This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
Hold Fast To the Lord
Joshua 23:1 – 13
In these verses, Joshua is reminding the Jews how they got where they did. It is always tempting to think you got where you did on your own. Our strength and abilities are obvious to us and we like to think they are the reason for our success. However, Joshua was careful to remind the Jews it was God who really conquered the land. A song has been written about the size of Joshua’s spear and how he conquered Jericho, but it was really God who conquered Jericho. God made the walls fall down. All the Jews had to do was move in and take the city. God was continually at work to prosper what the Jews did. It was God who conquered the land for them. He made it so that one of them could conquer a thousand of their enemies.
Now that Joshua is old, he is warning the people to always remember God. When they look fondly on all that had been accomplished, they are to make sure they continue to put God in the center of all they do and not take credit for themselves or give the credit to Joshua. They need to always remember that it was God who gave them the land and it was God who gave them the power to conquer it. Because of what God did, Joshua reminded the Jews that they needed to always follow God’s ways. He warned them against following the gods of this world, the gods of the land they had conquered. Were they to follow the gods of the land, they might be tempted to believe that those gods were the ones who had helped them and they would be subtly led away from the Lord, their God. They might also make the people think that they were the ones who conquered the land and that they didn’t really need God. They needed to be careful to remember God and continually follow His ways. Joshua told the people to remember the book of the law because that was how God had spoken to them at that time. Today, we not only have the law of God, but also the prophets and God Himself who has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Our personal relationship to Him is the main thing that will form us as God’s children.
This past week, Sandy and I visited our grandchildren for a few days. It was our grandson Gage’s eighth birthday and he played in a Little League baseball game that we got to see. Our daughter has been pushing for me to come and see one of Gage’s baseball games since he got interested in baseball after I took him to a couple of Braves games. We usually stay in a motel while we are there because Sandy and I can only stand so much of the blessings of our grandchildren before we need a little break. While in the motel, Sandy read a Christian magazine. She showed one article to me and asked me if it was as bad as she thought it was. It was written by a well-known Christian, but I told her what was said was really total crap. It didn’t at all reflect what God had said was important. The writer had taken the teachings of this world (telling what we should be striving after), then said God would help us get these things.
God has made no promises to get us the things this world says we should strive after. God’s purpose is to change us so that what we think is important is the same as what God thinks is important. He wants to make us into His children rather than children of the world. When that happens, we will look very different from the rest of the world. People who don’t know God will wonder why we behave the way we do. The people in today’s church are not very different from the world around them. The only difference might be that they go to church on Sunday and talk a little about God. However, the rest of the week, they live pretty much the way everyone else does. God does not want us to follow the gods of this world; He wants us to follow Him and live as His children in the world. We do that by seeing God in the middle of all we do.
As I said in the thought for the day, we gain peace by seeing God in our world. Peace is not something we understand, but something that comes to us when we worship God. Learning the techniques of conflict management may be of some help to find peace in your household but it will be a temporary peace at best. The only way to find lasting peace is to make Jesus Lord in your home. Peace in your own soul will not come when you improve your self-image; it will come when you make Jesus Lord in your soul. Peace in our world will not come through treaties or disarmament. Peace will only come when we make Jesus Lord of our world.
I have been asked if I am working for world peace. Actually, I don’t know anyone who is working for world war. People just have different ideas as to how we can achieve world peace. I believe I am working for world peace because I am proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. When Jesus is Lord in our world, we will have world peace. Making Jesus Lord of our lives will cause us to become different people.
The magazine article that Sandy was reading was written by a well-known Christian telling us how we can get the things the world tells us we should want by asking Jesus for them. When he says that, he is actually worshiping the gods of this world and asking Jesus to help him in that worship. One of the books I am supposed to read for the seminar I am attending this week is written by Peter Scazzero and is called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. I want to read a couple of paragraphs from that book. In this section, he is talking about the book of Revelation. Many think that the book of Revelation is about what will happen in the future. I saw it that way when I first became a Christian, but for the last thirty or thirty-five years I see it as mainly talking about the gods of this world. They are described as a beast that will lead many people astray. The beast is the culture and the ways of this world and Christians are called to reject the beast and live for God. Here is what the book says:
“The message of Revelation is that, in all history in all parts of the world, believers must resist and overcome the beast expressed through the culture of their generation: ‘This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints’ (Revelation 13:10). Therefore, it is essential we see clearly how the beast threatens the church and absorbs Christians in our day. As Os Guiness wrote, due to the combination of capitalism, technology, and modern communications, the most powerful civilization ever—a global culture—has been formed. This global culture is the beast that threatens to swallow us in these days. The core values of the beast in the twenty-first century scream at us from computers, billboards, television, DVDs, music, schools, newspapers, magazines, and iPods. The beast tells us:
• happiness is found in having things;
• you should get all you can get for yourself, as quickly as you can;
• security is found in money, power, status, and good health;
• above all, you should seek all the pleasure, convenience, and comfort you can;
• God is irrelevant to everyday life;
• Christianity is just one of many alternative spiritualities;
• there are no moral absolutes; whatever is true for you is what is true;
• you’re not responsible for anyone but yourself; and
• this life on earth is all there is.
Like goldfish swimming in the middle of the Pacific Ocean unaware they are in water, we, too, live oblivious to our beast. Like the Christians in the first century, we live in a culture shaped by the beast. We, eat, drink, drive, watch television and movies, attend schools, shop, work, raise families, listen to the music, and even participate in churches within a society shaped by the beast. This feeds the fire of the ‘beast’ within us. I am referring to the fears, the mistrust, the fierce self-will, the stubbornness, and the rebellion in our very depths.”
When I read that, I was reminded of a book I read about thirty-five years ago. It was by William Stringfellow and is called An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land. We live in the land of the beast and we need to learn to survive in that land as God’s children. We live immersed in a culture that is not created by God, that is not energized by God, and that does not recognize the power of God. As Christians, we are called to find the direction for our lives from God and not from that culture. When we do that, we will become different in much of what we do and in what we want. The main reason that several years ago Sandy and I decided we didn’t want to watch television was that it did not teach the value system that comes from God. Television isn’t especially immoral, but it definitely teaches a moral system that says happiness comes from the things we can own. Having not watched it for several years, it is surprising how much our desire for things has decreased.
God calls us to have out lives formed not by the beast of the world system that surrounds us, but by our relationship to Jesus Christ. Joshua reminded the people of Israel that God was the one who empowered them to conquer the Promised Land and they needed to continue to follow God’s ways in order to sustain who they are. They needed to be careful not to follow the gods of the people of the land. Joshua said this when he was old and becoming infirm. You have watched me grow old and become someone who is no longer able to do the things of my youth. If there is one message I would like for you to remember, it is that what we have done together has been accomplished by the power of God in our midst. You then need to be careful to continue in that way. Your lives need to be formed by being the children of God and not the children of this world.