Archive for Dawning of a New Day
Joshua’s final remarks to the Israelites are sprinkled with important reminders. I’ve posted three of the prominent ones this week. At the end of that came his call to commitment, found in the famous words of Joshua 24:14-15, “So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone. But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD” (NLT).
In so many words, Joshua was saying, “I can only speak for me. Each one of you has to make his or her own choice about who you will serve and the kind of life you will live.” The people responded by saying, “We will serve the Lord.” Upon hearing that commitment, Joshua rolled a single stone in front of them and declared that the rock had heard their commitments and would bear witness to those promises to serve the Lord from that day forward.
The book began with twelve stones being placed in a pile to serve as a memorial to the Lord parting the waters of the Jordan River. Those twelve stones symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel as a corporate body. But this single stone represented each person’s unique and private commitment to God.
At the end of the day, Joshua was right. He could only speak for himself. He couldn’t make a pledge, promise, or vow for another. The same is true today. I can only speak for me and you can only speak for you. I was reminded of a quote this morning that made me think of this principle. The quote was, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Too many times we want to make others responsible for what could be. We want political candidates and government officials to provide change. We want teachers and coaches to make the needed difference in our homes and communities. We want doctors and medicines to somehow turn back the clock and fix our medical challenges, regardless of the fact that we have spent years neglecting our personal health. We want church leaders and pastors to be the catalysts for hope in our congregation. But as I’ve said before, I can only speak for me and you can only speak for you. The choice is ours.
“‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
“‘Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’ (Joshua 24:8-14, NLT)
This is my favorite part of Joshua’s final speech. Think about it for a moment. Israel had come to the end of the conquest. As each tribe prepared to make their way to their individual inheritance, Joshua reminded them where their blessings came from. God had provided the conquest. Not only that, he had provided them with cities they didn’t build and gardens they didn’t plant. Everything they had received had come from the hand of God. They couldn’t take credit for a single thing.
God’s blessing upon his people was obvious. The lingering question that remains then is “why?” Did God bless them because they deserved it? Or because they were so righteous? Was it because they had earned it? The answer to each question is a resounding “no.” God blessed his people so they would become a blessing to the world.
Like Israel, we have been blessed to be a blessing to the world. I have a friend who likes to say “keep track of the blessings God has given you so you know what God expects of you.” Well said. May we strive to take the blessing and bless those around us.
The final words of Joshua have been captured and recorded in chapters 23-24 of the book that bears his name. Yesterday I remarked that the first thing he reiterated was that the people were to remain committed to the Book of Instruction. The second reflection he mentioned was that the people should remember that God always keeps His promises. Verse 14 reads, “Deep in your hearts you know that every promise of the Lord your God has come true. Not a single one has failed!” (NLT)
Don’t you wish that could be said about you! I know I do. I shudder to think of all of the promises that I have made in the past half century that I have failed to keep. There were times when I “over promised and under delivered.” And other times I spoke in pride, overestimating myself. I believe I was well intentioned. But that doesn’t matter, does it?
God is not like you and me. He keeps his promises without fail. One thing that I have learned about promises is that promises create expectation. Our God makes promises and keeps promises, inviting us to deeper levels of faith. As a friend of mine once said, “I’m going to keep trusting God’s promises until He breaks one.” That’s not a bad plan.
Joshua spent the lion’s share of two chapters giving his final sermon to the children of Israel. Most of his points simply reiterate principles that he had previously shared with the people. For example, in chapter 23 verse 6, Joshua reminded the people to be careful to follow the book of instruction given to them by Moses. “So be careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or the left” (NLT). If those words sound familiar you’re right. They are almost a verbatim the same words that were shared in Joshua 1:7.
Baptists share a longstanding reputation of being a “people of the Book.” Though thousands of years have passed between Joshua’s words and today, we still place a high value on the words of God as preserved through the Bible. Why such value? I believe its because the words of God reveal the living Word of God. The Bible reveals to us who God is, what He is like, and what He expects of His created ones. It also tells us how we can know Him and relate to Him through our worship and prayer. It is an authoritative source for faith and life.
Its unfortunate that people have made the Bible such a battlefield, often reducing it to nothing more than a litmus test for orthodox faith. I suppose some are even guilty of Bible-olatry, where the Scripture is worshipped more than the One it reveals. Being serious about the Bible means so much more than stockpiling trivial knowledge that puffs us up with pride. Its purpose is higher than serving as a billy club to beat others into submission with proof texts. It is the self disclosure of God to a fallen world. Within its pages we find help, hope, and ultimately, the way to eternal life.
What kind of relationship do you have with the Bible? What function does it serve to strengthen your faith? Tomorrow I’ll continue with the second part of Joshua’s closing words.
Who do you speak for? Last week I had to fill out some forms for my daughter who was having a surgical procedure done at the office of an oral surgeon. Before we arrived I downloaded a small stack of forms to complete and sign. At the bottom of each form was a place for the patient to sign, or in the case of a minor child, a parent or guardian. In this instance, I was required to speak on behalf of my child in order for her to have the operation.
Maybe you are empowered to speak on behalf of others at work. Or, like an attorney who represents a client, you speak on their behalf on a particular matter. If you think about it, there are probably several ways that you legitimately speak on behalf of others.
But when it comes to matters of faith you are on your own. You can only speak for you and I can only speak for me. This is one of the lessons we learn from Joshua’s last sermon, found in Joshua 23-24. This week I want to share some thoughts from Joshua’s final words. I hope you’ll check in frequently this week to find out more about it.
Yesterday I pointed out that two of the becoming elements of Caleb’s life were his character and his God-confidence. The final observation I want to make concerns his PASSION. If you read the story carefully, Caleb was promised the region of land that had captured his imagination 45 years earlier when he walked through it as a spy. Something happened to him that day that so profoundly impacted his life that he was willing to patiently wait four and one half decades to possess it. His hopeful expectation fueled his daily routine of walking in circles in the wilderness for forty years and energized him as he spent the next five years fighting alongside his Hebrew brothers for parcels that he would not personally own. When his turn came he was ready and unabashedly reminded Joshua of Moses’ promise.
In short, Caleb never got over his first experience in Hebron.
As I shared this last weekend in worship, I commented to our congregation that one of the chief concerns of the Christian faith today is that we have simply gotten over Jesus. We have become civilized and domesticated, moving farther and farther away from the original flame to pursue dimmer lighting.
Paul is an example of one who never got over his initial encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Granted, it was quite dramatic, given the shining light and the audible voice and such. Yet the internal transformative power of Jesus in his life is not uncommon to the rest of us. Christ changed his life, old things passed away, everything was made new. Paul was anything but domesticated. I personally think that the thing that made Paul “Paul” was his passion. He simply never got over Jesus.
What can we do to rekindle that light of passion within our hearts? There’s really nothing better that I could suggest than finding someone, anyone in fact, and telling them what happened to you as you came to know Christ by experience. Some may call this their personal testimony while others may know it as the story of their faith journey, but I think you understand what I’m driving at. Find a person and tell them your story. Re-live it as you tell it. Tell it as if it just happened yesterday. You may be surprised at what stirs in your heart.
A second quick suggestion is to return to the place, if possible, where your initial formative experience occurred. This may not be possible for everyone, but if it is possible for you, take some time and visit that house, that church building, that camp, that dormitory, and spend some time reflecting on the experience then and the experiences since Christ changed your life forever.
What made Caleb stand out?
Three times in the story it speaks of the fact that he wholeheartedly followed the Lord. In other words, he was a person of integrity. The word integrity comes from the root word that provides us the mathematical term “integer.” An integer is a whole number. Thus, integrity has to do with wholeness. On the dry erase board of our youth room, someone has written the question, “Is Christ a part of your life? Or is Christ your life?” That question suggests the importance of wholeness in the disciple’s walk with God. Caleb didn’t have his life compartmentalized like many people, allocating buckets for family, work, recreation, and religion. He had one bucket, and everything in that bucket was 100% devoted to God.
You may have smiled when you read in the passage Caleb’s bold assertion that at the age of 85 he was every bit the man he was at age 40. I turned 49 last month and wouldn’t dare say that I am all that I was when I was 40! Caleb exhibited a great deal of confidence, but you’ll notice that his confidence was not self confidence, it was God confidence. Even at 85 he recognized that God was not finished with his life and he had more to contribute. He wasn’t ready to pass the torch to the next generation. He wanted to live in the fullness of the moment, knowing that God would provide strength for each step he would take.
There’s one more characteristic from Caleb’s life that I’ll address tomorrow. In the meantime, think about what following the Lord wholeheartedly might look like in your life today. Is Christ your life? Or is he a just part of your life? Even if Christ is the biggest part of your life, its not enough.
A delegation from the tribe of Judah, led by Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, came to Joshua at Gilgal. Caleb said to Joshua, “Remember what the LORD said to Moses, the man of God, about you and me when we were at Kadesh-barnea. I was forty years old when Moses, the servant of the LORD, sent me from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land of Canaan. I returned and gave an honest report, but my brothers who went with me frightened the people from entering the Promised Land. For my part, I wholeheartedly followed the LORD my God. So that day Moses solemnly promised me, ‘The land of Canaan on which you were just walking will be your grant of land and that of your descendants forever, because you wholeheartedly followed the LORD my God.’ “Now, as you can see, the LORD has kept me alive and well as he promised for all these forty-five years since Moses made this promise—even while Israel wandered in the wilderness. Today I am eighty-five years old. I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then. So give me the hill country that the LORD promised me. You will remember that as scouts we found the descendants of Anak living there in great, walled towns. But if the LORD is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the LORD said.” So Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave Hebron to him as his portion of land. Hebron still belongs to the descendants of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite because he wholeheartedly followed the LORD, the God of Israel. (Previously Hebron had been called Kiriath-arba. It had been named after Arba, a great hero of the descendants of Anak.) And the land had rest from war. (Joshua 14:6-15, NLT)
Every good story has subplots built in that serve as the story within the story. The book of Joshua is no different, utilizing this conversation between Joshua and Caleb as its own “story within a story.” The twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the Book of Numbers gives us the background to the dialogue above. When the children of Israel left Mt. Sinai, they headed to Kadesh Barnea, a place that would be the launching point for the Canaan campaign. Upon the arrival of the army, Moses sent 12 spies into the land on a reconnaissance mission. While in the land they made two basic observations. First, the land was fertile and fruitful beyond their wildest imagination. On the other hand, though, the indigenous people were large. Very large. So big, in fact, the spies felt like “grasshoppers” next to them (Numbers 13:33). When the spies returned, ten chose to emphasize the giants, while two chose to emphasize the fruitfulness. Since human nature loves the negative, the people believed the majority report. They were so overwhelmed by their giant fears they confessed their desire to return to Egyptian slavery. (Isn’t it interesting that some people would rather live in the security of slavery than face the giants before them?)
Caleb and Joshua were the two who gave the minority report. Forty five years separates Numbers 13 and Joshua 14. Caleb is ready to advance and realize his dream. This week I want to post some observations about this remarkable man and highlight some of the things that made him special.
This week I’ve been sharing about the importance of corporate prayer in congregational life. Yesterday I made two observations, first, that prayer unifies the church with God’s purposes, and second, that prayer enables congregations to discover God’s direction for their particular church.
Today I offer a third and final observation, that being that corporate prayer energizes the church to accomplish more than it could ever imagine. Adoniram Judson is regarded as one of the founder’s of American foreign missions. Judson grew up as an ambitious young man with aspirations for wealth and success. As a young man, however, he was converted to Christ, a commitment that profoundly changed his life. Rather than seek fame and fortune, Judson’s new mantra became that of pleasing the Lord. In 1809, Judson joined a congregational church and became burdened to become a missionary. He found some friends with a similar sense of calling and frequently met with them for prayer on behalf of the salvation of “the heathen.” In addition to praying for the souls of those who lived on distant shores, the group also requested that God open doors of ministry as missionaries. That spot has been marked as the birthplace of missions in America.
On February 19, 1812, Judson sailed for Burma. When Judson left for Burma his set two simple goals. First, he wanted to provide the people with a translation of the Bible. In addition, he hoped to found a church that would grow to 100 members. Forty years later at the time of his death, Judson not only left the scripture translation; he left 100 congregations that served some 8,000 converts to Christ.
As I previously mentioned, no great movement of God occurs without prayer. We can do more than pray after we’ve prayed, but we can do no more than pray until we have prayed. My prayer for you today is that God will use you as a catalyst in your church to call people to pray for the next great movement of God.
No great movement of God has ever been undertaken without prayer. Think about the early church. There, the disciples watched as Jesus ascended up into the heavens. As they stared into the sky with their mouths hanging open, an angel appeared and admonished them to remember that Jesus would one day return in like fashion.
What did the disciples do next? They returned to the upper room where they had shared the last supper and began to pray. It’s important that we notice they did not plan nor did they preach. They did not strategize or brainstorm. They didn’t conduct listening sessions or seek feedback using survey monkey. They simply began to pray. (cf. Acts 1:12-14)
What happens when God’s people pray together about the direction of the church?
First, the hearts in the church and heart of the church is unified with the purposes of God. Corporate prayer brings the church into alignment with heart of God. It is in prayer that we are reminded of who God is and what God is really about. When we pray we connect with God and receive access to all of his resources. Years ago I heard a man speak on the subject of prayer. In his sermon he referenced Luke 19:46, where Jesus rebuked the money changers in the Temple by saying, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” He then went on to say, “If the house of God is not a house of prayer, then its somebody else’s house.”
Second, the church discovers God’s direction through prayer. Sometimes we are guilty of planning and strategizing and at the conclusion of all of our preparations we tack a prayer on the end of them, asking God to bless the plans we have already made. Unfortunately, we often treat church with such routine that we don’t even consider our need for God’s divine guidance. Year after year we run the same ministry plays, receiving the same ministry results, all the while wondering why our churches are not thriving. Prayer opens our minds to the possibilities of things God wants to see happen in our communities. But we’ll never be awakened to the new thing God wants to do if we do not pray.
Tomorrow I’ll post the final thought on the importance of discerning God’s plan for the church. In the meantime, let me encourage you to wrestle a bit with Don Miller’s quote above. Is your church God’s house? Or does it belong to someone else?