Sunday, May 20, 2012

Joshua - "When There's No Looking Back..."

We’ve entered a great stadium, mid-race, as thousands cheer us on.  One by one, great heroes of the faith have come down to encourage us on our journey. Last week we ran a lap with Moses, but as he returns to the stands with staff in hand, he is passed by a strong and courageous-looking man who suddenly falls to his knees and embraces Moses like a child would his father. Rising to his feet again, he smiles warmly at Moses before continuing down to the field toward us. Could this be Joshua? Joshua who was sent into Canaan by Moses to spy out the land with eleven others (Numbers 13-14)?  Joshua who along with Caleb, were the only men to bring back a hopeful report, saying, “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us….” (Num. 14.8)?  Joshua who was chosen by God to succeed Moses, because he trusted that God would indeed bring the Israelites into the Promised Land?  "That's me," he replies, and begins to jog alongside us.  A thought that we've encountered before on this track resurfaces: “My life feels so ordinary when compared to someone like Joshua or Moses, or even one of the Lord's disciples.”  “I know how you feel,” Joshua says, as though able to hear our thoughts, “but believe me when I say that the greatest thing is to be part of the next thing God is doing.”  And that's why I say...

“To be part of the next thing God is doing, give thanks to God for the past & embrace the unique moment in which you are now called to serve Him.”  Joshua explains that he was Moses’ “assistant,” his personal aid from his youth (Numbers 11: 28).  To be sure, it would be an honor to be Moses’ helper, but to follow him as a leader would be one of the greatest challenges of his life. In the final verses of Deut., Moses is remembered in this way: “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.  He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt….and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34: 10-12).

No doubt Joshua, who spent his entire life at Moses’ side, grieved more than anyone when he died; but listen now to Joshua 1: 1-2 again: After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, “My servant Moses is dead.  Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people….”  (vv.1-2).  Did you hear that?  “My servant Moses is dead.  Now you proceed to cross the Jordan….”  These words are striking for their abruptness.  Moses is dead.  No more words of praise.  No more mourning.  No more fanfares for the great Servant of the Lord.  Joshua was now being called to be part of the next thing God was doing. 

It’s not that Joshua or even the LORD was callous to the fact that Moses was dead.  To the contrary, we’re told that Joshua and all of Israel mourned for him for 30 days…celebrating all that he accomplished in the strength of God (see Deut. 34).  The people loved Moses…God loved Moses, and would never stop loving him… but it was now time to enter the Promised Land, with Joshua leading the way. As I think about Joshua, who was called to follow Israel’s greatest leader it occurs to me that while many of us long to be part of the greatest thing that God is doing… what God wants is for us to be part of the next thing he is doing, right here, right now! Joshua was not called to be Moses…he was called to be Joshua, to give thanks for the past, and embrace the unique moment in which he was called to serve the Lord.   Joshua continues as we continue our lap together…

“To be part of the next thing God is doing, claim the land where God has placed you for His kingdom.”  Before I say anything about what it means to claim the land where God has placed us today, I want to answer a question that is sometimes asked of me: Why did God tell Israel to take the Promised Land by force?  First, we know from Canaanite religious texts that ritual child sacrifice was a key element in their culture.  A people that was willing to sacrifice its own children to appease the gods would not surrender to one that gave us the Torah.  Furthermore, violence was not unusual in the Ancient Near East, it was typical. Though it’s worth mentioning that in the violent culture of that day, Israel’s rules of warfare were civilized by current standards. For example: The Israelites were commanded by God to make peace with their enemies before attacking (Deut. 20:10).  Finally, it’s clear that warfare was not God’s preferred method of advancing the kingdom.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that a day will come when “swords are beaten into plowshares…nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2: 1-4).

I want you to meet a pastor that I’ve gotten to know over the past two years, Ameal Haddad.  His mission with Ambassadors for Peace is to encourage religious leaders, whether they be Muslim, Jew or Christian to sign a Resolution on Religious Freedom. The centerpiece is the conviction that each of us has a right to share our religious convictions with others or to change them without fear.  Today, that ability to freely exchange our most deeply held beliefs with each other is a foundation for expanding God’s kingdom, and sharing the message of Christ.

You and I are called to show a resolve that is not unlike the resolve of Joshua, or the hope of the prophet Isaiah …to prayerfully and passionately claim every place where the sole of our foot treads…our neighborhoods and workplaces and classrooms for the Kingdom of God. Hear Joshua’s commissioning again from the LORD: Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses…” (vv. 3-4).  Imagine if you actually prayed for every place where your feet touched the ground…allowing your steps to guide your prayers, compassion, and actions? 

Joshua seems very focused and confident as he recalls something else he wants to share with us: "To be part of the next thing God is doing, honor His word above worldly prosperity or success." Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:8-9, NIV).

One of the reasons many wish they could be part of the greatness of some bygone era, or just somewhere else where something is happening…is that they don’t feel successful or prosperous, strong or courageous, where they are right now. If you’re a medical intern at UCLA you might dream about being the chief cardiac surgeon.  If you’re living in 90064, you might dream about living in 90210. If you’re a super mom you might still wish you could be like that tiger mom. If you go to Valley High, you might be jealous of those families that go to Hill High, not realizing that the Hill High families wish they could go to Sky High.  I hate to tell you, pastors do the same thing…dreaming about bigger or better. It’s really a conspiracy to distract us from focusing on what He wants to do through us right where we are whether we’re an intern or chief of surgery, at Valley high or Sky high, and that takes alertness and awareness - or we’ll miss it.   

The only way we are going to stay awake and aware is by allowing his word to saturate and re-direct our thoughts and priorities.  God tells Joshua how…First, mouth it. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart out of your mouth, but meditate on it….” The Hebrew word for “meditate” is hagah. The word properly means to “emit a sound,” to “murmur,” to “mutter,” to "speak in an undertone." In other words, speak it, rehearse it, shout it and sing it!  Next, do this, morning and night.”  Let its message be the first thing you consider in the morning and the last thing you think about when you go to bed.  Third, mind it.  For God says, “do everything written in it.” It’s not enough to read God’s word… we’ve got to obey it, try it on, let it inform our actions.  Lastly, be motivated by it.  For Joshua is told that in obeying his inspired word he will be “prosperous and successful” in God’s eyes. This ancient book is where “strength and courage” come from to be his people right where we are!

Before Joshua leaves us,  he has one more things to share: “To be part of the next thing God is doing, do it together.” To the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you….They answered: “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go” (Joshua 1: 12-18)s.

Joshua reminds us that the first test of his leadership came when he had to ask Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh (the tribes that settled east of the Jordan river) to help the other tribes begin to take possession of Canaan (the land west of the Jordan). What we need to understand is that Canaan, the land west of the Jordan, was the actual Promised Land – not the land east of the Jordan.  And yet, and this is important, Joshua had to convince these three tribes that they were still part of Israel and that he needed them to help the others.  It would mean danger, sacrifice, and facing adversaries but God would be glorified through their unity!  I have to agree with Joshua.  I think that one of the biggest obstacles to moving ahead in ministry and mission is the idea that my contribution will not be missed; that it doesn't matter whether I take part.  They won’t miss my tribe. The fact is, every age, every generation, every neighborhood, every nationality and political group, every tribe, every family, every individual is desperately needed….whether you’re sitting in the back seats or the front seats, we need you.   

Before Joshua leaves he prays for us, “Lord God, please help my friends give thanks to you for the past while embracing the next thing You want to do through them in this city; to prayerfully claim the land where you have placed them, wherever they’re feet tread this week, to meditate daily on your commands and promises and so find strength and courage to live for You; and to meet together at the Jordan knowing that every tribe is valuable and indispensable in your eyes.”

As this great man returns to the stands, my mind turns to the One who has called us to advance his kingdom here earth until that day when each of us shall enter the Promised Land that he has prepared for us…and his name is Joshua!  I’m not speaking of Joshua, the one whom God sent to hold Israel together as a people, to go before them into Canaan with courage and faith.  I’m speaking of the One whom the Father has sent to go before us, who was baptized in the Jordan, who holds us together as one people and blesses us with courage and faith.  I’m speaking of Joshua the Son of God...for Joshua or "Y’shua" is the Hebrew name for Jesus which means “God is my Savior”!  Let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!  Amen.

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