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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gilgal before Jericho

In God's divine wisdom, we will inevitably visit Gilgal in our journey with Him. This is a place where we will learn precious truths that will propel us to a deeper walk with Him and stepping into our destinies as it is the Spirit of the Lord who leads us to this sacred place called Gilgal. It is recorded in Joshua 5:3-9, the following account: -

3 So Joshua made flint knives for himself, and circumcised the sons of Israel at the hill of the foreskins.
4 And this is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: All the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, had died in the wilderness on the way, after they had come out of Egypt.
5 For all the people who came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness, on the way as they came out of Egypt, had not been circumcised.
6 For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord--to whom the Lord swore that He would not show them the land which the Lord had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, "a land flowing with milk and honey."
7 Then Joshua circumcised their sons whom He raised up in their place; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.
8 So it was, when they had finished circumcising all the people, that they stayed in their places in the camp till they were healed.
9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, "This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal to this day.

To understand the significance of this place, we have to look at the context and the background of this account when the Israelites were led to Gilgal. Just before this stop, this new generation of Israelites have witnessed a marvellous miracle of the parting of the Jordan river and they have crossed the river onto dry ground. They have witnessed a powerful manifestation of God's power which was at the same time, a terrifying news to their enemies who were occupying the Promised Land. In verse 1 of Joshua 5, we read that "Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites." Aha! To the logical minds of the Israelites, this must be an opportune time for them to take advantage of their enemies who were resigned to their fears and discouragement. It would be perfect plan to execute a battleplan to conquer the Promised Land, after all God had seemed to help us by opening up the Jordan river.

However, on this last stop before the Israelites stepped into the Promised Land and conquer that which was promised to them and their forefathers, God had other plans. The Lord's instruction to Joshua: CIRCUMCISION first. Period.
"Shouldn't we just proceed to conquer Jericho?"
"Lord, did I hear you correctly - circumcision now?"
"Are you sure, Lord?"
"Oh, we're all ready to conquer the land and march onto victory for your glory!"
Joshua had been with Moses in his ups and downs and he knew better to obey God than anyone else in the Israelites' camp. How much we have to learn and re-learn time and again that His ways are not our ways. What may appear to be foolishness to us is the wisdom of God. And our part is just to obey Him. On this auspicious occasion, the Israelites obeyed Joshua.

Yes, these are the times when we feel we are so ready to move on and progress with the Lord. We are brimming with confidence and enthusiasm. After undergoing a long arduous waiting period for His promises to come to pass in our lives - we relish the opportunity to conquer the world which is just right before our eyes! We may be thinking to ourselves that we have undergone many of the tests that the Lord has sent our way and we are keen to now see the fulfillment of His promises. We somehow feel that we have now 'qualified'..., but then, here comes the Lord saying, "Wait a minute, My child..."

The Lord desires to birth forth something so precious and beautiful in our lives, i.e. it is His desire to raise sons of God (with the likeness of His precious son, Christ Jesus) in this hour that He will work in us and through us and arrange circumstances in our lives so that we will understand the meaning of circumcision at Gilgal. We know today that in the New Testament, when we speak of circumcision, it is one of the heart and not a physical circumcision in which the Old Testament account was only a shadow of that which was to come. God has a goal in mind, He desires to roll away the reproach of Egypt away from us. We may be in the world but we are not of the world. To progress in our journey with the Lord and to fulfill the destinies that He has ordained for us, God wants to be sure that every element of the world is removed from our lives for indeed our citizenship is not of this world.

In 1 John, we are told that if the love of the world is in us, the love of the Father is not in our hearts. What then, is the love of the world but the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life. These are to be removed and cut-off from our lives. Just as Christ had undergone the three-fold temptations in the wilderness before stepping into his public ministry, what more, as His children are we to be led by His Spirit to be on such similar footsteps. God has to get rid of every influence, every taint and every trace of the world's system from our lives. Only then, can He say He has rolled away the reproach of the world from us. The circumcision of the heart is painful as it may also include a time of separation in order for the Egypt in us to be completely erased. In other words, it is a time of being set apart to be ready for His purposes to be birthed in our lives. Jesus was alone when He went through the wilderness. Today, many of His saints are also trodding along the path of loneliness. It is a season when the flint knive is used upon our hearts. And in such times, we are driven to our knees to spend much time with the Lord. When we have no one to talk to and no-one (including ourselves) could not understand what is going on in our lives, we have the Lord waiting to commune with us in sweet fellowship in the garden of prayer. Together with the painful process of separation, it is also a time of cleansing and purification where our vision and purpose is revived and clarified. As we travel through the wilderness, perhaps the vision that God has first birthed in our lives may have been contaminated by the dusts and dirt. And now is a good time for God to work in us to re-focus our vision, to cleanse us and to remove every bit of Egypt from our lives.

Secondly, this process of circumcision of the heart at Gilgal also marks the beginning of a process of healing within us. When the Lord literally removes the shame from our lives, He is also performing a healing work within us. With the shame, there is also the pain, the bitterness and the discouragement of yester-years. It is a time of confronting our past as we reflect on our journey to the day we reach Gilgal. God is assuring us that the past is gone and He is releasing the announcement of the dawn of a new season. In fact, in Joshua 4, the Israelites were commanded to take 12 stones and to erect a memorial at Gilgal after crossing Jordan. It is a reflection and remembrance of God's faithfulness and the sign of the end of a long, tiring season for the desert travellers. If we do not experience healing from the past, we are not able to enter into a new chapter with the Lord, just as Jesus said in the Gospels that we cannot put new wine into old wineskins. Take time to rest in His love and receive His healing as we pause at Gilgal.

And finally, it also means a time of vulnerability and death. The Israelites had to remain in their camps for the time being while the healing process takes place. If the enemies were to know the state of the these Israelites at that time and chose to war against the Israelites whilst they were recuperating in their camps, we would not have the opportunity to witness the fulfillment of God's promise to His people. Instead, the Lord God of Israel wanted His people to know that the God who watched over them neither sleeps nor slumber. It is the Lord's desire to bring them to a place of such dependence upon Him and knowing that it's all about Him and not their strengths or abilities. It is God who works in us to will and to do His perfect will and purposes in our lives. What a terrible to thing to fall into pride and the trap of robbing God's glory for we are told clearly in the Scriptures that pride comes before destruction. Therefore, God in His divine love and wisdom allow us to pause at Gilgal and know our true frames. We are but earthen vessels containing the precious eternal treasure of light within us. It speaks of crucifixion of self and our flesh so that His life may flow through us. God has to reveal to us our weaknesses first before He could show us His ability and discover the secret of doing all things through Him who strengthens us. The Apostle Paul discovered the secret when he spoke of not Paul who lived but Christ who lived in him. These are precious truths and yet painful at times as it is not a nice process to be left vulnerable, recuperating at our camps whilst waiting for God to complete His work. Our flesh does not revel in the revelation of its true state.

When we have submitted ourselves to God's circumcision at Gilgal, then we are ready to have our encounter with Him that will define the purpose and destiny of our lives. Moses encountered the God of fire which would be the distinguishing mark in his life as he led the Israelites out of Egypt. And now, after fulfilling God's instruction, the Lord met Joshua as the Commander of the army of the Lord. Joshua will be the one who will lead Israel into the land flowing with milk and honey. Fret not, for when we have co-operated with the Lord as He leads us to a season of circumcision of the heart at Gilgal, we will also be candidates for an encounter with the God of our destiny.

Are you in Gilgal today? Do not be discouraged nor dismayed. Reflect upon the goodness of God. Remember all His faithful deeds that He has performed in your life. Know that the Lord our God is such a Faithful Friend. Immerse yourself in His rivers of love and continue to wait upon Him for a new day has come.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Removing the stones from the well within us

Jesus made a stunning declaration concerning His mission of coming to the world in the form of flesh and blood, (that is impossible to be mimicked by any other person in this world - whether living or dead,) when He declared in John 10:10, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." Or we read another version of the Bible which gives us a clearer understanding of the meaning of abundant life, i.e. "that they may have it in full". Who can give life but the Source of LIFE Himself? And not just life - but in full, abundant measures - both in quality and quantity. It is a wonderful reminder for each one of us that we are recipients of this abundant life. This abundant life is Christ Himself and when we have Christ in us, this divine, abundant life is residing within us. "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12). Christ in us - the hope of glory! In another instance, Jesus declared that, "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” which speaks of the source of life residing and flowing from the inside of us and through us.

We must ask ourselves today, "Are we living in the reality of this flow of abundant life within us?" We are not just talking about a certain lopsided aspects of Christianity that are missing within our Christian circles today. To some, they may say, where are the miracles, whilst the other group will claim, we have lost some teachings of the truth and yet still others will raise other missing aspects of the authentic Christian living and ministry. But, putting all these aside, what we should be asking ourselves is whether - do we live in the reality of the fullness of Christ in our lives. Such fullness that will flow out through us in many varying expressions. Are the rivers of living and abundant water flowing out of the well within our hearts daily glorifying Christ - in holiness, in love, in power and so much more? If the answer to the many questions we ask, is "No", it's time to take an inventory and ask, "Why?" Many Christians and many churches today cannot testify of possessing the reality of the abundant life that Jesus talked about. Church programmes and charismatic personalities made up for the reality of the fullness of Christ. The "abundant life" message is reduced to some hopeful statements made by evangelists when persuading the unsaved to come to the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. But, the question we should ask is, shouldn't all children of God be enjoying this fullness of Christ's life that will not only nourish their lives but also impact the lives around them?

There is an interesting account in the Old Testament that illustrates literally the stop of the flow of "life" in the days of a patriach named Isaac. This is an interesting story that leaves us with many precious lessons but we are going to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us from the perspective of allowing the life of Christ to once again flow like a mighty river in our lives and through our lives to reach out to the people around us. This is the account of Isaac digging the wells in Genesis 26:18-22. Water from the well is a symbol of the life of Christ within us and we read from the Scriptures that "the Philistines had stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and they had filled them with earth." We are living in a time and age where the Philistines had stopped up the wells of many churches and Christians amongst us. Many churches and Christians are living on dry, empty rituals without realizing them. Before our Lord Jesus made the wonderful declaration of coming to give us life more abundantly, He also revealed the painful reality of the enemy or the adversary who was also present with an entirely opposite mission, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy!"

The enemy's attack is three-fold: to steal, kill and destroy. We are also going to look at the three aspects of the fullness of Christ that the adversary is targetting in our lives. (Incidentally, we also learn that Isaac actually digged 3 wells.) We are not going to explore the names given to the well in this post but rather the significance of Isaac who ventured out to dig 3 wells. We read in Romans 14:17, "...for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." The reality of the fullness of Christ is the reality of the expression of God's kingdom in our hearts as we read in Luke 17:21 which says that, "For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." . As recipients of the abundant life of Christ, the three-fold manifestations of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit are evidences of the presence of His Kingdom within us. These are also the enemy's main targets in its three-pronged attack of stealing, killing and destroying the "abundant life".

At this juncture, you may want to stop and ponder how do the "Philistines" actually stop up the wells within us? The Bible mentioned that "they filled the wells with earth." If we could set our minds on 'imagination mode' for a moment, we would be able to picture the Philisties throwing stones into the well until the well is covered and the flow of water is stopped. One stone at a time until the well is completely covered up. The Apostle Paul tells us about the enemy firing fiery darts at us. A thought at a time, when left unchecked - begins to choke the flow of the living waters within us. And soon enough, we find ourselves empty, dry and void of the abundant life that Christ promised. This is what the enemy does - an unassumingly innocent thought is dropped into our minds - one after another. One lie at a time is all it takes. As we continue to entertain these thoughts and give in to the lies and lusts thereof, this is when the wells within us are beginning to be filled with earth and stones.

Let's take a look at some of the stones that may still be clogging up the wells: -
* Unconfessed sins and cycles of habitual sins.
* Minds that do not submit to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
* Cares of the world. Worry and anxiety.
* Deception, half-truths and false teachings.
* Anger, bitterness, hurts and pain inflicted by others in the past.
* Unforgiveness and unbelief.
* Love of the world - lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life.
* Unyielded hearts to the Holy Spirit.
* Disobedience and rebelliousness.

Among the resulting symptoms that can be detected in our lives include the following descriptions: -
* Loss of vision and purpose of life.
* Indifferent towards God.
* False sense of security about relationship with God.
* Mind that is dulled towards the things of God.
* No love for God.
* No love for people around us.
* Full of murmuring and complaining.
* Critical and defensive.
* Discouraged and depressed.

As the wells are filled with these stones and more, not only are the waters stopped from flowing out, light is also cut off. There is only darkness inside the well as the stones have blocked the sunlight from outside. It is pertinent to ask ourselves from time to time, "Are the fruit of righteousness, peace and joy vibrant in my life?" or "are we living in wells of darkness?"

What do we do then? How do we remove these stones? We begin our journey of removing these stones by seeking the help of the Holy Spirit and by yielding to His work in our hearts and minds. Ask for the pure light of the Spirit of God to shine into our hearts and reveal to us these stones. We should echo the cries of David, the psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me..." (Psalm 139:23-24) Only when the Holy Spirit shines His light upon our hearts, we are also endued with the strength and grace to cry out for mercy in repentance and be set free and delivered. We need Him to show us the true state of our hearts and lives. Do not be deceived for when He convicts, He also grants us the grace to repent and step into life anew. He is not out to condemn His children. Condemnation only leads to discouragement and hopelessness. However, the Lord in His mercies, desire to draw us to His loving arms and live in the place of His abundance.

We learn to pour out our hearts before Him by crying out to Him. In our personal times with the Lord, that is the place when we open our mouths and cry out to Him. As He begins to reveal these stones that have clogged our wells, we respond by confessing our sins and crying out for His mercy. There is a missing element in the modern Christian walk. We are taught to confess the Scriptures, promises, etc. but we are rarely shown the way of pouring our hearts before the Lord in sincerity. The Lord treasures the sincerity of our hearts. When we approach the Lord God Almighty, there is no need for us to hide behind the masks of religious appropriateness. It's ok to tell Him, "Lord, I do not love you... but please help me!" "Dear God, I love watching TVs than reading your Word, change my heart...!" "Oh, I am so proud, Lord!" The Lord listens to such humble pleas from a broken and contrite spirit. Yes, these stones are removed from our mouths! Begin to pour them out from our hearts. Confess them before the Presence of the Almighty God in truth and sincerity as the Holy Spirit begins to reveal the condition of the wells within us. And there will be instances when He will lead you to confess your faults among the people in the church or your family. As you obey His promptings, chains are broken and stones after stones are removed. Hallelujah!

In Isaac's account of digging the wells, he faced oppositions when he dug the first and second well. It is until he persisted, he found his breakthrough in the third well he dug. This is a picture of focus and persistence. Similarly, in our journey of returning to the fullness of Christ in our lives, it will be fraught with oppositions after oppositions. But even as we continue to obey and persevere, we shall soon experience abundant life in our lives. We will never be the same and as the people around us witness the transformation, Christ shall be exalted. As Christ is exalted and glorified in our midst, He will draw many to Himself. Hear the call of the Spirit of the Lord to His people in these perilous times, "Return to your First Love" Let the rivers of His love course through your heart and soul again. Allow Him to cleanse and wash you and baptize you with His strong torrents of love. And when the wells within you have been dugged, with all the stones removed, you will be His channel of blessing to the people around you. The rivers of living water shall flow out from you again and " shall be fruitful in the Land" in bringing the harvest unto the glory of the Most High God! Reach out to Him and call upon Him today.