This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
A difficult thing about preaching through books of the Bible is that I have to preach on what is next. I can’t skip over parts or leave out parts that are especially difficult. That forces me to preach on the hard things and gives a fuller picture of the God who is revealed in the Bible. One way of creating our own idea of God is to build up a god in our mind and then pick out passages in the Bible that support our idea of that god and leave out the passages that don’t. That allows us to make up our idea of a god and give the illusion of that idea’s being supported by the Bible. Doing that, really makes us god and that’s where we always like to be.
One part of God that is expressed in this morning’s scripture is the judgement part and we would rather leave out that part. In this passage, we notice that one person’s sin brought judgement on the whole nation. God called the Israelites to conquer the land and destroy everything in it. The evil of that land was so thorough that God did not want even the least bit of that evil to destroy the Israelites; so, He ordered the Jews to destroy the people and not take any of their possessions. Achan violated that order. He saw things in Jericho that he wanted to plunder and took them. That person’s disobedience caused the whole nation of Israel to become weak. That is not surprising because the nation of Israel did not have much strength on their own. They had just fought the battle of Jericho and conquered that town but that was not done by their strength. They were able to win the battle only because of the power of God and obedience to what God had said. They needed to continue to do what God said in order to continue to have His power. It could not just be a majority of the people who followed God; they all had to follow what God had said.
In my early days as a Christian, I thought that since I had become a Christian, God was now perfecting me. Then, when I got to heaven, I would be perfected and could individually stand before God. I think that way of looking at salvation comes from the rugged individualism that is prominent in the culture of the United States. That individualism may come from the frontier days of our culture. Individuals conquered the frontier and we still have that strongly individualistic strain running through the way we look at things. We see ourselves as individual conquerors.
Lately, in my Christian life, I have seen that my worth as an individual is being swallowed up so that not much of what I do establishes my individual worth. As I look back on my life, I see that the things that were most worthwhile happened in times when I lost myself and God’s will took over my life. When that happened, God gave my life great value.
I carry little cards in my shirt pocket to write down things I need to remember and ideas I want to think about. A week or so ago, I wrote something on my card and have been thinking about it. This is one of the few times I have the chance to quote me: “In heaven, our value comes only from our relationship to God and to each other. Apart from that relationship, we have no innate value. In hell, our value resides in ourselves and relationships have no value apart from how they benefit us.” I see that as the primary difference between heaven and hell. Our emphasis today on building up our self-worth makes me wonder if we are doing the right thing to help us grow in real value. We have devalued the importance of relationships and of finding our worth in being related to God and to others. When we come into God’s family, we really come to give up ourselves. As we grow in Christ, our value as people comes increasing from our relationship to Christ. Finding our value in relationships will require that we reverse the default mode that is the natural way we seek value.
In this chapter in Joshua, one individual’s act did not bring harm on just himself but on the whole nation. It works that way in God’s family: we impact each other and God’s overall plan by what each of us does. Achan had to be removed from God’s family so that his disobedience would not destroy the whole family of God and what God was doing through them. We never work strictly as individuals. Our actions always affect the whole family of God. After that person was dealt with, God told Joshua to tell the people to consecrate themselves. They were to re-establish what was important in their lives. They were to consecrate themselves to God, making sure their will was lost in God’s will. They were to remember to lose themselves in God.
When some people meet me, they find me intimidating. I suppose that is because I am big and, before I got to be fat, I looked strong. I also have a voice that sounds like I know what I am talking about, even when I don’t. Once people get to know me, they find out I am pretty passive and they could push me around if they chose. I don’t do much to protect myself; instead, I trust God to protect me and keep people from running all over me. He does just that. I am amazed at how much God has cared for me over the years. If I were to try to be mean and forceful in order to protect myself, I probably would have been run over more than I have been. Someone bigger and stronger would have come along and run over me, but no one is stronger than God. We need to consecrate ourselves to God and depend on His protection. When we do that, He protects us according to His will.
God has told us to consecrate ourselves to Him. When I pray after we take up the offering, I tell the Lord that we first give up ourselves and only then our time, talent, and money. In doing that, we are not just giving a little of ourselves to God, but are consecrating all that we are to Him and His service. When we think about how we are to spend our time, we don’t just look at our will seek to do what we want. Instead, we seek to have our will lost in God’s will. Surprisingly, when we consecrate our time to God, it will not all be drudgery. He will also give us many fun things to do with our time.
When I go to spring training baseball games, I see it as a trip I make with my heavenly Father. That makes it a much more joyful trip than if I just went alone seeking my own pleasure. My heavenly Father and I have a good time together. When we consecrate our time to God, He often gives us some wonderful things to do, even if it doesn’t always feel that way at the beginning.
We also consecrate ourselves regarding our money. I have never bought a lottery ticket and not because I believe it is wrong. I don’t see a moral problem with it one way or the other. I don’t buy a ticket for two reasons. One is because I am a mathematician and I know how the odds are stacked against me and I can’t work hard or do anything else to bring the odds more into my favor. I am also concerned that I might beat the odds and win. I may be one of the few people who would have mixed emotions about winning the lottery. Currently, the Lord has provided quite well for me and my family and I have learned to consecrate the money God has given me. If I were to win the lottery, then I would have a lot more money to consecrate to God and would have to figure out how that new gift could best be used for God’s glory. It is hard to figure out how all we have can best be used for God’s glory. I can’t just give away the money to anyone because the person I give it to may not use it for God’s glory. Consecrating ourselves puts an entirely different perspective on how we use what we have. I am coming into retirement and that will mean that I have a good deal more free time. I need to figure out how to spend that time to best glorify God rather than use it for my glory or just waste it away. It may seem that when we consecrate ourselves to God that we will lose ourselves. On one level we do, but Jesus said that when we lose ourselves, we actually find ourselves. Our lives actually begin to have more meaning and joy when we lose them in God’s service.
Finally, as we consecrate ourselves to God, we receive a new picture of what God is like. Last week I was listening to a tape series from Mars Hill Audio and they were interviewing a sociologist. He said that the average American pictured God as a golden retriever. Golden retrievers are America’s favorite breed of dog. They are gentle, kind and good with children. Sandy and I have had two of them. I remember one incident in Florida with our second retriever. I only heard her growl one time. I was up very early one morning, reading in the back room and she was lying next to me. Suddenly, she growled and raced to the other end of the house. I didn’t know what was going on but followed her and, through the open window on the other side of our garage, I could see a prowler sneaking behind our neighbor’s house. I could see him in the street light, but he couldn’t see me. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just said, “Can I help you?” That scared him and he ran off. The only time our golden retriever ever growled was to protect our home. Our dog also watched over Lynn. Lynn learned to walk while holding her hand near her head, so she could protect herself from the dog’s wagging tail. The dog was always there watching over Lynn.
Most people see God that way. He is gentle, kind and good with children. The only time He might growl is to protect us. We think of Him as being very passive, kind and under our control. However, God is not that way. God is the most powerful and the most destructive force we know. When we think of what could destroy our world, we might think of hydrogen bombs that could do it all at once or our bad use of ecology that could do it more slowly. We think we are the only thing that has the power to destroy our world. We may have an overly high opinion of our power and too low of an opinion of God’s power. Our power is nothing compared to God’s power. The God whom we are dealing with is awesome, powerful and just. When Jonathan Edwards said we are sinners in the hands of an angry God, that was a true picture. God can be angry and loving at the same time. God is not like having a golden retriever living in our homes; He is more like having a wild lion in our homes.
I like the way C. S. Lewis pictured God in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. In the story, the children have gone into Narnia and they hear about Aslan, the son of the emperor from beyond the sea. They have heard that he’s coming to set Narnia free from the wicked witch. Lucy is concerned about meeting Aslan and she and the Beavers have the following conversation:
“Is—is he a man? asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mr. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The aspect of God that we most want to avoid is the terrifying knowledge that God is not under our control. He could use His power against us as well as for us. He is a wild lion, not a golden retriever whom we can control and who will growl only to protect us. His growl could also be directed toward us. He is the lion of Judah who is good and who loves us. We must always see all aspects of who God is.