Joshua and a Call to Commitment

The Narrative Lectionary this week points us to Joshua 24:1-15 [16-26]. We are at the end of Joshua’s colorful life. The most familiar verse in this text is in verse 15:

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

This text serves as a recommitment to the task of serving God only.  

We could begin our sermon with a lame preacher riddle about which Bible character was the son of Nun (which sounds like none). But please don’t. I digress.

A couple of preaching points occur to me on an initial reading, centered around commitment.

Commitment to God leads to a life God blesses. Joshua has lived a life of commitment to God. This text is at the end of his life, giving a retrospective. The faith of Joshua is amazing. One could begin with the amazingly brave faith he and Caleb had as they reported to Israel what they had found in Canaan. Both Joshua and Caleb were lifelong unmovable servants of Jehovah. In this text Joshua speaks on behalf of God to Israel’s leaders (Joshua 24:1, 2). He reminds them of God’s faithfulness to Abraham (whose father was an idol worshiper), Moses, Aaron.  I find some humor in verse 7, “Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.” Boy did they!  

Joshua 24:13 “ 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.’

Commitment to God is challenged by the presence and appeal of other gods. This was the biggest struggle of Israel, and it’s ours as well. Joshua counters this by lifting up the power and faithfulness of God and asking for a commitment:

Joshua 24:14-16 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua is issuing a challenge to consider that there are other gods, and we are free to make the choice to live for them. It seems clear, though, that God demands that a voice be made. He won’t tolerate sharing our hearts with inferior gods. The false gods of our time are attractive, alluring, captivating even. If you want to get in trouble you can start naming the gods of our time, but be aware that everyone has ‘gods’ nearby that are asking for head/heart space. So if you want to tell how evil someone else’s gods are, include your own. But are we willing to lose our connection with God in order to serve them? Joshua affirms you can make that choice, but as for him and his house, they will serve the Lord.

Commitment to God influences family systems. This chapter begins with Abraham taking a different path from his family. Terah evidently served idols, but God removed Abraham from that setting and sent him on a new journey. We have to wonder what this says about…

*Leadership in the Family

*Religious unity in the Family

*Willingness of a family to be different from the world around it

Joshua is committed to leading his family in love and service to God. Are our families today united in devotion to God? Or are we torn in our various pursuits of other gods?

Commitment to God requires strength and courage. Reading through Joshua it is hard to miss the theme of courage. “Be Strong and Courageous” is found at least five times.  Joshua heard this admonition both from Moses and the Lord in Deuteronomy 31. Perhaps this is where Paul is inspired to write in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”

Commitment to God is a testimony to the world about what is really important in life.  In Clarence E. Macartney’s The Greatest Men of the Bible, he points out that Joshua is the equivalent of the New Testament name Jesus. He writes, “Joshua is the Great Heart of the Old Testament.” He recounts Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5) and writes, “Back of his heroic achievements was a deep acquaintance with the holiness and the majesty of God. It cannot be otherwise with us in the battle of life.” He concludes, “The world needs men who can preach like Joshua; not only rehearse and describe the great things of God and of Christ, but persuade men to choose them, and to choose them now.” Also, “There are plenty of gods won you can serve, aside from the true God and his Son Jesus Christ. Among these gods are business, society, money, power, fame, appetite, pleasure. But what are all these gods compared with Jesus Christ? … Who ever chose God and lived to regret that choice?”

Commitment to God provides a powerful example. God’s final testimony about Joshua:

Joshua 24:31  Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

Commitment to God leaves behind a legacy of faith. These are some of the last words of Joshua, from the previous chapter:

Joshua 23:14-16 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lordyour God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

I’m sure my sermon will take on a form I can’t quite picture at this moment. This are some initial thoughts as I look at the text for next Sunday.

John

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Everything You Need

Exodus 3 and 4 contains one of the most familiar stories of the Bible. No doubt thousands of authors and writers, preachers and poets, painters and priests have tried to capture the amazing story contained in these chapters.  Anyone my age or younger cannot help but picture this in terms of Charlton Heston hearing an eery voice of God coming from the burning bush. As an aside, there is an unsolvable mystery about who supplied the voice of God in The Ten Commandments. Many have claimed to be the voice, including director DeMille and actor Heston. It has been concluded that “only DeMille and his sound editor, Loren L. Ryder, who died in 1985, knew the truth-because the voice used in the film was run through mixers, changers and echo chambers.” (link

Dramatic as it is, the mystery of the voice of God in a 1956 film is not nearly so intriguing as the account of God and Moses found in Exodus. It’s hard to read the story without pre-conceived pictures and pretending we do not know the end of the story. 

It seems that Moses is the perfect person to go and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. He was raised in Egypt, a survivor of an attempted genocide of the Hebrew people. He knew the Egyptian ways from the inside, in a way no other Hebrew could. When he walked into Pharaoh’s court, he was walking into familiar territory.  And he knew what to expect and could prepare to respond when he encountered resistance. We know all of these things, but Moses didn’t seem to.

Because in some ways, Moses is exactly the wrong person to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.  He rejected the ones who rescued him from the river and raised him as a son. He turned away from those who gave him everything he could have wanted to live a life of luxury and power.  He was a murderer who was running from Egyptian justice.  It had been forty years since he had been in Egypt and one wonders if he had forgotten much of what he had known while he chased sheep around the desert. In addition, he had a long list of reasons why he was not a capable leader that he was willing to present to the Creator! If we didn’t know the rest of the story we might think that Moses wasn’t very smart, and not a great choice for this job. The negatives far outweigh the positives.

That might be exactly the point. 

Who am I to do this job? I’ll be with you.

Who am I to say sent me to do this job? I Am.

But I’m not a good speaker. I am the maker of speech.

Send someone else. I’ll send YOU, and I’ll send Aaron with you.

I don’t know. Take the staff, you’ll be surprised what you can do with it.

Moses … the ungrateful to his benefactors, the murderer, the one who adopted an undercover life to survive, the one who would even excuse himself from

Painting by FETTI, Domenico
(b. ca. 1589, Roma, d. 1623, Venezia).

service while facing God at a burning bush that didn’t burn … was right. He couldn’t do it. There’s too much baggage, too little talent, and no desire. And if it weren’t for a Divine encounter, he would have spent another 40 years dodging sheep poop. Instead, we are shown clearly that while Moses couldn’t, God could. In God’s presence and blessing, Moses had everything he needed to accomplish the task. 

We all know Moses is going to go, and do a bang up job as a deliverer. He’s going to perform his duties so well that eventually he thinks he’s not just being empowered by God he thinks he’s a partner with God. It’s a stumble that will keep him out of the Promised Land. But still the Prince became a Shepherd so he could lead God’s flock out of enslavement and into promise.

Moses reminds us that without God, we don’t have much of a mission. With God, however, we have everything we need to be arbiters of deliverance for the enslaved. Honestly, I feel a lot like Moses… inadequate, unequipped, overwhelmed. Jesus recognized that as a truth for all of us, but also reminds us that the power is not in us. The ability to throw light into the darkest places is not our brilliance, but His. 

“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.” – John 15:5-8

When you wonder if you can make a difference, pay less attention to your own self-objections and more attention to the presence of God that goes with you. When you bear fruit for the Lord, never look in the mirror and congratulation yourself. Look inside and thank God for what He has done through a broken vessel. When you think that the work of the kingdom is about you, remember it is about I AM.

So while Moses is bigger than life, he seems to me like an ordinary guy who was successful in crazy circumstances in such a way that only God could get the credit. Only in God did he have everything he needed. Maybe we could all be so ‘ordinary’. 

Thanks for reading, JD.

Sheep Photo Credit  Martin Bisof

The Last Temptation of John

3.2.14I am imminently unqualified to talk about temptation. Well, except maybe giving in to it. For way too long I have been tempted by the same old sins. Either Satan is not very creative or I’m boringly stuck in the same place where I started this Christian race.

Note: Audio of this blogpost is available at the end of the post.

Just about the time I think I’ve overcome and feel like I’ve really grown in holiness, then I trip up again. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, except I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Don’t get me wrong, there have been many victories and I give God all the credit for those. It’s usually when I do not turn to Him for help that I walk into the danger zone. That happens too often.

Temptation is not sin, but it sure does open the door with a smile.

The controversial movie The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) was based not on the gospels but on a fictional account of the death of Christ in a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. In Kazantzakis’ vision, a Christ filled with existential angst struggles between the desire to fulfill his mission as God’s son  and the human desires to marry, have a family, and escape the death of the cross.  The film caused an international uproar and is still banned in several countries.

(As an aside, Christians who are unhappy with inaccuracies in the Son of God movie should be a little relieved in contrast!)

If you were reading Matthew for the first time, this scene from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry might have you a bit worried:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”  ~Matthew 4:1-3

Jesus is hungry. Really hungry. A food temptation. I know all about those. But I’ve never been on a forty day fast. Forty hours is a major accomplishment for me. Satan,  with a simple but deceptive plan, asks Jesus to do something that is within His power and it doesn’t even seem to be a sin. Even at his weakest, Jesus has strength to fight the tempter’s plans. Three times in this text, to some very substantial temptations, Jesus says, “It is written.”

I’m not saying that quoting a Bible verse makes the temptation go away, but it’s not working out too well trying to beat temptation on our own power.

Unlike Nikos Kazantzakis’ vision of a weak-willed Christ, our all-powerful Jesus manages to turn the devil away through His faith in the Father and the Word of God.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15

We follow a sinless Jesus – who knows how powerful those temptations can be. Rather than excusing away sin, however, he calls us to learn from Him and adopt His ways. It’s a long process.

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. ~Matthew 4:11

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. ~ James 4:7

How willing are we to resist? That is really the question. Is the desire of our hearts to pursue the desire of our hearts or the desire of His heart? I covet the ministry of angels strengthening those who resist and are in need of inner healing.

Pray about that because temptation is coming.

Today.

The last temptation of John is probably not going to be much different than the first one.  But whatever our temptations may be, God is more powerful. And the door of escape is always present.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:13

A second post on this text contains the lesson notes I eventually used for my sermon at Forsythe. Check it out HERE.

John

Five Reasons to Listen to Jesus

1920575_10152249783182184_841669527_n Listening is hard work.  It’s so hard sometimes that certain husbands (and wives!) develop ‘selective hearing loss’! Parents yell at their kids: LISTEN TO ME!!! But has anyone ever given you instructions on how to listen? Truthfully, listening does not come naturally. We remember very little of what we hear. There is an entire industry devoted to learning how to be an active listener.

Not only that, there’s an app for that! The new Audio Aware app is made for the hard of hearing so that they can be alerted when danger approaches. It listens for you so as to be able to alert you to  screeching tires, sirens, and  other sounds that demand attention. Runners who have blaring music in their earbuds while running can also use it! Listening is not only hard work, it is essential for our safety.

 “It takes a great man to be a good listener.” ~Calvin Coolidge

If it’s such hard work to listen to each other, do you think it would be easier or harder to listen to Jesus? In Matthew 17:1-9 there is an amazing story with a key teaching: Listen to Jesus! I see a few reasons why we should listen to Jesus here.

Listen to Jesus: He is Your Friend (Matthew 7:1). Jesus takes his best earthly friends to witness the spectacular transformation. These are the same friends he brings to the Garden to pray for him in his final hours. Do you regard Jesus as your friend? If you think you’re not good enough to be the friend of Jesus, listen to this description from Matthew 11:19:

 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ …

If Jesus is the friend of sinners, that is good news to me.  The friendship we have with Jesus is quite astounding, given how much Higher He is than us in every way. But Jesus did not come looking for perfect people.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. ~Luke 19:10

Jesus is your best friend. No other friend ever gave up so much or suffered so much for you. No other friend has prepared a home in heaven, and plans to take you there to live forever.  Shouldn’t we be listening to a friend like that? Listen to Him!

 Listen to Jesus: He is Eternal (Matthew 17:2-3). I love Paul’s description of Jesus the eternal Savior in  Colossians 1:15-20.  Everything we know is temporal … but Jesus is eternal. He always was, always is, and always will be. The most important thing in this life is not how far I can get up the social or economic ladder, what heights my career could take me, or how many people think I’m awesome! The most important thing in this life is to address the day that is coming for us all… when we step through the curtain of this life into another life. We need an ETERNAL Savior who can rescue us from our sin and death. No one can address this more than Jesus who was in heaven, came to earth to live and die for us, was resurrected and taken back up into heaven and coming again.

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. ~Acts 4:12

There are a lot of great voices … smart people … but only One who has lived to the other side of death and tells us about it. That is Jesus. Listen to Him!

Listen to Jesus: He is God’s Son (Matthew 17:4-5). Great men of God …. Moses and Elijah. Both men who met God on mountains… who followed God through dark valleys… who died mysterious deaths. Both great leaders of Israel, powerful and faithful. But the Father said three things here about his son Jesus:

*I love Him

*I think he’s doing great

*Listen to Him!

Listen to Jesus: He is Merciful (Matthew 17:6-8). Jesus did not chide Peter, James, and John for their fear. He touches them – how awesome is it that Jesus takes the time to reach out and let them know He cares for them.  He is gentle with them, knowing they cannot fully comprehend the scene they have witnessed. The mercy of Jesus is so needed by every one of us. Romans 6:23 presents two needful facts:

*The wages of sin is death. This is what we earn by our actions. No one is above it. This is more than just the consequences of our sin – we expect that. It is the spiritual reality that sin separates us from God and brings eternal death.

*The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  I want the gift God offers. I earn death but in His mercy Jesus Christ offers life instead. Grace is getting a gift we do not deserve. Mercy is withholding the punishment we do deserve. If you want to have a grace-filled and mercy-filled relationship with Jesus Christ: Listen to Him!

Five reasons why we should listen to Jesus. He is our friend. He is eternal. He is God’s son. He is Merciful.

Listen to Jesus: He is Risen! (Matthew 17:9)  Such a mysterious instruction, but Jesus plants the seed for them to consider: he is going to die.  He is going to raise up from the dead. The next thing they ask about is Elijah. I’m not sure they are listening! The death and crucifixion of Jesus wasn’t a mistake, a coroner’s error, nor just an unexplained mystery.

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. ~1 Timothy 3:16

Listen to Him!  Listening is hard work – it doesn’t come naturally.  On the mount of transfiguration we can see some reasons why we ought to listen to Jesus, now how do we plan to listen to Him?  Spending time in His word? Spending time alone contemplating His teachings? Are we going to listen to Him speaking into the various areas of our lives? Perhaps some of those are areas where we have been practicing ‘selective deafness’ …  Are you willing to let Jesus speak into your life right now?

Thanks for reading

JD

 

 

What I Learned About Holiness From Leviticus

holy_10965cLet’s be honest … Leviticus is the great stumbling block to the ‘reading through the Bible in a year‘ crowd.  Genesis and Exodus start off the year with a bang, but then Leviticus leaves us scratching our heads.  But I challenge you to open your eyes to the heart of God exposed in the instructions to the post-golden-calf Children of Israel.

HOLY. What do you think about when you think of that term? Holy men who are revered by religious people? Holy buildings … sanctuaries where worshipers lift ardent voices to the Father? Maybe you think about a holy moment when you sensed the presence of God in an almost tangible way.

I won’t argue about those, but I do think Leviticus points at the holiness of God and then reveals something about life to us.  More than any other book of your Bible, Leviticus talks about the holiness of God. At least seventy-seven times. For instance, Leviticus 19.

Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. ~ Leviticus 19:2

What a standard of Holiness is presented to us in the character of God. Could I ever be holy like God is holy? Peter, flawed as he was, kept encouraging his readers to be holy (1 Peter 1:15, 2:9; 2 Peter 3:11). While I do know that my own holiness is far beneath that of the Father, I do recognize a pathway towards greater holiness in my own life that is not only possible but expected. It’s a kind of everyday holiness … not specialized nor exclusive from the ordinary person.

Everyday Holiness Recognizes God’s Authority. Over and over in Leviticus 19 God reminds them, “I am the Lord your God.” He reminds us because tend to forget who’s in charge. We tend to forget the consequences of sin. We tend to forget why we are living a certain way.

A spiritual awakening is no more than God’s people seeing God in His holiness, turning from their wicked ways, and being transformed into His likeness. ~ Lewis Drummond

Everyday Holiness Adopts God’s Compassion. Reading through this chapter we are taught to be compassionate as God cares for the hurting and those who have been ripped off in life.

He cares for the hungry (vs. 9, 10). In a startling instruction he tells the Israelites not to gather all the fruit from their vineyards, but to leave some for the immigrants and impoverished. Our lives are so full. Do we have anything left behind for those who cannot help themselves?

He cares for those who need justice (11-13, 15-18a). Those who have been robbed by dishonest bosses who promise so much, but deliver so little. For those who have been victims of favoritism in the courts, those who have been slandered, and those who are hated. Does it matter to God when people get taken advantage of in this life? This chapter declares that it does matter to Him and it does matter to those who are holy as He is holy.

He cares for the disabled (14). In a stunning story in 2 Samuel 9 King David inquires about any remnants of the household of Saul to which he could show kindness. His best friend, Jonathan, was gone … but his son survived. He was lame, and in that day and time he might as well have been dead. David sent for Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth and the crippled man was intimidated in the King’s presence.

What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me? ~ Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9.

The whole world had told him he was no better than a dead dog and he had come to believe it about himself. No matter to David. Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the King’s sons. And so do we … with all of our faults we sit at the King’s table. That blessing is not just for us, it is to teach us to reach out to the disabled and crippled among us. They are so needy, so lonely … do you think the world has told them they are no better than dead dogs? Holy people of God will reflect God’s holiness in loving them.

If you feed those who are hungry and take care of the needs of those who are troubled, then your light will shine in the darkness, and you will be bright like sunshine at noon. ~ Isaiah 58:10 (NCV)

Everyday Holiness Loves With God’s Love (18b). Jesus called this the second greatest commandment. It shows up in all of our relationships. Do we treat others with dignity? Do we feel free to belittle and destroy others with gossip? How do you feel toward people with less money? People who can’t speak English? People who do not speak clearly? People with a disability? God teaches us to be there for those at risk.

At the deepest level, loving others flows from the recognition that they are “like us,” that they bear the image of God with us. ~ James K. Mead

Everyday Holiness Yields to God’s Power.  If this were possible with our own will power we would not have needed Jesus. God is the One who infuses within us the power to grow in holiness. He will make us holy (Leviticus 20:8; 22:9, 32). The writer to the Hebrews says that God is the One who creates holiness within us (Hebrews 10:10) and that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

What I learned about holiness from Leviticus is that we don’t have to wear robes, become monks, fast extensively, punish ourselves,  go to holy places nor have holy moments to be holy people. It’s an everyday holiness through which the character of God is revealed to those around us.  Today, and every day, let’s ask God to remove all barriers between us and Him … between each of us with one another … and between us and the world around us. We ask this to have opportunity to share His holiness with the dark and unholy world around us.

Audio of this message can be heard HERE. Or you can subscribe to the sermon podcast in the iTunes store by searching for Forsythe Church of Christ.

Some recommended related readings:

Commentary on Leviticus 19 by James K. Mead

Christ-haunted Landscape by Bruce Modhal. (Modhal writes, “Leviticus, like the rest of scripture, looks to God to bring in the redemptive reign of God, which will look like a world living out the provisions of Leviticus 19, which looks like the life of Christ. With every splash of baptism water we celebrate the extension of God’s jurisdiction and the part we have to play in it.“)
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The Beatitudes for Parents

1.28.14The prolific nature of the Beatitudes is such that all areas of life are impacted when applied. I wanted to consider the Beatitudes tonight through the filter of parenthood.

God blesses the parents who are wise enough to know they are not always right, who listen to their children’s hearts.

God blesses the parents who remain aware of their shortcomings and trust in God’s grace to help them in tough times, for they have potential to grow stronger.

God blesses the parents who are gentle with their children at tender times. This will strengthen their children to receive their world as they grow.

God blesses the parents who have a deep desire to be filled with God. He will direct their steps.

God blesses the parents who teach their children to have a heart of concern for their friends who are bullied, passed around from parent to parent, and who never know what they will find when they go home. They may one day need that mercy from their friends.

God blesses the parents who maintain integrity and faithfulness in their marriage, thus teaching their children how to recognize the presence of God in their family.

God blesses the parents who endure the storms of adolescence, who do not seek to dominate their children in such a way that they grow in resentment instead of respect.

God blesses the parents who maintain their morals and standards in their family, even when other parents or cultural influences tell them they are backwards or unreasonable.

God blesses the parents who stay the course, show the right kind of love at the most difficult times. Even when the children do not understand and say hurtful things, following Jesus remains most important.

For these parents home is, at times, a foretaste of heaven. There is hope that their children will embrace these godly ways, grow beyond their shortcomings, and seek to claim the rewards of raising a family God’s way when it is their time to become a parent.

I took a few liberties, but believe I kept the spirit of the beatitudes in place. Perhaps every reader should look at the beatitudes through the lens of their own place in life. I believe they are prolific enough to address the daily life and challenges of all people.

Thanks for reading,

John