their own. This is a beautiful picture of redemption, and it started in the wilderness.

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Moses and the Burning Bush

In her Catalyst Podcast entitled Leading Up Bianca Juarez Olthoff discusses the idea that sometimes we are called to walk alongside a leader instead of paving our own path. She explained that in her first discussions with Christine Caine (now her boss at A21) on what the future held a question was posed. Do you want to build a platform or do you want to have a role in changing the world for the kingdom of God?

One example that was discussed was the story of Moses and the burning bush.

Read: Exodus 3

Review: Moses was in the fields living his life as a shepherd when he and his father-in-law saw a bush that was on fire. The bush continued to burn but didn’t burn up. As Moses went to investigate he heard God speak directly to him. Moses wasn’t living a faith-filled life at the time. He was living with a family that didn’t worship the one true God.

God had a plan for Moses’ life that began with him changing directions on his current path. As Olthoff explained it Moses laid down his job, his identity and his control and stepped out in obedience to God.

Record: Does it seem odd that Moses would be called for such an important job when he wasn’t close to the path God had for his life?

How would you handle having to give up everything in order to obey God?
Is it possible to avoid this process? What does that look like for you?

Reflect: Moses had moved on with his life leaving the only home he had known and creating a new one. He was married with a child at the time of God’s calling. He had a job,a home and a family that depended on him.

There were live lessons that Moses needed to learn in the wilderness, but he wasn’t aware of what he was preparing for. Although he was in a literal wilderness, he wasn’t necessarily seeking a change or living discontentedly. Still, he wasn’t living in the totality of God’s will for his life.

I don’t know what would have happened to the Israelites if Moses has gotten his way and not had to speak to Pharoah. I don’t know what would have happened to Moses. As we already read, upon his death Moses was buried by God. His journey certainly wouldn’t have included the depth of personal relationship he had with God had he chosen to stay on the path his feet were currently planted on.




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Joshua in the Wilderness

Read: Joshua 1-24

Review:  I did a little hunting around about the book of Joshua. I loved this sermon! I was hunting around for some firm dates on Joshua’s time as the leader of the Israelites. THIS LINK shows the conquest of Canaan through the death of Joshua. The entire book of Joshua covers just under 39 years. Joshua was 110 years old when he died meaning his leadership didn’t begin until he was over 70 years old.

There are three things that the people of Israel had to do before they could destroy the enemy in the land. First, they had to be circumcised. The second thing they needed to do was to celebrate the Passover for the first time since they had come out of the wilderness. Finally, before their conquest began, Joshua had to plan the strategy for taking the city of Jericho. He must have been a perplexed and bewildered man. How could he take this huge, walled city with this “army” of people, untrained in battle.  As he looked out in the moonlight over the city, he saw a man standing there with a drawn sword, and said to him, “Are you on our side or on the side of the enemy? “The man said, “No; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.'” (Josh. 5:14) That is, “I haven’t come to take sides but I have come to take over. It isn’t your job to plan the strategy of battle. That is my job. I have given the city of Jericho into your hands.” Then the man told Joshua the most remarkable battle plan that has ever been arranged. He was to have the people simply march around the city once a day for six days and on the seventh day, seven times; and then to blow a long blast on the trumpets and the walls would fall down. That was all there was to it.” Ray C. Stedman

Joshua 1:1-9

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left,that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

We learned in the last chapter of Deuteronomy that Moses was buried by God. Then Joshua has a conversation with God. The promises here in this first conversation are the foundation of how Joshua would lead the Israelites.

Record: Why was Joshua so confident moving forward with leading?

Does Moses seem like a good mentor to you?

How would you move forward if you heard words like this from God?


Reflect: Joshua was one of the only Israelites to live through the Exodus and the Conquering of Canaan. He was set apart when his unwavering faith in God was shown as Moses sent the spies to see Canaan the first time. Joshua saw Canaan 40 years apart, both with the understanding that the land was a gift from God to his people.

Joshua was Moses assistant and he served him consistently. This not only allowed for Joshua to learn the role he would step into, but it reinforced his faith as he watched God keep his promises for 40 years and continually extend grace to the Israelites.

I love the story of Joshua. To me, it reveals that God prepares us in the wilderness for the next steps in our lives. It is the place of learning, reinforcing, revealing and growth.


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The Death Of Moses

Read: Deuteronomy 34

Review: There is so much more about Moses to explore, but for now we will focus on his death. After reminding the Israelites of their history together Moses knows his time is over. God has told him he won’t enter the promised land, and the time to enter has arrived.

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms,as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him[a] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

God buried Moses. Moses lived 120 years and in that time we learn a lot about him. We learn that he questions God, that he got angry with him. Moses didn’t always trust God, and he lost perspective more than once. Moses was a murder and yet God still loved him. God loved Moses deeply and he was set apart. Moses saw the glory of God so closely his face glowed. Moses had direct contact with God and spoke to him as a friend.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit[b] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

The Lord knew Moses face to face. Joshua became the next leader because Moses laid hands on him.

Record: Do you think the relationship Moses and God has is possible for you and God? What do you think Moses did to set himself apart? Who do you have in your life that seems to have a unique relationship with God? What sets them apart?

Reflect: I’ve been really weepy today. I had a hard time placing the emotion, but writing this out I can’t help but wonder if God laid that emotion on my heart. I’m traveling for work so this is being written from a hotel room. My babies are asleep at home and I won’t see them for three days. I can’t imagine how Moses felt knowing the people he had nurtured would soon move on without him. He had seen them all be born and yet he would now leave them. The ache in his heart must have been a thousand times deeper than mine, and yet God comforts us both.

I wonder if Moses reviewed his life as it neared an end. Did he regret his doubt? Had he made peace with it? I wonder if Moses regretted his time in the wilderness?

As I drove today for several hours I was blessed with the sighting of a huge rainbow in the sky. I couldn’t take a picture of its size but it started on one mountain range and ended on another. An arch with wide colored bands. It was in that moment I realized my weekend had been foggy. I couldn’t focus in church, I couldn’t focus as I read my bible and I couldn’t focus as I prepared for a bible study.  The edge of the wilderness was drawing near, and my heart knew what could happen if I didn’t fight.

As worship music filled my car I asked God to draw near. This is similar to different times in Moses’ life when he asked God to reveal himself. Moses heard God’s voice audibly, I felt an immediate lifting of my heart. The ache was replaced with a calmness. The wilderness is always looming these days, but today I did not enter. I wonder if Moses dealt with similar temptations.

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A Vine In The Wilderness

Joel 2:21-23

21     Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
    be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
22     Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
    for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
    the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.

It’s autumn in the mountains and football season is here. Although life can be consuming any month, autumn is extra full for our family. This week the weather has begun to cool and the rains that were steadily present have tapered. Our box garden which yielded vegetables without much tending all summer has died off. From afar it seemed clear the weeds had taken over our cucumber vines and choked them until they were brown weeks ago.

I set aside time to weed and close the boxes down for the season and drew near to the vines for the first time in probably a month. It was then I realized that what appeared dead from afar had been desperately trying to still produce life. 


Peppers and cucumbers sat on the vines still full of color although shriveled. The cucumbers had stopped short of growing long. The outside flesh even staying yellow on some of the fruit.

As I pulled the vines out I was shocked to see several vegetables, the largest amount I’d seen at one time since the planting of the garden in May. “Ugh! We really missed out on some great veggies!” was my constant thought as I pulled and pulled.

And then I heard it. The thought that was not mine but I needed to hear. What you thought was dead I still had life in. Although you stopped tending to the garden there was still growth that occurred and more that would have come with some attention.

There had been just enough rain to nourish the vines, but they still needed attention and tending. The roots of these vines were deep and extended far. It was a beautiful visual of a long-lived relationship with God.

I was once again reminded that deep roots can draw nourishment for an extended time, but eventually, the wilderness will overcome them if they are not fed.

The thing about the wilderness is that it isn’t meant to last forever. The prophet Joel reminded the Israelites of this. God sent rains in the autumn and spring to help with the growth of food, and he does the same for our growth as well. The challenge comes in recognizing when something that looks dead on the outside still has the potential to bear fruit. Sometimes this means stepping out on faith and fighting to grow. It means remembering that God delights in our desire to grow and produce fruit and He will not stifle that which glorifies him, even when it feels as if he is silent.

Part of growing in the wilderness is learning to tend to the garden and not expect all of the nourishment to fall on us from God. We must dig deeper and seek knowledge for ourselves. Our roots will deepen the more we grow in partnership with God.

In John 15 Jesus reminds us that he is the true vine. That God our father tends to us as a gardener pruning so that we may flourish. God always sees where a vine can still produce fruit. He doesn’t look from afar and decide something is dead. God prunes with precision and with care. He will not make the same mistake as I did. God will not see a vine that was still producing and regret not tending to it. 

My lesson in the wilderness on vines is to never view them from a distance. Decisions on what still has life and needs nurturing vs. that which is dead and needs pruning must be done with the eye and care of a gardener, not from a place of fear or silence.

 John 15:1-17

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

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