This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
A Real Spiritual Presence
Joshua 21:41 – 45
My grandmother on my father’s side grew up in a little town in Slovenia called Ig. That is the whole name of the town. It is a small town located a short distance from Ljubljana, Slovenia. Actually, a name like Ig is pretty easy to pronounce for a central European language. At least, it has a vowel. A friend of mine from Croatia once wrote me an e-mail saying that her family was going on a vacation to the island of Krk. I wrote her back and said, “Blazenka, I need a vowel to even try to pronounce that word.” I didn’t know if it was Krik, Krok, Kruk, or whatever. Many words in the languages of central Europe seem short a few vowels. Some of those African languages that seem to be all vowels should send some vowels to them.
I did not notice it that much at first, but almost everyone in Ig had some land they were farming. They did not live on the land but would drive their tractors out to work their plot of land during the day and then would come back into town for the night. I didn’t think that much about it until a group of us went to Spain to work with the Mussers, our missionaries in Spain. It was the same thing there. There would be miles of farm land with no houses. The people did not live on their land but usually lived in villages.
I asked Scott Musser about it and he said that was the custom of the people. He was once talking to a man who owned a good deal of farm land and pointed out a nice location where he could build a house on his land instead of living in the village. He looked a Scott strangely and said, “Why would I want to do that?” People in Europe might have at first lived in villages for protection, but now they prefer to live close together. They enjoy the fellowship. It is much different in this country. We have friends from whom we bought cattle. They live on a ranch in the sand hills of Nebraska and their driveway is over six miles long. That means their next door neighbor is at least twice that far away. We like our privacy in this country. Sandy and I live in a cove on about three acres. It is a private place and we like it very much. Europeans like to live in villages. In Spain, after working all day on our mission trip, we would go back to the village where we were staying and the people would still be outside eating in outdoor cafes and having a good time together, usually until after 10 p.m.
I was surprised when I read this passage from Joshua for it told how they divided the land. The various tribes lived in villages and were then given the surrounding pastureland. They would go in and out much as Europeans do today. I wondered why some might consider that to be better because I like the idea of having more privacy. As I thought about it, I realized that sooner or later all of God’s people will have to learn to live together. We may like the idea of privacy, but the kingdom of God will not be many individuals parked around the heavens. We will be a community, a family, and one way or the other we will have to learn to live together. Even now, God is working to help us learn to live together. We need to recognize our difference, appreciate them, and even enjoy them.
In addition to encouraging us to live together, God also makes several promises in this passage. Verse forty-five says, “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” We need to learn what promises God has made and then, how to live within them. If we build our lives on what God has promised, our lives will have a solid foundation. Many people make major decisions in their lives based on promises other people have made. They even depend on those promises when the people have not proved to be reliable. People depend on promises that the government makes and those promises may not be that reliable either. It seems as though we are willing to put faith in anything except in God; yet, He is the only one who is truly reliable. God’s promises are the only ones that we can know are reliable. We need to learn those promises and then live within them.
Many times, we try to make what we want become what we think God has promised. A friend of mine recently called to ask me advice on repairing her Volvo. That is not that unusual: I probably get more requests for car advice than theological advice. She wanted me to tell her who would be reliable to make some major repairs on her car. I told her what I knew. She was surprised she was having trouble with her Volvo because she was sure that it had been God’s will that she buy it. If it was God’s will that she buy the car, then He obviously wouldn’t have let it break down. Many Christians operate that way, but I don’t. I can’t see where God has ever promised that He would not let our cars break down. If anything, because death rules in this world, we can be pretty sure that even cars die. When we buy a car, we need to expect that it will only run for a limited amount of time. Good maintenance will lengthen that time, but all cars will eventually die. We need to be prepared for that if we buy one. We can be sure of that because of the way God says the world is.
Cars aren’t supposed to be gods; they won’t make us feel good about ourselves. Being God’s children can do that but buying a new car can only give us that feeling for a very short period of time. We need to look other places for lasting fulfillment. God says that real fulfillment comes through relationships. We need to learn God’s promises, see what He has said, and then make choices within the framework of what God has said is true.
Sandy and I are trying to get things in order for my retirement. One thing we needed to do was to restructure my life insurance. That meant that I needed to deal with a life insurance agent. Mine is nice, but I dislike the phrase life insurance salesmen and mortician so often use: “If something should happen to you.” I know most people don’t like to think about their death, but it is a fact. I’m not considering that something should happen to me like breaking my leg or winning the lottery. My death is what I want to prepare for. I want to know that when I die, Sandy will have enough to be as secure as we can prepare for. It is not an if, it is when. If it weren’t likely that I would die, then I probably wouldn’t need life insurance. I then needed to make choices for Sandy and me based on the fact that I will die. We need to be continually making choices within a framework based on what God has said is true.
God has said that ten percent of the money we make needs to go to His work. That is the choice He has made. We then need to make choices based on the ninety percent that is left. There are things that God has said are true; we then make our choices within what God has said. Over and over the Bible teaches us that God will always fulfill what He has promised. Those promises are the solid foundation on which we can build our lives. The Jews did some of the things God asked them to do but failed to do many other things God asked of them. However, God completely fulfilled what He said He would do. God has promised that He will make all things work together for good. That is a promise that we can rely on. When difficult things happen, God has not promised to take them away, but He has promised to make them work for good. We need to rely on what God has said, not on what He has not said.
God has made other promises that are in this passage. Verse forty-four says, “. . . Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them.” The Lord Himself protected them as He promised He would. But, this is not something God’s people should be foolish about by putting themselves in danger to show the Lord’s protection. When Satan tempted Jesus by asking Him to throw Himself off the Temple, Jesus said, “’Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” We are to depend on God’s protection, but not to keep testing that protection. We are to ultimately put our trust in God as our protector. We can’t ever be big or strong enough to protect ourselves so that we don’t need God.
As Sandy and I have worked through our retirement finances, people have asked us if we are worried about having to depend on Social Security and the Board of Pensions for our source of income. Over all my years as a pastor, I have always had to depend on a local church having enough money to pay me and that is not any more secure than where my retirement income will come from. The Lord has always been the ultimate source of my income and always will be. If the Lord does not provide the income in one way, He will provide another way by which I can earn enough money. He will not necessarily provide an easy way to earn the money, but he will provide a way. Our ultimate source of security in physical and financial protection will always be God.
I love the last verse in this passage, “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” The promises of God the only truly solid foundation on which we can build our lives. The promises of other people and of the world will ultimately fail. It is only the promises of God that will last. From the time of the Israelites on, God has never failed to do what He has promised. The Lord is always worthy of our faith.