God Designed Transitions
As I have said in previous weeks, God designs times of transition in our lives to shape and mold our lives. As much as we don’t like change, there are times when change can bring about renewed power in our lives. We become accustomed to the way things are and when change takes place, we find our dependence and strength in God and we experience a renewed power in our lives as we respond properly to the changes. It is through times of transition that God is put on display to those around us. The unity of the Body of Christ makes it clear to a watching world that it is our love for the Lord that unifies us.
As we move into unfamiliar territory, with our dependence on the Lord, we find that God will give us courageous strength. Why is that possible? Because we understand that God’s presence is the same presence that we have always enjoyed. He will not leave us! It is more likely that we will forsake Him. Last week we talked about the importance of seeking God’s guidance, not just at times of transition, but in every aspect of our lives. We must seek His counsel in prayer for every decision we make, no matter how insignificant the decision, or how positive we are about the right choice. We must seek His counsel!
Today I want us to see that God brings times of transition into our lives to revive our commitment to Him. We have looked at several aspects of Joshua’s leadership in taking the promised land and today I want us to see the commitment made by Israel at the end of Joshua’s life. Most of the land that was promised by God has been possessed by Israel by the end of Joshua’s life. However, in Joshua 18:2-3, we find that Joshua admonishes some of the tribes for not taking all they were supposed to take. Joshua chapters 19-21 deal with the boundaries of the land given to each tribe. Then, Joshua gives his final challenge to Israel in chapter 23 sometime near the end of his life.
In the first part of Joshua 24, which is the last chapter of the book, Joshua reviews all the things God has done for Israel beginning with Abraham and concluding with Israel residing in the land of promise. I want to begin with verses 13 and 14 which is a conclusion of the historical reminder he gave in verses 1-12. It is a reminder of God’s faithfulness in their past.
God’s Past Faithfulness (vv. 13-14)
13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.' 14 "Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Concluding Joshua’s review of all that God has done in bringing them into the land of promise, Joshua reminds them about God’s faithfulness to them and now in return, they need to be faithful to Him. They live in a land of plenty. They live in walled cities they did not build. They are eating the fruit of vineyards they did not plant. In other words, God has given them something they do not deserve. God has been faithful to His promise to bring them into a land of promise. That’s grace! God giving to us what we do not deserve.
When I think of the thirteen years we have spent here in Longville with this church family, I have no doubt He has given us what we do not deserve. Even looking back over the years of God’s faithfulness to this church family since 1954, we have enjoyed the powerful grace of God. God has given the believers in this church a beautiful piece of property with wonderful buildings in which to meet as a Body and even a home for the pastor. We are certainly blessed by God’s faithfulness over the years. I have heard many stories about different things that have happened here at the Chapel making it very evident that God has been faithful to us. Even over the last three years God has allowed us to accomplish much in the three phases we set out accomplish. That’s grace!
Joshua tells the people of Israel, because of God’s past faithfulness, they need to get rid of the gods they used to serve in Egypt and even on the other side of the Jordan River in the wilderness. They need to focus on serving Jehovah and get rid of the distractions. The same is true for us. We need to get rid of the distractions that keep us from serving God faithfully here in Longville. He wants us to serve with a whole heart, not a divided lifestyle.
We live with divided hearts so easily, don’t we? We often want to live with part of our lives tied up in this world and have just a loose attachment to our God and Savior. I remember what God told the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-16, “You are neither hot nor cold … because you are lukewarm … I will spit you out of my mouth.” Joshua tells the people of Israel that they need to choose who they will serve. The choice is clearly presented in verse 15.
Choices Clearly Presented (v. 15)
15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Israel has been challenged with similar choices like this already. When they left Egypt, they committed to following God. After God’s hand of protection was clearly upon them at the Red Sea, the people chose to be dedicated to Him. At Mount Sinai, they covenanted with God to be His people and serve Him only. Over and over the pledge of loyalty to God has been made and according to verse 23 in our passage, it appears that they still had idols among them.
But Joshua makes it clear that they need to make a choice. They cannot serve two masters. It is a call to an emphatic and decisive commitment to God. One must reign supreme in a person’s life. Hundreds of years later, Jesus tells His disciples the same thing in Matthew 6:24.
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
The choice is clear isn’t it. But the problem is the allure of the things of this world that we allow to reign supreme in our lives. Those things undermine our loyalties to our God. Just like Israel, we need to be called once again to a commitment to Him above all else in our lives. We need a commitment that sticks. Think about your life. What is it that keeps you from having a time of devotion and prayer daily with your Savior? What is it that keeps you from being involved in a Bible Study group or serving with a group of believers in a church? What keeps us from being a witness to your neighbors? The things that keep us from having the kind relationship we should have with God and others are our idols, our gods with a little “g.”
I like what Joshua said to the people. You can choose to serve other gods if you want to, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua was choosing to serve the Lord no matter what everyone else decided to do. He was not about to be influenced by those who chose to hold on to their idols. That same commitment needs to be in our hearts. No matter what everyone else does, we will be committed to Him. But the blessing of this passage is that it records for us a renewed commitment by the people of Israel. Joshua’s commitment had an impact on the people.
Renewed Commitment (vv. 16-24)
16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."
19 But Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good." 21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, but we will serve the LORD."
22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." 23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel." 24 And the people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey."
I want you to see three things about this commitment the people of Israel made to God. First, this renewed commitment was founded upon God’s deliverance from Egypt and from their enemies.
~ Founded on God’s Deliverance (vv. 16-17)
As Israel renews their commitment to the Lord, we find it based on a history of God’s continued deliverance. In verse 17, it is clear that because of all that God has done in delivering them from Egypt and preserving them against their enemies, that they renew their commitment to God! In fact, let’s go back and read what Joshua said to Israel in the first 12 verses of chapter 24. I mentioned earlier that Joshua speaks to the people on the Lord’s behalf reminding them of all that God has done. Let’s read that section.
1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God.
2 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.
3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac.
4 And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.
5 And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.
6 "'Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea.
7 And when they cried to the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time.
8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you.
9 Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you,
10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand.
11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand.
12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow.
I love verse 12. God said that He set a hornet before the nation of Israel as they took possession of the Promised Land. This is a picturesque image of God instilling fear in the enemy. In many cases, the fear God placed in their hearts caused the enemy to flee as though they were running from being stung by a hornet.
You see, Israel had a good reason to renew their commitment to God. According to verse 17, it is because God has delivered them and protected them. His presence was with them. God had chosen them and has done mighty things among them. Sometimes we look at those miraculous things that God did for Israel and we say to ourselves, “well, if God did that for us, we would be committed to Him too.”
But stop and think about it for a moment. God has loved us and sent Jesus to deliver us from the condemnation of our sin. What a picture of salvation. Just as God delivered Israel with a mighty hand from slavery in Egypt, we have been delivered by the power of God from the curse slavery to sin. Like Israel, we have been chosen and now we live as His people and nothing can change that! That is the miracle of our relationship with God.
1 Peter 2:9-10
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-- more than that, who was raised-- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . .
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We have more reason than ever to live with renewed commitment to God. He has delivered us, empowered us for daily living, is present with us, and loves us with an everlasting love. Our commitment to Him should be renewed, revived, and remembered on a regular basis. Why? It is because of our deliverance from the penalty of sin. Israel renewed their commitment to God based on God given victories in their lives according to verse 18.
~ Empowered by God given Victories (v. 18)
Israel was experiencing the empowerment of God in victory over the inhabitants of the Promised Land. They experienced it over the kings on the other side of the Jordan, at the walls of Jericho, at the city of Ai, and on the list can go. God empowered them to have those victories in the land of Promise. Thus, they renewed their commitment to the Lord.
When we look at all the victories God has given us in our lives, we should also renew our commitment to Him. Why? Because when we get comfortable living in victory, we forget who gave us the victory. We attribute the success to our own strength and trust in our own power. But when we remember the victories God has given and attribute them to Him, it gives us reason to renew our commitment to Him.
Do you have God given victories you should be reminded of? A victory over a particular sin? Victory over a substance abuse? Victory over sexual sins like pornography? Victory in the home as a Father or Mother? Victory in how you respond to your enemies? God empowers us to have victory in our lives. That should be reason to renew our commitment to serve Him.
~ Sustained by Whole-hearted Devotion (vv. 19-24)
In verses 19-24, Joshua indicates that they should not approach this commitment lightly. God will not forgive them for turning to other gods if they simply turn back to them again after making this commitment. This commitment needs to be met with whole-hearted devotion to God. God is not expecting something that is impossible for them to do, but God is a jealous God, and they should not commit themselves to Him casually or without His assistance for that matter. Joshua even says in verse 22 that they are witnesses against themselves of this commitment to the Lord.
In conclusion, I want to encourage you as we go through this time of transition. I have been in churches as they transition between pastors and so have many of you. Often, some folks will quit coming to church. Some quit giving as much or even quit giving all together. Some become less committed to this part of the Body of Christ and even in their relationship to the Lord.
May I encourage you as Joshua did to make a commitment that during this time of transition, you will serve the Lord with your whole heart. That your commitment will be founded on all that God has done in our lives in the past and will continue to do if we continue in our commitment to Him. Will you say this morning what the people said to Joshua in verse 24?
And the people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey."