Saturday, July 25, 2015

150726 Be Strong and Very Courageous

Joshua 1:1-9  After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good 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 good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
For the remainder of the summer I believe I will do some sermons from the Old Testament. There are many messages to be shared from the lives of those whom God chose to walk on the earth in his name. The first story that I’ve chosen tells of the final preparations for Joshua in taking over the reins of the nation of Israel. Interestingly enough it begins, “After the death of Moses…” As though nothing could really be done by Joshua until Moses was out of the way. In these introductory verses Joshua is given specific instruction and encouragement to finish the job that Moses had begun.
From before his birth Moses had been chosen by God to lead the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. He had led them to the Red Sea and crossed it as on dry ground! He led them into the wilderness where he provided faithful leadership and strength. Again and again he had pulled them back from rebellion against God. It certainly seemed that he should have led them on to victory. However…
Moses had forfeited the right to lead the people. Let’s look at that experience found in Numbers 20:10-13. Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.
In the wilderness of Sinai the people of Israel found themselves in a dry camp. God had begun to provide them with heavenly bread to eat. That bread was called Manna! Without question, God was demonstrating the ability to take care of his people. In spite of the drama of the plagues in Egypt, the protection at the Red Sea and the purifying of the water early in their trip they still did not believe that God would, or could, take care of them. Again and again Moses was frustrated by the rebellious attitude of the people! In his frustration Moses gathered the people, and after being told by God what to do, he said to the people, “Here now, you rebels: shall We bring water for you out of this rock?” I can imagine God observing the scene and saying, “WE? What are you talking about?” Moses and Aaron could not be included in the miracle of the water coming from the rock. Something had happened that was far reaching in its effect.
I have often heard it taught that the whole problem was that Moses had struck the rock rather than speaking to the rock. That would make it a problem of practice rather than doctrine. God did not say anything about the way Moses did it! What God did say was that Moses and Aaron did not believe in him and did not uphold him as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel. As a result of that action, or rather failure to act correctly, God said to Moses that he would not be able to enter the land of promise. Later God would tell Isaiah, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8) This is a repeated theme in the prophecy of Isaiah.
Moses was not allowed to go into the land that he had promised to the people of Israel because he did not glorify God! Moses put himself in the place of God by saying, “shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Folks, God does not give his glory to anyone else! Never has — never will! There are consequences to all our actions! Some consequences are good and some are very bad! For the remainder of his life Moses mourned this decision but could not change it. God would keep his promise…
The land and all its wealth is given to Israel. Turn with me to the time that God made the promise Exodus 6:6-8 Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’ ”
God’s promise was to bring them out from under the burdens of the Egyptians and redeem them with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment. We know those great acts of judgment as the ten plagues that destroyed Egypt and defeated the Egyptian gods. Not only did God lead them out after he had visited Egypt with such awesome plagues. He also caused them to find favor in the eyes of the Egyptians who gave them gifts — whatever they asked. On their way out of the land the people of Israel plundered the Egyptians!
Then later the people of Israel would take the treasures found in the land of Canaan for themselves. In one generation they passed from being a host of people living in the desert to being city dwellers throughout the land that God had given them.
One generation was in slavery and then they were freed and walked into the wilderness. The next generation lived in the wilderness most of their lives. The next generation after that went into the land under the command of Joshua. God had chosen Joshua and prepared him by letting him follow Moses. He was Moses’ “right hand man” or, Moses’ disciple. He had always looked to Moses for leadership even when he fought battles in the wilderness it was actually Moses’ uplifted hands that had brought God to the scene and gave them victory. Now it was time for Joshua to go on — alone. It must have been a frightening experience for Joshua. Now realize he was not a young man. He was probably somewhere between sixty-five and seventy years old when he was given command of the people of Israel.
We need to remember that Moses was eighty years old when he took command of the people! We do not know exactly when Joshua “hooked up” with Moses. The first time he is mentioned is in the incident of the battle with Amalek. Moses treated him as a competent leader by having him choose the men who would fight and then lead them into battle. It may very well have been that Joshua had been a slave of an Egyptian officer and had learned the art of war from him. But in the incident with Amalek it was soon obvious that God won the battle not the military prowess of the Israelis.
Joshua had gone with Moses up on the mountain when he received the Ten Commandments. Joshua had been one of the twelve who had spied out the land and he, along with Caleb, gave the correct report. Not only did they report that the land was rich, a land that flows with milk and honey. Caleb and Joshua reported that people of the land “are bread for us”. And they added, “Their protection is removed… and the Lord is with us.” Yet, the people of Israel would not listen to the positive report. Instead, they listened to the very negative report of the other ten spies. No matter how much God had shown them they still did not believe. Of that whole generation only Caleb and Joshua would enter the land. Their refusal to listen to the good report caused that generation to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Now that the wilderness wanderings were over Joshua needed assurance from God and he got it in the promise…
As I was with Moses so I will be with you. Turn with me to Exodus 33:11. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
To be with Joshua, just as God had been with Moses, was a very strong promise. Joshua had for forty years, at least, watched Moses’ relationship with God. He had seen the special way that God treated Moses. In fact, Moses, like Abraham his ancestor, had the nerve to question God. Joshua had seen Moses intercede for the people more than once.
Not only had Joshua seen the giving of the Ten Commandments but he had seen Moses turn aside God’s promise to make of him a great nation after he would destroy the people of Israel! Moses implored God on their behalf even though they had made an idol to worship!
Joshua had seen Moses in success and in failure. He knew that God would guide and direct if he would only obey God. He also knew that if he did not give the glory to God and be faithful to him God would abandon him just as he did Moses. All of us need to draw from this the truth that we are not necessary to God — God is necessary to us! If we expect God to guide and direct us we need to be obedient to him and give him the glory for everything! Throughout the Bible the promise of God’s presence always depends on his people’s obedience. God’s presence and Joshua’s prosperity and success depended on his being careful to obey God. If he followed through God promised…
I will never leave you. This promise was first given to Joshua by Moses. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 31:7-8. Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
In order for Joshua to be the proper leader of Israel he would have to have great courage. He would have to avoid fear and dismay as he looked at the task that lay before him. God had promised that he would be with his faithful people. Actually, in his commission of Joshua God himself said, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.” Note that he said, “I have”, not “I will”. In the same way Jesus promised to always be with us remember his promise in Matthew 28:20b? And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Just as Joshua did not need to fear, we do not have to fear being abandoned by God. Having chosen a people, God promises to remain faithful to them and encourages them to be faithful to him.
God explained to Joshua how to be faithful. He told him to…
Be careful, never waver from the Book of the Law. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
When Moses wrote down “the book of the law” he included these directions. First we are to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and might. The proof of our love for him is our obedience to his commands. It was true for Joshua and Israel just as it is true for us today. We need to let his word become a part of our emotional being. “And these words… shall be on your heart.” Seems to imply to me that we are to memorize the Scripture. We are to meditate on the word that God has given us and make it a part of our day-to-day life. Remember, God has no grandchildren! Every generation has to be brought to faith it is not automatic! So there is a great responsibility for each generation to pass on to the next the law of love that God has given to his people. We should talk about how God loves us to our children and grandchildren. When we do this the next generation will be brought to the kingdom.
It is obvious that this has not happened in America. The coming generation has not been taught to reverence God or, anything else! We need to dig in and double down on teaching them the word of God. As we are about the process of winning the next generation we are not to be frightened or dismayed.
Do not be frightened or dismayed. Look at the words of Jesus found in Luke 12:32. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Just as Joshua knew that God had chosen him we need to remember that God has chosen us to be the sheep of his pasture — the “little flock”. And we need to remember that he promised to give us the kingdom. At another point Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) With a competent shepherd — and we certainly have one — we nev
er need be afraid! He will take care of us. We can rest on his promises just as Joshua did.
Joshua listened carefully to the voice he heard that day. He immediately began the process of crossing into the land that God had promised. He ordered the people to prepare to cross the Jordan even though it was a time of flood. Then he sent spies into the land to gather information that he might use for his invasion. Joshua led the people to the water and sent the priests with the ark into the flood. When he did that the water stopped flowing and began to pile up north of them. Joshua led the people into the camp inside Israel, kept the Passover and observed the end of manna! While waiting on God he met a man with a drawn sword. That man identified himself as the commander of the Lord’s army. Thus God showed Joshua that he was in charge. Fear not! Is he in charge of your life? Today can be your day of public confession of Christ as Lord!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

150712 To Believe God

Genesis 15:1-6 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Several years before this incident Abram (who would later be named Abraham) had been called by God to separate himself from his family and then go to a place God would show him. God’s promise to him was that he would make him a great nation, bless him and make his name great. This would be done so that Abram would be able to be a blessing. In fact, God promised that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. At that time Abram, and Sarah his wife, were already well past the age of child bearing. Abram had now reached the point where he began to waver. So God appeared to him and strengthened his faith.
There was never any doubt in the mind of Abram that God existed since he had met God personally. How could he doubt the existence of God? God had been guiding his family toward the Promised Land and had brought him to Haran. It seems they had begun to settle there. So God moved them on towards Canaan in a direct encounter with Abram. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed Haran. Several years later he still did not have an offspring and God needed to confirm his covenant.
Abram believed God. Turn with me to James 2:21-23. Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
James sees that Abraham believed God not just when he was called and confirmed but when he went on to place his son on the altar before God. Everyone should know the story. When Abraham and Sarah were well beyond the age of child bearing God gave them a son named Isaac. Now, aside from the main thrust of our story, Sarah laughed when she heard that she would bear a child in her old age. “Isaac” means “laughter” so she could always remember she had laughed at God every time she spoke her son’s name. When Isaac was a young man Abraham was told by God to offer him as a burnt offering. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed that God was able even to bring Isaac back from the dead if necessary. You see, the promise had been that his descendants would be named through Isaac. Isaac had no children, as yet, so God could not let him die, or remain dead, until he continued the family line through him. Many people deny that God would call on Abraham to do such a thing. God knew what the results would be and prepared a way out of it before he began. It was Abraham who needed to know that he believed God. When Abraham had exercised such great faith it was counted to him as righteousness. His entire life was built upon believing God. Not just believing “in God”. When Abram needed encouragement…
God confirmed his promise. Let’s look at the confirmation in Genesis 17:1-2. When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”
Many years had passed and Abram and Sarah still did not have a son. There was Ishmael but he was the son of Sarah’s maid, Hagar. His birth is a sad interlude in the life of Abram. Please notice that Abram still had the responsibility of walking before God and being blameless. His life was a life of faith. God is not ashamed to be called the God of such a man.
We all make mistakes and sometimes fail to live up to the standards that God has given us. I can imagine how, year after year, Abram had wondered how, and when, God would keep his promise. Abram had broken with his family and followed God into a foreign land. He continued to believe God but he did struggle with the fact that he was well past childbearing age and certainly Sarah was too. As he came toward the time when the child needed to be born God stepped in once again to strengthen his faith. In this reconfirmation of the covenant…
God named him Abraham. Read on Genesis 17:3-6. Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.
Abram fell on his face before God. God reconfirmed the covenant by giving him a new name. The name “Abram” means “exalted father” but the name “Abraham” means “father of a multitude”. Not just a multitude of people but a multitude of nations would come from him. Today they are fighting each other in the Middle East. Paul assures us that Abram did not weaken in faith. He goes on to say that no unbelief made him waiver concerning the promise of God. As he gave glory to God he grew strong in his faith knowing that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19-21)  Now…
What does this have to do with us? Let’s turn in the New Testament to Galatians 3:7-9. Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
The sons of Abraham not of the flesh but instead they are those of faith. So that everyone who believes God will be counted as a descendent of Abraham. We are reminded that when God said “In you shall all the nations be blessed” he was speaking of Jesus. The blessing which is extended to all the world is extended through the line of people who have faith as Abraham did. So that everyone who believes in God and who put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is a physical descendent of Abraham, will be counted as a spiritual descendent of Abraham.
We are not told exactly what Abram believed when he lived in the land of Chaldea. At some point in his life, God revealed himself to Abram in such a way that Abram could “believe in God” and once he believed in God he could begin to believe God and obey him. Knowing that God exists caused him to be willing to put his faith in the things that God told him. We need to remember that Abram had no Bible! He could not turn to the written word as we can he could only count on what God told him face-to-face. We also need to remember that some twenty-five years passed in Abram’s life from the time he set out to follow God until his son, Isaac, was born! Just like Abraham…
We must believe in God. Let’s look at Hebrews 11:6. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Belief in God is essential for us to please God. We must believe that he exists. One hindrance to a person’s spiritual life is a failure to recognize the existence of God. Fortunately, a vast majority of people on earth believe that God exists. That fact alone is a step along the road to salvation. Perhaps the best-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
It’s not enough just to believe in God. The Bible tells us specifically that there is no other way to the father except through Jesus Christ. In order to have eternal life — to hit heaven and miss hell — is to believe in Jesus. God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). And yet believing in Jesus is not just a matter of knowing that he exists. At the end of John chapter 3 there is a verse that challenges us it is Verse 36.  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
When John says “believes in the Son” in order to have eternal life he’s talking of more than “head belief”! We know that because he goes on to say that if we do not obey the Son we will not see life. This verse is not quoted very often because it includes the words “the wrath of God remains on him”. People today don’t like to talk about the wrath of God. But folks we need to remember that when Adam and Eve fell into sin and were driven out of the Garden of Eden they came under the wrath of God. Everyone who descended from them — and that is literally everyone — are born under the wrath of God. So that we must only believe about God we must also believe God. Jesus himself said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1) We must believe in God…
And we must believe God. Turn with me to 1 John 5:9-13.  If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
“Believing in” is the first step along the way to salvation. C. S. Lewis, who is well known as a Christian writer, was brought up in such a way that his early belief about God was wiped out through his education. But God was not through with him and put him in contact with several Christian writers and thinkers.
As a result of those contacts he tells us in his autobiography, You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, (college) night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” That belief in God was the first step. Two years later, Lewis converted from theism (belief in God) to Christianity.
We must believe in God, but even more importantly, we must believe what God tells us about his Son, Jesus Christ! Remember, we must confess with our mouths “that Jesus is Lord” and that is more than just believing about Him. It is believing that he is and that he rewards those who trust him. We must believe that God raised him from the dead. Romans 10:10 tells us, “for the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
More than 90% of the American people believe in the existence of God. That is an encouraging figure until we recall the words of James, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder!” You see, the demons had a personal knowledge of God because they had existed with him before the creation as part of his angels. So to believe that God exists does not change a person at all. It is simply the first step. More than that, we must believe what God says about Jesus. God says, “… If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised from the dead, you will be saved. Such belief will change our actions so that we will obey him. When a person believes God they will obey him! Have you believed him? Today could be the day of salvation.

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.