Text: Joshua 1:6-9
Main Point: To fully follow God requires commitment that is rooted in God’s Grace and Power.
The story is told of visitor from another part of what once was the Soviet Union to the Moscow Circus. As part of the circus performance a beautiful lion tamer would have a lion come to her and then put his paws around her and muzzle her with affection.
The visitor exclaimed, “What so great about that? Anybody can do that! “The ringmaster challenged him, “Would you like to try it?” “Yes,” was the visitor’s reply, “but first get that lion out of there.”
Then there was the man who watched with amazement as his neighbor strung wire higher and higher between two towers in his large back yard and practiced carrying a wheelbarrow loaded with on the wire between the towers. When his neighbor asked what he was doing, the high wire artist said, “Getting ready to cross Niagara Falls! Do you think that I can do it?” “Yes,” was the neighbor’s reply.
Each day as the high wire artist practiced his act as he went higher and higher asked his neighbor, “Do you think that I can do this?” “Yes!” was the always emphatic reply.
Well the big day came and the neighbor gathered with thousands of others to watch the stunt. Spotting his neighbor close by, again the high wire walker asked, “Do you think that I can do this?” “Yes! Yes! Yes!” was the final emphatic reply. “Well then, get in the wheelbarrow!” said the wirewalker
Now, I have a question, “What did these two people lack?”
Some would say, courage. I don’t know about you but it would take a lot of courage for me to get in the cage with those lions as much as I love big cats. It would also take a great deal of courage for me to get in that wheelbarrow.
But, there is a common element to both stories – both men were outsiders, they were not involved except as by-standers. They had not made a commitment to step into the cage or get into the wheelbarrow – they had yet to make a choice to get fully involved.
Commitment is essential for walking with God. Because if we are going to fully follow the Lord, we need the commitment to follow Him by becoming decisive followers like Joshua, courageous followers like Esther, wise followers like Solomon, willing followers like Peter, and committed followers like Paul. (Overhead 1)
We begin 2003 with a word of vision from God. As I shared two weeks ago, I believe that God has a vision for this church that was in place when Carter Cummings was called as our first pastor, when Daniel Frost led us in the building of this sanctuary, and when Bob and Dale Neace led us for nearly 10 years, the longest tenure of any pastor. It is a vision that will be a part of this church long after we are gone and our children, and their children, and those whose names we do not yet know, will be here, God willing.
I believe that God’s vision for us is to be, like the Israelites of Jeremiah 29 that we visited two weeks ago, a fully following and faithfully functioning church. (Overhead 2) This month, we will examine the first part of this vision – a faithfully following church.
And for us to fully understand what it means to be a faithfully following church we need to see it in the lives of Biblical characters that demonstrated faithfulness in a variety of ways. Bill Hybels, in his book Courageous Leadership, reviewed the lives of 10 persons who demonstrated to him Biblical leadership. I believe they are also illustrations of Biblical follower ship as well. And this morning we briefly look at 5 of them who demonstrated their commitment to God in several ways.
The first person we look at is Joshua. Now Joshua had a big job ahead of him. First of all, Moses, the first Israelite leader, was dead and, as we read in the opening chapters of Joshua 1, Joshua was selected by God to become Moses’ successor.
So Joshua is given the command by God, “ you must lead my people across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.”
Now Joshua was no rookie by any stretch of the imagination. He was known by the Israelites. 40 years earlier he had been one of two spies, sent by Moses with 10 other spies to find out more about the land that God had given to them, who had said, “We can take this place!” But, the others did not share his faith and optimism and so he and his countrymen were to wander for 40 more years before they crossed the Jordan.
So now, here he is, 40 years older and in charge of a nation who is not yet in possession of the land that their God has given to them. In fact, Joshua’s assignment is two fold: 1. Get them across the Jordan. 2. Possess the land.
How would you feel at this point? New leader. Old, and only leader, is dead. A major task is before you – you have to get an entire nation to it’s new home and you have to help them possess that new land. It’s one thing to get across, it’s another thing to possess and take charge of the land.
So, what are God’s words to Joshua as he commences to lead the Israelites? “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” In other words, “Don’t worry Joshua. Lead! I am with you! Lead! This is my plan. Lead!”
Joshua believed what God said! And he led with decisiveness! It was not easy at times like the major defeat at the city of Ai on the heels of the great victory at Jericho because of the tragic choice of Achan and his family. But, as we read the rest of the opening chapters of Joshua, we see a person who faithfully followed God’s instruction and did so with decisiveness. And because Joshua was decisive, God’s people moved forward.
Now, not only do we need to demonstrate our commitment to God with decisiveness we also need to do so with courage. And the Bible is filled with stories of people who demonstrated courage. One is Jewish queen who lives nearly 700 years after Joshua leads the Israelites into the Promised Land.
But, this Jewish queen is not in the Promised Land. In fact, the Promised Land is anything but promised when Esther comes on the scene. It is the conquered land and Esther finds herself, and that of her fellow Israelites in a place that is increasingly inhospitable to them.
The story opens with the deposing of one queen of Persia and the finding of another one. The new one is Esther, who is of Jewish descent. She has an uncle named Mordeci who, as the story unfolds, refuses to give the appropriate public honor to a new prime minister, named Haman, who is angered by the lack of respect and decides to kill all the Jews.
Now, Mordeci is faithful to the King and, as we read in Esther 2 verses 21 through 23, helps to prevent a plot to assassinate him. But, Mordeci is also a faithful Israelite who refused to bow down to Human.
Well, the plan of elimination, which today we would probably call “ethnic cleansing,” begins to unfold and so Mordeci seeks the intervention of Esther in the situation. However, there are a couple of problems as we read in Esther 4.
One problem is that Esther, even though she is queen, cannot simply walk in to see the king. She has to be requested by him. To do otherwise is to die. And she had not been requested in over a month.
The second problem is that up to this point, Esther has kept quiet, at her uncle’s urging, about her nationality. No one knows that she is Jewish. What is she going to?
Ever been in a situation like this? Your position puts you close to the center of influence and you know that a word from you to the appropriate person or persons might make a difference, or it might not. What would you do?
In 4:14 Mordeci asks Esther a question, “Who can say but that you have been elevated to the palace for just such a time as this?” What does Esther do? We find out in verse 15.
“Then Esther sent this reply to Mordeci: Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I am willing to die.” So Mordeci went away and did as Esther told him.
Lives are at stake – not just Esther’s but all of the Jewish people there in Persia. God’s plan is threatened. And it is Esther who has the opportunity to show courage in following God’s plan.
She goes in uninvited. Will she be allowed in or not?
She is welcomed and tells the King of what is going on. Haman’s plan is thwarted and he is executed on the gallows meant for Mordeci.
To faithfully follow God requires courage to stand for God like Esther did. We have, we do, and we will face moments when we must make the decision to publicly stand for God or not. It takes intentional courage.
But, there is more to following God that just courage and decisiveness. We also need to demonstrate, individually and congregationally, our commitment to God as fully following persons through a life that is laced with wisdom. Now, there was another king, the third king of Israel, who demonstrated commitment through decisions that were made with God-given wisdom. That king was Solomon.
As we read in the opening chapters of I Kings, Solomon is anointed king by David’s command under hurried up circumstances in order to prevent a possible overthrow by his brother Adonijah. Finally, David dies and Solomon is now the king and sets out to establish his kingdom.
Then one day after a time of worshipping God, God comes to Solomon in a dream and asks him, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”
What an offer! God is telling Solomon, “What do you want? Ask me, I will give it to you!” What would you answer? Solomon asked for wisdom, as we read in I Kings 3:6-9, because he realized that he could not govern Israel in his own strength and way.
And soon that wisdom would be put to the test as we read further through chapter 3, starting with verse 16. Two prostitutes come before him with an argument regarding the custody of a child.
Both argue that the living baby, for one had just died, is hers but the one who died was the other’s baby. So Solomon does something drastic, but wise. He orders the baby to be cut in half with one half going to the one and the other half going to the other woman.
Well, the one woman reacts, in horror and shock, “No, no let him live! Give him to the other woman.” The other one agrees to the decision. Solomon recognizes the mother as the one who would save the baby’s life and gives full custody to her. And, as we read in verse 28, “Word of the king’s decision spread quickly throughout all Israel, and the people were awed as they realized the great wisdom God had given him to render decisions with justice.
As God’s people – there is a wisdom we need, a Godly wisdom, to fully follow God. For as we commit ourselves to follow God fully and completely, we need to allow His wisdom, which He wants to give us, to become a part of our planning and thinking.
But, commitment also requires, well commitment – a willingness to get into the cage, or wheelbarrow or a willingness to get out of the boat. That’s what we see in Matthew 14 where Peter’s willingness causes him, shall we say, “to get a bit in over his head.”
“Jesus made his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake while he sent the people home. Afterward he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves.
About three o’clock in the morning, Jesus came to them, walking on the water. When the disciples say him, they screamed in terror, thinking he was a ghost. But Jesus spoke to them at once, “It’s all right,” he said, “I am here! Don’t be afraid.”
Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water.” “All right, come,” said Jesus.
So Peter went over to the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed him. “You don’t have much faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. Then the disciples worshipped Him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.”
There is a book by John Orterberg that I really want to read. Either it’s title or subtitle is If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got To Get Out of The Boat.” I wonder what he has to say about Peter in his book.
Many, if not most of us, can probably relate more to Peter than the other disciples. He was impetuous. He engaged mouth before putting brain in gear. He made great promises only to fail miserably to keep them. But, we also can relate to his intense desire to follow Jesus no matter what.
We can be full followers of God and be wise, courageous, and decisive, but we cannot be full followers of God without willingness. Life with God entails risks. The life to which Jesus called the twelve was challenging. It was uncertain. It was hazardous. God calls us to the same kind of life.
Now, I know that we often don’t like to hear this. We want the assurance of God that helps us feel warm and loved and cared for. And God wants to assure us in that way. But, He has also called us to follow Him wherever He leads us. And so willingness is an essential ingredient in being a fully following Christian and church.
There is another thing that causes us to really identify with Peter and those are his failures. He failed not just in the passage we just read, but when he said “I will go with you to the death!” he failed in response to Jesus’ arrest, he brandished a sword, and he failed when denied Jesus.
But as we look at this passage in Matthew, as well as other passages in which Peter “failed” we need to ask the question, “Did Jesus kick Peter out of the disciples?” No. He challenged his lack of faith, but He did not expel him for failing to come to Him on the water.
Jesus saw from the very start a willingness in Peter that He, that is Jesus, would build upon. It was upon Peter’s statement of faith, that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God that Jesus said He would build the church. “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” And it was Peter who would stand boldly, as we read in Acts 2, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit preach a sermon that would cause deep conviction in those who listened to it to repent and turn to God.
And one of those who would eventually be deeply and profoundly affected by the work of God that began with Peter’s sermon illustrates the final characteristic of fully following God – Paul and his passion.
We are introduced to Paul in chapter 8, when as Saul; he witnesses the stoning of Stephen. He is an enemy of the faith. But, at the beginning of chapter 9, God confronts this hate filled and passionate man and the confrontation turns Saul into Paul and the leading missionary of the early church.
The journeys of Paul, which read of in the remaining chapter of Acts, form the basis for the majority of the New Testament books in which Paul writes to the churches that he helped to start in his missionary work.
In one of those letters, which we now call the book of Philippians, Paul said this, “I once thought all these things very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him.”
Listen again to these phrases:
- Now I consider them worthless
- Everything else is worthless
- I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage
- So that I may have Christ and become one with him.
These are the words of a man who is passionate about God and following God, fully following God. We can be committed, we can express great wisdom, we can be courageous, we can be willing, but it must be touched by a passion for God that is exceeded by nothing else.
Paul gave it all – himself, his gifts, and his abilities – to God. He held nothing back and he discounted the past and all of his accomplishments for the sake of knowing and following God!
A passionate pursuit of God must be a daily part of our lives and our church. It must infuse us to live for God far beyond the minimum requirements.
So what does all this mean for us? After all, we have looked at quite a list of people who really hung out for God. Can we do the same? Should we do the same?
Where do we rank our church and ourselves on each one of these characteristics as it relates to our commitment to God? (1 is low and 5 is high.) (Overhead 3)
- A decisiveness to follow like Joshua
- A courage to follow like Esther
- A wisdom to follow like Solomon
- A willingness to follow like Peter
- A passion to follow like Paul
After I gave Linda my sermon title earlier in the week, I changed it after the bulletin was printed. It says in the bulletin The Courage to Follow. I changed it to The Commitment to Follow because courage can give strength to our commitments and we can get courage from our commitments.
But, it is who we are committed to that is the main thing that we must remember this morning. We are committed to God. We are God’s people. We are on God’s mission. We exist for God’s pleasure and purposes. Joshua, Esther, Solomon, Peter and Paul sought to follow God not someone else. They joined to advance God’s agenda, not their own. They were part of God’s mission not someone else’s mission.
A couple of verses further down in the Philippians passage that I read a few moments ago, capture what I believe is what a person would who is fully committed to fully following God would say: “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Jesus Christ saved me for and wants me to be.”
My prayer, my desire for us is that may it be so for us, may it be so for us. Amen.