My paternal great-great-grandfather died soon after his 49th birthday. His widow was left to raise their seven children who were still living at home, ranging in ages from 3 to 17 years. My great-grandfather, John Calvin Winter, at age 13, together with his elder 17-year-old brother, assumed much of the responsibility in caring for the family farm in Central Pennsylvania and otherwise assisting their mother in the support of the family. In 1906 a local historian wrote of John Calvin, “it was through this that he developed those traits of persistency and industry which afforded him an equipment for his subsequent useful and successful career.” As the years went by, he formed a “general contracting and building business” that achieved considerable success and, to quote the historian, “the fruits of his labors are visible in the many ornamental edifices, business and residential, which adorn the city, and have given it the modern air which attracts the gratified attention of the visitor.” (Don’t you love the way they wrote in the early 20th century!) His sons joined him in the enterprise, as did his grandsons (which included my father). It was a family affair, that not only enjoyed commercial success, but also was “among the foremost in the advancement of every worthy enterprise” — including higher education and the furtherance of the gospel message.
Today i am 26! Don’t let the gray hair and follically-challenged head fool you. In “re-birth” years, i’m a millennial! On this day in 1991, i surrendered my life, and fully entered into a personal love relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ. It has been a phenomenal adventure ever since — full of mountain tops, but also valleys — clear skies, but also stormy days — days of assurance, but also many filled with the uncertain and unknown.
Many of you know my story. i had prayed “the prayer” when i was six years old at a Bible Club meeting in the basement of my grandparents’ home. i had “walked the aisle” at a citywide evangelistic crusade when i was ten. Soon after, my pastor “baptized” me at the church my family was attending. To the best of my knowledge, i had “done” everything that i was supposed to “do” to know that i was “saved”. As i became an adult and i was asked these key questions:
Three years ago today, i stood in the presence of a master craftsman. i must confess i do not know the craftsman’s name. i had never seen him before that day, and i haven’t seen him since. We didn’t speak the same language, so all we could do was smile and nod. i do not know anything about the man beyond what i observed in the moment. But as i stood there riveted in his presence, i knew it was a moment i would never forget – and a lesson that would forever be etched in my memory.
After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10 NLT) God has blessed me with a godly heritage. i was raised by parents that loved the LORD and reflected Him not only in what they said, but also in the way they lived. i came to faith in Christ at the age of six in the basement of my paternal grandparents’ home. They hosted a Bible Club in their home for many years so that their grandchildren and other children in the neighborhood could hear the stories of the Bible and learn God’s Word. My paternal great grandfather was a homebuilder and developer in our family’s homestead city, and some of his most significant projects were the building of a large church in the center-city, a Bible conference center outside of town, a site for the annual Easter Sunrise service, etc.
It had been at least five years (maybe seven) since the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. And now, almost four hundred eighty years after God had first given His promise to Abram, it was no longer a “promised” land, they now had possession of the entire land – no portion had been left out.
Allow me to give a little perspective on how long four hundred eighty years is in history. Going back that time period from now would place us in the year 1535. Henry VIII is King of England (by the way, he is married to his second wife, Anne Boleyn). England is in extreme upheaval. William Tyndale is arrested in Antwerp for heresy in relation to his Bible translation. French explorer Jacques Cartier sets sail for his second voyage to the new world of North America. The Spanish wrestle control of Tunis from the Ottoman Empire. In short, the world looked much different back then. Imagine receiving a promise back then and finally receiving its fulfillment today. Even more, imagine a promise that was made back then coming to fruition today in the exact same manner in which it was promised. And that is exactly what occurred through the faithfulness of God.
All these kings came out to fight. Their combined armies formed a vast horde. And with all their horses and chariots, they covered the landscape like the sand on the seashore. The kings joined forces and established their camp around the water near Merom to fight against Israel. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them. By this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel…. As the LORD had commanded His servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua. And Joshua did as he was told, carefully obeying all the commands that the LORD had given to Moses. (Joshua 11:4-6, 15 NLT) The kings of the northern cities had seen all that had gone on before. They had seen the destruction of Jericho and Ai after those kings had foolishly tried to withstand the Israelites on their own. They had seen the five kings from the south who had joined forces to no avail. But again, instead of seeking peace, surrendering to the Israelites, and submitting to their God, they hardened their hearts and, filled with selfish ambition and pride, chose to fight the Israelites. As Joshua led the Israelites to turn their attention to the north, the northern kings determined that their one chance of survival was for all of the armies of the north to come together.
On the day the LORD gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the LORD in front of all the people of Israel. He said, “Let the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the valley of Aijalon.” So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies. (Joshua 10:12-13 NLT) “Let the sun stand still over Gibeon….” That prayer did not begin in the heart of Joshua. That prayer was birthed in the heart of God! “The sun standing still” was not a part of the battle strategy that Joshua and the leaders had devised. Even though it was highly effective, Joshua and the leaders never included that particular strategy in any of their future battle plans. They never used that prayer in some type of last-ditch effort when the tide of battle was not going in their direction – kind of like a “Hail, Mary” pass in the final seconds of a football game. God divinely inspired that prayer for that specific moment in time. He not only chose the request, He chose the time at which it would be uttered. And though it was birthed from His heart, He required that it be expressed through the voice of a man (Joshua) before He answered it. That prayer was not expressed to change the heart of God and beseech Him to do something He did not want to do. That prayer was communicated from God’s heart to Joshua’s heart, so that Joshua and the people could join with Him in His activity.
(From Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26) A broken hearted father knelt before the Master. “My daughter has just died, but You can bring her back to life again if You just come and lay Your hand on her.” It was a request that demonstrated a simple faith – an unwavering faith. Jesus, You are able to do this thing – no matter how much it doesn’t make human sense. Jesus, You alone can do this thing. i have no one else to turn to and no one else i can ask. And Jesus, i believe with all of my heart that You will do this thing – if You will come.
Throughout His earthly ministry, many came to Jesus, but only a few had the blessing of Jesus coming with them. And when He did, it was because of the faith they had demonstrated – faith that glorifies the Father – faith that He saw in the heart of the one He was willing to go with. Faith that says – no matter how impossible the request may seem, “Jesus, if You are willing, this will occur.”
Last week i, together with the other members of our ministry leadership team, had the privilege of being challenged by two brothers; one a dear friend for almost twenty years – Elbert Smith, and the other, a new friend – Steve Wright, now serving at the church that was my home for many years. These two men “book-ended” our time as a ministry leadership team as we gathered and sought the Lord for His continuing direction for the days ahead for the church family we have the awesome privilege to shepherd. Interestingly, the two men have never met, though they do know of one another. So they hadn’t compared notes, and we had not coached them on what the other was speaking about. But the voices we heard from were really one voice – and though it was “still and small”, it resonated loudly in our hearts, our souls and our minds. It wasn’t a new word – but it was a timeless word.
Having heard of the cunning way that the Gibeonites had deceived Joshua and become allies with the Israelites after the destruction of Jericho and Ai, King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem was afraid. His plan was to form an alliance with the other Amorite kings of the hill country – King Hoham of Hebron, King Piram of Jarmuth, King Japhia of Lachish and King Debir of Eglon. And his plan was not to attack the Israelites; he feared them and their God too much. Rather, his plan was for this alliance of the hill country to combine their forces and attack the traitorous Gibeonites. He would deal the Israelites a setback by defeating their new ally, Gibeon, and at the same time communicate to all the Canaanite peoples that an alliance with the Israelites and their God would not be tolerated.